Organisations that put individuals at the heart of professional development stand to gain significantly. Those that do not could soon struggle.

In 1984, research carried out by American educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom found that students who received personalised instruction outperformed 98 per cent of those who did not.

Bloom challenged the academic community to replicate, at scale, the effectiveness of personalised learning. This call, however, was unmet — that is, until recently.

Fast forward almost 35 years and personalised learning is now not only widespread among schools, but companies large and small are staunch advocates. ATD Research says that today 83 per cent of organisations globally offer some form of personalised learning.

“Employees want more control over what they learn, when and how,” says Katrina Watt CPA, financial services teacher at the Sunraysia Institute of Technical and Further Education in Victoria, Australia. “Personalised learning engages individuals beyond what can usually be achieved in conventional environments, such as classrooms or group training, and gives employees and companies the opportunity to target specific capability gaps.”

Driving forces

Accountants, more than most other professionals, must continuously update themselves on the latest developments impacting their roles. Not only must they understand regulatory matters such as tax laws and accounting standards, they must also be on top of sector-specific trends that impact their respective companies.

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Through technology, the opportunity to study anywhere, anytime and at any speed has never been easier. Aside from using standard online tools such as webinars, whitepapers and video, personalised learning is increasingly leveraging advanced technologies.

Carnegie Learning, for example, uses artificial intelligence to provide online learning, testing and feedback to maths students from across all education levels. Users consistently outperform their peers, the firm says. Walmart deploys virtual reality (VR) headsets to help improve employee decision-making at stores and warehouses. VR-powered training has boosted confidence in areas such as customer service and operating new technologies, and has led to increased retention, says the retailer. And Deloitte uses gamification to motivate employees through use of missions, competitions and rewards. The firm’s leadership academy has since experienced a 50 per cent increase in the rate of course completion, reports say.

Continuing professional development (CPD) ensures accountants have the technical knowhow and “soft skills” required to progress in their careers. A recent study by LinkedIn revealed that 94 per cent of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development.

Business impact

New technologies, however, are challenging traditional roles and responsibilities. “The tutor is moving from providing individual guidance and support, to programming content, working with technology developers and other non-face-to-face work,” Watt explains.

Similarly, surging interest in personalised learning is prompting organisations to redefine their professional development goals and objectives, and create new strategies accordingly. Leadership, in particular, is having to embrace this change. But a 2017 study by LinkedIn found that only 4 per cent of CEOs recognise the return on investment of such programmes. Without buy-in across all management levels, Watt says, companies will miss out on the productivity and competitive gains that personalised learning can provide.

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Katrina Watt CPA, financial services teacher at the Sunraysia Institute of Technical and Further Education in Victoria, Australia

A further impediment is that organisations are often unable to invest the time and money required, and commonly don’t know where to start. Plus, personalised learning is also not for everyone, as individuals can feel isolated and excluded from others, and crave the social aspects of the conventional classroom experience.

As one of the world’s largest accounting bodies and an organisation highly respected by accountants and finance professionals globally, CPA Australia helps organisations navigate the many challenges they face when rolling out new initiatives. Watts explains that by leveraging the success stories of peers, the association supports members when making the business case for professional development programmes. They’ll also provide ideas on how to overcome social issues associated with personalised learning, she adds, such as the provision of spaces, physically and virtually, where learners can interact with peers, share their experiences, and feel part of a learning community.

Future-ready workers

Instilling a culture of learning and knowledge-sharing, Watt says, is imperative for the benefits of personalised learning to be enjoyed by all. Its importance to the 21st century economy is prompting universities, arguably the most conventional of institutions, to rethink their teaching practises. A core component of ‘University 4.0’, the concept of how universities can thrive in an era of rapid change and disruption, is to move towards on-demand learning and offer credentials beyond conventional degrees . Benjamin Bloom’s challenge to replicate, at scale, the effectiveness of personalised learning appears to be coming full circle.

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Recognising the impact of change on organisations and individuals, CPA Australia is working with its member-base to ensure it is equipped to compete in today’s rapidly evolving business environment. Among many personalised learning tools, the organisation’s My Capability Plan enables individuals to identify training needs, and recommends cutting-edge programmes to meet these.

“With formal education, business and industry groups embracing personalised learning, it will soon become the norm rather than the exception,” enthuses Watt.

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