Look anew at CPD

The acronym ‘CPD’ rolls easily off our tongue, but too often we forget what it really means. CPD has become, for many, a chore that has to be done, a box that has to be ticked. Perhaps we should be looking at it anew.

Assuming you want to get better at what you do, and most professionals I speak with would like to do that, activities to continue your professional development and to improve your knowledge and skills beyond your formal education seem an obvious thing to be doing. But, and this is a big BUT, we are time poor and the urgencies of our work and lives conspire to derail our attempts to do more formal training and education in our field.

The role of reflection

This is where an understanding of reflection and its role within the learning process can help you a lot. Reflection, when used consciously as a tool, can greatly enhance the learning that is available from your normal day-to-day activities and help CPD. It takes less time than you might think, so using reflection wisely will indeed get you more for less.

If you ask people where they learned most of what they know, in order to do what they do, they will tell you they learned through experience, through doing things. If you ask them how they learn best, most will tell you they learn best through experience, and through doing things. And yet if you ask them how that learning happened, they won’t be able to tell you. So much of what we learn seems to be a side effect of life. It just happens through experience, and through doing things.

Recognising the gap

Whenever we do something, we have an idea of what we would like to achieve, even if this outcome is vague and outside of our conscious awareness. We want our world to be just a little bit different after the activity. At an internal level, our unconscious mind is noticing whether we achieved our outcome, or if there is still a gap between what we achieved and what we wanted. The recognition of this gap, even though we are not conscious of it, is the most basic form of reflection, and we learn as a result, even though we might not learn that much.

Thankfully this unconscious informal learning is automatic. We will always be learning something just by going about our day-to-day activities. But there is so much more that can be gleaned in terms of learning from our day-to-day activities if we take a couple of extra steps.

Becoming conscious and purposeful

The first step is to make reflection conscious and purposeful. We often mull over in our mind something we did earlier in the day like a meeting or a conversation, but this reflection will lead to little useful learning unless it is focused in the right direction. Endlessly replaying how badly you did something, and mentally beating yourself up for being such an idiot will not lead to a better experience next time. Focus your reflection by putting it in a question frame:

“How can I …?”

“What if I …?”

Imagine how the scenario could play out differently with a realistic and successful outcome. Rehearse this in your mind. It is also worth playing with some creative thinking tools. Change the numbers to be much bigger or much smaller, imagine how you could make the result much worse to get insight into what actually went wrong, or imagine how it would play out in a different location.

Get in the habit of reviewing a few of your day’s activities. To avoid it taking up your precious time, you can do this alongside another activity such as walking the dog, having a shower or washing the dishes.

Step up

If you want to step up your reflection game to a new level, discuss an activity, and your reflections on the activity with someone else. Those few minutes of discussion will generate a lot more reflection and a different quality of reflection on the activity as you assemble your thoughts in order to verbalise what happened and how you think you could do things differently next time.

The other person does not need to be an expert in your field, and sometimes this can be an advantage. It is surprising what new insights we can arrive at when trying to explain what we do to someone with no background in our field or a child.

The other side of that coin is where the person we are discussing our activity with knows more than we do about it and can add in comments based on their own experience and understanding. Of course, if the other person was also present during the activity, they will have their own observations on what actually happened, and so will be able to give you some feedback from another viewpoint.

It is well worth having an agreement with a colleague to spend a few minutes each morning sharing your reflections on a couple of activities from the previous day.

Reflection is a fundamental part of learning, and therefore a fundamental part of CPD.

Paul Matthews is the founder of People Alchemy and expert in workplace learning, especially informal learning, learning transfer, performance consultancy, and how Learning & Development can help achieve business targets. He is the author of the Learning at Work Trilogy: “Learning Transfer at Work: How to Ensure Training >> Performance”, “Informal Learning at Work: How to Boost Performance in Tough Times” and “Capability at Work: How to Solve the Performance Puzzle”.