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NYSSCPA supports ‘nano-learning’ cautiously and with questions

Chis Gaetano
Published Date:
Jan 26, 2016

Should watching a 10-minute-long video about a particular accounting subject be eligible for continuing professional education (CPE) credit? That’s one of the many issues the profession grapples with, as technology continues to not only have an impact on the immediacy and accessibility of information but also on how it is revolutionizing how humans learn.

The concept has a name: “nano-learning,” and it’s not so new—two states, Maryland and Ohio, already recognize it as a valid format of CPE. Now, the AICPA and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy are seeking to standardize this new CPE format for states nationwide through an exposure draft issued in April. 

The exposure draft would amend the Statement on Standards for Continuing Professional Education (CPE) Programs (last updated in 2012) and aims to update the framework for the development, presentation, measurement and reporting of CPE programs. It defines nano-learning in this way: “A tutorial program designed to permit a participant to learn a given subject in a ten-minute timeframe through the use of electronic media (including technology applications and processes and computer-based or web-based technology) and without interaction with a real time instructor.” 

Under the proposal, the 10-minute, nano-learning modules would count for one-fifth of a credit hour—or .20 credits—provided the CPA completes a qualified assessment afterward. The program, as a whole, would need to be at least 10 minutes in total, including both the lesson itself and the subsequent assessment. 

Nano-learning courses could be taken by themselves, or through another format recognized in the proposal called “blended learning.” Blended learning allows for courses that incorporate different educational methods, such as lectures or simulations; delivery methods, such as live groups or self-study; levels of guidance, such as subject matter-led or group/social learning; and scheduling, whether it be synchronous or asynchronous. So, a series of lectures delivered over the Internet and worked on asynchronously would count as blended learning, as would a live workshop supplemented with a self-study program that includes various readings and a group discussion on a collection of nano-learning modules, guided by a subject matter expert. 

The NYSSCPA, however, had some reservations about the concept and how effective such lessons could be in maintaining a CPA’s professional competence, which is the goal of the proposed standards in the first place. 

While acknowledging the growing popularity and use of the format, the NYSSCPA, in a recent comment letter issued by the Society’s Foundation for Accounting Education’s (FAE) Board of Trustees, cautioned against allowing CPAs to rely on such courses for the bulk of their professional development. 

With this in mind, the Society asked that the AICPA and NASBA consider “limiting the number of nano-credits that may be earned by a participant,” as “we believe that if true education is desired, too many credits earned exclusively through a nano format may not meet the Joint Committee’s ultimate objective, which is to educate and maintain the professional competence of a CPA practitioner.” 

At the same time, it also asked that NASBA and the AICPA broaden the criteria for when a nano-learning credit can be earned. As it is now, credit can only be earned through the use of electronic media without any interaction from a real-time instructor. The Society wondered why credit should only be awarded through this strict format. Why not, for example, through conducting research reviewed by a competent professional or subject matter expert, or through a live self-study program? The Society urged the NASBA and AICPA to consider these alternatives. 

Not that a live instructor is necessary in all cases—while the exposure draft proposes that a subject matter expert be available to facilitate and take questions during recorded presentations for the lesson to count for CPE credit, the Society wondered why this was the case. It suggested that instead of having to have someone around in real time, perhaps the expert could be available via email instead, which the Society felt accomplished the same goal. 

“As written, it appears the objective is to be certain that the participant understands the subject matter presented in a recorded presentation and has any questions answered. Therefore, whether a question is answered immediately (live) or at a reasonable future time through email prior to issuance of a certificate of completion, using email should not make a difference in the ultimate outcome of the presentation,” said the Society. 

The Society felt that certain terms that are used when describing blended learning, such as “social learning,” however, could stand to be clearer, as could a number of other terms used throughout the document. While the exposure draft did have a glossary at the beginning, the Society believed that some of the terms were “unclear and may be interpreted or applied differently by different individuals.” 

Overall, though, the Society expressed support for the main objective of keeping CPE standards relevant, as these are the bedrock on which a CPA’s competence rests. 

“We believe that education and the maintenance of professional competence by CPAs are critical to upholding the trust we have duly earned and enjoy in the public domain. We believe that continuing education is a lifelong process essential to remaining competent and relevant in our ever-changing world, and that such education be obtained in the most appropriate manner,” said the Society. 

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