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Leaping the CPD hurdle: a study of the barriers and drivers to participation in Continuing Professional Development

Professor Andy Friedman and Dr Mary Phillips

Professional Associations Research Network, Management Research Centre, University of Bristol

Paper presented to the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Leeds, 13-15 September 2001



Continuing Professional Development (CPD) has become, at least notionally, part of professional life for many UK professionals. A survey of professional associations conducted by the Professional Associations Research Network (PARN) at the University of Bristol in 2000 found that of the 162 respondents, 62% had developed a CPD policy and programme. 6% had some other form of post-qualification learning programme such as Continuing Medical Education and a further 5% were in the process of developing programmes. Those without CPD were mainly very small associations of less than 1,500 members (Friedman et al, 2000). Professional associations, therefore, are largely committed to incorporating CPD into the working lives of their members.

However, from the limited number of surveys of their own members carried out by associations, there appears to be a wide variation in the level of participation in CPD programmes across professional bodies. Very little research had been done to identify the barriers which might be preventing professionals from becoming fully involved, and drivers which could motivate them to participate.

PARN received funding from the DfEE (now the DfES) to look at those barriers and drivers; how the policies and programmes developed by professional associations actually translated into practice. Findings from that research will be presented here, focusing on the aims and experiences of employees and their employers and illuminating the drivers that motivate professionals to commit to lifelong learning and the barriers that prevent them doing so.

We argue that CPD in its current form is both confused and contested and that many professionals find the concept bewildering and its practice difficult. However, CPD is not ambiguous simply because it reflects confusion on the part of professional associations or their members. The whole area of education or learning beyond traditional school years is fraught as a very brief account of the concept of lifelong learning will demonstrate later in this paper. We will therefore conclude by putting forward some tentative suggestions that we hope will move the debate forward.



The research was structured in two phases. First, we conducted a comprehensive survey of all the surveys conducted by professional associations over the last three years into their members' attitudes to CPD. These surveys were analysed and generated comments on the reflective practices of professional associations themselves1.

Between July and September 2000 all 436 professional associations on the PARN database were telephoned to identify those who had carried out any exercise to identify their members' experiences of CPD. We asked about surveys run by external agents as well as those run by the associations themselves. Responses to the telephone survey were secured from 269 associations. 47 had carried out member surveys on the subject of CPD and of these, 19 sent their survey reports to PARN.

A clear picture of individual member attitudes to CPD did not emerge from our analysis of these surveys. This was because:

The second phase involved interviewing professionals and their employers. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 18 individual professionals and the employers or line managers of 12 of those. In many cases, the employer/line manager was also a professional in their own right and therefore offered insights as an individual as well as in his/her role as representative of the employing organisation. 40 further individual professionals were involved in focus groups (2 focus group discussions were conducted) or web-ins2 (3 of which were held).

The population of potential interviewees sampled were members of eighteen different professional associations. Associations were selected on the basis of compliance criteria of their CPD policies and sectoral spread. The process of identifying and contacting potential interviewees began in August/September 2000 using a variety of means:

  1. Letters were sent to associations' members selected according to geographic location. Bristol and London were chosen for practical reasons.

  2. An advertisement was placed in one association's newsletter, giving details of the research, asking interested individuals to contact the PARN office.

  3. CPD officers at associations identified a number of different individuals with varying levels of post-qualification experience (from newly qualified to senior partners or managers). These individuals were selected based on the contact that the CPD officers had previously had with them (i.e. through telephone queries etc.).

However, with the exception of one association, the sample provided by these means was very biased towards more senior members of the professions and those who were particularly enthusiastic about CPD. The following methods were therefore used to contact further potential interviewees:

  1. Individual branch managers/CPD co-ordinators were contacted and asked to select a number of individuals according to length of post-qualification experience. PARN was then given their contact details (once they had agreed with their branch contact to be interviewed).

  2. Letters were sent to members (18) at one association who had previously taken part in research for the CPD officer at their association and who were willing to be interviewed by PARN.

Once a number of contacts from each association had been identified or had volunteered to take part in the research, PARN selected the remaining 16 participants for interview. They were selected according to their profession and length of post-qualification experience in that profession. There were three categories of length of experience: junior (up to 5 years post-qualification experience); mid- (between 5 and 10 years of experience); and senior (10+ years' experience). The final interview sample of 18 contained 6 individuals from each of the aforementioned categories. The majority of interviewees were based in Bristol or London.

The purpose of the interviews was not to discover the relative importance of issues among individual professionals. Rather, PARN was seeking to get an indication of the range of issues that were seen as influential and important with regards to CPD by some professionals. We were also aware that the professionals interviewed were likely to be unrepresentative. In order to agree to give up their valuable time to participate in an interview (which could take up to 11/2 hours) or a focus group or web-in (which involved a degree of travelling and could therefore take up several hours), it should be assumed that these individuals were particularly interested in CPD for some reason. It is unlikely that professionals who are uninterested and apathetic about CPD would volunteer their participation in the research. These assumptions were borne out by the interview responses. Several participants also described their own reactions to CPD and/or learning as different from that of most of their colleagues. However, we are not aiming to present representative views of all UK professionals, but rather to illustrate a range of views and expectations held by a number, albeit a relatively small number, of professional practitioners.

It is acknowledged that these methods could not produce a random sample that we could claim was representative of all professionals. However face-to-face interviews were preferred to a mailed questionnaire because they can elicit a greater depth of information, particularly with reference to attitudes. Face-to-face interviews allow a more trusting relationship to develop between the interviewer and interviewee which assists in removing barriers to the elicitation of frank opinions and comments. The focus group format takes this one stage further. Explicit use of group interaction can produce additional data and insights that are hard to access. We would argue that the confused and contradictory nature of CPD makes these methods particularly appropriate for this project.



What is CPD?

In 1986, the Construction Industry Council adopted what has come to be one of the most commonly accepted definitions of CPD:

CPD is the systematic maintenance, improvement and broadening of knowledge and skill and the development of personal qualities necessary for the execution of professional and technical duties throughout the practitioner's working life.

Construction Industry Council (1986, p. 3)

Note how this definition encompasses 'personal' as well as 'professional' qualities and how its scope is not merely the 'maintenance' of knowledge but also includes 'broadening'. CPD, then, is an expansive and inclusive concept according to its 'official' definition. But is this how professionals themselves identify CPD? And does the very inclusiveness of the concept result in ambiguity and confusion?

This confusion is apparent in the wide range of opinions on and attitudes to the aims and benefits of CPD. To some extent this reflects wide differences in the nature of CPD policies and programmes themselves but that does not explain the whole variation in responses.

A substantial minority of individual interviewees (5) regarded CPD in a clearly negative light. CPD 'conjured up all sorts of nightmares in the past', referring to the tick-box, inputs approach. One saw CPD as primarily supporting the chartered title, but if you did not value the title, and people who are 'reasonably senior in the industry don't give two hoots about whether someone's got a title or not' (as did our respondent), 'then CPD is an irrelevance'. On the other hand the same number were overwhelmingly positive about CPD; thinking it to be 'incredibly useful and important'. Most (16 out of 30) were neutral or had mixed responses to CPD. One did it because it was imposed, but could see the benefits in terms of its support for seeing new ways to develop. Given the likely bias of our sample towards those who were positive about CPD, it was the negative reactions that were particularly striking.

Six interviewees distinguished themselves from 'others' who were more negative about CPD than themselves. According to one, 'I think I'm keener than the average'. Another more pointedly said 'I've spoken about CPD to lots of people and very few of them take it seriously.' Those 'others' were described mainly in terms of being self-satisfied or narrow. 'I think there are other people though who have been here an awfully long time who are very comfortable and competent in the little box in which they sit [and CPD] is uncomfortable for them and they actually don't want to do it'. Or the other problem is that CPD achieves little 'if you've got individuals who are not particularly focused'. It was striking that so many who were positive about CPD, thought of themselves as atypical.

Not only did respondents recognise that others felt differently than themselves about the value of CPD, but that there was a wide variation in opinion about what CPD was or what it was for: ' be honest, everybody's got a different view [but] to me it's about developing a career' or 'for me personally, again, CPD is keeping in line with management structures, management development'. Almost half (14 out of 30)3 identified keeping up-to-date as the reason for doing CPD and indeed the majority of our individual employee interviewees (11 out of 18) believed that in this regard, CPD is a formalisation of something professionals 'just do'. Five mentioned career-specific needs, but 3 mentioned compulsion as the reason. The scope for using CPD as a means of career planning was seen as rather limited. There was a particular polarisation of opinion against CPD as a measure of competence but in favour of it as a tool for broadening knowledge and improving performance. Neither professionals or their employers give much credence to the idea that CPD records can provide a reliable indication of competence and this was linked to difficulties regarding adequate measurement. Certificates of attendance only indicate presence, not learning, and portfolios are hard to verify. Competence cannot even be measured by exams passed. True measures of competence require regulated monitoring of working practices; it must be measured in situ: 'You have to see the [person] working.' This view is supported by Eraut whose discussion of the assessment of professional competence demonstrates the difficulties involved in gathering appropriate evidence. Such evidence should encompass both capability and performance, both of which are required to assess range and use of knowledge. Eraut concludes that 'direct observation is the most valid and sometimes the only acceptable method of collecting evidence' (1994, pp 200-201). Six interviewees (3 employers, 3 professionals) thought that these difficulties could be overcome and that CPD was capable of developing in this direction.

When it came to other aspects of CPD, reactions were more positive. For some, CPD was viewed as a way of broadening professionals' skills and knowledge base and also of developing interests which may not be directly related to current professional work (personal development). CPD was regarded as valuable 'for keeping in touch with things that were happening elsewhere' and giving you a 'broader outlook'. However, most advocated a broad scope of activities only if they were relevant in some way to one's profession or career aspirations.

Compulsory CPD was regarded with some cynicism:

Six interviewees were clearly against compulsion but a further 8 spoke in favour of their own compulsory schemes. One of our most interesting findings was that compulsory CPD was seen as a means of obtaining consistent employer support for the scheme, as well as getting professionals to take it seriously.

Opinion was divided as to the kinds of activity that should 'count' as CPD which again points to ambiguity over its fundamental purpose. While the legitimisation of CPD in the eyes of employers and clients was perceived as important, the means to achieve this conflicted with the need to tailor CPD to individual needs and learning styles. Legitimacy, to our respondents, suggested formal in-service or external training courses, aimed at current work activities and a limited set of career aspirations (primarily management). However, it was also recognised that CPD should be flexible and allow for informal activities, such as reading, and activities aimed at wider interests. The opinion was also expressed that professionals would engage with these activities anyway, and it was rather pointless, or even demeaning, to record and report them: 'I mean, alright, you're reading journals, but so what. You would anyway. I don't think it's a positive enough step.' Reading and other informal activities could be 'a bit of an easy option'. Eight interviewees stated that they preferred academic qualifications to formal CPD portfolios because 'you get recognition' for a qualification such as an MSc. For one, the CPD portfolio was 'a whole load of pieces of paper that you've never seen before' and for another it was a 'loose portfolio' that was 'too woolly' and that 'doesn't say anything about me to be transportable to any other job'. Academic qualifications were certainly therefore widely regarded as legitimate. CPD was also placed within the context of lifelong learning which discouraged a narrow focus on specific job functions. The flexibility to do formal or informal activities which were not obviously pertinent to one's current job, or even one's expected career path was therefore very important: 'I think lifelong learning should encompass all of that [learning to swim, to cook and sew and those types of things] and CPD perhaps just be part of it and a smaller part.'

 The problem of a trade-off between legitimacy and flexibility was particularly acute in professionals' assessments of commercially provided CPD activities. Commercial suppliers could provide 'leading edge stuff' and allow networking with 'a lot of people from some interesting firms' and they could broaden the range of subjects offered. However, commercialised CPD could also be expensive and possibly of poor quality. Their legitimacy was also queried; the courses were 'on the back of a sales pitch', 'somebody selling [something] or whatever. .. It's wrapped up as CPD' 'Which I think is wrong'. As thinly disguised marketing exercises, they were possibly misleading or even invalid.


Who benefits from CPD?

Most (17 of the 18 professionals interviewed individually) regarded CPD as being of personal value. This covered a range from personal interest in learning and studying to the contribution CPD could make to career progress either organisational or within the profession (particularly associated with chartered status) to the maintenance of professional competence (keeping up-to-date). Interestingly this was not expressed as being of benefit to clients. In part this is because benefit to clients was subsumed as an outcome of keeping up-to-date, but in part it was also because many of the individual professionals interviewed worked within large organisations and did not see themselves as directly working for clients.

Most (12 out of 18) also specifically mentioned benefits that would accrue to their organisation from their participation in CPD. Far fewer (only 6) stated that CPD benefits the profession and professional associations. For one, CPD was crucial to avoiding their profession falling into 'an even worse state of disrepute than it is at the moment'. For another, CPD helped the professional institutions maintain the status of the profession. CPD 'must raise their brief and it must demonstrate that they are a profession.' Finally, 2 respondents presented rather cynical views of the ways CPD benefited professions. One believed CPD was used by profession associations as a competitive measure to raise their status against other professional associations. One of the employers believed CPD was elitist in that it should be provided for 'everyone in the company, and not those who are just registered in a professional organisation'. Society as a beneficiary was rarely mentioned and then only in passing.


Barriers to CPD

Time, cost, and access were the most frequently cited barriers to carrying out CPD. Clearly, time pressures at work, combined with the demands of home and family, make undertaking CPD a difficult task for many, however motivated they may be. Even if organisations are willing to fund their employees' CPD, they often demand that such activities be justified in terms of specific relevance. Thus people can be constrained in their development activities to those that are deemed organisationally worthy and/or are affordable given the constraints of training budgets. Access to CPD activities remains a problem for those not living near or in a major city.

Another barrier affecting CPD participation is that professionals are not homogenous. A range of factors - such as differences in career stage, preferred learning style, individual ambition - affect the likelihood of taking part in CPD. The lower likelihood of older professionals participating in CPD was mentioned because of their comfortable positions or because they regarded themselves as carrying out activities which will achieve the aims of CPD without following a formal CPD programme. However one association survey did not find a difference in CPD participation according to age. In general, it was noted that, independent of age or status, learning styles differed and it was difficult for CPD programmes to cater for a range of styles.

Employers are in a position to strongly influence participation in CPD. They can do this through providing opportunities to plan for development through their appraisal and review systems, they may directly provide either informal or formal learning opportunities, and they can offer more general support in terms of ring-fenced time, study leave, financial support and so on. Moreover, the organisational culture developed by the employer could influence professional attitudes to continuing development. If the professional works in a 'learning organisation', it follows that they are more likely to be receptive to the notion of CPD. Employer support is therefore critical if many of the barriers to participation outlined above are to be overcome.

It would appear that most employers do support learning that could be included in a CPD programme; in the 30 individual interviews (18 professionals, 12 employers) there was only 1 account of an employer who offered no support for development. However, it must be noted that support is generally only forthcoming when it can clearly be demonstrated that it is in the interests of the organisation and relevant to work in hand. Schemes such as Investors in People (IIP) and the IEE employer approval scheme can complement CPD by encouraging regular employee appraisals and by contributing to an organisational culture that encourages learning.

There was also support for a view that organisational training provisions may conflict with the ideals of CPD. Organisational effectiveness is only one element of CPD; it is also important that professionals develop their competencies and capabilities in a way that is meaningful to them and which will help them further their careers. It was interesting to note that many employers (7 out of 12 interviewed) seemed to be unaware of the CPD expectations professional associations placed on their professional employees. There are, therefore, two models of employer support:

The identification of methods to stimulate employer support, and the form and level of that support would be a fruitful area for further research.

Lack of support from the professional association is also an important barrier. Without it, people can feel 'adrift' and de-motivated, or become cynical about the entire CPD process. Moreover, if individuals feel that their professional association is not proactive enough in supporting and promoting CPD, or that the programme is too constraining, they might also be 'turned off' and alienated. However, it is apparent that the main barrier to be overcome is lack of understanding. Confusion can lead to hostility, as well as a perception that there is no incentive to undertake CPD.



CPD: an ambiguous and contested concept

Practical and cultural barriers are clearly important factors that mitigate against participation in CPD. However, the wider confusion surrounding the very concept of CPD appears to be a major stumbling block.

CPD is not straightforward for a number of reasons:

Lifelong Learning, the Learning Society & CPD

The fractured attitudes towards CPD expressed by our respondents are also apparent in the academic literature, both that more generally on lifelong learning and that related specifically to CPD.

According to Young (1998) the learning society is such a contested concept that different meanings not only reflect different interests, but imply different visions of the future and different visions for getting there. He discerns 4 different models:

  1. Schooling model - high participation in full time post-compulsory education

  2. Credentialist model - qualifying becomes continuous lifelong process

  3. Access model - individuals have the right to choose where, when and what to study and given responsibility for the planning and coherence of their learning

  4. Connective model - re-conceptualises all divides - educational and vocational, learning and production, learning itself

Edwards (1997) identifies 3 main strands to the learning society:

  1. Educated society - providing learning opportunities to educate adults to meet challenges of change and citizenship

  2. Learning market - with the goals of economic competitiveness and self-reliance

  3. Learning networks - individuals and groups participate in learning to pursue their own goals as members of overlapping networks. This challenges the notion of the national learning society from the perspective of new forms of sociability (technological networks) as opposed to competitive individualism.

Frank Coffield recently identified 10 different and competing models for a learning society and noted that:

... aspirations to create a learning society in the UK were severely hampered by widespread and deep-seated disagreements about the characteristics of such a society and the resulting impossibility of simply assessing progress towards a few generally agreed objectives. Moreover, the political and educational discourse surrounding a learning society and lifelong learning was shot through not only by extreme conceptual vagueness but also by 'factual' assumptions and assertions which were unsupported by any hard evidence ...

(Coffield, 2000, pp. 3-4)

There have also been attempts to produce models of CPD that emphasise certain divisions in what CPD is meant to achieve. These models try to demonstrate that these differences may also be associated with differences in: the way CPD is carried out; in the way it is monitored; and in the compliance policies of associations. Faulkner (1996) suggests an inputs/outputs model. The inputs framework, often characterised as a 'tick-box' approach, conceives of CPD in terms of completing a certain number of learning hours or gaining learning points, often through structured, formal training. The tick-box recording of this process is regarded as evidence of the maintenance and updating of professional skills. In contrast, the outputs framework is based on the argument that merely taking courses is no guarantee that relevant learning has taken place. Rather, it is the outcome of the learning experience that is important and is what makes CPD effective. Madden & Mitchell (1993) identified two models of CPD policy and practice: the 'sanctions model' and the 'benefits model'. The former emphasises demonstrating competence, it is generally compulsory and compliance is monitored, and activities are inputs-based and designed to update technical knowledge and skill. The benefits model is oriented at the individual, is voluntary, and focused on outputs.

Todd (1987, p.217-218) suggests that CPD can be divided into two approaches along slightly different lines from Madden and Mitchell. There are those:

  1. 'who see professionals as emotionally neutral, technical experts ... [who] do something to (or for) a client'; and:

  2. 'those who view professional practice as an arena for personal engagement between professional and client ... in other words a professional works with a client.

These perspectives give rise to different approaches to CPD. While the first approach would regard personal attributes as irrelevant, the second approach would value them highly. The first approach is technocratic, emphasising technical knowledge and the acquisition of technical skills, while the second emphasises reflection and self-evaluation.

These brief summaries of the variety of conceptual approaches to lifelong learning and CPD are by no means exhaustive, but they are sufficient to demonstrate that confusion is not confined to, and cannot be resolved, by the professions alone.

Variety of definitions

Confusion among professional associations can be illustrated by reference to the definitional variety reported by Friedman et al (2000). The definition of CPD developed by the Construction Industry Council and quoted earlier in this report is the one most widely adopted and quoted in the literature (Tomlinson, 1993; Rapkins, 1996; Kennie, 1998) and by far the most widely adopted definition by UK professional associations (40%). However the majority of professional associations in a sample of 101 associations adopted other definitions of CPD, almost all also different from each other. According to Guest (2000, p. 4),

It can sometimes seem that there are as many definitions of CPD as there are professional institutions encouraging their members to participate in it. We all think that we know what the words 'continuing', 'professional' and 'development' mean until we come to define them.

Even the label, CPD, is itself not universal. Continuing Professional Education (CPE) is the label used in the United States for phenomena that would arguably be called CPD in the UK. In the UK, labels like continuing professional education are used in certain professions, for example Continuing Medical Education, Continuing Vocational Education and Continuing Educational Training. These labels usually mean something somewhat different from CPD in the UK. The position of the standing committee on postgraduate medical and dental education (SCOPME) considers Continuing Medical Education to be not only narrower than CPD, but also considers it to be 'a substantial component of CPD rather than a separate entity' (SCOPME, 1999, p. 1).

Divided views of the purpose and value of CPD

The definitional variety outlined above is not merely an academic interest. Definitional variety is associated with variety in conceptions of the purpose of CPD.

CPD has been described in official CPD documents from professional associations in a number of ways:

In most cases, some or all of these aspirations are held within the overall concept of CPD (Friedman et al., 2000, chapter 7). This 'catch-all' approach to professional learning has resulted in CPD being a contested and confused notion. There is a need to deliver strategies of learning that will be of benefit to individuals, foster personal development, and develop a range of competencies and capabilities for future career growth. However, this sits very uneasily with the imperative that CPD should, at the same time, reassure other stakeholders that professional standards are being upheld and enhance the status of professionals and their associations.

Our respondents expressed several different purposes for their own participation in CPD. These delineations are not watertight compartments; there are obvious areas of overlap although some are firmly with one or other of the theoretical models. They are probably not even an exhaustive taxonomy of the range of possible models. However, they do suggest that no one scheme can fulfil all the aspirations of professionals and professional associations, or take account of all preferences in terms of structure or learning style.

Finally some respondents noted that some saw non-participation as an option; because either they believed that they did not need further learning or because they learn anyway and resent being made to 'jump through hoops'.



The importance of CPD

The previous section may give the impression that CPD is so ambiguous, contested and confused that it should be abandoned altogether. This, we believe, would be a serious error. Just as lifelong learning and the learning society represent a social imperative in a world of rapidly changing knowledge and technology, so CPD must be addressed if professionals are to keep up with these changes. Moreover, CPD is particularly important for professionals because it is bound up with the model of professionalism itself. Professionals represent themselves as competent to practice, as having mastered a body of knowledge and being able to apply that knowledge in an appropriate and useful manner. It is not credible that inputs of knowledge beyond qualification are not needed to maintain those claims. The added problem is that as clients and society in general increase their expectations of professionals and become more intolerant of below-standard service, professionals must be seen to be maintaining skills, developing their practice and their personal abilities.

Finally there is an issue which may also become part of CPD and the rationale for CPD. This is that professional practice needs to be distinguished as practice under a moral code. Indeed, most professional associations do explicitly state in their codes of conduct or constitutions that professionals are expected, or obliged, to maintain and update their knowledge and practice. CPD is, in these associations, already a matter of professional ethics.

The future for CPD

There are two ways of viewing the current state of CPD. One is to see it as reflecting different interests and different social demands. This implies that CPD will always remain ambiguous and contested, at least as long as those interests and demands remain divided. One possibility is that what is currently called CPD will fracture into different sets of activities with different labels. Coffield argues that a single vision of the learning society is impossible (Coffield, 2000, p28). However, some broad agreement on the purposes and value of lifelong learning and the learning society will have to be reached in order to clarify the definition, aims and values of CPD to mitigate against demotivating factors such as confusion and perceived irrelevance.

There is another view of CPD, one expressed recently by Ronald Cervero (2001) referring to a similar situation in the United States. This is to see CPD as being in a state of transition. Cervero sees CPD at the beginning of the 21st century as in a similar state, in terms of coherence, size and stature, as the pre-service stage of professional education in the early 20th century. Cervero cites Houle (1980) and Young (1998) who also regard systems of continuing education as being in a 'grand historical transition' (Cervero, 2001, p. 18). However, as Cervero points out and this research confirms, there are critical issues that must be addressed for CPD to fulfil its potential and make a demonstrable impact on the quality of professional practice.

Our key recommendations follow from our key conclusions. It is possible, as noted above, that the different activities currently labelled CPD will be called something else. However, there are advantages to combining several purposes under the label of CPD. According to Gardner, the originator of the term CPD, within CPD "the purely educational element becomes one alongside others: a full professional life, good practice general, career advancement, increasing capacity and well-earned profit (or its equivalent)" (Gardner, 1978, pp. 2-3). CPD was therefore distinguished from continuing professional education in the UK as embracing and recognising informal learning that can be achieved during practice.

At the same time, it is also important to recognise that the policies and programmes that are needed to support different elements of CPD will themselves differ. For example, using CPD to measure competence requires very different activities than using CPD for personal development. We cannot predict whether CPD will succeed, eventually, in encompassing all elements in a manner that the vast majority of professionals (and their clients and employers) feel is reliable and trustworthy. However, if the current ambiguities of CPD are to be resolved so that, as Cervero suggests, in a number of years CPD is considered in a similar light to initial qualifications, a clearer and more consistent approach needs to be taken by UK professional associations as a whole.

Clearly delineate the purpose of CPD

Friedman et al (2000) argued that professional associations should take the following into account when developing CPD policies and programmes:

In view of the many competing claims for CPD and mutually exclusive models of CPD programmes (e.g. a programme cannot be both structured and unstructured, compulsory and voluntary), no single programme can satisfy all needs and cater for all preferences. The onus therefore falls on the professional association to engage in a dialogue with their members and other stakeholders in order to clearly define a set of compatible aims for their programmes and to draw up a programme which they feel best meets those aims. The programme should not only be actively promoted to members but that dialogue should be on-going to ensure that the programme remains relevant. It will be impossible for them to please everyone, but at least if members can see why a certain approach has been adopted, even if it does not entirely suit the way they feel they learn best, they are more likely to participate.

CPD and measurement of competence

Perhaps the most difficult sets of elements to reconcile under the CPD label are those related to reassuring clients and the public in general that professionals remain competent throughout their working lives and those which support ongoing professional practice. On the one hand are the paraphernalia of examination, monitoring and assessment designed to reveal ability to perform, usually at particular formal moments such as the end of courses. In addition there is the further step of linking knowledge and skills acquired to competence in the actual performance of professional tasks. On the other hand is support for reflective professional practice with commonly informal methods and programmes that are developed quickly in response to the ongoing stream of issues that arise from daily practice.. If such activities are not carried out professional performance will deteriorate, but there is no simple or direct link with measurement of professional competence.

Inadequate methods and lack of diligence in evaluating the impact of CPD on practice has lead to a belief, among the individuals who participated in this research project at least, that CPD cannot provide a demonstration of competence. One recommendation that could be proposed from this is that CPD monitoring and assessment methods should be standardised and made more strict. However there is another recommendation which could follow. It would be to recommend that CPD should focus on learning and be divorced from requirements of audit or accountability. The examination of capability and competence is important, and more so in some professions than others, and should therefore be undertaken by a different means. The maintenance and enhancement of professional performance should be separate from the measurement of same. By harnessing development and measurement of competence together, there is a risk that both will be undermined. CPD is forced to accommodate irresolvable tensions that reduce perceptions of the benefits it can bring. How competence can be effectively gauged is beyond the scope of this research, but professionals themselves indicate that it must involve elements of peer review and direct observation.

We would therefore suggest that CPD might be better characterised as a support for professional practice. The reason for having the policy would be to improve professional practice. The type of policy would probably be obligatory as it would be expected of professionals to carry out CPD. Monitoring would occur via peer review. There would be an emphasis on mentoring schemes and the prime CPD activities would be seen as supports for reflective practice. The stimulation for CPD would not be that professionals become deficient as time goes on because of new knowledge generated outside of practice (such as in the research community), but rather that practice needs to be continuously refined and developed. The practice of CPD would not consist of a frequent series of updating or knowledge acquiring events, but rather a continuous process of learning through reflection on practice.



1. A full discussion of this aspect of the research appear in Friedman et al (2001, ch. 3, 8.3, 9.2)

2. A web-in is a form of focus group discussion that incorporates both face-to-face discussion and online discussion via the internet. See Friedman et al (1999, ch 6).

3. Not all issues were discussed by all participants in this research.



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Eraut, M. (1994). Developing professional knowledge and competence, London: Falmer Press.

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Friedman, A., Durkin, C. and Hurran N. (1999). Building a CPD network on the Internet, Bristol: PARN.

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This document was added to the Education-line database on 01 November 2001