In gearing up for a new season of continuing professional education, providers are offering more of the same popular courses - updates in ethics, risk assessment standards and internal control - but are also responding to growing demand for diversity in delivery formats."We found that many of our members are favoring four-hour programs, contrasted with eight-hour programs," said Alan Schmelkin, managing director of operations for the New York State Society of CPAs, adding that he plans to offer upwards of 15 new titles at the shorter length. "Some people aren't able to commit for a full day. It's a much more acceptable kind of education timing for some of our audience."

More technology programs designed specifically for accountants - such as an advanced focus on Microsoft Excel, as well as sessions on FIN 48, which Schmelkin described as "very, very hot" - are on the society agenda for the upcoming year, as well as a program on building auditor communications skills.

"One of the things that we are doing for the first time is a formal study with a consultant where we're asking a statistical sampling of our total database the formats they would like to see more," he said, adding that the results should be available this month.

At Thomson Tax & Accounting, last July's acquisition of Reqwired, a CPE compliance monitoring tracking system, allows individual CPAs licensed in one or more states to keep track of their CPE credits and learning curricula. The platform also sends e-mail notifications if the CPA is not meeting one or more of their CPE compliance requirements, according to Ken Koskay, vice president and general manager of CPE and training at TTA.

In November, Thomson also acquired Reston, Va.-based AuditWatch, an audit training and process improvement consulting firm that is known for its on-site training - another method that is quickly picking up steam among providers. (See story, page 4.)

The most popular sessions at TTA, which offers approximately 430 online courses, are those that deal with standards and implementation in topics pertaining to accounting and audit, as well as courses that help CPAs keep up with the revisions recently made to the Government Auditing Standards Yellow Book.

Demand for webinars, according to Koskay, is also increasing, and they are especially popular for contemporary topics and more time-sensitive updates.

"Really what I see emerging is a blended learning scenario where learners listen for an hour or two, get an overview from a webinar and a general understanding and actually come back and take a course either live or online," Koskay said, adding that TTA will be rolling out a podcast line this year encompassing the accounting, auditing and taxation areas. "We're going to see more of the same trend in online learning continue to grow, and the use of the webinar continuing to be more popular."

Risk-assessment standards, too, were hot in the American Institute of CPAs' 2007 offerings, as well as auditing courses addressing the Yellow Book revisions, according to Chris Fleck, senior marketing manager for CPE group study at the institute. Accounting, auditing and tax sessions in the construction vertical were also popular.

"In 2007, we came out with an advanced controllership course," Fleck said. "It was one of the hottest sellers in the controllership management area, and we're continuing in that theme next year." As a result, the AICPA is introducing similar offerings to engage that population, such as courses on budgeting, how to save your company time and money, and the role of the CPA in buying and selling businesses.

Still, Fleck said that in the upcoming year, courses on internal controls will continue to reign, and the institute will focus on employee benefit plan audits, which, according to Fleck, is also a very strong offering.

"Another area of increased business is the on-site market," he added, explaining that some firms want to bring a trainer in-house so that employees feel more comfortable asking questions. "There has definitely been a big jump in that in the past two or three years. You get to pick the instructors' brain a little bit more, rather than a public session where you might be afraid to speak up with other firms present. It's becoming more cost-effective, especially if you have to train multiple people."

HEY, THAT'S NOT MUSIC!

At CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business, a podcasting center was launched in August, allowing customers to download and listen to audio files online or through a portable device, according to Gwen Hefty, managing editor of continuing education for CCH. Focusing on hot topics or recent tax developments, the audios are approximately 50 minutes long.

"Then there's related study material that customers can use as well to enforce their understanding of the audio," Hefty said. "It contains links to the CCH Tax Research NetWork while they are listening to the audio. So basically, they can listen for free and just pay to take the final exam and get the certification."

CCH offers more than 250 online courses in tax, accounting, audit, and financial and estate planning that cross multiple delivery methods, such as self-study online, self-study in print, and group live audio seminars, according to Joe Gornick, senior manager of audio seminars and new business opportunities for CCH. This year, it is offering topics affected by recent legislation, such as the alternative minimum tax, and continuing its popular courses on tax planning for Baby Boomers, health savings accounts and tax practice standards.

"There is this continuing wave of pressure being put on the practitioner to know and abide by increasingly complex and higher standards to create greater transparency for what a taxpayer is doing," he said.

Demand in niche industries such as banking, health care, construction and real estate continues to increase, according to those at CPEasy, a division of Tampa, Fla.-based Bisk Education, which offers more than 300 multimedia CPE programs. "More and more CPAs are looking for those niche products," said Valerie Wendt, product manager at CPEasy. "We continue to see our accounting and audit updates to be hot just by the nature of the accounting industry and the things that are changing. We've come out with a new SEC reporting course."

CPEasy offers courses in a number of formats: online with streaming video and audio, CD-ROM software, text books alone or with audio compact discs and DVDs, and webcasts. It also offers a subscription-based, 90-minute monthly news report service through its CPE Network that includes guest speakers with a focus on industry-specific trends.

"We have a lot of people who are taking our multimedia classes, textbooks, audio and video programs," said Sandy Levine, vice president of marketing at Bisk Education. "The Internet is instant gratification for them to spend their last weekend nailing as many courses as they can, but at the same time, CPAs are in a very highly detailed industry and a lot of them still prefer paper. While our online is growing rapidly and significantly, there are still a lot of people who like the books that we publish."

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