It’s Time to Embrace Virtual Learning

If you’re one of the thousands of people who has recently transitioned to a remote work environment in the past month or so, hopefully you’re beginning to find your rhythm. The current pandemic has forced some professionals to adopt work from home (WFH) protocols, and some firms to support it perhaps before being “ready”. There is no doubt that the accounting profession has been transformed. It remains to be seen how much of this transformation will remain after the pandemic, but it’s likely that some of the remote tools and processes adopted are here to stay.

Clients too have been disrupted, limiting your access to them. And with most deadlines now pushed into summer you may discover your engagement timelines have shifted to later in the year leaving you in need of new ways to stay engaged, connected and on track with your educational requirements.

We are all operating differently from the norm – both personally and professionally. But as we start to normalize remote work and become comfortable with the associated technologies a new opportunity emerges. Now is the perfect time to explore remote learning options. Not only can learning be a great way to stay engaged professionally, but it also benefits mental well-being in times of stress or anxiousness.

With all that said, there has never been a better time to embrace virtual learning.

Four advantages of virtual learning

1. It’s convenient. Virtual learning opportunities are really convenient. There are many on-demand options that are there when you are ready. Look for offerings from recognized professional training organizations that offer their content digitally. Not only can you work around your schedule, you can also work around your needs—being specific and intentional about which topics/courses are most important to you.

At some point, when we have greater flexibility in leaving our homes, virtual learning can happen in whatever place is convenient, inspiring or comfortable for you. That may be your home office, your back deck, your local coffee house, your library – or any other location you choose.

2. It’s economical. In addition to saving the out-of-pocket expenses associated with traveling to conferences or classes, you can save that road time. This means more time home with friends, family, pets, or whatever communities are important to you. Learning without having to be away for days at a time may help you keep your work-life balance in check.

The convenience and cost effectiveness of virtual learning means you may not have to be so concerned with leveraging your investment to ensure you’re getting necessary CPE credits. For a lower investment of time and money you can explore all kinds of soft-skills without worrying about diverting resources away from technical learning. It can open an entirely new world of content!

3. It’s adaptable to your pace. There are lots of terrific remote learning options that allow you to go at your own pace. These self-study courses can offer opportunities to earn continuing professional education credits not only on a schedule that works for you, but gives you control over how quickly or slowly you engage with the material. Struggling to understand a concept? You can take extra time to review, practice and research it. Ready to move on? You can do that too.

4. It’s JIT. Virtual learning can be done in small, highly relevant bits. If you’re struggling with a specific skill, you can find a 50-60 minute course with a few tips or ideas to practice and immediately apply those to your situation. You may even start with a 10-15 minute podcast to get a fresh perspective. This opportunity for just-in-time (JIT) learning is not only practical but encourages greater retention of the material. As soon as your course is finished, ask yourself what you can apply immediately and what you need to stow away for later.

Making the most of your virtual learning

  1. Make a plan. Like many things, your learning journey will be more effective if you have a plan. Take time to map out what skills you want to develop. Consider where you are now, who you are, and where you are headed and develop a curriculum that meets your needs. If your firm has a formalized career path use that as a guide. In particular, think about what skills you need to become a business advisor to your clients: critical thinking, questioning skills, industry knowledge, etc. You can also work with a coach, mentor or other career advisor to help map this. Then begin to research opportunities to support your learning plan.
  2. Be holistic in your approach. A benefit of virtual learning is the ease and cost effectiveness with which you can explore ideas and skills. Don’t ignore the soft skills in your plan. Consider those skills that will make you well rounded and what you need to move to the next level of your career (i.e. business development, delegation, relationship development, communication, etc.).
  3. Build a “learning community”. One of the perceived downsides of virtual learning is not being able to interact with other participants. Be creative and deliberate about building your own learning community. Use tools like Zoom or Teams to connect with others in your firm who may be on a similar learning path. Also, look to your peers outside your firm. Build a small network of folks you can interact with regularly to discuss what you’re learning. Many “soft skills” are applicable to other professionals, so learning along with those individuals and discussing how to practice what you’ve learned with folks outside your firm can be valuable. Use social media tools like LinkedIn or Twitter to connect with a community of other professionals. Just because you are engaged in more independent learning doesn’t mean you can’t reap the benefits of collaboration.
  4. Utilize a variety of learning resources in your portfolio. Webinars and self-study courses are good options for virtual learning, but there are a many other formats that cater to different styles of learning. Consider podcast subscriptions (you can usually download podcasts and listen to them while you are exercising, cooking, riding public transportation (when we’re back to that), or in any other number of situations. Blogs and other online publications are another alternative. Mix and match your sources to not only keep it interesting but offer the greatest amount flexibility. Even social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter offer content originated by sources like accounting publications, the AICPA and your state societies.
  5. Start small – pick a few. The sheer number of options can seem overwhelming, so start small. If you’re new to virtual learning, select a 50-60 minute course and try it. Subscribe to one blog and see if it delivers value. Explore a podcast or two and see how the content fits with your need. Evaluate. Ditch anything that doesn’t seem to work. Hint: like adapting to remote work, you may have to give yourself a bit of time to adapt to the format. Don’t give up after one or two tries.

Virtual learning resources

If you need resources to get you started, check out this list of ideas:

Journal of Accountancy, offers a free podcast created to talk about key issues the accounting profession faces
Big Ideas Podcast, is a free podcast series by the CPA Consultants’ Alliance about important issues that the accounting profession is currently facing.
CPA Academy, is national provider of high-quality, online and self-study CPE.
The Whetstone Growth Academy, a web-based, over-your-career professional development training series for accounting professionals.
#TaxTwitter, if you’re on Twitter follow this hashtag. You’ll learn a wealth of information and build a community of tax experts who are collaborative, generous, smart and funny. It’s also one of the best examples of a virtual learning community. So even if tax isn’t your thing use it as a model for building your own community.

Finding what works for you may take some trial and error. Don’t put off learning until it’s convenient or when, if ever, we’re back to “business as usual”. Embrace this opportunity. Harness the power of virtual learning as a tool to continue personal growth both now and in the future.