What Makes For Effective CPD?

15th March 2018 - Adam Halls

CPD, CPDL or INSET – there are lots of names for continued development and it’s crucial for leaders to continue to develop their staff to deal with the changing realities of business. But, whatever you call it, what makes for effective CPD?


In order for organisations to grow and thrive in an increasingly fluid and complex landscape it is vital that our workforce is equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to adapt to change and drive forward emerging priorities. Leaders therefore have a fundamental responsibility to supporting their employees to develop.

Effective professional development is a core part of securing effective outcomes and outputs. It cannot exist in isolation, rather it requires a pervasive culture of self-improvement and growth and a sense of being on a journey in which each individual experiences support from their colleagues. However, not all professional development is equally effective. Helping people to improve their practice takes thought, planning and effort. It requires leaders to prioritise not only the operational aspects of development but also, the emotional, psychological and behavioural impacts that it might achieve. While professional development can take many forms, research suggests that the most effective professional development practices share similar characteristics[1]. Effective development should be seen as a key driver not only of staff development, but also of recruitment, retention, wellbeing, and organisational improvement.

The Importance of Leadership

Professional development must be prioritised by and is most effective when it is led well as part of a wider culture of evidence-informed reflection and discussion of practice. In particular, effective leadership of professional development:

What does ‘Professional Development’ Mean?

A number of phrases are used to describe professional development, and what these mean is not always clear. Common terms and acronyms include professional learning, continuing professional development (CPD), continuing professional development and learning (CPDL), joint practice development, and in-service training (INSET). There are certain nuances that differentiate the different terms, but on the whole they all refer to the same concept.

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Programmes Versus Activities

Evidence suggests that a one-day course as a stand-alone activity without a specific focus is unlikely to have a lasting impact on practice, outcomes or outputs. However, the same course could be used to much greater effect as part of a sustained, coherent programme which includes structured, collaborative activities aimed at equipping participants with knowledge and skills needed in order to refine ideas and embed new or refined approaches. A professional development programme is likely to involve many activities designed to sustain and embed practice, including, but not limited to: individual and collaborative activity; well-designed formative assessment, reflection and evaluation; opportunities for participants to explore and apply learning within their day to day context within the framework of the programme; mechanisms for gauging and analysing the impact of learning on practice, outcomes and outputs. [2].

Ingredients that Support Effective Professional Development

There is no one size fits all when it comes to developing staff, but there are certain ingredients that support effectiveness such as; 

The IVE Approach to Professional Development

Building on these points above, IVE looks to design programmes that have a regular rhythm of opportunities in order to form a coherent programme. Our programmes therefore ideally last at least 12 weeks and up to two years. We also provide sustained and ongoing support to participants throughout that time. We ensure that our ‘immersion days’ (normally a 1 day immersion of training) are either focussed on a narrow goal or form part of coherent sequence to achieve broader goals. Depending on the needs of the client, we also offer a research methodology that allows participants to gauge and analyse the impact of their development on their day to day practice and output.

Essentially we endeavour to create an environment of exploration and shared discovery, in which we build a sense of inventiveness and openness to a range of possibilities and choices in relation to issues or change that are being addressed. The way in which we do this is both active and playful.

Our work begins by deliberately building a spirit of one group with a shared purpose – this is about us rather than me. This is done through games that warm up participants’ brains, voices and bodies, and practitioners continue to build this spirit by shared, collaborative tasks that depend on and value everyone’s contributions.

Within the context of change management we have adopted an approach that would not be unfamiliar in the rehearsal rooms of professional acting companies. We explore the whole world of the business at hand: we explore the language, ‘characters’ and motivation, setting, plot/narrative and themes. Through continued play and applying simple performance techniques, we examine a wide range of angles and possibilities. Sessions are carefully scaffolded so that participants become more confident in working outside of their comfort zone. By inhabiting an imaginary landscape; anything is possible. It allows participants to grapple with challenges, themes and ideas in a safe, collaborative space, which in turn builds the creative capacity to adopt and drive change in the real world.

Depending on the context we are working in and the needs of our client, we also build a reflective process into our development programmes. This can vary in nature from mentoring and coaching to supporting participants with an action research process we have developed called Learning to Enquire, which evidences the impact of change. Our purpose through these reflective processes is to support participants to consciously notice, reflect on and record the changes that new practices might be having on their day to day work and outcomes.

All of our work is built upon the premise that human beings are innately creative, and that when we are really young the vast majority of us have genius levels of creative capacity, which is sadly lost as we grow older. Our ultimate intention is to therefore reconnect our clients with that creative potential and empower them to understand how they can draw on it themselves and through the people they work with in order to drive productivity and growth.

Interested? Fill in the form below and someone from IVE will be in touch to discuss how we can provide CPD that helps achieve your business aims.

    [1] 1 Cordingley, P., Higgins, S., Greany, T., Buckler, N., Coles-Jordan, D., Crisp, B., Saunders, L., Coe, R.; Developing Great Teaching; 2015

    [2] Standard for teachers’ professional development, Implementation guidance for school leaders, teachers, and organisations that offer professional development for teachers July 2016

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