College Quarterly
Fall 1997 - Volume 5 Number 1

Professional Development Needs of CMA's in Post-Secondary Education.

by Claudia Parker


Eraut (1994) states that, "Behind the numerous policy issues which enliven the debate about the appropriate form and structure for professional development, lies a remarkable ignorance about professional learning" (p.40). To reduce this ignorance, this study explored the professional development needs, and accessibility to them, as perceived by a group of 52 Certified Management Accountants (CMA’s) who are post-secondary educators in the Edmonton, Alberta area. The study explored their preferences for alternative methods for the delivery of professional development; how this group of professionals prefers to learn, under what conditions, the best time to offer courses, and the types of courses most desired. Although the findings are relevant most directly to CMA’s who are educators, the findings may also be reflective of other professionals who teach in post-secondary institutions.

Knowles (1980) states "a democratic philosophy (in education) means that the learning activities will be based on the real needs and interest of participants; that the policies will be determined by a group that is representative of all participants; and that there will be maximum participation…" (p.68). What are these real needs for CMA educators? To investigate this question, I conducted a needs assessment survey and analyzed the results according to the Quadrant Assessment Model (adapted from Sanders 1980). Witkin and Altschuld (1995) state that a needs assessment is "a systematic set of procedures undertaken for the purpose of setting priorities and making decisions about program and organizational improvement and allocation of resources. The priorities are based on identified needs"(p. 4). It is Nowlen’s (1988) contention that professional development includes not only job functions but also other variables that influences performance. These influences he describes as "baseline knowledge and skills; the challenge of new roles, (and) requisite skills in human relations "(p.86).

In the management accounting profession, there are several areas of specialization. Some members practice in government and some in industry; others may be instructors at post-secondary institutions. Those who are CMA post-secondary educators will likely have different needs for current competencies depending on their particular area of specialization.

Overview of the Study

The purpose of the study was to identify the perceived professional development needs of CMAs who are post-secondary educators and how these needs could best be met. Three types of needs were assessed: update skills, competency, and performance enhancing needs (based on Nowlen 1988). In addition, to better serve educators, it was necessary to discover their preferred method of delivery as this could potentially improve participation in professional development.

I developed, pilot tested and revised the survey questionnaire. The survey questions related to professional issues, teaching and learning, and quality of life. Some of the topics were selected from a 1995 CMA member survey. Other topics originated from my own intuition and from readings in the literature. Discussions with colleagues provided further insights. Participants were asked to rate 45 topics twice on a Likert-type scale of 0 (low) – 5 (high); first to indicate the degree of importance of a topic listed, and next, to indicate the degree of difficulty in obtaining access for professional development on this topic. For convenience, 52 CMA post-secondary educators in Edmonton, Alberta were selected to participate in this survey. Questionnaires were either mailed or hand delivered to participants surveyed. Respondents were assured that replies would be anonymous and confidential.

Thirty-six (69%) of those surveyed responded. The responses were aggregated using the SPSS statistical data analysis software package. Needs identified were classified according to the Quadrant Assessment Model (adapted from Sanders, 1980; Msolla, 1993, and Sisimayi, 1994). Figure 1 depicts the findings. Topics that were most important and also difficult to access are presented in quadrant one of the Quadrant Assessment Model in figure 1. The findings in this quadrant represent the most important gap to be addressed by planners of professional development.

Limitations of the Study

The main limitation of this study is that of the convenience sampling survey method used. While interesting and informative, the findings cannot be generalized. Because access is determined to a large extent by the context in which the respondents find themselves, any application of the findings must first consider the existing context. It is however, assumed that the respondents answered honestly according to their own perceptions, as there was no potential for gain or loss in participating in this study.


There was a high level of agreement among CMA post-secondary educators regarding the level of difficulty in obtaining desired professional development courses. Regarding ease of access, there was little variance from the mean response on every topic.

Specific needs for professional development were identified. The more important needs were related to updating in the areas of instructional methods and technological changes. From the top 25% selected on importance alone, eight of the ten update topics were included as important. This observation implies that these instructors want to be current in their chosen discipline (Heimlich & Norland 1994). They want reasonable access to those courses that will contribute to the currency of their skills. Based on their responses, these CMA educators seem to perceive a greater need for currency in their primary responsibility of instruction, than in core CMA subjects.

When topics were rated only by level of difficulty in accessing courses, competency topics took precedence. The first four were: corporate culture, business ethics, industry knowledge, and change leadership. Interestingly "business ethics" was one of the topics requested by members who responded to the 1995 CMA Survey. The importance of teaching ethical behaviour is acknowledged by Bush and Taylor (1993) when they comment that, "Planning future business education leaders requires early identification, mentoring and training of individuals with high education, ethical and moral standards" (p. 37). The topics identified as difficult to access are all related to change – an important aspect for any professional during these times of rapid change. It is also not surprising that "corporate culture" and "industry knowledge" are high on the list of perceived needs. This reflects recognition that organizational environments are becoming more complex in a changing world with a global economy. Brody and Wallace (1994) commented: "These realities and a host of others intrude on the ability of professionals to follow their own best judgements" (p. 219). Topics rated as difficult to obtain were generally not directly related to instruction and more industry related. It appears from the responses that some industry experience is a perceived need. Instructors may have to go back into the industry to keep up to date in those areas.

Within quadrant one of the Quadrant Assessment Model, the first four topics that indicated the existence of a discrepancy between level of importance and difficulty in accessing were: instructional methods, ethics for instructors, communications technology, and adult educator skills. These topics are distinctly related to their job as instructors. These findings are consistent with some of the literature. For instance, the report on the "Continuing Professional Education in Canada" (1992) found that their respondents wanted "consideration to humanistic, ethical and environmental concerns" (p. 17), and, Brody and Wallace (1994) emphasize that, "Practitioners report that their professional education programs do not prepare them to deal with the profound moral conflicts and developmental challenges of their working lives" (p. 2). They further emphasize that professionals "experience tensions between personal and professional values, organizational mores and individual commitments, and bureaucratic expectations and their standards, and they feel ill-prepared to work productively amidst these dilemmas" (p. 2). It is not surprizing then, that the respondents in this study wanted further professional development in these areas.

The difference in the responses of the men as compared to the women was not large. However, the women respondents rated the importance of "Communications technology" higher than men (mean of 4.0 compared to 3.2 for men). Men found courses on "enrichment for couples" more difficult to access than women (mean of 3.25 compared to 1.93 for women). These findings may imply that women are more ready to move into the technical areas, and that men may be becoming more interested in nurturing relationships than is assumed at times.

Some topics were rated differently by persons who entered the profession in 1986 or later, than those who entered the profession in 1985 or earlier. Business legislation, productivity improvement, business valuation, industry knowledge, corporate culture, performance management, and management change leadership, were all rated lower in importance by people who entered the profession in 1985 or earlier. It is likely that the younger instructors recognize their need to be competitive for many more years of continuing employment or career advancement. Older instructors, on the other hand, may recognize the need to maintain competence but are more likely to be planning for retirement than seeking career advancement. Perhaps not surprizingly, "How to handle Mid-life crisis" was the only topic less important to persons who entered the profession in 1986 or later than to those who entered in 1985 or earlier. This implies differences in expectations and needs related to age and life stage.

Among full-time and part-time instructors, significant differences were noted between the perceived importance of "computer-assisted instruction techniques" (mean of 4.0 for full-time and 2.76 for part-time). Part-time instructors, who are currently working in the field, may already have more advanced computer skills, or they may not recognize the importance of this new way of teaching. This finding is consistent with the concept that adults will be motivated to learn according to their individual needs and preferences.

The need for in-service educational opportunities was clearly demonstrated. A variety of courses were listed as preferred topics to be included for in-service. Some courses requested in the area of update skills were: new trends in business, changing needs of employers, learning organizations, dealing with change, and comprehensive discussion of new management guidelines. Others classified as performance enhancing included: quality of life issues, leading a balanced life, and personal development.

Most respondents preferred to do in-service based professional development in the summer, and they did not want this to interfere with other areas of their lives. This has important implications for the scheduling of professional development activities.

Respondents perceived there to be some barriers to participation in ongoing professional development. Cost was identified as a problem, while travel and other family commitments would deter a few participants from attending in-service development opportunities.

The findings also indicate there may be some level of satisfaction with the professional development courses currently available to them because the mean level of access difficulty was only 2.59 on the scale of 0 – 5. Although this is not very high on the scale, it may indicate at least some satisfaction.


Planners of professional development for CMA post-secondary educators need to be aware of their learning priorities. Based on their perception of the importance of participating in ongoing professional development, it appears that these adults are highly motivated to learn. It is then the responsibility of the professional development planner to make the most relevant learning opportunities available in ways that will enhance full participation.

The main concern of the respondents appeared to be in the area of instructional methods and adapting to technological changes in these areas. These were followed by core CMA topics and performance enhancing skills in that order.

The best time to schedule professional development courses, according to these respondents is in the summer. The respondents do not want participation in courses to take away from family time and other commitments. Quality of worklife and time spent with family appear to be important to them.

Most CMA post-secondary educators surveyed indicated a willingness to pay for some of the costs for professional development. One could infer from this that professional development is important to them and they are willing to contribute financially to obtain it.

The participants listed topics they wanted included in professional development. All three types of skills and competencies (update skills, competency, and performance enhancing needs) were recognized and desired. This has clear implications for a broad approach to professinal development planning.

Knowledge of learner motivation is also important for planners. According to these respondents, in-house workshops would increase participation since this was by far their preferred method of delivery. Bush and Taylor (1993) point out that, "Professional development of business education teacher leaders requires rigorous teacher education that includes a common body of knowledge associated with teaching" (p. 38). This study indicates that these CMA post-secondary educators want to improve in the area of instruction and they want to keep up to date. This motivation likely goes beyond potential monetary gain. Most (75%) of the respondents were between the ages of 31- 45. This age group may not be rewarded financially for participation in professional development if they are already at maximum salaries. Some may receive self-gratification for continuing their own education. Achieving formal academic recognition could be one source of gratification.

CMAs who are involved in other areas of specialization (e.g., government or industry) would probably have selected different courses for professional development. A similar opportunity to identify their perceived needs would be useful for planning professional development for any group of professionals. Educators in all disciplines may be concerned with improving in the area of instructional methods and want to keep up to date on educational topics. As dual-professionals, they have a responsibility to be competent both in core subjects related to their profession, as well as in teaching. Life skills are universally needed and in an educational environment these needs could be addressed globally.


This survey clearly identified professional development needs that were perceived to be important and difficult to obtain according to the respondents. Instructional needs, ethics for instructors, instructional technology, and adult educational skills, were identified as important but difficult to access. This represents the gap that must be filled by planners of in-service professional development curricula. The professionals surveyed want to be involved in planning their own professional development. They were willing to identify what was important to them and how their needs may best be met. They were even willing to fund some of their own professional development. Human development topics were not seen as highly important as job-related topics, but they emerged as an important part of professional development. From the additional topics requested, it can be seen that all types of courses are important. The main barrier to full participation seemed to be the time when the professional development courses were offered.

While this survey focused on the professional development needs and access as perceived by this small group of CMA instructors, the findings provide some useful insights to professional development planners in general.

Figure 1. Ratings of Topics Fitted into the Quadrant Assessment Model
Quadrant 1 (High Importance,Low accessibility)

U 6 Instructional methods

U 10 Ethics for instructors

U 9 Communications technology

U 7 Adult educator skills

C 20 Decision making

C 24 Team Skills

C 19 Business Ethics

U 8 Computer-assisted instruction techniques

C 25 Goal Setting

C 23 Managing change leadership

C 13 Technological Change

C 22 Performance Management

C 4 Business Evaluation

C 15 Organizational Trends

C 18 Individual Ethics
Quadrant 2 (High Importance High accessibility)

U 13 Technological Change (New programs and equipment

C 21 Interpersonal communications

U 4 Changes to CMA standards

C 7 Financial Management

C 14 Quality Management

P 1 Stress management

C 6 Budgeting

C 11 Financial planning - business and personal
Quadrant 4(Low importance Low accessibility)

C 17 Corporate Culture

C 16 Industry Knowledge

C 26 Management Control Systems

P 7 Life-style Improvement

C 5 Strategic Systems Planning

C 3 Productivity Improvements

P 9 How to do a workshop

C 1 Activity Based Management

C 12 International Business Issues

U 3 Changes to Business Legislation

P 4 Taking care of Ageing Parents

P 6 Enrichment for couples

C10 EDP Needs Appraisal and Installation

P 3 How to handle mid-life crisis

P 4 Talking to teenagers
Quadrant 3 (Low Importance High accessibility)

C 9 Taxation

U 2 CICA Pronouncements

C 8 Financial Statement Presentation

C 2 Strategic Cost Management

U 1 Income Tax Updates

P 8 Leisure Activities

P 2 Preparing for Retirement
(Adapted from Sanders 1980) Legend: C = Competency P = Performance enhancing U = Update


Brody, C. M., & Wallace, J. eds, (1994). Ethical and social issues in professional education. New York: State University Press.

Bush, M & Taylor, H. P., eds. (1993). Developing Leadership in Business Education: National Business Education Yearbook, No.31, Chapter 4. Planting the seeds of future business education leaders. California: National Business Education Association.

Country Report by Jasmin, G. et al., (1992). Continuing professional education in Canada: (A contribution to the OCED Study on Higher Education and Employment): Department of the Secretary of State of Canada.

Eraut, M. (1994). Developing professional knowledge and competence. London, Washington D. C.: The Falmer Press.

Heimlich, J. E & Norland, E. (1994). Developing Teaching Style in Adult Education. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass Inc.

Knowles, M.S. (1980). Modern practice of adult education: From pedagogy to andragogy (Revised and Updated). Cambridge: The Adult Learning Company.

Knowles, M.S. (1990). The adult learner, A neglected species (4th Edition). Houston: Gulf Publishing Company. Macmillan Publishing Company.

Msolla, J. (1993). Assessing administration skills and knowledge of teachers’-College Principals in Tanzania. Unpublished master’s thesis, University of Alberta: Edmonton, Canada.

Nowlen, P. M. (1988). A new approach to continuing education for business and the professions: the performance model. New York: NUCEA, American Council on Education, Macmillan Publishers.

Sanders, G. C. (1980). An assessment of in-service training needs of principals in an Alberta school system. Unpublished Master’s thesis, University of Alberta: Edmonton, Canada.

Sisimayi, R. (1994). Improving the effectiveness of in-service Education for Head teachers of Government Secondary Schools in Harare Region Zimbabwe. Unpublished Master’s thesis, University of Alberta: Edmonton, Canada.

Witkin, B. R. & Altschuld J. W. (1995). Planning and Conducting Needs Assessment: A practical guide. Sage Publications: Thousand Oaks: London: New Deli.

Claudia Parker is a CMA and an instructor at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, Edmonton. She has been teaching courses in the Accounting and Finance program at the Business School for twelve years. Claudia is also a Ph.D. student at the University of Alberta.


• The views expressed by the authors are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The College Quarterly or of Seneca College.
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1997 - The College Quarterly, Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology