Tiffany Crosby serves as the chief learning officer at the Ohio Society of CPAs (OSCPA), which serves the finance and accounting professions through a portfolio of learning options, advocacy, pipeline development, and more. She also serves as the society’s DEI officer, nurturing diversity, equity, and inclusion both internally and in the accounting profession. A self-described learning enthusiast, Tiffany is an avid reader currently pursuing a PhD in organizational leadership.
In this episode of the Leading Learning Podcast, co-host Celisa Steele and Tiffany talk about competency-based learning, blended and cohort-based learning, the impact of the pandemic on learning portfolios, using data to make decisions, coaching to support learning, trends she has her eye on (including blockchain and microcredentials), content curation, and DEI.
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[00:00] – Intro
The Ohio Society of CPAs Learning Portfolio
[01:44] – Tell us about the society’s portfolio of learning products and services.
OSCPA tries to offer breadth of delivery channels so that learners can engage in the way that is most convenient and effective for them. Their offerings include the following types of learning:
- Webcasts and Webinars
- On-demand courses
OSCPA serves as curator because a lot of good content already exists. OSCPA organizes its offerings around a competency framework, which covers nine competencies they’ve identified as relevant to the accounting and finance profession. Approximately 6,000 to 8,000 learners that engage with OSCPA each year.
Competency-Based Learning and a Competency Framework
[04:46] – How do you define competency-based learning? How do you match what you offer with your competency framework?
Competency-based learning is about a related set of knowledge, skills, and abilities that come together to create proficiency in a particular topic. It could be industry-specific or relate to process or functional aspect. Competency-based learning helps learners to get to a level of mastery or continue their mastery.
For example, OSCPA has identified talent management and DEI as a competency in its framework. But their offerings focus on those areas through the lens of finance and accounting, so it’s about what proficiency in talent management should look like for finance and accounting leaders in particular.
OSCPA looks at how to combine the role and sector it serves along with a particular body of knowledge to see how it needs to manifest.
[07:22] – How long has OSCPA had its competency framework in place?
Work on the competency framework started in 2016, but it really came to full fruition in 2021, and it’s now fully integrated into everything they do. But it was a journey to get there.
They had to look at their portfolio to figure out what was and wasn’t aligned, which helped them identify gaps. Then they looked at how to fill those gaps.
They also had to put the same thought process into some aspects of their marketing and communications. The journey itself taught them a lot.
The competency framework helps them now with marketing because they can be very clear about what they offer. They know what they are and aren’t looking for, and they can stay more focused, not be tempted to try to have everything in their portfolio, which can create confusion and even some anxiety.
We’re trying to make the path, not just the purchase, but the path to learning and growing easier.Tiffany Crosby
[09:31] – Are you currently doing anything with blended learning?
OSCPA piloted a learning program around a specific set of skills and knowledge related to consulting in a professional services firm, and they partnered with a thought leader to do that. Learners have online synchronous activities they do with the thought leader, and they also have learning they do complete on their own.
When OSCPA first piloted the approach, they tried to figure out how to make sure the cohort would stay on track and how they could monitor that as well as the self-study piece. The pilot went well, so it was expanded and offered multiple times to multiple groups. OSCPA has not tried the approach with another topic or competency, but they may in the future.
Tiffany believes there needs to be a solid business for using blended learning versus other approaches, given the amount of time and effort involved in developing and delivering blended solutions. Also, she recommends a topic or fucs that lends itself to a cohort model because a cohort can be a powerful factor in keeping learners on track and accountable.
[12:34] – In the blended program you described, does everything happen online? Do learners gather in person physically at any point?
Since the pilot was initially launched in 2021, it’s been all online, but it involves synchronous and asynchronous online learning. OSCPA has not yet decided whether some of the synchronous pieces should be in person. They are offering some in-person learning in the fall of 2022, and they’re trying to resume some in-person delivery, where and when it makes sense.
For this particular program, the learners are dispersed geographically, so shifting the synchronous part to in-person delivery doesn’t make sense. With some of their virtual programs that went virtual during COVID, they added an in-person component back in for the fall of 2022, and they don’t have the registrations they thought they’d have for the in-person option.
Tiffary is hopeful that the interest in the in-person option will pick up, but she also realizes if they didn’t offer a virtual component then individuals that aren’t in the region were the event is being held would likely not have registered. One of OSCPA’s challenges is trying to serve the entire state while figuring out how to get in-person engagement back into the lineup after going virtual as a result of the pandemic.
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The Pandemic’s Impact on Learning Offerings
[15:44] – What has the impact of the pandemic been on your offerings and portfolio?
Tiffany believes it’s important to paint the pandemic journey. In March 2020, OSCPA’s business was roughly 80 percent in-person, 20 percent virtual. Within a week, they had to make that 100 percent virtual.
In 2020, they were taking a program, conference, seminar, etc., that was designed for in-person delivery and trying to convert it to virtual. In 2021, they were able to shift to focus on designing for virtual delivery and improving the virtual experience.
The move to virtual led them to make changes to conference session lengths. They started doing more keynote sessions, which can be trickier in person because of space limitations. OSCPA found they could secure more national and international leaders since they were no longer restricted by speakers willing to travel. Their budget for speakers could then also be used more strategically since it didn’t have to cover travel.
Virtual delivery also removed some of the geographic and date restrictions related to working with venues and speaker availability, which made it much easier to plan and project further out.
The challenge has been with networking and connection. OSCPA many different things—virtual happy hours, virtual bingo, and more.
They haven’t yet found an approach that mimics the serendipitous connections you can make in person. In 2022, they’re focusing on trying to identify a good approach for networking, connections, and relationships, whether that’s online or blended. Maybe a lot of the learning is still virtual, but an in-person element might be devoted to networking, social interaction, and social learning.
OSCPA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Initiatives
[22:11] – Would you tell us about what OSCPA offers to help organizations with their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts?
Tiffany says OSCPA meets people where they are in the DEI area. They have to listen, engage, and create space for conversations in which people get to grapple with different viewpoints, think about what DEI really means, and how it looks.
Essentially, there are four buckets in which OSCPA offers DEI support:
- DEI learning and development resources
These are available through their on-demand portfolio in the Crossing Bridges series. They also include articles on DEI in the society’s magazine, which is issued six times a year.
- DEI culture and inclusion assessment
This is for organizations that want to understand what their environment is like. It helps them understand how their own employees, colleagues, and associates feel about the environment. It’s not a DEI checklist. It’s based on surveying employees to understand if they feel included.
- DEI strategy consulting
This is for any organization that wants to tackle a particular aspect of their culture or some other DEI-related activity. OSCPA can also partner with third parties to help organizations tackle broader goals.
- Facilitated conversations or workshops around DEI
This is for organizations that want to bring people together to learn how to engage in difficult conversations.
[26:36] – When did OSCPA add the DEI offerings to its portfolio?
OSCPA added the Crossing Bridges series in 2020, but not as a result of George Floyd or any other events unfolding at the time. In 2019, they planned an in-person DEI summit for in the summer of 2020, but then the pandemic happened. So OSCPA pivoted and offered the summit conent as a series of Webinars and then made the recordings a part of their catalog.
Determining OSCPA’s Portfolio of Offerings
[28:23] – How do you decide what goes into (or comes out of) OSCPA’s learning portfolio?
OSCPA has embraced data and become a data-informed organization. Tiffany says they’re data-informed, not data-driven, because they also seek to understand the qualitative side of the impact they’re having.
They use data to look at what and where learners are engaging. They look at it learner demographics, roles, and other aspects.
They also continuously scan the environment to identify emerging risks or trends impacting the business environment (such as the supply chain crisis). Some emerging topic may result in a new offering.
They also want to make sure that the content isn’t stale. Some topics are fairly evergreen, such as leading people, but, over time, even evergreen topics may need to be updated to use more inclusive language, for example.
They also look at roles to see if content is outdated in any way. If it is, they remove or update the offering.
Coaching and Learning
[32:02] – What’s your perspective on coaching as an approach to learning?
Tiffany believes coaching is one of the most undertaught skills for leaders and for the development of people. Coaching assumes that individuals are capable of working through problems if they are guided.
Coaching sparks thinking and asks questions, but coachees generally come up with their own answers. Often they just need someone to listen and help them hear better what they themselves are already thinking.
And so I think from a learning business, our ability to do that first with our members, to try and hear what they’re thinking but then also to try and cultivate that in them, to help them be better leaders and to help them develop their teams, I think that can be a great offering to them because it ties into the number-one issue that is affecting most businesses, which is talent. Talent acquisition, talent retention. And so, if people are better coaches, create better environments in which people are engaged, they have more autonomy. They just feel more empowered to make decisions. They’re going to end up having more intrinsic motivation, and they’re going to end up more engaged.Tiffany Crosby
Lifelong Learning Habits
[34:07] – How do you approach your own learning? Do you have specific habits, sources, or practices?
Tiffany reads 60 to 80 books a year. One of the reasons for her prodigious reading is that we can’t know what we don’t know. How do you become aware of your blind spots? How do you start to know that you don’t know? One of the ways is to read widely.
She looks at areas of controversy and new trends that she doesn’t have a lot of information about. She reads across a variety of topics, different industries, time periods, cultures, and authors. This helps her understand some cultural nuances and differences as well as similarities.
Taking a wide variety of courses has also been helpful for Tiffany. Her playlist for learning is all over the board, but it helps her synthesize and sort through what’s hype and what’s real.
The Future of Learning
[38:20] – When you think about the future of learning, are there developments or trends that you have your eye?
Tiffany got a subscription to Readitfor.me ,and she finds it interesting to try and read or listen to someone else’s summary of a book. She’s interested in how to curate effectively because there is so much out there.
She’s also interested in podcasts. There are so many different podcasts, so how do you work through the noise of all the options? And what is a leading business’s role in trying to identify relevant podcasts for our learners and members?
Microlearning is another trend she’s watching. People need to learn in bite-size chunks at times. You aren’t going to become a marketing expert by watching ten three-minute videos, but, if you need just a little marketing know-how, those short videos might be perfect.
Being able to continue to grow in very specific ways over the course of your life is opening up the opportunity to have multiple careers in a lifetime. The idea of microcredentials also supports this.
I think that’s the trend I’m most excited about, is that I’m starting to see that being embraced, this idea that people can have multiple interests. They can have multiple competencies in their portfolio, they can be stackable, and they can be building and essentially have their own unique career path that they continue to build out over time.Tiffany Crosby
[41:55] – Wrap-up
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