The New CPE: Collaborative Learning Experiences

By:    Peter A. Margaritis, CPA, CGMA, MAcc
Robert Dean, CPA, Chief Learning Officer

Lifelong learning means more than simply complying with our State Boards of Accountancy licensing requirements or clicking a box to validate attendance in a webinar. It also extends beyond watching webcasts, studying by one’s self, or going to seminars and conferences in person. The CPA Horizons 2025 report identifies lifelong learning as one of the ten insights and directions of the accounting profession. “Current educational framework must evolve at the same pace with the changing dynamics of business, government, and our profession,” the report states.

The new educational framework must be designed to develop pathways that reinforce and extend the learning experience, particularly in this complex and changeable business environment. Research shows that within thirty minutes of completing a course and not applying the new learning immediately, participants will have retained only 58% of the material.  After 48 hours, the retention level drops to 33% and below 10% after three weeks.

The creation of collaborative learning communities will help extend the learning experience, increasing retention and strengthening knowledge. This movement to collaborative learning communities mirrors a current trend in business outlined in the book The Experience Economy. Consumers are looking for (and willing to pay for) transformational “life changing” experiences. Learning experiences can be a differentiator, in order to receive value beyond the training commodity.

These collaborative learning communities will contain the following elements: revisiting past learning, reflecting on insights, reinforcing the learning, and transferring the learning to the community and beyond–all in real time. “Transitioning to real-time learning will change the way CPAs learn and will help them adopt and adapt quickly and knowledgeably to ever-changing circumstances,” states the CPA Horizons 2025 report. Real-time collaborative learning will provide smaller increments of education that are more easily digested and more rapidly implemented.

Collaborative learning communities can also reduce attention blindness, which is defined as “the basic feature of the human brain that, when we concentrate intensely on one task, causes us to miss just about everything else.”[i] This complex, highly digital, interconnected world creates numerous opportunities and challenges that will be missed by those who do not share knowledge and experience. The collective knowledge existing outside of the organization far exceeds the aggregate knowledge within the organization. “The ability to do our work better based on the input of others, and to make others’ work better based on our contribution, is increasingly seen as the single most important characteristic of successful employees.”[1]

A futuristic example of the benefits of a collaborative learning community is demonstrated in the following scenario. Your firm has hired 25 new staff accountants and they are all starting on Monday, September 8th.  Your firm has offices in five locations throughout your state.  The 25 staff accountants will be assigned an office in one of the five locations after onboarding has been completed.  Over the next week, the new staff will receive training on the firm’s culture, expectations, and software, along with both technical and non-technical training.

Once the new staffers start at their respective offices, the assimilation into the firm begins.  This is a very critical time for the success of your new staffers because moving from “backpack to briefcase” is not a course taught at your local universities.  The challenge for the firm is to remove the “backpack” and replace it with a “briefcase” over the next 90 days in order for them to be highly productive after the first of the year.  This is can be accomplished during this time period by using a collaborative platform such as ThinkTank by GroupSystems.  These new staffers can login and share their experiences and challenges (all anonymous) with a moderator through various attributes of the platform.  So challenges such as professional etiquette or emotional intelligence can be discovered quickly and addressed immediately.  Everybody is benefiting from each others experiences while not being embarrassed because of the anonymous feature in this platform.

As stated in the CPA Horizons 2025 report, integration and collaboration are core competencies for CPAs, and “CPAs will need to build effective strategic alliances while working collaboratively to provide multidisciplinary solutions to complex problems.” These collaborative learning communities will become an essential business tool that lessens attention blindness, reduces implementation costs, and saves time. Participating in a collaborative learning community will be fun, exciting, and inspirational—leading to the increase of the collective knowledge of the entire community.

[i] Davidson, Cathy, N., Collaborative Learning for the Digital Age, The Chronicle Review, August 26, 2011

2 Boyd, Stowe, Network Performance is the Single Most Important Characteristic of Successful Employees, Gigaom Research, December 22, 2013

 Peter A. Margaritis, CPA, CGMA, MAcc

Peter Margaritis is the CEO of IFRS Education and Training, LLC. IFRS Education and Training, LLC delivers high-quality IFRS programs to CPAs, accountants, and business leaders. Peter is a past chair of the Ohio Society of CPAs’ executive board of directors. He is a member of the American Institute of CPAs, the Ohio Society of CPAs, the Georgia Society of CPAs, the National Speakers Association.

Bob Dean, CPA, Chief Learning Officer

Bob Dean is a senior executive in learning and talent management. He has been a catalyst in aligning learning and talent development with business strategy for three major professional services firms. Bob now works as a business innovation consultant to professional services organizations. Bob became one of the first ten people in the world to be certified in the models and frameworks of The Experience Economy. Bob uses this certification to collaboratively design and deliver transformational customer and employee experiences for his professional services firm clients.