A "reflective learning" approach to CPD would better meet the objectives of the scheme

One of the first things a coach learns is that it is completely useless to shout “play better” or to urge a performer to “work harder”. Such things mean nothing and help even less.

The same thinking about performance applies to the WS Society’s call at the recent Law Society of Scotland AGM to review the profession’s CPD scheme. We are not saying “do better” or “learn longer”. That too would be meaningless. We are saying “Let’s work out what will improve performance with the resources we have.”

Continuing Professional Development has been a mandatory part of practice for all Scottish solicitors for nearly a decade. In that time, practice has changed significantly in the education of professionals. The WS Society believes that the profession should evaluate the CPD scheme and in particular the current hours-based approach to learning and development. It should question whether it is meeting the objectives stated in 1999, including

  • improving the quality and competence of the profession, and
  • improving the competitive edge of the profession.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland proposes to introduce a new CPD structure which will move away from what it calls the “set number of hours” approach, with its focus on time spent rather than skills gained and developed, and instead introduce a scheme based on three steps.

  • Step 1: self analysis of the skills and knowledge you must develop or maintain in order to perform effectively and competently in your current role or chosen area of expertise.
  • Step 2: documenting these skills in a CPD plan or record and identification of the activities that will allow you to develop or maintain these.
  • Step 3: recording when you have completed these CPD activities together with your reflections on the learning outcomes achieved or the impact that they have had on you.

As with us, compliance will be by self-certification. ICAS wants to move away from a prescriptive approach to CPD to one that focuses on individual professional responsibility and which recognises that not all CPD activities can and should be measured in hours. It will expect to see a process recording a range of CPD activities together with the member’s reflections on the learning outcomes of these activities or the impact they have had on their role and levels of expertise. Individual activities will be assessed based on the principle of “reasonableness” in relation to a member’s particular role and career stage.

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors believes that CPD is concerned with development because its goal is to improve personal performance and enhance career progression. In its scheme, the emphasis is placed on “outcomes”: answering the questions “What did you learn?” and “How do you plan to apply this learning?”, rather than “What learning event did you experience?”

The General Medical Council gives guidance as to doctors’ CPD. It says that it should be closely related to each doctor’s individual needs, ambitions and personal learning styles: “This focus on the doctor’s learning needs will support changes and improvements in practice.”

We can learn from these and other examples.

In the world of adult education, the importance of reflective learning has been recognised for some time. Leading academics in the field have spelt out some of the fundamental principles of adult education. They tell us, based on research, that adults learn best

  • when they are helped to reflect on their practice;
  • when they identify their own strengths and weaknesses;
  • when they analyse how they have learned;
  • and when they agree plans for further development.

The principles of reflective and collaborative learning sit behind the substantial work done by the Law Society of Scotland and its partners on the Diploma and the Professional Competence Course. We are producing new solicitors who expect adult learning of the highest calibre. We need to bring our CPD system up to the same standards.

The WS Society believes that a review of best practice in the adult learning field would reveal a series of simple improvements. We look forward to these proposals being brought to the Society’s next AGM.

This article is based on speeches given by John Elliot DKS and Ewan Malcolm WS at the Law Society of Scotland’s AGM on 18 March 2005

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