In December 2019, the AICPA and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) announced several changes to the Statement on Standards for Continuing Professional Education (CPE) Programs and the NASBA Fields of Study document.  These changes represent the first updates to these Statements since 2016.  One of the biggest additions to the standards is the inclusion of adaptive learning programs as part of the self-study standards.  The addition of adaptive learning programs to the self-study standards was originally proposed in May 2019, along with several additions, clarifications and explanations to make some more complicated areas of the statements easier to decipher and understand.

Adaptive Learning Programs, Defined

An adaptive learning program delivers customized content based on an individual’s needs, which is assessed as part of the program.  Adaptive learning provides a personalized approach to continuing education learning instead of using the all-for-one approach to educating consumers of the program.  The end result of adaptive learning is to engage the individual taking the course by making it both meaningful and purposeful to them in his or her accounting position.  

A computer algorithm or other predictive analytical tool is used to interact with the student and deliver personalized content and activities to assist the individual in meeting the stated course objectives and earn the continuing education credits.  As the student interacts with the course, different types of course materials are offered based on student responses to previous questions, tasks, or experiences.  The algorithm or analytical tools determines a step-by-step ‘path’ for the learner.  Once the student shows competence and skill at a certain level then the materials adapt to meet the next set of standards for the learner.  One course could offer several different paths, depending on the individual’s competencies.

Calculating the Number of Hours of Continuing Education Credit

Statement No. 17 of the Statement on Standards for Continuing Professional Education Programs details the calculation methods for determining the number of hours of credit rewarded for adaptive learning programs.  The number of credit hours can be calculated using one of the two allowable methods: 

  1. Pilot test of the representative completion time
  2. Computation using the prescribed word count formula

For method one, a sample of intended professional participants is selected to test program materials in a manner similar to the one being presented as part of the course.  The sample group must consist of at least seven participants, with the make-up of the participants being determined by the target audience of the course, whether it is for CPAs only or a mix of CPAs and non-CPAs.  

For method two, an average word count formula calculation must be done for each potential ‘path’ a learner could follow as part of the adaptive learning course.  All of the individual word counts are added together and an overall average is calculated and used to determine the number of credits offered by the course.  

Statement No. 17 provides a comprehensive explanation of each step in the two allowable methods as both are quite complicated and beyond the scope of this post. 

Adaptive Learning: The Way of the Future?

Adaptive learning may truly be the way of the future. While CPE must be regulated, allowing people to choose their own courses, interests, and way of learning is the best way to ensure they actually learn, not just show up for credit. Instead of sitting through in-person classes secretly watching Netflix on their laptop, people can select topics that are pertinent to them. And that’s what makes adaptive learning so appealing.