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Five Questions to Answer When Setting Up Your Firm's Continuing Education Learning Plans

Posted by The Micron Systems’ Editorial Team (September 2021)

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Digital learning is here to stay. The future of work will require organizations to assess the focus of firmwide Learning and Development (L&D) strategies and build learning plans accordingly.

The Micron Systems' Editorial Team outlines five questions you should answer while setting up continuing education (CE) and compliance learning plans for the staff and professionals at your firm.

2020 was a year of learning.

We observed how adaptable organizations can be when faced with unprecedented circumstances. We found new ways of working together and coordinating across distributed teams. And in 2021, as we’ve tried to reconcile the changes from the last year and a half with the old ways of working, we have ultimately learned that learning itself is more important than ever for today’s ever-changing hybrid workforce.

During the pandemic, many firms were faced with the question of how to manage the continuing education and compliance tracking of their professionals in the setting of a mostly remote world. Many organizations successfully pivoted to move in-person events to online-only platforms: the AICPA converted their multi-track ENGAGE conference to a virtual format, and organizations like the Federal Bar Association offered webinars to help lawyers meet their CLE requirements online.

As we begin preparing to enter 2022, it's a pivotal time to assess your firm’s learning strategy and what its key aims should be for the future of work.

While there will certainly be new challenges to overcome as we adapt to the demands of a hybrid workforce, the key tenants of building good learning plans will remain the same: they must support active, consistent, independent learning.

To help make it easy, we’ve outlined five questions you should ask yourself as you are setting up CE learning plans for your firm.


1. What should be the focus of our firm’s learning plans?

At the end of the day, your firm’s people need to be compliant in order to maintain their licenses. However, beyond the minimum standard requirements of your industry, it’s important to remember that learning is more than CLE or CPE. You need to consider the core competencies and goals that will make your people successful within your firm, and in turn, make your firm successful within its industry.

Ask yourself: What skills do professionals need to cultivate to succeed at our firm? What mentality do they need to develop to grow in their roles?

Once you’ve determined the answer, it’s important not to equate the perfect combination of classes as the singular requirement for an effective learning plan. It’s essential to cultivate a learning culture, or a “community of workers instilled with a ‘growth mindset'“ as Robert Grossman defined in SHRM magazine’s “How to Create a Learning Culture.”

This “growth mindset,” Grossman writes, “ideally, it is part of every employee’s DNA, driving workers in real time to expand their knowledge, learn from one another and contribute to the mission of the organization.”

One way to help inspire this drive within your learners is to enable them to take a more active role in choosing the material they learn within the structure of your learning plans.


2. How should I structure our firm’s learning plans?

Apart from mandatory and firm requirements, you must consider the individual when you are structuring tailored plans. These can include non-mandatory requirements and can provide an opportunity for collaboration with the learners because it gives them a choice in what they’ll pursue.

The most effective approach to learning for this hybrid world is, ironically, a hybrid one - a plan comprised of both required and optional courses to help professionals take ownership of their own development.

Todd Helton, Senior Director at the AICPA, shared his thoughts with the Journal of Accountancy in “Make Sure Staff Get the Right CPE” saying, “'Smart firms are working on a structured curriculum and learning approach to accommodate the upskilling and reskilling necessary.'“ 

Another important consideration for your learning plan's structure: room for creativity. In Kelly Proia’s call to redefine continuing legal education in “The Importance of Being a Lifelong Learner, she reminds learners to “Think outside the traditional CLE box for your next learning opportunity. You never know what could come from that improv class. Steve Jobs came up with the font for the Mac by taking a calligraphy class.”

While you can’t force your learners to think outside the box and find inspiration in a calligraphy class, you can provide them with options to pursue non-required interests by incorporating this flexibility into the learning plans themselves.


3. How do I build our firm’s learning plans around individuals' learning styles?

It’s important to begin by asking people the question: How do YOU learn?

In “Identify - and Hire - Lifelong Learners” Mark Zao-Sanders makes a case for the question beyond the scope of determining straight-forward learning preferences. He writes: “The world and the workplace have changed. The skills we need to function and flourish have correspondingly changed, and so we need to bring them into a smarter, sharper focus to know what they are and to seek them out proactively, persistently, and methodically. One way of doing that is by asking ourselves and others: How do you learn?”

Do your learners prefer activities or courses? Do they work better within a group or on their own? Are they auditory learners or are they more visual? Do they thrive with shorter segments or with longer conferences? A variety of approaches can be accommodated in your firm’s learning plans.

Once you know this, the rest will follow. You may choose to develop your own content, offering live conferences and classes with simultaneous webcasts, as well as on-demand recordings of the sessions to accommodate all learners. Or your plans can include content developed externally by third-party providers and state boards, typically offered in a variety of delivery methods.


4. How should I schedule our firm’s learning plans?

The ultimate goal is to build life-long learners at your firm. No matter what stage professionals are at in their careers, they’ll need to regularly reskill to keep up with today’s evolving workforce.

An Economist special report went so far as to call life-long learning an “economic imperative,” illustrating, “A college degree at the start of a working career does not answer the need for the continuous acquisition of new skills, especially as career spans are lengthening. Vocational training is good at giving people job-specific skills, but those, too, will need to be updated over and over again during a career lasting decades. … To remain competitive, and to give low- and high-skilled workers alike the best chance of success, economies need to offer training and career-focused education throughout people’s working lives.”

Of course, there are inevitable time constraints for certain compliance deadlines, and an individual’s career path can also determine the timing of certain requirements.

When building out your learning plans, consider timing:

  • When should the learning plan begin? After a promotion? At the time of hire? The start of a review period or a CE compliance period? After an industry rule change?

  • When should it end? Do you want to provide additional restrictions?

After the mandatory time constraints are met, it’s key to remember that learning is a continuous process that will always exist no matter where professionals are in their careers and plan accordingly.

5. How should I monitor & track the progress of professionals completing their learning plans?

Did your professionals complete the required courses and activities? Did they complete them on time? A good Learning Management System (LMS) will track this for you, providing your learners with automatic reminders and providing management with valuable progress reports.

After all is said and done, a key part of the process is to remember to ask learners: WHAT did you learn?

By integrating your learning plans with your performance management process, you can enhance both.  Performance reviews can be used to follow up on completed learning and to evaluate which skills were strengthened and which still need development. This information is essential in building out future learning plans that are tailored to your professionals’ specific needs. The performance review process is also a great opportunity to solicit feedback as to what works and what doesn’t - which is key to improving the process altogether. 


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Ultimately, the answers to all these questions will be unique to your industry, your firm’s culture and your learners as well. You can simplify the overall process by first asking yourself what your learning plan ultimately needs to accomplish.

Keep your learners at the center of your firm’s strategy and you’ll cultivate the learning culture your firm needs to be prepared for the demands the future of work will hold.



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Topics: Learning and Development, Industry Insights