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The New, Fun Way to Learn

The days of sitting like humorless, motionless drones are dead. Thank goodness. By Ralph Gaillard, M.Ed., Chief Learning Director, Illinois CPA Society | June 2016

Engage

Welcome to a world of disruption. Positive disruption, that is.

We hear about disruptive technologies, such as smartphones and the constant stream of life-changing apps that go with them (think Uber or Lyft). We see Netflix and Amazon disrupting the old Hollywood business model by creating their own content and delivering it directly to online customers. And we are told that in order to thrive today, tomorrow and beyond, we must embrace disruption by shedding the old ways and embracing the new ones instead.

Those same disruptive forces are also at play in the world of continuing professional education (CPE), and they’re being driven by learners who are tired of the old model of watching the instructor spout wisdom for eight hours straight.

Who blames them? The old model is boring as hell, and it does nothing … zero … zip … zilch … to help the learner acquire new skills or knowledge. After all, isn’t that the whole point of learning? In short, the traditional CPE model doesn’t work anymore—and some would argue that it never did.

That’s why the Illinois CPA Society is introducing a new way of learning—and a new way for instructors to interact with their “students.” How exactly? By moving instructors from the front of the classroom to the learner’s side. Research into how adults learn indicates that you have a better chance of retaining new information taught in the classroom if you’re involved in the learning process. In line with this, the Society is implementing an education strategy that puts the learner first. At the heart of this “learner-first” strategy is the ENGAGE model, which is transforming our online and live events.

As the name suggests, the ENGAGE model is designed to help presenters engage and involve attendees in the neuro activity of learning. It achieves this by getting the brain to its happy place, so it can be in a more relaxed state to acquire and retain new skills or knowledge—in other words, to learn.

How does the model work? Each letter represents a milestone in the life cycle of an event—from beginning to end, and beyond. Let’s go through each one:

“E” - Energize the learner. This means getting people excited about a program and getting them to focus on the upcoming class before it even begins. For example, instructors might send welcome emails a few days before a scheduled course, in which they introduce themselves and ask attendees to complete a short activity, such as watching a video or reading a brief article that’s related to the topic. The Society has already applied these approaches to some of its recent courses, including the Leadership Boot Camp, and Forensic Accounting, Internal Controls and Emotional Intelligence courses.

“N” - Navigate content. What can a teacher do to share this new information in a way that doesn’t involve formal lecturing, so learners have a fighting chance of making sense of what they’re seeing and hearing? Navigating content doesn’t mean getting rid of the lecture format. In fact, lectures can be a powerful way to deliver new content to learners. However, they shouldn’t be the only method for sharing new content.

New approaches include case studies, graphics, video, stories and other exercises to get people involved. If you’ve taken part in the Society’s smaller eight-hour courses, then you’ve already seen this part of the model in action.

“G” - Generate meaning. There are various techniques that an instructor can use to move new information from your short-term to your long-term memory—and make it stick. A great way to do this is to ask learners, “Where will you apply this new content at work?”

We used online polls to ask this very question at the 2015 Not-for-Profit, Estate & Gift conference, as well as other Society conferences. At some events we’ve also divided attendees into small groups to discuss how the new content might help them.

“A” - Apply to the real world. Instructors can use various activities to help attendees demonstrate a new skill or range of knowledge. In some of our smaller courses, for example, instructors have used role playing and simulations to mirror actual tasks that learners would perform in their everyday jobs, such as audit conversations with clients and coaching a new hire at a public accounting firm.

“G” - Gauge and celebrate. This may be one of the most critical phases of the ENGAGE model. Why? Based on recent research into how the brain functions, we now know that when learners feel confident in a classroom setting, their brains release a substance called myelin that cements and connects neural transmitters to this new information. When we’re in a positive frame of mind, we’re literally cementing new knowledge to our brains.

At last year’s Employee Benefit and Government conferences, for example, our presenters staged “Jeopardy” quiz games, in which attendees answered questions and received prizes. And for the Society’s onDemand courses, we’ve applied the concept of “gamification,” with online games such as “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” to show learners that, with every correct answer, they are advancing to the next level.

 “E” - Extend the learning. In order to ensure you retain new content after leaving the classroom, instructors at some ICPAS courses and conferences have sent follow-up emails that recap key learning objectives or include a short video that reinforces what the program delivered. The Society also is applying the ENGAGE model to “CPE Newscasts” that turn the concept of the traditional webcast on its head. These one-hour programs feature an anchor interviewing the subject matter expert, which allows the new information to be delivered in a conversational format as opposed to a formal 60-minute lecture. Online polls and quizzes with prizes are also part of the newscast experience.

ICPAS strives to be a life-long learning coach, consistently providing impactful education that advances members’ careers throughout the entirety of their work lives. Most importantly, its ENGAGE model is a heck of a lot of fun—and that’s really the point. That’s the true disruptor in continuing professional education.

Curious? Stop by a future ICPAS online or live event. Just follow the sound of happy, laughing learners, and you’ll know you there.

Ralph Gaillard is the Chief Learning Director of the Illinois CPA Society, where he oversees the strategic development of live and online educational programs. Ralph has spent over 20 years leading learning and development divisions, including with the National Safety Council’s online education unit, and Ragan Communications, a leading provider of business communication training. In 2001, the U.S. Department of the Treasury awarded Ralph a special citation for designing and implementing a strategic communication curriculum for the Department’s PR staff. Ralph received his B.A. in U.S. History from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. and his M.Ed. from the University of Massachusetts at Boston.