Continuing Professional Development

figuresclockContinuing Professional Development (CPD) is a growing area of interest. If we interpret the term ‘professional’ quite loosely, then we can include not just the traditional regulated professions such as medicine and law under this heading but also include management and similar fields of work.

The requirement to continue to keep up to date has been the starting point for CPD. In medicine, for instance, there are new drugs and procedures appearing all the time. Doctors need to keep on top of this and therefore they need to continue to learn. Indeed the UK Government is proposing that General Practitioners will have to be revalidated every five years in order to maintain their licence to practice. However the emphasis on just knowledge learning has broadened over recent years. Now we find the pressure is for professionals to increase their skills and capabilities to cope with a changing world.

We see this area as clearly strategic as the best CPD is a process of continuing to learn in one’s professional arena for as long as one is employed in that profession. It cannot be just a short term, quick fix activity. However many professional bodies still see it in the latter terms. This is especially so when CPD means no more than attending some seminars or conferences in the year and ticking off boxes on the form you send to the professional body and then getting the OK for having done your CPD.

This input led mode clearly does not work. We have attended professional conferences and observed some individuals either sitting at the back reading newspapers or just not turning up for sessions (they were too busy on the golf course). The reason for this behaviour is that the professional body requires a certain number of learning events in the year to be attended – and there are people attending only in order to get their tick in the relevant box. They have no interest in learning.

When working with a professional body in order to change their CPD scheme, one person we interviewed mentioned that he had set up his own business and entered some totally new areas of work. He commented that he had learned more in the last year in his profession than at any other time. But he was failing his CPD requirements because he had not been on enough courses.

The answer to this silly situation is that CPD needs to be based on outcomes and outputs; schemes need to measure what is learned not what has been taught.


We will focus on examples of individuals carrying out CPD. In the best schemes professional bodies provide a range of support mechanisms for CPD. These include:-

  • online support systems to help people find learning activities and to record their learning
  • a CPD person at local level who can encourage CPD (the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development is encouraging this)
  • mentors who can support newcomers to a profession in their CPD (see later in Mentoring)
  • learning groups that can provide peer group support for CPD (see Self Managed Learning)

If you are fortunate enough to belong to such a professional body then this kind of support obviously makes it easier to do CPD.   However even without it this Handbook provides many ideas for doing CPD.   If most learning occurs through work then utilising work based approaches makes sense. However this is not to say that courses and conferences should be neglected. The key issue is being clear about what you need to learn and then looking for methods that can help.

Possible benefits

It could be argued that CPD is an ethical requirement of any professional; if you are not keeping up to date and continuing to develop, should you expect to be calling yourself a professional?

There are some clear benefits that ought to come with CPD. These include:

  • increased job satisfaction due to being on top of the work
  • increased security in one’s professional field – if you get out of date you are more vulnerable to redundancy (if employed) or lack of clients (if you are self employed)
  • possible increased income due to higher level skills being used

Possible limitations

  • Time – this is the biggest issue – people are so busy these days that they say that lack of time is the real problem in continuing to learn
  • Lack of support from one’s professional body
  • The professional body is still in the input oriented, box-ticking mode and hence CPD becomes a bureaucratic chore
  • Resources – some development approaches cost
  • Geography – in our researches a number of people said that they lived too far away from where professional meetings were held and hence could not attend them

Operating hints

  • Some of the other approaches in this section can be used for CPD so it does not have to be a separate activity. Ideally it should just be an integral part of working practice to monitor one’s own learning
  • If your professional body is one of the many that continue to use input measures, try to keep the focus on outputs/outcomes, despite this.
  • Talk to other professionals and use their expertise, especially where they can point to short cuts (see later on Networking)
  • Don’t just keep your learning activities bounded by your profession; many relevant skills and abilities may be gained by looking at other areas of learning. An example would be time management – many professionals are concerned about the time pressures that are upon them and some of the general management literature might have things to offer in this and related areas. Or someone in another profession may be able to coach you in time management.