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Igniting a Passion for Learning

Last time, as part of a discussion on AICPA’s Future of Learning initiative, I focused on the Future of Learning Task Force recommendation to innovate and experiment, including ideas on selecting the right delivery method for a topic, ways to integrate technology into learning and, perhaps most importantly, ideas for small changes to delivery that can have a huge impact.

Creating a Spark

Today, let’s focus on the recommendation to “ignite a passion for learning.”

In a professional environment where complying with CPE hours often places more value on how much time you spend in a classroom than the quality of what you learn—it is not uncommon for a CPA’s desire to learn to be extinguished and replaced by a resignation to comply.

The importance of motivating CPAs to build competency in meaningful ways cannot be undervalued. And, as we noted in the report, nothing motivates and engages learners like meaningful, purposeful experiences. Whether you create regulation, develop employees or deliver learning, challenge yourself to answer the following, Education for what purpose? If you keep this in mind you will help professionals make the most out of each learning experience.

Fueling the Passion 

In today’s workplace, where professionals are expected to do more, faster, a key way to engage learners is to create a connection between professional development and career growth. Newer generations of workers, however, prefer to look at their careers as a lattice, not a ladder. So the challenge for employers is to balance the need to ensure that professionals who have similar job functions have developed the appropriate competencies with creating meaningful variety that enhances their learning experiences.

If we can agree that not all learning happens in a classroom, the options for meaningful learning experiences skyrocket. For example:


  • Facilitate engagement with mentors. You don’t need a formal program, informal and experiential learning opportunities will help learners build competency while “on the job,” often through observation and discussion. Plus, mentors who feel passionate about what they do can ignite that same spark in their mentees.
  • Encourage collaboration. When peers trade notes on how they handled various situations, for example a particularly difficult negotiation, they can gain deep learning from these real-life case studies—likely better than in a classroom. Often, in a collegial environment, professionals are more likely to share what didn’t work as well as what did work.
  • Incorporate a wild card option for professional development. Early in a professional’s career, much of their professional development is often selected for them. Consider allowing professionals to self-select at least one formal learning experience. It could be out of sequence training or exploration of an entirely new side of the business (e.g., an audit senior participating in tax training). There is a solid educational philosophy behind why first grade teachers often study dinosaurs. Apply it here.
  • Develop people, leadership and business skills. While these opportunities are core to ensuring we have professionals who can make sense of complex issues and exercise professional judgment, they also serve as powerful motivators to learners.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of social. Reality is that there is only a limited amount of time available for face-to-face interactions, so don’t underestimate the value of social. Internal forums (e.g., Yammer) can provide a safe environment for colleagues to share ideas, and posts are usually archived for quick reference purposes.
  • Introduce a little competition.  When learning is goal driven, for example, through achieving a certification or close alignment with an opportunity to enhance performance, learners are more engaged and results follow. This is where we should take a lesson from gaming. While utilizing game mechanics is not a silver bullet, gamification taps deeply into the human psyche and triggers intrinsic motivation. This does not mean that all learning should feel like a video game, only that gaming components such as rewards, competition and feedback based on achievement can be incorporated into successful learning programs.


Next Time: Make Learning Personal

In my next blog post, we will go in depth on the recommendation that supports a critical aspect of igniting a passion for learning: Make learning personal. In the meantime, I invite you to go to Future of Learning to learn more.

More insights and recommendations—as well as other resources related to the initiative—are now available on the new Future of Learning site.

Clar Rosso, Vice President of Member Learning and Competency, American Institute of CPAs.


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