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AICPA Council

AICPA Council (3): Revisiting Learning

A big focus of yesterday’s meeting was on learning and how learning vehicles today are changing.  There was talk about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)—where you may be one of thousands of people taking a course—and we also heard from Sal Kahn, founder of the Khan Academy.  To close out the day we went into breakout groups, one of which was about the “Future of Learning”.

Kahn’s talk made the biggest impression on me.  He was amusing, mild mannered, and seemed like an all-around really nice guy.  He shared with us the meager start of Kahn Academy, which was simply a way for him to tutor his younger cousins who were geographically distant from him.  Then through a serendipitous meeting with a woman who had happened to use the Kahn Academy videos for her daughter, who later influenced the philanthropy of Bill Gates (who also used Kahn Academy videos for his kids), Kahn Academy has grown to be the great FREE learning provider that it is today.

While his story was an endearing one, the thing that stood out to me the most was their approach to breaking down their learning material.  He showed us what looked like a mathematical binomial tree and explained that it was a concepts map for mathematics.  The top of the tree was simple addition and subtraction, and from there it just kept branching downward to more advanced concepts through to calculus.

Kahn explained to us that this tree was part of the key to success of their learning model.  That instead of the time-based model that kept all the students in a class on the same learning timeline regardless of whether they displayed mastery of previous concepts, the Kahn tree showed how concepts were related and allowed you to spend as much time on a particular concept as you needed to obtain mastery.

This really made me think about how we approach accounting education as a whole, and also how we approach the education related to our specialized credentials.  We could do the same type of tree for accounting with basic debits and credits starting off the tree and continuing through to advanced financial reporting.  I could also see separate trees for risk assessment with advanced branches continuing into specialized areas like IT risk assessment or industry specific areas like insurance/underwriting-related risk management.

I’m even thinking that I should create these trees for my own presentations and course contents and create my own short videos to explain each concept atomically and publish them through my donnyitk YouTube channel. This presents an interesting conundrum though, if I put my content on YouTube, will people still want me to speak for their conferences or give CPE classes?  After sleeping on it, I came to the conclusion that yes, there would still be value to classroom (web or online) style learning.  What it would allow me to do, is to actually focus my classroom teaching on the actual application of the learning or to go through case studies which help demonstrate the concepts, allowing people to ask questions and me to spend more time on interactivity and application rather than lecture.

At this past AICPA E.D.G.E. Conference, I had already tested some of these interactive techniques.  For one of my sessions on “how to choose a cloud accounting software”, I went in with 4 slides: title, speaker bio, agenda, and contact information.  During the class I spent maybe 10 minutes explaining how I approach software selection and then had participants break into groups and actually map out an accounting process: general ledger, accounts payable and cash disbursements, or accounts receivable and cash receipts.  Then I had them sign up for the trials for several cloud accounting software and actually go through the trial to determine what was different in how each software approached the functionality. To close out the session, I had each of the groups report out on what they found—essentially enabling them to learn from themselves and see how different groups approached the same task.  In an area like cloud computing where features and functionality can change on what seems like a daily basis, I felt that knowledge of the process of comparison was more important than actually providing information (that would probably be outdated within a few months anyway).  The evaluations came back and while they weren’t my highest scores (definitely got dinged on the materials aspect) people still scored the overall course relevancy and my speaking ability as well above average.  So I would definitely consider the course a success.

However some may question whether the session above actually qualifies for Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credit.  And this was a topic we discussed a lot during the Future of Learning breakout session.  The definition of CPE and whether there was actual learning occurring was brought into question.  One state society executive shared the story of one class participant who was so proud that he was able to earn 16 credits in one day; 8 from the class he was attending and 8 from the self-study course that he was doing while sitting in class.  Now that to me is more of an integrity issue, than a CPE issue, but it points out the flaw that our CPE is based on time spent in class rather than learning outcomes achieved.

A CPA firm partner explained how differences in state-level CPE requirements also forced him to take 2 days of tax courses.  He is an IT audit and information security specialist, yet he had to sit through these tax courses to meet this CPE requirements even though none of his work was even remotely tax-related.  In reaction to this, our table thought that maybe CPE requirements need to be less “generic” and instead tied more into the “type of CPA” that a person is and the knowledge areas that they would be expected to be up-to-date on to practice in their area of expertise.  I can see part of this already present in governmental audits where you need a certain number CPE hours related to governmental accounting or governmental auditing standards.

This all brought flash backs to our discussions at the CPA Horizons 2025 Advisory Panel meeting several years ago where we were trying to figure out what to name the insight that was related to CPE.  Both of the above concerns as well as many more came up.  In the end, we ended up using the term “Lifelong Learning”—hoping to convey the idea that it wasn’t just about “education” (book knowledge) but rather about actual learning and the ability to apply the learning into practice in our lives.  We also put the word lifelong into there to show that this wasn’t just a pre-certification or job related issue, but rather one that we dealt with for our entire lives.  (Remember being a CPA isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle!)

So I left the Council meeting with much to think about, particularly since we have a joint Information Management and Technology Assurance (IMTA) Executive Committee and Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP) Credential Committee coming up in less than a month.  At that meeting, we’ll we updating our ITMA competency model and revisiting the CITP Body of Knowledge.  I will have have to figure out before then, how we address the learning challenges above as we educate our section members and build the pathway for upcoming CITPs.

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