Ad-hoc Informal Learning Opportunities for Continuing Professional Development

By Ben Henderson September 25, 2017

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Professional development

Within corporate and academic landscapes, learning metrics are heavily relied upon to analyze if training objectives are being achieved and supported. Once formal learning opportunities have been designed and deployed, they are then measured, tracked and analyzed in a clear manner for both the organization, and the learner.  When it comes to continuing professional development (CPD), this process had previously been strictly carried out in a regimented fashion, with L&D department’s organizing internal formal development sessions, and then recording who attended, and for how long. This information is then entered into an individual’s CPD diary and is used as evidence during annual performance reviews to demonstrate development opportunities undertaken throughout the year. Of course, these formal opportunities are only one part of the CPD story, as some of the most effective development activities are accessed informally, normally through on the job observation, and discussions with other colleagues. Alongside this, increased opportunities to access informal professional development through online methods have become increasingly popular. The question remains, however, how do we measure these informal professional development tracks within an L&D context, and does it even matter if it is measured?

One particular area of interest when it comes to CPD is overall effectiveness and value of the opportunity in question. Regardless of whether it is classified as formal or informal, does it have value, and if so, how much? Most professionals can empathize with having to attend mandatory CPD sessions which supply little or no quality from a learning perspective, taking up value time (sometimes outside of working hours), and normally leaving all us yawning around the third PowerPoint slide. Perhaps you have been forced into completing a boring static online course for the purpose of ticking the compliance box. These sorts of formal CPD opportunities are common practice (and unavoidable in some cases), but they can often leave professionals feeling that CPD is something which is an unnecessary requirement, rather than an opportunity to develop professional skills and abilities.

With access to a world of information through the web, it could be suggested that developing ones professional skills isn’t as important as checking social media feeds, browsing through eBay, watching one or two (or three) pointless YouTube videos, and completing the next level of whatever mobile game you’re playing that week. However, amongst the irrelevant celebrity tittle-tattle and fail videos, I’m sure most professionals have accessed the odd piece of professional development advice in the form of a shared article on Twitter, or a scintillating and inspiring TED talk. This kind of informal ad-hoc CPD is not generally acknowledged within CPD diaries, even though it could contain the most valuable content.

Measuring CPD has always been tricky calculation. Normally, ‘time spent’ on a development activity gives L&D departments some idea if objectives are being met, even though there is no clear correlation between ‘time spent’ and ‘effectiveness’. A two hour session on ‘teamwork’ for example, could easily be less effective than a sub-10 minute YouTube video viewed on the train to the office. One of these activities will potentially be recorded as CPD, and the other barely mentioned. However, it is very difficult to measure effectiveness in this context, and therefore have to question whether CPD should be measured at all.

As a professional, you have ownership of your development on an intrinsic level. You are the only one who knows if a given piece of training or advice has provided value and support to your career development, and that is something which is difficult to measure in an objective sense. Rather than waiting for formal CPD opportunities to arise, taking a proactive informal approach could be far more beneficial to help harness your professional development. If you would like to track your own CPD, then take a look at Experience API which is a new specification for online learning that makes it easier to collect information about the wide range of professional development experiences an individual has both online and offline.

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