Social media matters: finding quality CPD online


When we think of continuing professional development (CPD) often the first things to come to mind are attending lectures or taking formal qualifications. Professionals rarely consider the many small exchanges of information that occur between peers in an office or in coffee breaks, let alone online discussions, as building towards their CPD requirement.

Social media has now been around long enough that professional bodies can see patterns and adapt their concept of how members accrue CPD accordingly. For example, a 2012 study of online learning suggests that the likes of Twitter and LinkedIn are now leading means of collecting CPD.

Social media has permeated our daily working lives, resulting in ‘micro-engagements’ between colleagues and peers. A quick series of posts on LinkedIn may be just as fruitful as spending hours searching a library, because you can speak directly to other practitioners and cut out the inexpert middleman of search engines. I’m sure that most of us have given up on Googling ‘estates’ or ‘trusts’ by now, for that reason!

A more liberal approach to CPD opens up a new way for professionals to boost their understanding, but also adds a new challenge — determining how to record and evaluate social media and online interactions as quality CPD.

The first hurdle in accepting social media interactions as CPD is recording any learning activities. Recording and reflecting on CPD are an important component of the learning process, so quick interactions without assessment are less valuable. Some would say that monitoring use of online forums is a rigorous way to track the volume and value, but it would be labour-intensive for all parties and dissuade professionals from using genuinely useful sources of information. Since it’s unrealistic to expect members to record every activity on various sites, it can be treated in the same way that reading trade publications was in the past; the content may not be relevant to everyone, but reading is worthwhile to find the information that is relevant.

The next question is how to determine the value of CPD gained through online discussions, since they’re usually brief and informal. The fact that discussions are public is a safeguard because, unlike static articles, ideas can be openly challenged and alternative suggestions can be discussed. STEP’s experience is that the most active members tend to share articles from respected sources, because their reputations are reinforced by the quality of the information shared. Online discussions are similar to the conversations you might have at a conference, so are of equal value for CPD purposes.

Reviewing the impact of changes in legislation or learning from a complicated case is best done after the dust has settled and experienced professionals have drawn conclusions from it, so there will always be a place for traditional learning from experts in formal settings, whether through gaining qualifications or attending conferences. The main benefit of social media is that members can immediately share details of something that’s impacting practitioners today, rather than becoming tomorrow’s conference topic themselves.

Click here for more information on STEP’s new CPD policy

Val Cox is STEP’s CPD Manager.

STEP moves towards a new qualifications structure

Nigel RaceSTEP is introducing a new look to its qualifications in July this year with the launch of the Qualifications Framework. We will be giving more detail over the coming months in the STEP Journal and other channels, but it might be useful to give some background on the drivers for this change, and the resulting benefits that we envisage. As highlighted in the STEP Journal last year, the STEP Qualifications Framework creates a structure within which STEP can place its qualifications, together with content from other providers such as universities and professional bodies, and assign a credit value that can be counted towards a level of membership. This offers close alignment, therefore, between qualifications and the new membership levels, those levels being Student, Affiliate, Technician and TEP.

The qualification system is simple and enables STEP to standardise entry requirements and create flexibility in how an individual can achieve membership of STEP through examination. More than this, it enables STEP to develop a lifelong learning offering that  goes well beyond simple qualifications. Already graduates of the International and England & Wales Diplomas can study for a BSc in Management, Trusts and Estates with Manchester University. Last year saw the first cohort coming through this new degree programme and the 40 STEP graduates proved the most successful out of all the other professional bodies involved. STEP members will, in time, be able to gain even higher level (Masters +) academic qualifications through STEP university partnerships.

The impact of the new Qualifications Framework will be mild initially and relevant particularly to new entrants to STEP. However, existing students will automatically be credited for the exams they have taken once the new framework is launched and those with sufficient credits will be upgraded automatically. A student who has the appropriate combination of STEP certificate, prior qualification and experience will be able to enter the Diploma programme and, once they have passed two papers, be eligible to become a STEP Technician.

In England & Wales and Scotland initially, as the modular approach is being piloted, students will have a couple of optional routes to a STEP Diploma, namely the Will Preparation route and the Tax and Estate Planning route. Those students and affiliates with the STEP Advanced Certificates in Will Preparation or UK Tax for International Clients will be able to credit these, retrospectively and in the future, towards a STEP Diploma and application for TEP. Next year we hope to open this up further with the STEP Advanced Certificate in Advising Vulnerable Clients creating a third specialist stream. Once we are confident the system is working then we will look to extend options to other STEP regions.

STEP’s Qualified Practitioner route, too, which currently requires the submission of three 5,000 word essays, is also likely to be brought into the Qualifications Framework in due course. OverQualifications Framework time we hope that the new Qualifications Framework starts to achieve a range of outcomes for STEP members and prospective members:

  • coherence and simplicity of qualifications across borders
  • wider access to STEP membership for appropriate groups
  • a tight match between qualifications and the skills and knowledge that employers require
  • a framework for lifelong learning
  • close and productive relationships with non-STEP providers of learning.


The benefits of this new Qualifications Framework will be incremental initially but potentially significant over time.

We will be supplying further information over the next few months as we move towards the July launch date, but if you have any questions please email [email protected]

Nigel Race is STEP’s Director of Professional Development.