The Association of International Certified Professional Accountants is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to train finance and accounting professionals to receive the prestigious Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) designation, which distinguishes those who have achieved advanced proficiency in finance, accounting, operations, strategy, and business management. To earn the designation, candidates must prepare for and pass rigorous exams. As in other fields, the role of finance and accounting is rapidly changing, with the expectation that financial professionals can and should participate in high-level strategic planning, risk management decisions, problem solving and other areas within the organization.
The Association recognized that its educational offerings and the value of the CGMA designation needed to keep pace with these changing demands, and they approached Extension Engine to help them create new, more flexible, and more responsive educational pathways for CGMA candidates.
Historically, the two membership bodies that form the Association—AICPA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants) and CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants)—prepared candidates for the CGMA exam through independent tutors, trainers, and test centers, a lengthy and time-consuming process. The Association imagined a new, integrated digital experience to satisfy two sets of stakeholders:
- Finance and accounting professionals working toward the CGMA designation
- CFOs, VPs of finance, controllers, and other C-level leaders wanting to increase their staff’s proficiency in strategic planning and problem solving throughout their organizations
To define the new competencies it needed to address, the Association reached out to employers, young professionals, academics, and students and asked them to describe the role of finance and accounting in modern organizations. Their enthusiastic feedback helped shape the new program, leading to sweeping changes in the CGMA Finance Leadership Program syllabus design, which is now based on five main pillars:
- Business skills, including strategic planning and risk management
- People skills
- Leadership skills
- Technical skills, with an emphasis on ethics, integrity, and professionalism
- Digital strategy
While the participating organizations agree on a set of competencies, they also recognize that no two organizations have exactly the same expectations of finance and accounting—companies prioritize them differently, based on their unique needs.
This means that the CGMA Finance Leadership Program needed to be a customizable learning journey rather than a single linear path through the content, allowing employers to adapt the learning to their needs. To that end, Extension Engine built a Custom Learning Experience with a configurable platform that would support employer priorities and individual learning journeys. We also provided significant input on strategy, user experience, and instructional design.
A key attribute of CGMA learners is diversity. Candidates range from millennials to established professionals with years or even decades of experience in the field. Some candidates need to review and reinforce the basics; others are more than ready to take on higher-level subjects. From the outset, it was clear that the learning experience could not be “one size fits all.”
In addition, CGMA candidates are highly motivated, but also pressed for time, with little desire to spend weeks or months relearning material they have already mastered. Their employers are likewise eager to put their new skills to work as quickly as possible.
The Association needed to direct learners to the most appropriate materials for their individual knowledge and learning speed, a level of learner centricity rarely found in online courses.
To accomplish this ambitious mission, the Association adopted three tactics:
1) personalized learning
2) a learn-by-doing pedagogy with immediate practice and feedback to develop maximum proficiency in the minimum amount of time
3) a completely customized platform to guide the user through an intuitive, efficient, and learner-centric experience.
The dashboard presents the learner’s progress through the course and also toward a specific completion date. The learner can choose a desired completion date against which to gauge their progress or have the platform calculate the probable completion date based on their rate of progress.
Each competency includes a number of skill sets that are introduced through learning scenarios.
Learners can easily monitor their progress in mastering the skill sets contained within each competency. All skill sets must be completed to do the business simulation for that competency.
Knowledge checks provide feedback to both learners and the platform, which tracks where review and remediation might be needed.
Personalized learning offers a pathway based on each learner’s prior knowledge and learning speed (in addition to employer priorities). A participant can enter the CGMA Finance Leadership Program at one of three predefined levels based on their past work and educational experience. The Learning Management System (LMS) then determines their path through each level based on the mastery they demonstrate as they complete each skill. A personalized dashboard allows each learner to set their desired pace and receive feedback on their progress.
The learn-by-doing pedagogy begins by presenting new ideas and concepts to learners, then challenging them to apply the knowledge in the real world. Each competency contains multiple skill sets. Once completed, a business simulation reinforces learning. As the program progresses, the simulations become more complex, with the ultimate goal of helping learners master the advanced business tasks they will face in the case study exam. This immediate application of new information and focus on knowledge integration increases both retention and proficiency. The LMS helps students determine which areas they need to focus on and which need remediation. The final step is to prepare for the CGMA exam by engaging in mock exams that simulate business tasks across all areas.
The customized platform provides a uniquely responsive and interactive user experience, examples of which include:
- A sophisticated dashboard that graphically displays all of the competencies in a clean user interface, and shows the learner where they stand and what to anticipate
- The dashboard indicates completed tasks and makes recommendations for the next level.
- Within each competency, the learner masters a number of skills then completes a business simulation of the competency. The dashboard displays the candidate’s progress toward their chosen exam date, indicating what must yet be accomplished to be fully prepared
- Alternatively, the learner can indicate how much time they can apply to the course on a weekly or monthly basis, and the platform will calculate the date they should be ready to take the exam
- The platform supports a variety of learning assets, including video, scenario-based learning, knowledge checks, interactive activities, and case-based assessments.
The CGMA Finance Leadership Program is currently serving more than 500 students from 60+ employers. Several dozen candidates have already successfully graduated and obtained their CGMA designations. The feedback from both employers and individuals who undertook learning on their own has been overwhelmingly positive. And because the learning experience is custom, the Association continues to make changes and improvements as the product matures, in alignment with functionality releases planned on the product road map.
Bill leads our nonprofits practice and talks to nonprofit leaders every day. Bill has more than 15 years of experience working with learning organizations in the U.S. and globally. He was an adjunct instructor in marketing, as well as founder and past board chairman of a private K–8 school. He holds an MBA from Babson’s F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business.