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ICAEW Essentials CPD: a revolution in delivery

4 September: Extreme circumstances require rapid change and ICAEW’s Essentials CPD is a case in point. When COVID struck, the shift to virtual took a few short weeks to complete across the national CPD programme.

The numbers are significant. Under everyday circumstances, across a year ICAEW expects to run around 200 courses in its Essentials CPD programme, at multiple locations up and down the country and working with a host of expert speakers. It is not difficult to see how significant the shift from virtual to physical delivery of these courses has been. 

And it has not been more of the same in terms of content: there has been significant change in that respect too. The fast-moving nature of the pandemic COVID has delivered cumulative change that impacts on many areas of practice and business activity. It has been a challenge, especially for an events schedule that had been in place since last Autumn, with thousands of existing bookings.

Conversations with trainers for the Essentials CPD programme 2020 started in early Spring 2019, with courses set to commence in March 2020. In fact, the first 2020 event was due to take place in what became the first week of lockdown.

“I had been expecting to need to adapt during February,” commented Rebeca Benneyworth, who provides the content and training on the programme's tax courses. “So in early March, I took some training on the more well-known online platforms so that I would be ready to move across when the time came”.

“We had a really tight window of opportunity in which to turn things around,” says Deborah Moon, Head of Regional Operations. “The first two courses, to be held in Cambridge, were converted within a matter of days to virtual delivery. Then we had to reshape the entire programme that was due to be delivered between March and July.”

Delivering digital content

Digital delivery for all content types requires a step change. Writing digital-first material is very different from writing face-to-face content and delivering courses online is very different from giving a presentation to a room full of people. There is a learning curve.

“The course content and materials had to be somewhat rewritten,” points out Melanie Christie, Director, UK Regions. “In a physical setting, a three-hour course is the ‘norm’, but no-one wants to sit through a virtual session on their PC for a solid three hours. The sessions were condensed to make them accessible, whilst retaining the quality and breadth of the all-important technical content. We couldn’t simply deliver the same course to a digital environment.”

Not only that, but Government messages had to be built into the agenda and essential new regulations and guidelines had to be included in the course content. For the first time, CJRS, CBILS, VAT and business rate deferrals and other COVID-related measures were on the agenda. It was a rapidly evolving new world.

“I’d been working with ICAEW for over six months to design the Audit and Financial Reporting course content – and that was all pretty much in the rubbish bin by mid-March!” says John Selwood, a trainer who has been writing and presenting these courses for ICAEW for nearly 20 years.

“I spent a lot of time in the first few weeks of lockdown talking to ICAEW members, establishing what the big issues were, so we could deliver content to delegates to support them in a rapidly-changing environment. During lockdown, we had record numbers attend our Accounting & Financial Reporting update that we run each year in Spring and Autumn, and the digital environment means we can again shape the content for the upcoming Autumn course in response to any shift in regulation”.

Trainer-delegate interaction

A key element of ICAEW’s Essentials CPD programme is delegate interaction during Q&A sessions. Not only are these valuable learning opportunities between delegate and trainer, but also for vibrant peer-to-peer learning. This is true interactive learning and the virtual offer has only enhanced that approach, which may come as a surprise to some given it turns an established framework and format for delivery of CPD learning on its head.

Firstly, the absence of the classroom environment has been liberating for some. Secondly, digitisation has meant there is less concern about open discussions around sensitive and business or client-related issues in a room of fellow local practitioners. Thirdly, virtual learning has relieved the monotony and isolation for many - and will only continue to do so. Fourth, let’s not forget that these live sessions are all recorded and made available on-demand, to watch, or even re-watch, at the delegate’s convenience– the take-up has been high and it’s a model that is being adopted incredibly successfully in other areas of the organisation.

Rebecca Benneyworth added: “It has been interesting to see the variety of questions from delegates, be able to manage those and provide answers during the Q&A part of the course. Although some delegates may have felt apprehensive about the change in delivery method, they have adapted very quickly and my sessions have been very interactive”.

Quality and consistency of information

In amongst all this change, quality and consistency of information have been the top priorities. The advantage of the digital format is that course content and delegate notes can be updated much more frequently. The whole experience of passing on information has been much more agile and proactive.

With the benefit of hindsight, the ICAEW Essentials CPD delivery team is now able to make decisions about shaping the courses to be delivered in the Autumn, ensuring a comprehensive and up-to-date CPD programme is available. This includes adding content on not just the all-important technical matters, but also on those pain points that businesses will undoubtedly be experiencing post-lockdown, such as change management and supporting their staff’s wellbeing. 

Given that ICAEW’s aim is for every member to have the same opportunity to access quality CPD as the next, the new way of working is panning out incredibly well. Accommodating dispersed members across large geographical regions has been removed during the pandemic. The reach has been so much wider and has allowed the programme to engage as far and wide as the Sottish Highlands and Cornwall, and even internationally, which would have been a logistical impossibility in the face-to-face environment.

And the lockdown has allowed ICAEW to extend further support to members at a time when cash and resources will be tight. All courses are being offered at a heavily discounted rate, with a 75% discount for all delegates, until the end of the year to ensure members and their teams can continue to accrue valuable CPD hours in this fast-moving environment.

The Autumn 2020 programme is about to be launched, and looking forward, this new way of working and the positive way in which members have embraced this digital delivery leaves the team in no doubt that exciting opportunities lie ahead for CPD learning and delivery.

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