The democratisation of learning
When Sir Tim Berners-Lee created the internet in 1989, it was an information-sharing tool for scientists in universities and institutions globally. No Facebook, no YouTube, no Amazon.
Upon its launch, the British scientist released the web’s source code for free, asserting the internet must be an “open and democratic platform for all”. Democracy, Berners-Lee later explained, “involves people being informed, being able to communicate, [and] being able to hold each other accountable”.
Thirty years on and it’s hard to imagine a world without the internet. Whether at home or at work, it’s often the first place people go to when seeking answers to almost anything. It’s no surprise that the likes of Google, Baidu and Wikipedia are among the most popular websites globally.
Learning, notably, has been transformed by the web. Users can acquire knowledge with the click of a button 24/7, and can share their own views and other information via blogs, wikis and social media. Google estimates that there now are up to 60 billion webpages.
With the role of today’s accountant becoming more diverse, practitioners require timely information on regulatory updates, new technologies, and financial and economic developments. They also need access to general news, which could impact their firms and client bases, explains Wilson Pang FCPA (Aust.), Head of Turnaround, Restructuring Services China and Head of Portfolio Solutions Group ASPAC and China at KPMG.
That’s not to say the web is the silver bullet for all information needs. Pang highlights two challenges accountants commonly encounter when sourcing information online. First, accuracy and reliability: today’s surge in so-called ‘fake news’ means extra caution should be exerted when sourcing online information. And second, the sheer amount of information available online can be overwhelming, with users not knowing where to start. The democracy of the web — that is, the opportunity for everyone to have a voice online — is a double-edged sword.
To overcome these issues, firms should roll-out guidelines that stipulate the websites and resources staff should use when sourcing information. Likely this will involve some form of subscription. Access to accurate information, Pang believes, is a price worth paying.
Larger firms will also benefit from an in-house research team, which can provide timely information that is cross-checked from reliable sources to front-line staff and others. Much of KPMG’s knowledge base, Pang explains, comes from the firm’s own team of researchers.
Access to online information, while important, is but one resource. Equally as important is advice and information provided by peers. To ensure that learning is truly democratic, the sharing process must be two-way, Pang believes.
Traditionally, firms solely exerted a top-down approach to information-sharing, ensuring that insights and experiences were passed down from superiors to subordinates. While there continues to be much merit in this, today’s businesses also benefit from information being passed from side-to-side among peers, and bottom-up from staff to leaders. Such open communication can be easily realised thanks to messaging apps, intranets, social sites and video conferencing, many of which are free of charge.
At KPMG, graduates and less experienced staff benefit from the company’s mentoring program. It ensures that younger team members are brought up to speed on business practices and industry trends.
“The web cannot teach people how to interact with others, think creatively, have empathy, communicate and much more,” says Pang. Guidance from experienced practitioners, therefore, is essential, and should be delivered through a number of “physical platforms” including regular one-on-one meetings, and group seminars and workshops.
Company executives must lead by example, Pang asserts. This allows the younger generation to learn correct practices and procedures, and ensures that the learning process is accessible to all.
Culture of learning
Pang enthuses about the rise of e-learning, where people have the ability to study in their own time and space. Combined with the web and mentoring, firms can create a culture of learning, where workforces remain highly informed and motivated.
In today’s constantly changing business environment, Pang believes it’s important to innovate how staff learn in order to capitalise on opportunities and mitigate unforeseen threats. An important component in the democratic learning process is support from external partners. Not only can they assist in spotting business openings, they are able to offer solutions to pressing challenges.
“CPA Australia offers a wide range of learning solutions, whether that’s information on governance, regulatory and financial matters, or guidance on a particular skill,” Pang explains. As a highly regarded association, and one that is internationally recognised, the quality and integrity of its CPD programs enables businesses and professionals to continuously improve and compete.
"A culture of learning empowers workforces to innovate across all departments. Firms that are committed to advancing staff knowledge and skills will enjoy the many benefits this brings; those that are not could be challenged in future."
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