CPD -Continuing Professional Development 






European Global School Paris 



The University of Strathclyde Glasgow



 Birkbeck , University of London



The Noble Institute of Education Society in India



London Institute of Business Studies



London Institute of Business and Management



Academy for International Modern Studies (AIMS)

What constitutes CPD in higher education?
Continuing professional development is currently high on the agenda for UK Higher Education. A small number of studies have been undertaken with mixed disciplinary groups of academic and other HE staff to ascertain the different activities undertaken to develop teaching practice. 
The aim of this small-scale research was to complement these studies by looking at the experiences of academics from a single discipline, Earth Science, across 31 different institutions in the UK. Responses from 192 academics indicated that CPD takes a wide variety of forms; discussions with colleagues was the most frequently-cited form of CPD undertaken. 
The main barrier was perceived to be lack of time or the need to focus on research in most institutions. It is suggested that challenges for HEIs in integrating CPD include: the valuing and monitoring of both formal and informal CPD activities; exploring synergies between professional development for teaching and for research; and supporting collaboration and communication between educational developers and academic staff, between disciplines, and across institutions. CPD needs to be considered as a normal part of professional life for all academic staff; it needs to be self-directed and planned within the relevant context. 
For many higher education institutions (HEIs) in the UK, CPD is synonymous with formal courses or events that provide some form of ‘training’. Such training is often provided as CPD for external professions such as law, business and finance, medicine and so on. However, there is some evidence to suggest that although HEIs have a “tendency to regard formal courses as the most appropriate mode of teaching provision, …practitioners in general take a different view” (Becher, 1996 BecherT. (1996).


The learning professions. Studies in Higher Education (1): 43-55 [Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®], , [Google Scholar] , p. 54). Becher’s research into the CPD activities undertaken by practitioners in medicine, pharmacy, law, accountancy, architecture and structural engineering indicated that professional learning takes many forms. He identified seven categories or modes of learning:

  • ·         Courses and conferences
  • ·         Professional interactions
  • ·         Networking
  • ·         Consulting experts
  • ·         Personal research
  • ·         Learning by doing, and
  • ·         Learning by teaching 

Becher suggested that

“a clear awareness of the large part played by other forms of interaction [beyond formal courses or events] might perhaps encourage professional schools [in HEIs] to adjust their own priorities: for example in helping to set up professional interactions, to promote and underpin specialist networks and to support personal research.”


As well as supporting the CPD of external practitioners, HEIs are of course also concerned with the development of their own staff and, in general, formal workshops and seminars again seem to be the dominant model. Interestingly, although many other forms of learning are recognised for initial HE lecturer training courses – e.g. action learning sets, projects, peer observation, reflection – these seem to be much less of a feature of CPD provision. There is, of course, an important place for formal ‘off-the-peg’ activities but these should be considered as part of a broader spectrum of learning opportunities.


For the purpose of UIPM, continuing professional development (CPD) is defined as any activity ‘targeted to strengthen and extend the knowledge, skills and conceptions of teachers in a way that will lead to changes in their way of thinking and their educational behaviour’ (Fenstermacher & Berliner, 1985: 49). This could include formal accredited provision such as the Postgraduate Certificate, or very informal activities such as peer dialogue and informal peer mentoring. A national survey conducted as part of this research project has shown that the following teaching-related CPD activities are most commonplace in


UK higher education:

  • ·         accredited courses such as the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice
  • ·         workshops aimed at specific teaching-related topics
  • ·         teaching and learning conferences and seminars
  • ·         in-house teaching accreditation schemes
  • ·         peer review of teaching
  • ·         small development grants.

For many academics, lack of time and pressures from other priorities (i.e. research) seem to be related to the culture of the department as exemplified by this comment from one respondent.“Academic promotion solely relies on one’s international research reputation. Time spent on teaching and teaching-related activities (such as CPD) is applauded but it is weighted close to zero by promotion panels.”


It can be inferred from additional comments provided by some respondents that the main other reason for not undertaking CPD was due to bad experiences of formal courses (or even personality clashes with educational developers and other colleagues!). These respondents had very strong views and assumed that ‘educationalists’ define CPD as only involving formal courses and events. For example, despite the fact that the questionnaire listed ‘discussions with colleagues, networking and reading’ as the first few possible CPD activities, the following types of comment were still made:


“As usual, the educationalist view is that CPD requires a course or equivalent teaching us how to teach.”

“I value teaching quality very highly, and am constantly striving to do it better. I have just found the formal routes to CPD you emphasise here to be much less helpful than talking to others, emulating those I think are effective etc.”


Finally, respondents were asked to indicate whether or not they were formally required to undertake CPD (e.g. either for membership of a professional body or by their institution). Respondents from 18 departments indicated that they were formally required by their institution to undertake CPD. Of these18 institutions:

        9 require new staff to take a formal course

        8 have some form of internal or peer review

        (2 have both of the above)

        4 use peer observation

        1 has CPD as school policy for both new staff and experienced staff.


Interestingly, there was virtually no reference to staff appraisal as a mechanism to support CPD, with only one person mentioning appraising colleagues as a means of professional development.