Business Strategy | Leadership / Management

The new CPE: Collaborative learning communities

By Peter A. Margaritis, CPA, CGMA, MAcc,
and Robert Dean, CPA, Chief Learning Officer

Being a CPA requires a commitment to lifelong learning, and that means more than simply complying with our state boards of accountancy licensing requirements or clicking a box to validate attendance in a webinar. It also extends beyond watching webcasts, self-study, or going to seminars and conferences in person.

The CPA Horizons 2025 report identifies lifelong learning as one of the 10 insights and directions of the accounting profession.

“Current educational framework must evolve at the same pace with the changing dynamics of business, government, and our profession,” the report states.

The new educational framework must be designed to develop pathways that reinforce and extend the learning experience, particularly in this complex and changeable business environment. Research shows that within 30 minutes of completing a course and not applying the new learning immediately, participants will have retained only 58 percent of the material. After 48 hours, the retention level drops to 33 percent; after three weeks, it drops below 10 percent.

The creation of collaborative learning communities will help extend the formal learning experience, increasing retention, and strengthening knowledge. This movement to collaborative learning communities mirrors a current trend in business outlined in the book The Experience Economy. Consumers are looking for (and willing to pay for) transformational, life-changing experiences. Learning experiences can be a differentiator in order to receive value beyond commoditized training events.

We are living and working in a world where change is a constant. Collaborative learning experiences enable us to ensure that our learning exceeds the rate of change (or, as Tom Hood would say, L > C). Rather than just learning from your own reading and research, work assignments and job experiences, you can accelerate the learning process (and stay ahead of change) by collaborating with colleagues and peers on a continuous and structured basis.   This involves planning to learn, asking great questions, listening and making connections, sharing openly, taking action, reflecting on your actions, and transferring your learning to other colleagues, all in real time.  We are seeing the early stages of collaborative learning with the use of social media, but more structure and discipline can truly make CPAs lifelong learners.

“Transitioning to real-time learning will change the way CPAs learn and help them adopt and adapt quickly and knowledgeably to ever-changing circumstances,” the CPA Horizons 2025 report states. Real-time collaborative learning will provide smaller increments of education that are relevant, more easily digested, and more rapidly implemented.

Collaborative learning communities can also reduce attention blindness, which is defined as “the basic feature of the human brain that, when we concentrate intensely on one task, causes us to miss just about everything else.”[i] This complex, highly digital, interconnected world creates numerous opportunities and challenges that will be missed by those who do not share knowledge and experience.

The collective knowledge existing outside of the organization far exceeds the aggregate knowledge within the organization. As the KeySo Global Aggregate and Collective Knowledge Whitepaper from June 2011 states, “Those who don’t collaborate in the collective will lose knowledge of the current and future needs and wants of their customers. They will also be unprepared to meet threats of new innovations and entrants.”

A futuristic example of the benefits of a collaborative learning community is demonstrated in the following scenario:

Pepé Le Pew, Inc. (PLPI), a French company, purchased Spacely Space Sprockets, Inc. (SSSI) on Jan. 1, 2014. PLPI’s stock is traded on the NYSE Euronext exchange and their financial statements are prepared using international financial reporting standards (IFRS). SSSI has been instructed to convert their accounting system from U.S. GAAP to IFRS by Dec. 31, 2014.

As IFRS is not mandated in the United States, how is SSSI going to effectively and efficiently convert their systems to IFRS?

If other U.S. subsidiaries of foreign parents that converted from U.S. GAAP to IFRS share best practices, a more streamlined and cost-effective implementation would occur. An IFRS collaborative learning community would help SSSI and those who are part of the community in a number of ways:

  1. Learning IFRS standards, interpretation, and guidance.
  2. Increasing retention and knowledge of IFRS standards, interpretation, and guidance.
  3. Sharing of best implementation practices between members.
  4. Promoting discussion of implementation issues due to the issuance of new standards.

As identified in the CPA Horizons 2025 report, integration and collaboration are core competencies for CPAs, and “CPAs will need to build effective strategic alliances while working collaboratively to provide multidisciplinary solutions to complex problems.”  Collaborative learning communities will become essential business tools that lessen attention blindness, reduce implementation costs, and save time. Participating in a collaborative learning community will be fun, exciting, and inspirational, leading to an increase in the collective knowledge of the entire community.


  1. Davidson, Cathy, N., Collaborative Learning for the Digital Age, The Chronicle Review, August 26, 2011

Peter A. Margaritis, CPA, CGMA, MAcc, is the CEO of IFRS Education and Training, LLC. IFRS Education and Training, LLC delivers high-quality IFRS programs to CPAs, accountants, and business leaders. He is a past chair of the Ohio Society of CPAs' executive board of directors and an instructor with the Business Learning Institute.

Bob Dean, CPA, is a senior executive in learning and talent management. He has been a catalyst in aligning learning and talent development with business strategy for three major professional services firms and now works as a business innovation consultant to professional services organizations. Bob is also an instructor with the Business Learning Institute.


Bill Sheridan