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Continuing professional development

CPD means continuing professional development, or CPE is continuing professional education. These are terms used to describe the learning activities professionals engage in to develop their knowledge, skills and best practice techniques. They do so to take that new learning and ideas sharing and apply these in their work to improve their proficiency and advance their careers.

Types of CPD learning vary depending on the requirements for your business, or if you are learning as an individual.

If the learning has been CPD-accredited, it can be undertaken in different formats as follows:


Structured CPD learning


Structured CPD or active learning comprises of interactive and participation-based study meaning being proactive by attending or undertaking any of the following:


  • Classroom courses
  • Organisational (in-house) courses
  • Online programmes (e.g. online courses and webinars)
  • 1-1 trainer-led instruction
  • Conferences
  • Workshops
  • Seminars
  • Lectures
  • Other structured forms of learning and events


Structured CPD learning is also when professionals actively take career-orientated exams and assessments (the study and revision would be considered self-directed learning, as outlined below).


Self-directed CPD learning


Self-directed CPD is more informal than structured CPD and is often a one-way directional form of learning that does not necessarily follow a consistent and methodical approach. It can include undertaking a wide range of learning activities that could include the following:


  • general research and industry study
  • watching relevant educational videos
  • reading blogs, news articles, or books
  • informal discussion groups
  • reflective analysis


Structured or self-directed CPD must be relevant to what an individual is hoping to achieve in their career as well as fulfilling basic obligations as set out by their professional body.

Accredited CPD training means the learning activity has achieved the required continuing professional development standards and benchmarks, and the learning value has been inspected to ensure a certain quality and integrity.

CPD helps individuals, organisations or entire industries keep their knowledge and skills current. Providing CPD enables organisations to become a knowledge bank for those with a vested interest in the organisation. CPD-accredited events allow professionals to use their learning towards individual CPD requirements.

An individual keeps track of their annual CPD activities on a CPD record (self-assessment) form or log and must ensure it is correct, up-to-date and meets the requirements of their professional body or association. The CPD activity is recorded in terms of learning outcomes and how the learner practically intends to apply their new learning. The accredited CPD provider does not normally keep an ongoing learning record for each of their delegates.


At CPD Qualification Standards, we can provide guidance to individuals as to how many CPD hours or points are achievable from the completion of any CPD activity we have certified such as a conference, training course or seminar. This will help any individual to record the correct level of CPD hours for their professional body.


Continuing professional development undertaken is recorded by a CPD certificate of attendance and personal CPD record forms.  Once a CPD-certified activity has been delivered, the attendee can update their CPD record and attach the associated certificate.

Most industries are involved in CPD training.  Professionals from any industry, sector, career level, job role or responsibilities can undertake CPD and they are increasingly expected to do so. It is important to understand the continuing professional development requirements for your organisation or industry to understand what their CPD requirements are (e.g. how you are expected to record CPD learning and how many hours are required per year).


Most professions have CPD obligations. For example, medical and legal professions are subject to continuing medical education or continuing legal education requirements and these vary by jurisdiction.

Most professional bodies require at least 50% of CPD to be completed in a structured format.  The differences between the two are the following:

Structured CPD:

  • is considered a formal learning environment which typically includes training courses, online e-learning programmes, workshops and seminars that have been accredited and conform to CPD guidelines and standards.
  • consists of two-way interactions between trainer and delegates and follows a methodical approach to learning that can be delivered consistently time and time again.
  • will often contain case studies and examples within the training as well as Q&A, breakout discussion groups and possible assessments to ensure that key learning has been embedded.

When a delegate has completed structured CPD training they will in most instances be provided with a CPD certificate of attendance/completion which can be used as part of the individual’s personal CPD record for submission at their professional body, where relevant.

Self-directed CPD:

is considered more informal and is often one-way directional learning that does not necessarily follow a consistent and methodical approach to knowledge sharing.

  • can be quite broad in terms of the activities completed and can include:
  • reading news articles, blogs or books
  • general industry study and research
  • watching relevant educational videos
  • informal discussion groups
  • reflective analysis

Once self-directed learning is completed, individuals must elaborate further on their personal CPD record as to what new knowledge has been obtained, what will be put into practice and how long in duration the self-directed learning has taken.

Self-directed CPD must be relevant to individual career aspirations and any fundamental obligations set out by their professional body.

Undertaking CPD is the responsibility of the professional (not their organisation), regardless of industry.  This is done to improve skills and knowledge for personal as well as professional development.

When completing CPD, it is important for an individual to:

  • keep a record of the training completed each year
  • record what learning objectives have been met
  • note what skills will be put into practice to improve and increase proficiency

The training record is kept by an individual.

The training record that is kept by an individual is typically called a CPD portfolio.  A CPD portfolio helps the learner to keep track of their progression from year to year. The portfolio is proof of their continuing professional development obligations for their professional body or association and demonstrates that the learning has been completed.


Contained within a CPD portfolio would be:


  • CPD record form or register of learning activities (such as educational events, workshops and training courses)
  • the delegate’s CPD certificates for each activity

Professional bodies review their members’ CPD portfolio to ensure they are meeting their annual continuing professional development requirements.

A CPD portfolio should demonstrate a range of different methods of learning and the different impacts on future capability.

Different industries and professional bodies use the terms ‘CPD points’, ‘CPD units’ or ‘CPD credits’ diversely depending on preference. However, these all relate to the same thing – CPD hours.

A CPD hour is the time that an individual spends undertaking “active learning”.  Active learning defines the actual time spent learning something relevant for the individual’s continuing professional development objectives.


An example of this would be:


A one-day accredited CPD training course.  If the training starts at 9 am and ends at 5 pm with a one-hour break for lunch, the CPD hours would be seven CPD hours.


Most professional bodies use CPD hours as their CPD measure and that, where the terms CPD points, units or credits are used, these are in a typical 1:1 ratio with CPD hours, i.e. one CPD point, unit or credit equals one CPD hour.

Online CPD is becoming a more popular alternative to traditional learning methods. Working professionals with limited available time have found many benefits to the flexibility provided by online CPD.


Advantages of online CPD learning for the provider are:


  • It is low cost
  • Course materials (such as textbooks and handouts) can be made available online
  • Online CPD courses can be delivered more than once
  • Many of the elements of online CPD courses can be automated to streamline the process and reduce time wastage
  • It has a wider reach


Advantages of online CPD learning for the learner are:


  • It is a more affordable option than traditional learning methods
  • It does not involve any commuting costs for delegates (or trainer)
  • You can study in a more comfortable learning environment
  • Many of the stresses around learning are removed
  • Online courses enable more introverted individuals to participate in class discussions more comfortably than in face-to-face classes
  • Improved concentration as there are fewer distractions
  • It is flexible and convenient
  • You can study at a personal optimum time
  • Work and family commitments can be balanced
  • It encompasses built-in evaluation techniques and feedback loops
  • Learners (and providers) can see the results of tests, grades and certificates of learning immediately

Participating in CPD ensures that:


  • both your academic and practical qualifications are kept up-to-date and so does not become obsolete.  CPD allows you to continually ‘up skill’ or ‘re-skill’ regardless of occupation, age or educational level


  • you regularly focus on how you can become a more competent and effective professional. Training and learning can increase confidence and overall capability and boost career aspirations


  • you can adapt positively to changes in work or industry


  • you are more structured and efficient with the planning of your learning and time and, by the correct recording of your CPD, you can have clear evidence of your professional development which is useful for supervision and appraisals


  • you can demonstrate a clear commitment to your self-development and professionalism


  • knowledge gaps are identified and can be resolved with a recognisable approach to CPD improvement


Participating in CPD also helps ensure an individual attends training and events relevant to their CPD annual expectations for improvement, actions which are more targeted and valuable than simply attending courses just for general interest. Recording your CPD allows you to reflect on what has been gained from the CPD activities and what can be implemented in day-to-day objectives, as well as what skill sets to develop next.

Accredited CPD providers should make available to you a certificate of attendance to attach to your CPD record or log as evidence of development once training is complete, or the desired standards of learning have been met.

You are encouraged to understand the CPD requirements for your organisation and industry to gain a better understanding of how CPD training and learning should be recorded and what number of hours are required.


Most institutes provide their members with CPD requirements generally as a minimum annual number of hours. These targets are defined by the accrual of CPD hours through training, seminars and workshops, events and conferences as well as other forms of CPD learning.


These CPD hours are sometimes converted to points, units or credits. Most institutions allow members to choose subjects that are most relevant to them and their individual progression path. Some may also require their members to seek CPD on a range of core subjects.


Keeping accurate CPD records helps you to reflect on your personal progress over time. Keep CPD records regularly updated as you may need to submit evidence of annual CPD activities to governing professional bodies or your employer.  It is more difficult to record CPD at the end of the year hoping to remember everything completed over the last 12 months.

When recording your CPD, as a rule, it should contain the:


  • date of CPD activity
  • title of CPD activity
  • method of learning (i.e. training course, workshop, event, eLearning)
  • number of CPD hours, points or credits
  • brief description including what new knowledge has been obtained and what learning objectives have been met, and what skills will be put into practice to improve and increase proficiency

No, only training providers who deliver training activities that they want to be part of a certain high quality, structured and internationally CPD-recognised framework, are the ones that seek accreditation for such activities.