Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is a term used to describe the learning activities which professionals engage in to develop and strengthen the knowledge and skills associated with their working life.
Any activity that enhances learning and adds to a person's professional development can be considered as valid CPD. Workshops, seminars, peer-discussions, traditional classroom-based activities, online courses, and conferences... anything that helps someone improve their knowledge and understanding in a way that is relevant to their job can be counted as Continuing Professional Development.
Topics of study are usually related to a person's daily activities at work. These might be focused on keeping up to date – for example, new techniques, latest research findings, or updating administrative or procedural knowledge. Other subjects can be directed at organisational change, new standards, or social trends and expectations.
CPD reaches other parts
Continuing Professional Development isn't just about acquiring knowledge. A major element in many approaches is the development of the person. Today's organisations increasingly expect that their employees possess a mix of characteristics which don't generally feature in more formal education. Good people skills, the ability to self-manage, a proactive attitude, and reflection are seen as just as important as technical skills and know-how.
These personal characteristics are the underpinnings of a successful workplace culture. Employees must be resilient, team players, self-aware, articulate communicators. flexible, and able to manage their time, and be insightful of their own behaviour.
Some CPD learning topics address these personal characteristics specifically – courses in 'soft skills', communication, conflict management and emotional intelligence for example.
Other areas of study, though they may never actually mention personal characteristics like attitude or self-knowledge, nevertheless impact on personal development. Engaging in group discussion, sharing of ideas, acceptance of difference and a whole range of social skills are the by-products of time spent in classes. Study any subject and you expand your horizons, if you do it with others you expand yourself.
Because these social aspects contribute to learning in a tangible way, designers of online courses recommend the use of social media – forums, Facebook and Whatsapp groups for example – to facilitate group discussion and sharing ideas.
There is an increasing number of CPD activities which use a combination of self-directed study and online learning. The beauty of this approach to professional development is that it needn't interfere with one's work routine. Online CPD courses are comparatively low cost and a more convenient way of learning. Added to this they avoid the cost and disruption of employees taking time out to attend training events.
Other benefitsof online learning are:
- Flexibility and convenience
- Accessibility – many courses are low cost or free
- Ongoing access to the course material
- Videos can be watched repeatedly
- Students can set their own timetables
- Reduced 'classroom stress' due to privacy
- The material can be consumed in small chunks (there is an increasing trend to make lessons short and punchy).
- People can study at their chosen time (early morning or late night for example)
- Learning can easily be linked to relevant online resources outside the main course (specialised articles and videos for example)
- Elements can be delivered anywhere, which is convenient and comfortable for learners
- Online sharing and discussion can be less intimidating for students who are shy or introvert.
CPD doesn't have to fit a particular format. There is no single approach that would suit everybody, and how you assemble your 'portfolio' is a personal choice.
Continuing Professional Development isn't only about work and career. While improving your understanding and skills in a given area can make work more interesting and fulfilling, and make you better at what you do, CPD can also enhance your understanding of yourself, your people skills and your ability to reflect. Developing yourself is increasingly becoming a necessity if you want to grow and develop your career.