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Three Tips for Building a Learning Curriculum Plan
…and why you need one

September 25, 2014 |  by  |  Business Development

Curriculum plans answer the question “what should we teach, to whom, how, and at what point in their careers?”  Traditionally CPA firms have adopted some combination of:

  • Rely on the CPE   The firm defines a broad need (e.g., “staff training”) and relies on the CPE provider to determine the contents and learning objectives of each course in the curriculum
  • Rely on the individual learner. This approach typically is reserved for partners and perhaps senior managers, who develop their own plan by choosing the courses they believe are most relevant to them

The problem with each of these two approaches is that the link between learning and the true needs of the business may not be as tight as it needs to be.  Individuals may be learning about topics that are not relevant to their careers or they might be failing to develop necessary competencies.  The firm closes learning gaps by providing one off training sessions, which adds unnecessary costs to the learning spend.  Many times, these one off trainings are too little and too late to make a real difference.

In an effort to grow, firms have begun to pursue more complex and nuanced business strategies.  This  trend coupled with an explosion of online CPE offerings requires firms to be much more disciplined than they have in the past to make sure they provide their professionals with the most relevant, cost-effecting learning events.

A well thought our firm wide curriculum plan addresses this issue.  A curriculum plan is much  more than a calalog or calendar of courses.  It is a comprehensive, multi-year, multi-level strategy for building the competencies necessary to support firm growth goals.  This plan serves as the basis for creating annual course calendars and individual learning plans.  When creating the plan be sure to address how the training will be delivered, e.g., live in-class, on-line, group webcast, conference, etc.  Each mode of delivery has its pros and cons and some modes are better suited than others to achieve certain learning objectives.

Tip #1 Start with Firm Business Strategies

Learning has to support firm over all business strategies, and the way to link the two is to start with the firm’s strategies and identify the competencies required to support them.  Core competencies are “no brainers” that have been around since the dawn of the profession.  Changes in technical subject matters (e.g., tax court rulings, new accounting and auditing standards) will always drive changes to curriculum plans.  But be alert for changes to foundational competencies that are driven by change to the firm’s business model.

Emerging competencies that firms are adding to their curriculums include:

  • Business development
  • Project management
  • Business valuation/business modeling
  • Advanced Excel Skills
  • Data Analysis Skills
  • Leadership
  • Coaching
  • Mentoring

Tip #2 Building Competencies Takes Time

Even the most talented professionals can’t master complex competencies with a single training course–competency building takes multiple learning events over a period of many years.  For example, intensive business development and leadership programs usually are reserved for managers and partners because so much of their job performance depends on their skills in these areas.  But the seeds for leadership and business development can and should be planted early on in one’s professional career.   The same holds true for many of the “soft skills” that some firms understand the importance of and some do not.

At some point in  life you took an algebra class.  The seeds for your mastery (we can use that term loosely if you like) of algebra were sown over a number of years, long before you actually took the course.

Tip #3 Use the Curriculum Plan to Create Learning Ladders

Where the curriculum plan is firm-focused, the learning ladder is centric to individual learners.  The learning ladder provides each professional with a customizable, multi-year professional development path that allows the individual to realize his or her potential and deliver maximum value to the firm.

Learning ladders are derived from well thought out curriculum plans Individual learning ladders allow the firm to work with each professional to develop an individual learning path that serves as a cornerstone for career development.

Managing the firm’s learning function can be challenging and messy.  Bring some order to the chaos by developing a sound curriculum plan.

Michael Ramos is a guest blogger for Audit Sense.  He is the Principal of Michael Ramos and Associates, a learning consultancy firm that works with CPA firms to increase the ROI on their learning investment through the development and deployment of high-impact learning programs.  He can be reached at


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