Planning your professional education curriculum is a balancing act, with many competing options and mandates, including technology focused learning. In the past, many have viewed technology focused learning somewhat dismissively. The following sentiment summarizes the attitude many have on this topic.
Why do I need to learn more about technology? I already use Excel and email and I can open PDF documents and navigate them with ease. What more is there to learn?
Well, the short answer is there is plenty more to learn, and it’s changing by the day. And that is why technology focused learning is a business necessity today to remain competitive.
The Ever-Changing Technology Landscape And It's Impact On Learning Plans
Consider the following four examples of how technology has changed how we work over just the past few years.
Less than a decade ago, most organizations were still running most of their applications from local servers and resources. In today’s world, having a fundamental knowledge of Cloud Computing is mandatory for success. Why? Because knowledge workers are now running five Cloud-based applications, on average. Given this, it only seems fitting that Cloud Computing should be a component of our technology focused learning efforts.
Information security was once thought to be the sole responsibility of the IT staff. Now, given the explosion of ransomware, phishing attacks, social engineering, and countless other schemes, security is a shared responsibility. No doubt, our IT staffs must continue their efforts, and likely enhance them to ensure adequate protection. But end users must become educated on the risks and be aware when something seems to be out of order. In other words, information security is a now a shared responsibility. In this environment, our information will be only as secure as the least secure link in the chain. Against that backdrop, can we afford not to include security training in our professional development curriculums?
Subscription-based software – such as Office 365 and Acrobat DC – is further complicating matters and escalating technology focused learning needs. For example, if you are an Office 365 subscriber, Microsoft is adding new features to your applications periodically. This means that you are getting new tools added to Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and other Office applications. Yet, these new features do not increase your productivity unless you are a) aware of their presence and b) knowledgeable on how to use them. Accordingly, on-going learning is necessary to ensure the you are maximizing your return on investment from your subscription-based applications.
Emerging technologies are coming to market rapidly and some organizations are implementing them almost as soon as they appear. A fitting example of this is Robotic Process Automation (RPA) – a technology that you may already be hearing much about. In a nutshell, RPA allows you to use software-based robots – “bots” – to automate tasks that are rote and repetitive. Stated differently – when implemented properly – this technology can free information workers from manually performing these same tasks. In doing so, it allows these team members to focus on tasks that have greater value to the organization. Further, RPA can reduce labor costs and increase overall accuracy and efficiency.
Of course, RPA is but one of many examples of emerging technologies that are on the precipice of changing how we work. Unfortunately, those who remain unaware of RPA and similar emerging technologies will not experience the benefits as soon as they could or perhaps should. Again, this only reinforces the need for technology education.
Planning Your Technology-Focused Training
Focus on Mission-Critical Content First
The first step in planning your technology-focused learning curriculum should likely be to consider the content you need to focus on. For example, if your organization will be implementing any new hardware, software, or other services during the year, then you and your team will likely require training in that area. The extent of that training will depend upon the complexity of the technology you are implementing relative to the current skills and knowledge of you and your team members.
A possible second step in planning your curriculum is to consider the need for “ongoing maintenance” training. Included in this category are updates on specific applications and services you already use. For example, if you are an Office 365 subscriber, participating in an update session of relevant new features should be near the top of your list. Likewise, assuming you are running Windows 10, gaining an understanding of new features and tools embedded in your operating system should be a priority. Remember if you don’t know about these new features – and therefore can’t use them – you will not be able to maximize ROI.
Security Training Should Mandatory
As mentioned previously, security training is a virtual necessity in today’s increasingly risky world. Typically, I recommend four to eight hours of security training each year for most business professionals and their team members. You can easily accomplish this during staff meetings or even “lunch-and-learn” type environments; these methods are particularly useful when trying to raise all team members’ awareness of the risky world in which we operate and continually reinforce their responsibilities.
Skills Enhancement Training
In addition to the three categories outlined above, you should set aside time to learn relevant new skills that can make you more productive. To illustrate, consider some of the ubiquitous opportunities available in Excel. Recent enhancements to Excel in the areas of Power Query, Data Models, and Power Pivot set the stage for completely overhauling how many accounting and financial professionals create reports. The same can be said of Microsoft’s Power BI tools too. Unfortunately, relatively few accounting and financial professionals currently have the knowledge to take advantage of these tools. This means that most remain locked-in to stale, inefficient, and outdated reporting processes. When planning your curriculum, be sure to invest ample time in new topics that can expand and improve your skill set.
Become Familiar with Emerging technologies
As indicated previously, emerging technologies appear at an unprecedented pace. Allocate time in your training schedule to become familiar enough with these technologies to know whether they could potentially become useful in your organization. This is not to say that you need to become an expert on each innovative technology. Rather, you should become aware enough of each of these tools to know whether they will impact your business. If you reach the conclusion that they are relevant, then you should likely invest more time in the future to gain a deeper understanding of the technology and its related benefits and risks.
Where To Obtain Your Technology Focused Learning
Traditional learning options
The number of options you have available today for accessing technology focused learning is virtually unlimited. Formal training programs are offered by many companies (including mine, K2 Enterprises) and can often be scheduled through state CPA society organizations. Options available in this distribution channel include in-person seminars and conferences, webcasts, and on-demand sessions.
Another option is to engage one of the content providers discussed in the preceding paragraph to bring the training directly into your organization. The major benefits associated with this approach include: 1) the ability to customize the content to meet specific needs, 2) potentially reduced costs, and 3) the convenience of scheduling the training at a time and place that is convenient for participants.
Additionally, major technology vendors often sponsor their own conferences, which usually include substantial learning options. These options can be particularly useful if you have a specific training need that centers around a technology sold and supported by the sponsor of the conference.
Some Alternative Learning Options
You may be able to leverage in-house expertise to create and deliver content to other team members. However, you should be aware that this can prove to be an expensive proposition if the discussion leader will need to develop appropriate materials for participants. Also, you should check with the appropriate body to determine if professional education/development credits can be claimed in these environments.
Finally, don’t forget all the on-line resources that are available to you today, including something as simple as YouTube. You may be pleasantly surprised to see how much useful content is available on YouTube and similar platforms.
Technological innovation continues at unprecedented rates. And, consequently, so too does the need for technology focused learning. Unfortunately, in far too many cases, business professionals overlook the need to improve their technology skills. To address this issue, we recommend technology focused training that encompasses five areas: 1) Mission-critical content, 2) On-going maintenance, 3) Security training, 4) Skills enhancement training, and 5) Emerging technology familiarity. By allocating sufficient time to learning activities in these areas, you will be on your way to maintaining your skills. You will also gain new ones that will improve your productivity and efficiency now, and in the future.
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