Making Continuing Education More than Just a Box to Check Off

Emily Fox, Director of Wealth Management Company
May 7, 2019

When you attend continuing education (CE) courses, do you ever feel like Charlie Brown, sitting in the room hearing somebody drone on and on without really even hearing what they say? This is too often the result when attending compulsory education.

As adults, we do not, and should not, approach learning the same way children do. As professionals, we are often required to make learning a lifelong endeavor as part of our credentialing. How should we approach learning so it is more than just a box to check off, and instead becomes truly beneficial?

Relevance: Children go to school because they are told they must. True adult learning is purpose driven; we learn something because we see the relevance (or at least the interest) and make the choice to learn. True, sometimes the relevance to us has to do with compulsory requirements, and obtaining continuing education certainly falls into that category. However, if we want to truly learn when we obtain CE, we should be making a choice to learn something that is interesting and relevant to us, and therefore, purpose driven. In other words, going to a CE session about a topic you will never use will bore you, and you likely won’t remember it nor  use it. Within your requirements, rather than just signing up for the first (or worse, the last, when up against the wall) classes available, choose topics you will use!

Interaction with material: Charlie Brown may be paying attention, and doing so is the first requirement for real learning, but ultimately it is not enough. From Bloom’s taxonomy for education, we know that the next step in the process is to respond or actively participate. As we participate, we attach value, either positive or negative, to the information and knowledge. From there, we can organize and compare this knowledge to other prior knowledge, and relate it to past experiences. 

Application of past experiences: While children are often learning something totally new, with no personal context about the topic, professionals bring experience and context to the table. It is our responsibility to actively surface this context for ourselves. If we sit passively absorbing words from a presentation, we are missing the opportunity to apply the information. What client(s) do you have who might benefit from this new strategy? Write down their names and plan to research applicability. Mentally triage past cases. Who might have benefitted from this had you known about it previously? Apply personal experience to make new information real. Interact with the presenter, instructor or online material. We own responsibility for how we internalize and use information given to us.

Creation of new solutions: Ultimately, we want to be able to create something new with this gained knowledge. Basic knowledge and even comprehension of facts, principles, theories and structures is interesting and gets us our CE credit, but it is not truly relevant if it is not put to use. Solving problems using new knowledge, creating a plan to address a need – these are the ways we truly learn, grow and use continuing education to help our clients.

What does this all boil down to? It’s actually pretty simple, although not necessarily easy. Ultimately, as an adult learner, we are responsible for our own learning. We can choose to attend whatever is closest to us or at the most convenient time, then sit passively and check off the box for the requirement. Or we can carefully select interesting and relevant topics, then engage, interact, problem solve and create. Rather than viewing CE as only a requirement, we can choose a different mindset and see it as an opportunity, for both ourselves and our clients.

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