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How to make lifelong learning work

27 August: Kaplan’s head of learning Stuart Pedley-Smith is an accountant and trainer. Here, he shares his views about how professional bodies and training providers could make lifelong learning work.

As the pace of change accelerates in accountancy, the profession is trying to work out what lifelong learning should look like. Stuart Pedley-Smith has a unique view of the issue. As head of learning at Kaplan and a qualified accountant himself, he has plenty of thoughts about how organisations and professional bodies could deliver lifelong learning, in partnership with training providers.

The answer, he says, is not necessarily straightforward. “You've just got to extend the programme,” he explains. “You’ve got to set it out at the start: it’s not a three-year course but a 20 or 30-year commitment to learning. The danger is when presented like that it can seem daunting.”

The world of finance changed more in the past five years than it did in the previous ten. As a result, accounting and finance professionals need to make sure their skills and knowledge keep up. Critically, these new skills need to be built on the foundations of core accounting principles. 

“There is more to learn than ever before,” says Pedley-Smith. “Simply adding in content is not the answer. What you take out is arguably just as important as what you leave in. For example, you can’t just remove double-entry bookkeeping to make way for blockchain.”

Pedley-Smith explains that a mindset change will probably be needed to ensure people keep their knowledge and skills up to date. “We need to get away from thinking that once you have studied for three years and your course completes, there is nothing more to learn. Lifelong learning is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. It’s an ongoing programme of study.”

The appetite for lifelong learning and a commitment to professional development has increased, particularly in recent months, as COVID-19 has forced a great amount of change in a very short space of time. “Risk and uncertainty are higher on the agenda,” says Pedley-Smith. “People are more open. Organisations know that they need a workforce that is adaptable.” 

Gamification that rewards behaviours could potentially help to get people in an ‘always learning’ mindset. Kaplan rewards its students for attempting tests, rather than succeeding in them. “Attributes of character, like diligence and determination and motivation, could be very valuable when you think about this lifelong learning as a skill set.”

Those values demonstrate a commitment to learning, which is necessary for a lifelong learning approach. You have to believe in the value of constantly learning and changing, says Pedley-Smith. To help that along, learning providers need to find ways to make lifelong learning as valuable as possible when it comes to individuals’ careers. 

“You could, hypothetically, end up with a number of smaller certificates or badges on your CV to highlight how up to date your skills are. We have actually worked with ICAEW to develop and launch a Data Analytics certificate for ICAEW members. Say you qualified in 2015. You could also become the holder of additional professional body-approved digital badges. That proves your commitment to lifelong learning and a sign of the quality of your work as an accountant.”

Find out more about the ICAEW / Kaplan Data Analytics certificate.

Although learning is something you do almost every day, it needs to be structured around longer-term career goals. That way what you learn provides a foundation and the necessary technical knowledge to help you get to where you want to go.

“Your continued professional development (CPD) could take the form of specialisms, with practical experience supported by individual learning modules in the areas where your expertise lies.”

All of ICAEW Academy's learning and development is accessible virtually. Find out more at icaew.com/academy.