Professional development has been around for a long time - but Continuous Professional Development is an ever-increasing necessity in the modern working world. Why? Because of rapid changes in society. Technology and legislation are things that change more quickly than before. To keep up with these changes, you need to be continually learning.
What is CPD?
CPD is about continuing your professional development and taking responsibility for your career progression. You should aim to improve yourself every day, not just when working towards a formal qualification. Passing an exam might prove that you have reached a certain point in the educational ladder, but it doesn't mean that you will always stay there - or that if things change then, you won't fall behind or become irrelevant altogether.
The world is constantly changing and you need to keep up with that change. If you don't, then someone else will beat you to it and take your career prospects away from you - or do them for you.
What worked previously might not work anymore. Companies are always changing their procedures. If the changes happen suddenly (for example, if another takes over the company), not having enough CPD under your belt could mean that you suddenly find yourself out of business.
It's important to understand that CPD isn't just about learning new things but also maintaining and developing valuable skills which help develop your career. For example, suppose you're a web developer. In that case, there are lots of valuable free tools available online to help you develop your skills, but keeping up to date with the latest developments or compliance training for your company is vital.
Examples of CPD:
In many ways, Continuous Professional Development is about self-motivation and taking responsibility for your professional development by doing some research and putting that into practice. It will help you find out what works and what doesn't work when it comes to handling new things, which builds up your skillset and helps others within your work environment.
Continuous Professional Development is also about engaging in learning activities relevant to the changing world we live in, so whether you choose seminars or simply go online for free webinars, whatever you do should be relevant to your own needs and personal development.
Although it may seem time-consuming at first, it is more efficient than learning only when you need something new, e.g. when you are planning to take courses, because that means that then all of the learning will be related to one aspect of your life (e.g. studying) so the things which you learn during this period will be compartmentalised - whereas CPD encourages lots of relevant information for different aspects of life, so they come together more naturally within your brain's neural networks - this makes it easier to recall information useful in any given situation rather than pinpointing exactly what each pertinent thing is for (which might not even become apparent until much later anyway)
CPD and Formal Qualifications
Each type of learning has its distinct value - formal qualifications reinforce what you've studied, which helps with exam preparation...but only if these will actually come up during the examination, so you still need CPD to cover all bases.
Having continuous professional development allows you to gain skills that go beyond the specifics of any exam. Preparing for exams can limit one's ability to learn further because sometimes it prevents critical thinking and focuses too much on how things are done rather than why they're done in a particular way.
CPD and Further Education
Continuous Professional Development is not the same as further education - but can be used to complement it. For instance, if you want to move into a new subject, studying for a formal qualification gives you that 'leg up' in getting your career moving as quickly as possible, so you should seek out relevant exams or courses. However, you will also need CPD because those qualifications don't cover everything. The world changes constantly, so knowing what's needed for exams will give you an advantage over those who only study for those specific reasons.
If someone has prepared thoroughly before taking an exam, then their brain is likely to be crammed with information that might not ever come up again unless they become experts in that field (and even then, new research and discoveries can change things), so it's always useful to be open to learning.
Additionally, if someone has prepared for exams only then that means that they might not know anything at all outside of what they've studied (i.e. they haven't developed any transferable skills). In contrast, CPD will help you to learn lots of different things which can be applied across your career and everyday life...not just for one specific field or task so you'll have more opportunities as a result.
CPD and Work Experience
Continuous Professional Development is an ongoing process of improvement through learning which can happen either formally or informally, e.g. via work-based training courses, attending seminars or tutorials, reading books or articles, watching webinars or attending conferences.
It is not the same as work experience because you do not necessarily need to participate in CPD activities to gain work experience. Having lots of relevant work experience will help your CPD and vice versa...but not necessarily the other way around!
You can also gain skills from studying for a formal qualification, so they aren't mutually exclusive but it's best to try and get both if possible.
Work experience is considered 'formal' learning because you are gaining information in a controlled environment where the aim is to make mistakes and learn from them.
Continuous Professional Development can be informal or self-directed because you gain knowledge in an uncontrolled way, making it impossible to measure in the same way as to work experience.
CPD activities are also usually more relevant to your career specifically. In contrast, work experience can have far-reaching consequences for many aspects of your life, so although they are both important, there are differences between them that should not be overlooked.
If work experience is just about putting in your time, then Continuous Professional Development is about making sure that you prove yourself worthy of your position over and over again. Employers don't get sick of seeing the same people do well - they also want new people they hope will excel.
That's why it is important to consider both types of learning when deciding how to spend your time - the right balance between formal and informal learning will make sure that your skills are tested (in an appropriate way for each situation) and appropriately developed...but only if the balance between them is right.
Although both have their uses, CPD works best when combined with lots of different types of learning so that you have a comprehensive 'toolbox' of skills and knowledge that can then be used to solve problems or take advantage of opportunities when they arise.
Author - Chris
Author, Editor, Creator of this website.