Every practitioner who has been in business for any period of time has had the experience: the continuing education session being attended is bad. Maybe the content is useless or irrelevant. Maybe it's too simple, or too complex. Perhaps the speaker is just a poor teacher, or an ineffective communicator. In some cases, the instructor doesn't even know the content as well as the people who are supposed to be learning more about it!
And of course, when CFP practitioners - as with many professionals - have continuing education requirements, bad sessions perhaps feel ever worse. Not only might they feel like a waste of time, but they're a required waste of time!?
So the question emerges: what can be done to improve the quality of continuing education content?
The inspiration for today's blog stems from some conversations I had earlier this week with Michele Warholic, the CFP Board's managing director of exams, education, and talent, following my post earlier this week criticizing the CFP Board's recent changes to the content and instructor requirements for Ethics CE.
As I discussed in the earlier blog post, the CFP Board has "updated" the Ethics CE content requirements to a fairly narrow list of learning objectives that must be covered in order to qualify for Ethics CE, all of which related directly to parts of the Standards of Professional Conduct for CFP practitioners. My criticism in large part was that the learning objectives as defined excluded virtually all of the accumulated teachings of Ethics that have been developed over the past... 2000 years or so!
In response, the CFP Board rightly pointed out that bad and ineffective Ethics content out there - and in fact, that they had received many complaints about content received during Ethics sessions that did not feel useful or applicable for the practitioners who attended. So the CFP Board's intention was simply to define a series of learning objectives that would try to ensure (or at least, dramatically increase the likelihood) that the content taught in Ethics sessions would be relevant and applicable to practitioners, because the learning objectives themselves all tie directly into professional conduct issues that practitioners deal with in their day to day lives with clients.
Similarly, the CFP Board's new requirement that Ethics instructors have the CFP certification marks for at least 5 years is also intended to ensure that instructors can relate the content back to the realities that practitioners deal with. After all, a 5-year requirement ensures that the instructor has been a CFP certificant for some period of time, and even if the instructor isn't currently practicing with clients, the requirement for the designation - which itself includes a 3 year experience requirement - ensures at least some practical financial planning experience for any instructor. On the other hand, as I criticized, this also means that someone who has dedicated their lives to actually teaching Ethics is totally ineligible for teaching CFP Ethics CE (unless a policy exemption is requested, however feasibly that may turn out to be)!
I will give the CFP Board credit that, while I think a number of the policies being implemented here are, ironically, preventing the actual teaching of Ethics for what is an Ethics CE requirement, the goal and intention is simply to improve the quality and relevance of the content for practitioners.
But on the other hand, the reality is that problems with "bad" content are not exclusive to Ethics CE sessions. Should the CFP Board also create a list of six required learning objectives for the most common tax issues that practitioners face, and thereby ensure that all tax content will be relevant for practitioners (to the exclusion of all other tax content that might be taught!)? Should the CFP Board require all tax instructors to have the CFP designation for at least 5 years, to ensure that the instructor has financial planning experience to keep the content relevant, and exclude all CPAs and tax attorneys because they don't have CFP marks? I suspect most people would agree that the scenario sounds somewhat ridiculous in the content of tax content (or insurance, or estate, or any of the other practice areas for CFP certificants). So if it's not a reasonable approach for "improving" tax content, why should we view it as appropriate for Ethics?
So what do you think? Is requiring a CFP certification for at least 5 years an effective way to ensure good Ethics instructors? Is that a requirement that should be translated to other areas of continuing education content? Is it appropriate to try to ensure "useful" content by restricting a content area to a series of learning objectives that are known to be relevant, but exclude other content that might also be educational in the process? I have some of my own ideas about how to address these issues, which I'll discuss further on the blog in the coming days, but I'd like to hear what you think, too!