Continuing Professional Development (also known as CPE, CE, RCH, etc.) is a requirement for maintaining many professional certifications, like the CPA, CMA, CIA, and dozens more, including for Human Resources, legal professionals, physicians, and many others. There are always requirements around how much of what kind of learning must be done on what frequency basis in order to maintain your professional certification, and those vary by certification type.

However, at the end of the day it’s all about competence. All CPAs are required to participate in learning activities that improve or at least maintain their professional competence. Selection of learning activities is a critical component of maintaining that professional competence and is covered extensively under the NASBA guidelines updated in 2016. As noted in the 2016 Statement On Standards for CPE Programs, “CPAs are responsible for complying with all applicable CPE requirements, rules, and regulations of boards of accountancy, as well as those of membership associations and other professional organizations.” So this is not something to be taken lightly.

The reason that competence it is so critical is that it determines one’s ability to correctly perform professional duties while at the same time maximizing performance and minimizing risk to the practitioner and to their companies and firms. According to NASBA the concept of professional competence can be interpreted rather broadly, and therefore acceptable continuing education programs are meant to contribute to the development and maintenance of professional skills and the choice of how one fines and utilizes CPE is largely left up to the individual learner. And this brings us to the heart of why there are so many varieties of CPE available and why you need to earn CPE.

What kinds of CPE are most prominent today?

The accounting profession has been hit by an explosion of information, data, and regulation. This flow of “need to know”stuff is not only unstoppable, it seems to be accelerating in the modern age, with modern communications, and an ever-in CPEasing variety of corporate, product, and business activity types. Advancing technology globalization specialization and the in CPEdibly complex nature of business transactions have CPEated a dynamic environment that requires CPAs to continuously maintain an enhanced competence and this has brought forth an almost equally complex number of ways in which to maintain one’s competency.

Live learning conferences

Even in today’s world of nearly online everything, there are still plenty of ways to get your CPE “live and in person”. First and foremost amongst these are conferences and seminars. Yes, people still actually travel via car or plane to sit in an uncomfortable chair for some number of hours or days listening to a speaker speak.

There are a number of upsides to genuinely live learning. First off you actually get to get out of the office for these. It’s nice to take a break from work and genuinely change context, and many people find it easier to learn if they completely clear their calendar and make time for it, being away from the typical office distractions. Trying to do serious learning while you’re still in your office with your email and phone right next to you is very challenging, but if you’re in a ballroom at a Conference Center with your phone switched off, there is a much greater ability to focus.

People also tend to like the live interaction of conferences. That does not necessarily mean the attendees interacting live with the instructor, although that is certainly possible and encouraged, but it’s more about being next to your peers chatting with them during the breaks, and being able to exchange business cards and make a real world connection that might last.

It is a genuine advantage to have direct, live interaction with the instructor. A very few online platforms allow you to interact with the instructor but there is nothing quite like being face-to-face with someone to get depth. Also, it’s sometimes very useful to hear the questions and answers from other audience members. There’s great learning to be had from the real-world interaction that comes from live events. That is difficult to replicate online.

Before attending a live seminar or conference make sure to carefully check on the availability of CPECredit if that’s something that’s critical to you. Many conferences may have a large number of CPECredits available but they may be split amongst multiple tracks making it impossible to gather all of the CPE, and sometimes you may find multiple discussions you wanted to attend are scheduled at the same time and therefore you will be unable to get all of the sessions you want.

Live learning webinars

Some states require some portion of your CPE to be earned “live”. Well, it may surprise you to know that live-delivered webinars actually count as “live”. How is that?It’s because webinars are delivered live and the subject matter expert, in order to qualify for live CPE, must be present at the webinar to answer questions. Thus, live webinars actually become a viable choice for earning live CPE.

Another nice thing about webinars is that it is “scheduled television”. Which is to say that it is something that is scheduled on your calendar and if you miss it then you miss the entire learning opportunity. This may sound like a bad thing, and for many busy folks it can be, but simply driving you to schedule learning can be a very good thing, and thus webinars which are delivered live can actually get very busy people to make the time to learn. It’s a benefit that some folks don’t think about but it is truly useful when it comes to live webinars.

One thing you need to watch out for when it comes to live webinars is “sponsored” webinars. There are a number of platforms that provide sponsored webinars where the webinar content may be dictated by the sponsor, who may be trying to sell you something. This certainly does not apply to all sponsored webinar providers or all sponsored webinars, but it certainly does happen and you may find yourself in the middle of an hour long commercial in order to get yourself a free CPE credit. This obviously does not help you much when it comes to the primary motive for CPE which is maintaining current skills for your own professional benefit and that of your company or your clients. So be wary of sponsored live webinars, the quality varies dramatically.

On-demand Courses

The most rapidly growing variety of CPE learning is online and on-demand. There are a number of advantages and some disadvantages to online, on-demand,with the most obvious advantage being that you can learn anytime you want, and you get to choose what you learn. That last bit may not same as obvious to folks, but when you are attending a conference or a live webinar, you are hewing to someone else’s schedule and someone else’s determination of what they want to teach – not what you want to learn when you need it. Thus, on-demand learning lets you drive the bus, choosing what you want to learn and when, leading to a genuinely useful meeting of supply and demand , the demand being your need to learn something specific.

On-demand also allows you to view an entire library of options before making your choice for learning. Webinars tend to have only one choice, take it or leave it, and live events like seminars and conferences may have a handful of sessions, but you still have to order off of someone else’s menu. On demand CPE provides the benefit of giving true choice to the end user.

Another advantage of on demand learning is cost. On-demand CPE can be very cost effective when compared to seminars, conferences, and in-house or custom training, which we will discuss next. You can frequently purchase single courses at-a-time for a few dozens of dollars, or you may be able to subscribe to hundreds of courses at a time for a few hundred dollars. Those costs are all dramatically less than the cost of traveling to even a one-day conference, which may cost thousands of dollars once you include travel expenses. Thus, when it comes to return on investment for training and CPE, on demand learning frequently leads the way.

One disadvantage of on-demand training, which we alluded to above, is the need to find internal motivation in order to complete your training courses. Some firms and companies provide that motivation externally by measuring the learning and their employees do on their learning platforms. However, if left to their own devices, many people focus on completing the work that’s in front of them, leaving training and CPE to a later date which may never arrive. So, one thing to keep in mind with regards to on-demand training is the need to either schedule that training on a regular basis, or finding your own intrinsic motivation for getting the learning done. Putting it on your calendar will greatly increase your odds of actually doing it.

There’s more still. We have created a “Part 2” to this article as it covers so much ground. You will find that article on our site.

Learn More about CPE Program Types

The authoritative guidelines for CPE programs reside in the statement on standards for continuing professional education programs revised August 2016 and available on the NASBA website , linked here: In addition to this material you should also check your state board of accountancy rules, typically available via their website, in order to make sure any CPE earning activities you undertake will qualify under their rules and regulations as well. You can usually look up the CPE guidelines for your state via a quick Google search.