Make Your CPE Useful: Seven Suggestions to Improve Learning

By Charles Hall | Accounting and Auditing

May 26

In a thirty-five year career as a CPA, you will spend well over 1,400 hours taking CPE classes. Are you using this time wisely? Today I share how you can make your CPE useful.

It’s 3:32 p.m. on a Friday and you are thinking, “When will this CPE class ever end?” Your golf swing, a late tax return, your daughter’s college tuition cost–each float through your mind. Your thoughts continue, “So much to do, and I sit here wasting another day. Why can’t this be more interesting?” Tired. Bored. Numb. You want to be anywhere but where you are. You feel trapped. 

make your CPE useful

Why does this happen? Many CPAs mistakenly believe this pain is a requirement of the profession. They seem resigned to death-by-CPE, as though there is no other choice.

But then you’ve been in classes where you’re laughing, learning, and even wanting more. The day ends quickly, and you walk away satisfied.

Wouldn’t you love to increase the quality of your training and your engagement with what you are learning? Here are seven suggestions to make your CPE useful.

1. Create Three-Year CPE Learning Goals: Tie Training to Vision

Create a three-year rolling CPE plan. While you may not be able to plan each individual class, you can still sketch out your desired objectives and learning path.

Fifteen years ago, I decided to become a Certified Fraud Examiner. I thought, “Why not use my CPE hours to move me in that direction?” Over the next year, I purchased the training material from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners and trained. In September 2004, I reached that goal. Without the goal, the idea would still be just that–an idea. 

What training goal can you set that will make your dream a reality? What vision do you have for your future?

In your career, you will spend hundreds of hours in training. Why not use those precious hours to get you to your desired destination? Continuous learning about new things is no longer an option. There are exciting (and scary) future changes in accounting.

2. Plan Your CPE Classes Annually: Avoid Cramming in December

Planning your CPE calendar will allow you to spread out the learning load (I do not recommend taking 40 hours of CPE the last week of December). The human mind is not designed to absorb large quantities of complex information in a short period. Space out your classes. The separation will allow your mind to digest and retain what you learn. 

3. Seek Out the Best CPE Trainers: They Will Elevate Your Game

Will excellent trainers cost more money? Sometimes yes, but what’s the alternative? Cheap teachers that bore you to death. Signing up for any old class for convenience’s sake or because it’s cheap is a terrible idea.

Great trainers make for excellent learning experiences. Seek them out. Pay the extra money, if need be. This will make your CPE more useful.

4. Revisit CPE Information: Move Learning to Long-Term Memory

For each one-day class, write a one-page summary. Do this the day after you attend the course. (Once you create the one-page outline, archive it in Evernote for future reference.) Merely writing the summary will drive the learning deeper into your mind. 

make your CPE useful

Then revisit the summary using the following intervals:

  • One week later – review for 20 minutes
  • Two weeks later – review for 10 minutes
  • Three weeks later – review for 5 minutes

There’s nothing sacred about the intervals. The method is what is essential.

Additionally, try to recall the information before reviewing the notes. Doing so facilitates retention according to the book Make It Stick. Revisiting the information and trying to recall it will move your knowledge from short-term to long-term memory–where you need it!

Another suggestion to help you remember the information is that you teach it to your firm members. You can’t explain something you don’t understand. Teaching forces you to learn.

5. Use Livescribe Pen to Take Notes: Record the Audio 

For about $180, you can own the Livescribe pen. No, it will not allow you to remember everything you hear. However, it will record the full audio as you write. Then, later, you can touch a particular word in your notes with the tip of the pen and “voilà,” you hear–from the pen–what was said at that moment. You can upload the written notes and audio to your computer. Don’t ask me how it does this, but it works. Amazing! Now you can have a full recording of your training with shortcuts (notes) to find the audio you want to hear. The pen holds up to 200 hours of audio. 

In terms of learning, writing your notes is more effective than typing (and I might add, less distracting to those around you). Science has proven that writing has a more significant effect on learning and retention than typing.

Another learning tip to make your CPE useful: Read the table of contents before the class starts.

6. Read the Table of Contents: Prepare Your Mind 

The human mind likes to anticipate, to know what’s coming. If you can access your CPE material before the class, I encourage you to scan the table of contents and highlight the areas you are most interested in. Highlighting the table of contents will prepare you for what’s coming.

7. Sit Up Front: You’ll Learn More

Finally, sit up front. The farther back you sit, the more distractions you will see (like the guy reading the latest ESPN headlines or the couple talking all day).

Take Action Now: Plan Time to Consider Your Goals

I challenge you to take action now! Go ahead. Specify a time on your calendar to think about your goals and the CPE classes that will get you there. Become an expert in cybersecurity, fraud prevention, litigation support, data mining, artificial intelligence. Pick an area and move toward your goal. 

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About the Author

Charles Hall is a practicing CPA and Certified Fraud Examiner. For the last thirty years, he has primarily audited governments, nonprofits, and small businesses. He is the author of The Little Book of Local Government Fraud Prevention and Preparation of Financial Statements & Compilation Engagements. He frequently speaks at continuing education events. Charles is the quality control partner for McNair, McLemore, Middlebrooks & Co. where he provides daily audit and accounting assistance to over 65 CPAs. In addition, he consults with other CPA firms, assisting them with auditing and accounting issues.

  • Charles Hall says:

    Thanks Armando. I find too many CPAs take CPE just to get hours rather than learn. But most, I think, do the right thing–as you are doing.

  • Armando Balbin says:

    These are great learning steps to follow. I take online CPE concentrating in the areas that either I need for a specific wok I am doing or as a general knowledge that I need.

  • Annette Williams says:

    Great tips, especially about sitting up front. That LiveScribe Pen sounds really cool!!

  • Ann, I have used Livescribe for about four years. It’s worth far more than the small amount I paid for it. I never have been able to write as fast as people talk. Wonderful way to relax, knowing I can go back and hear what was said at anytime.

  • How many CPE courses to you go to where people are just zoned out, and there is just no energy? Please ask a question, make a comment, challenge the presenter (nicely) – something, anything, just act like a professional and bring some energy!

  • You are right. Nothing worse than a monologue. Conversations make CPE so much more enjoyable. Thanks, Jim.

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