By Carrie Steffen
If you're one of the many who has recently transitioned to a remote work environment due to the pandemic stay-at-home orders, hopefully you're beginning to find your rhythm. There is no doubt, the coronavirus crisis has sped up the accounting profession’s technology transformation. It remains to be seen, however, how much of this transformation will remain after the pandemic subsides.
I think, as we start to normalize remote work and become comfortable with the associated technologies, new opportunities will emerge. For instance, now is a perfect time to explore remote learning options. Learning can be a great way to stay engaged professionally during pandemic-caused deadline delays and client separations, but it also benefits mental well-being in times of stress or anxiety.
This blog illustrates some of the advantages of embracing virtual learning.
It's convenient – There are numerous on-demand options available when you are ready. Look for offerings from recognized professional training organizations that offer their content digitally. The PICPA, for example, offers numerous online seminars and webcasts. Not only can you work around your schedule, you can also work within your needs by being specific and intentional about which topics are most important to you.
Even when we regain greater flexibility in leaving our homes, virtual learning can happen in whatever place is convenient, inspiring, or comfortable for you. That may be your home office, your back deck, a local coffee house, the library, or any other location you choose.
It's economical – In addition to saving the out-of-pocket expenses associated with traveling to conferences or classes, you can save that road time. This means more time home with friends, family, pets, or whatever communities are important to you. Learning without having to be away all day – or for days at a time – may help you keep your work-life balance in check.
Because of the convenience and cost-effectiveness of virtual learning, you gain the flexibility to round out your learning experiences in areas that may have been sidelined due to cost or time. For instance, you can explore all kinds of soft-skills without worrying about diverting resources away from technical learning. Virtual learning opens an entirely new world of content to you.
It's adaptable to your pace – There are lots of terrific remote learning options that allow you to go at your own pace. These self-study courses offer opportunities to earn continuing professional education credits not only on a schedule that works for you, but gives you control over how quickly or slowly you engage with the material. Struggling to understand a concept? You can take extra time to review, practice, and research it. Ready to move on? You can do that too.
It's Just in Time – Virtual learning can be done in small, highly relevant bits. If you're struggling with a specific skill, you can find a 50 to 60 minute course with a few tips or ideas to practice and immediately apply those to your situation. You can even start with a 10 to 15 minute podcast to get a fresh perspective. This opportunity for just-in-time learning is not only practical, but it also encourages greater retention of the material. As soon as your course is finished, ask yourself what you can apply immediately and what you need to stow away for later.
Make the Most of Your Experience
Make a plan – Your learning journey will be more effective if you have a plan. Take time to map out what skills you want to develop. Consider where you are now, who you are, and where you are headed, then develop a curriculum that meets your needs. If your firm has a formalized career path, use that as a guide. In particular, think about what skills you need to become a business adviser to your clients: critical thinking, questioning skills, industry knowledge, etc. You can also work with a coach, mentor, or other career adviser to help map this out. Then begin to research opportunities to support your learning plan.
Be holistic in your approach – A benefit of virtual learning is the ease and cost effectiveness with which you can explore ideas and skills. Don't ignore soft skills in your plan. Consider programs that will make you well rounded and what you need to move to the next level of your career (i.e., business development, delegation, relationship development, communication, etc.).
Build a learning community – One of the perceived downsides of virtual learning is not being able to interact with other participants in a traditional classroom setting. Be creative and deliberate about building your own learning community using tools like Zoom or Teams to connect with others in your firm who may be on a similar learning path. You might also look to peers outside your firm and build a small network you can interact with regularly to discuss what you're learning. Use social media tools like LinkedIn or Twitter to connect with a community of other professionals. Just because you are engaged in more independent learning doesn't mean you can't reap the benefits of collaboration.
Use a variety of learning resources – Webinars and self-study courses are good options for virtual learning, but there are a many other formats that cater to different styles of learning. Podcast subscriptions is an example. You can usually download podcasts and listen to them while you are exercising, cooking, or in any other number of situations. Blogs and other online publications are another alternative. Mix and match your sources to not only keep it interesting, but also experience greatest amount flexibility. Social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter also offer content originating from sources such as accounting publications, the AICPA, and state societies like the PICPA.
Start small and pick a few – The sheer number of options can seem overwhelming, so start small. If you're new to virtual learning, select a 50 to 60 minute course and try it. Subscribe to one blog and see if it delivers value. Explore a podcast or two and see how the content fits with your need. Evaluate. Ditch anything that doesn't seem to work. Like adapting to remote work, you may have to give yourself a bit of time to adapt to the format, so don't give up after one or two tries.
During this time when change is inevitable, don't put off learning until it's convenient or when, if ever, we're back to "business as usual." Embrace this opportunity to harness the power of virtual learning as a tool to continue personal growth both now and in the future.
Carrie Steffen is cofounder and president at The Whetstone Group in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She can be reached at email@example.com.
The PICPA offers numerous ways to earn CPE without having to leave the office as well as discount programs for members.
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