Podcast 7: Modern Certification Programs – With Arleen Thomas of AICPA

How can associations modernize certification programs to better serve young professionals? And how can this content be leveraged to help existing members update their knowledge and skills? Listen to The Talented Learning Show!

PODCAST - How are associations modernizing their certification programs? Join AICPA managing director Arleen Thomas and LMS tech analyst John Leh on the Talented Learning Show!


To learn more about this podcast series or to see the full collection of episodes visit The Talented Learning Show main page.



What can associations do to modernize certification programs for young professionals?  And how can this content be leveraged to help existing members update their knowledge and skills?

Join me as I explore these challenges with Arleen Thomas, Managing Director of Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) Offerings at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA).

AICPA is the world’s most comprehensive source of learning and development programs, resources and networking opportunities for accounting and finance professionals.  More than 150,000 of the organization’s 650,000 members hold the prestigious CGMA designation, which indicates advanced proficiency in finance, operations, strategy and management.

To qualify, CGMA holders must complete rigorous education, examination and experience requirements.  They must also commit to lifelong learning and a stringent code of ethical conduct.

So, how does this kind of certification program succeed in today’s environment?



In an era of relentless change, business professionals can no longer afford to rest on their laurels.  Specialists in every function must continuously upgrade their skills and competencies.  Likewise, certification programs must retool so they remain relevant and effective.

Successful programs make members’ needs and motivations a priority.



The CGMA was introduced in 2012, and a new version was launched in 2015.  What is the history behind this certification program?

Business is rapidly changing – fueled primarily by digital transformation.  As a result, many organizations are investing in helping their finance teams develop new skills and competencies.  We saw a role for our association in that education process with the CGMA.


In particular, as technology replaces what I call “transactional services,” there’s a need to retool and move people up the value chain.  Companies with strong finance teams recognize that these professionals add value with insights based on strategy, data and deep knowledge of the business.

The CGMA helps our members develop and demonstrate strategic knowledge and competencies, so it marries what employers want with want individuals can provide.

Excellent.  Tell me more about these competencies…

Right now we’re refreshing the competencies and they’ll be rolled-out in early 2019.  We’re moving to a continuous improvement process.  The market is changing so fast that we can no longer wait to revisit it every 5-7 years.

Where are you focusing attention?

Major changes focus on digital strategy and the impact it has on the finance function.  Of course, we will continue to support the fundamentals – things like cost analysis, financial reporting, communications and team management.  But we can’t ignore how technology and digitalization are affecting business.

Sounds like a lot to manage – 150,000 people from all over the world who are at different stages in their careers, and are developing different competencies at an individual pace.  What kind of learning infrastructure do you have in place to support all of these activities?

We actually have two infrastructures:

1 ) One team helps individuals acquire skills for certification.  Our strategic partner in this is ExtensionEngine.  They developed our learning platform, and they keep us ahead on the learning technology front.  In essence, we are the content experts and they are the learning technology experts, so it’s a perfect fit.

2 ) Another team promotes ongoing development of global competencies.  As the first team researches and defines how financial competencies are changing, we build the content for the certification program.  Then the second team pulls that instructional content and pushes it to our existing CGMA holders, so they can stay up-to-speed.

What steps did you take to frame this model?  How did you build the business case for continuous development?

This may sound simplistic, but we relied on a classic product management approach.  In other words, we set our business strategy and invested heavily to research the needs of our “customers” (members and employers).  Then we let our strategy and research inform us as we designed the product and positioned it in the marketplace.

What was the most important insight you gained from your research?

Our potential customers want a learning process that is very effective, very efficient and very engaging.  I often say that learning is a participatory sport.


In other words, you need to be engaged in order to learn.  So we start with fundamental concepts, but we immediately move to applied scenarios.  We also provide a safe place to try, fail and learn from failure.  It’s a highly effective way to learn.

What an innovative approach! What does a “safe environment” mean in the context of your certification program, and what does “failure” look like?

Let’s say I’m in a situation where I need to apply a specific competency.  The learning system may present me with multiple scenarios, and I may choose one that is right in some circumstances but not others.

The system can “nudge” me to consider other options that fit different contexts.  Through that relatively safe trial-and-error process, I am learning.

Fantastic.  And ultimately, the goal is to achieve certification, right?

Yes.  Having that designation in your toolkit opens the door to a different level of employability.  It represents skills and competencies that are in demand in the marketplace, so your career will have a different trajectory.

With 1000 or more off-the-shelf learning systems available today, why did you choose a custom approach?

Our customer research revealed that finance teams are no longer considered cost centers.  They add value to the business.  CFOs and controllers want their teams to develop higher-order skills.

So we found a learning and assessment platform that helps CGMA holders immediately apply learning on an ongoing basis.  Employers are seeing ROI from day one, so it was worth investing in a high-end learning solution.




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How to Build Successful Learning Experiences: Lessons From Non-Profits and Associations


Every association and non-profit organization is unique. Yet all share common goals – to engage, retain, inform and influence constituents. What exactly does it take to engage learners, support your brand and advance your mission?

Join John Leh, CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning as he hosts a panel discussion with experts who have developed successful online education programs based on highly customized learning platforms:

  • Stephen Flatman, VP Examinations, AICPA
  • Seewan Eng, Sr. Director of Technology, New Teacher Center
  • Edward Daciuk, Principal Learning Strategist, ExtensionEngine

You’ll learn:

  • How to build a business case for moving in-person education online
  • What it takes to engage learners in an online environment
  • How to differentiate your organization through online learning
  • When to consider a custom platform that supports high-end learning experiences
  • Lessons learned in achieving internal buy-in, project momentum and organizational alignment.


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About John Leh (242 Articles)
John Leh is CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning and the Talented Learning Center. John is a fiercely independent consultant, blogger, podcaster, speaker and educator who helps organizations select and implement learning technology strategies, primarily for extended enterprise applications. His advice is based upon more than 25+years of learning-tech industry experience, serving as a trusted LMS selection and sales adviser to hundreds of learning organizations with a total technology spend of more than $100+ million and growing. John would love to connect with you at@JohnLeh or on LinkedIn.

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