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.