My oldest daughter graduated from high school this past weekend. A genuine Millennial, she chose a non-traditional path and graduated from an online high school, Minnesota Virtual High School (MVHS). Yes, I was skeptical when she first presented the idea to us, but I have to say I’ve gained a lot of insight into learning over the last several years with two daughters in high school (one online and one in our local public high school) and these ideas apply to learning trends I see in the firms I coach.

At the commencement ceremony on Saturday, one of the students gave a “speech” – and I use speech loosely because she used stop motion whiteboard animation – to her fellow classmates. She had never met the majority of her classmates before Saturday, yet she spoke to the one thing that united them - the desire for a different kind of learning experience. As each graduate accepted their diploma, the principal shared that graduate’s “reason” for choosing MVHS, such as the desire to graduate early, the ability to take college classes while still in high school which may not have been available to them otherwise, attending mission trips throughout the school year, learning at their own pace or via their preferred method, and for health reasons.

All of these students learned outside of a “traditional” classroom and much of it went beyond taking classes and an exam to demonstrate knowledge learned. Gaining knowledge or new information – sometimes called training - is definitely a key aspect of learning, but there is so much more! As we help firms develop their learning plans, we find that they are often stuck in a CPE/training rut. We definitely deliver training and issue CPE, so we understand its value and importance – whether delivered in-firm, web-based, self-study, or conferences. However, learning encompasses more than just CPE or training.

Consider expanding your firm’s definition of learning to include the following three elements:

  1. Training – training is still a viable way to impart knowledge and develop skills. Training isn’t going away, but the methods in which people receive the training are changing. While in-person training is still the most preferred method, in a survey cited in the AICPA’s Evolution of CPA Learning white paper, 48% of learners surveyed predicted that they would use online mediums in the future. Often firms base their learning plans on so many CPE hours and dollars budgeted per person and/or level. This spending limit can limit your team members’ ability to grow and apply what they learned in training. And, some team members are kinesthetic learners, which means they learn by doing, so traditional training which usually teaches concepts in writing or through the spoken word isn’t always the best option for them.
  2. Experiential learning – this type of learning includes a variety of opportunities for the individual to learn by “experiencing” it and applying new knowledge or skills they learned. Some examples include shadowing prospect or referral meetings, leading portions of client engagements while the client relationship and/or engagement manager shadows, or teaching others what they learned. We incorporate experiential learning into our training courses through role playing during the training, undertaking practical application exercises and asking each participant to make one commitment to produce a specific result from that they learned so they can practice and apply it. Experiential learning takes more time to plan and identify opportunities, but your team members will benefit greatly and the firm will see the ROI in increased engagement and often faster skills building in your team members (which results in increased productivity and responsibility of those team members, too).
  3. Coaching – coaching provides learners feedback about their progress and developmental areas from firm leaders and allows them to ask for specific advice or assistance. This, too, requires an investment of time and the courage and willingness for all parties to talk straight about progress – or a lack thereof – so that learners are challenged. The best coaches are those who are willing to be a “Dutch Uncle” and tell the truth about a team member’s performance while doing so with genuine care and commitment for the individual to succeed.

Your learning plans will be more successful when you incorporate ALL three learning elements AND map them to the competencies your firm is committed to develop. The competencies then need to have specific expectations for performance, skills, and experience by level defined. This way each individual (along with their career advisor or coach) can create individual learning plans that match the firm’s expectations with the individual’s career goals, learning style and preferences, and timeframe.

You will differentiate your firm and attract a team of vibrant, life-long learners when you appeal to – and provide – one-size-fits-one learning experiences for each team member. What is your firm doing to provide a different learning experience?