Virtual versus In-Person CPE: Pros and Cons
Over the past few years, the recurring theme that we have all been faced with is change. As CPAs and accounting professionals, we’ve also seen this change through our continuing professional education opportunities. In the beginning of the pandemic, we were limited to learning programs that were hosted virtually. This was a huge change for many CPAs who had previously attended mostly in-person CPE events. Now, as we head back towards a sense of normalcy and decide how to schedule out those 40 CPE hours for the year, let’s take a step back and look at some pros and cons of in-person and virtual education.
- Avoids distractions. While you’re away from your office, computer and phone, you are less likely to be facing distractions, allowing yourself to fully devote your attention to learning and understanding the materials or topics presented.
- Change of scenery. Sometimes just getting out of the usual routine can help to clear your head or increase enthusiasm. Generally, in-person events allow for a more fun experience, too.
- Networking and socializing with other attendees. In-person events are a great opportunity to meet new people, build relationships and catch up with friends and colleagues. These events bring together accounting professionals with sponsors and other valuable connections.
- Asking questions. Attending an in-person event generally offers more opportunities for Q&A time and raising your hand to interact with the speaker in real time. You may even have the chance to further the discussion with the speaker after the event. With your questions answered, the takeaway will be a better understanding of the subject.
- Travel time. If the event is too far away, you’ll be using up additional time for transportation or may be deterred from even registering.
- More expensive. There are the travel costs incurred for gas, flights and hotel stays, and the fees to register for the event may be higher too, due to the costs of hosting the event.
- Constraints due to the venue. There may be a limited number of spots or a waiting list due to limited seats available at the venue. The event could also be cancelled or rescheduled due to weather or other unexpected circumstances.
- No travel time. Forgoing travel time not only means less money spent on gas, but not having to allocate additional time from your day to travel back and forth to the venue.
- Fits into your schedule. More people may be encouraged attend a virtual event since there is a smaller time commitment, especially when you are working with a busy schedule. This applies even more so to programs that are pre-recorded and can be watched at your convenience.
- Increased accessibility. New opportunities have become available, allowing you to attend programs being held all over the state, or even the country, without worry of travel costs or the extra time commitment.
- Reliability. The event won’t be canceled due to inclement weather or other unexpected circumstances at the venue.
- Technology issues. Technology can be detrimental to the effectiveness of the session. This could impact the host from being able to reach all of the attendees, or for attendees to be unable to access the program. If the application won’t work, it can be a huge waste of time and cause of frustration for all.
- More chances for distractions. While sitting in your office or at your computer, emails, calls or a knock on the door can easily take away your focus.
- Less interaction. Attendees may feel discouraged from asking questions, or questions submitted electronically can be missed. Also communicating with other attendees and sponsors is often not supported. Some platforms don’t allow you to even view the attendee list.
While change is always a challenging obstacle to overcome, it is clear that both learning formats have their benefits as well as reasons you may be hesitant to attend. There will always be a demand for in-person events, but virtual events are likely here to stay, too. There’s so much that can be done with both formats to help make the experience memorable and positive for all. So, whether you’re all in on heading back into classroom learning, ready to log on from your couch, or mixing it up and having it both ways — take a moment to maximize your time and schedule your CPE in the method that works best for you.
Christina M. White
Christina M. White, CPA, MS, is a manager at Traphagen CPAs & Wealth Advisors. She is a member of several NJCPA interest groups and is active in the Bergen Chapter.