Learning To Learn: The Joy Of CPD

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Hands up. Who hasn’t been spending the last couple of months working on their Continuing Professional Development, or CPD as it’s more commonly known? There surely cannot be a better time for many of us to be examining gaps in our learning and challenging ourselves to do that little bit of reading, reflecting, or sitting in on a few webinars. It sounds very apple-for-the-teacher-ish, but I know I have.

But then I am a bit of an education junkie. Albeit one who saw the light pretty late on. The handful of mates I still have from school way back in the original Elizabethan era will probably be spitting out their beer at that statement. When I was in full time education I wasn’t, shall we say, the most attentive or committed of students. Oh, go on then, I was lazy. There, Mum, I admitted it. I did enough at ‘O’ Level (that’s how long ago it was, folks) to be able to choose which ‘A’ Levels to study. Though ‘study’ suggests I worked at them. But I can’t say that was the case either. I then ended up doing just about enough to scrape the grades I needed to go off to University. Just enough. Every time. It didn’t exactly have the makings of a prolific academic career, I’ll be honest.

However, after graduating from Nottingham Trent University and going on to work for 15 years or so in the real world the opportunity came around to do some postgraduate study at what was then Glamorgan University, now the University of South Wales. (At one point there were so many mergers taking place between academic institutions that I was convinced we’d end up with half a dozen ‘super universities’ in the UK rather than the rather more scattered field we have today. Everywhere is a university these days.)

On that occasion it was a postgraduate diploma in Entrepreneurship, and it was in the early stages of online teaching. Ours was a pilot course taught entirely remotely. Originally there were two of us from my place of work going through the process but my sparring partner, one of the Glamorgan cricketers, withdrew pretty early on in the piece and having worked hard to persuade the University to take him in lieu of an absence of academic qualifications of his own, I was determined to keep going. When you’re working full time and have two young daughters to help bring up, it wasn’t easy either. Other than picking up a laptop on one introductory session there was no campus study at all. Everything had to be done remotely, research included. Maintaining a longstanding tradition of only entering a library when there was something I genuinely wanted to read (or to pick up bin liners and food caddy bags) I never set foot in the library, or even applied for a library card. I know. I don’t make it easy for myself, do I? But two years, several assignments and one detailed business plan later and there I was with a CertHE to add to my BA (Hons).

You’d think (and pardon the pun) that this would have taught me. But you’d be wrong. A dozen years or so later and, having left my job at Glamorgan (Cricket, not University) I decided I fancied doing a Masters. The rest of my family are science oriented. My Dad was an engineer; Mum was a Physics and Maths teacher; brother did a Metallurgy degree; sister was an architect. I fancied doing an MSc. I wanted to be able to tell my Mum that I had a scientific qualification. It was that flippant a reason. So what was on offer? Turns out that Glamorgan (University this time, not Cricket – do keep up at the back there) offered an MSc in Human Resource Management. Pass it and I’d have attained the equivalent of a Level 7 CIPD qualification, the highest. And it would potentially open some new career doors for me.

Once again, studying while working full time, with one day a week on campus, was a challenge. This time there were 11 full blown assignments (the shortest was 3,000 words), formal exams at the end of the first and second years, and a 20,000-word research project in the final year. Employment Law; Leadership and Management; Recruitment Methods; CPD; Employee Reward; Industrial Relations; Employee Engagement… it was a tough course. But I decided that where I had been lazy and inattentive at school here, I was going to be a swot. I wanted to do as well as I possibly could. It probably helped that I funded the whole thing myself (and it wasn’t cheap, either). I spent all the time I could learning. I even survived the dread of having to go through the whole exam ritual – the coughing, the running out of paper, the invigilators walking up and down the aisles, the rush of people leaving after the minimum time had elapsed, all that malarkey – and came out with a Distinction in ten of the 12 modules and a Distinction overall. It’s without doubt one of my proudest professional achievements.

It enabled me to learn a whole series of new topics. And coming at it later in life meant that, having had the benefit of experience, I could revisit situations I’d experienced for myself and re-evaluate them with the benefit of the theory I had just learned. I ended up reading all sorts of stuff I never thought I’d ever give the time of day to. And reading is, well, I’ve always believed that reading is something we should all be encouraged to do as much as possible. I’ve never understood those people who say they ‘don’t read books.’ What on earth do they do with their time? How do they exercise their minds? I am proud of the fact that my daughters are voracious readers and feel that was one job well done by their Mum and Dad… though it’s just possible that J.K.Rowling may have had something to do with it as well. But seriously, why wouldn’t you want to read? It isn’t only for learning and broadening the mind. It’s for pleasure. For escapism. If you like films, which are generally one person’s interpretation of a story, why would you not want to explore a book, which gives you the chance to let your imagination run away with itself, rather than being restricted to that one perspective. Each to their own, I guess.

So how does all this relate to CPD? Well it tells me that age should be no barrier to learning.  If anything, it says that you will derive greater benefit than you would when you were in school. I am seeing, through the work I do for the Professional Players’ Federation, the spike in online learning that has taken place amongst sportspeople and athletes across a whole range of sports while the lockdown has been in place. I’m the same. In recent weeks I have sought out webinars on a whole host of topics. Some have been pretty indifferent, if I’m being honest, but others have been really insightful and helpful. I guess if you’re going to be sat on your backside with only a limited amount of work to do, it makes sense to be trying to use your time productively and to try to come out of the other side with some more skills, or at least some wider knowledge.

Just like a balanced diet, each type of CPD will benefit different people in different ways. It could be a qualification (either mandatory or optional); online learning; networking; examining a new topic; staying up to date with the law, or with best practice; or just for knowledge. At the moment it’s pretty much all online, for obvious reasons, but that won’t be the case forever.

Most industries realised early on in the lockdown that there would be a demand for learning and training and will have adapted. I know I bang on about the CIPD, but they are an excellent professional body, really good at providing information and training options. Most of their own courses are paid courses but they have adapted too. For example, instead of cancelling their annual conference – the ‘Festival of Work’ – scheduled for the middle of June, this is now being delivered online. As members we can access passes for one, two or three days, and free of charge too. I am in for two of them and the whole programme looks really interesting. I am sure not all of it will be relevant. But some of it will. And that’s what you should take from every learning opportunity. There will be some nuggets in there for you. At least some of what you come across will inspire you.

Check your own industry for opportunities. They will be there; I am sure of that. At times of uncertainty such as the one we are all currently living through, having accessible, high-quality and affordable CPD is so important. And because the employers and associations know that, they will have it in place and available. Even though much of the CIPD training is fee-based there are plenty of other options across the world of HR. I’m sure the same will be true for most sectors.

Keeping up to date with a varied range of CPD is an essential part of our everyday practice.  Or it should be if we are to continue to be the kind of knowledgeable, inspired practitioners we believe we ought to be. Don’t restrict yourself to one particularly form of CPD: books; trade magazine; webinars; networking; distance learning; socials – mix it up. And try to maintain a balance of high-quality, accessible and affordable options that reflect your own professional skills and aspirations. But do go and find out what’s available. I doubt that there will ever be a better opportunity for you to improve your learning. Don’t end up looking back and using hindsight to reflect on what you could have done. Go on. You might even enjoy it.