Is Being Overwhelmed Required?

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Clark Quinn provides a comprehensive look at what defines professionalism for L&D practitioners in his blog post,  What is a true L&D professional? Litmos Blog.

Having just completed ATD’s Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) process, this topic is obviously fresh in my mind.

On one level, I completely agree with Clark regarding the

atd competency model
ATD Competency Model 

extensive list of components required of a competent practitioner of L&D.  A revelation that became very real for me as I studied for the two exams required of candidates for the CPLP is the breadth of knowledge that is required in our field just to do our jobs.  The ATD Competency Model spans 10 areas of expertise which extend beyond the 6 foundational competencies.


While it may not fill every component in Clark’s list, it’s close.  and I can attest to how overwhelming it is in its scope.  The Knowledge Exam covers all 10 Areas of Expertise.  The study guide, The CPLP Learning System, is 1000 pages jam-packed with the information expected of a CPLP to know.  The approach to the Skills Application Exam is an attempt to expand upon the working knowledge of candidates as well as to test the understanding of the processes L&D professionals use in their work.



I’ll admit, there is room for improvement in the process for the CPLP, I believe it is in the right direction for credentialing professionals in our field.  It is extensive, comprehensive, overwhelming, and exhausting.

On the other hand, I disagree with Clark on two points.  The first is a factual error.  He states that “L&D may not have continuing education requirements like accounting, law, and medicine”.  At least in the case of the CPLP, I am required to earn 60 recertification points in a 3 year period to maintain my status as a CPLP.  I believe that Training Industry’s CPTM certification also has a continuing education requirement.  Whether these are as rigorous as accounting, law, and medicine may be debatable, the statement that there is no continuing education requirement in L&D is false.

Clark also maintains that L&D professionals must maintain a current knowledge in all of the components of Knowledge and Process just like professionals in accounting, law, and medicine.  I maintain that this is a strawman argument based on a misunderstanding of the actual practice in these other fields.  To become a CPA, pass the Bar, or be certified as an MD, candidates must demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge of vasts amount of information across the broad spectrum of their fields.

But, it is my experience, once an accountant earns their CPA, most specialize in a particular area – auditing, taxation, or forensic accounting and often lose track of other areas of specialization.  A tax accountant is more than likely going to make a referral to a forensic accountant if there is a disputed estate to be detailed for a court than they are to take on that client.  That’s ethical and professional.

To maintain that L&D professionals are responsible to know everything about every aspect of our field so that they can “practice” every aspect, seems wrong.  It also reflects a long-held practice of “we have to do everything to prove our worth” that I believe has harmed our field in the eyes of our business partners.

There is no way that any professional can know everything about their field on an ongoing basis.  Just as a doctor who maintains a family medicine practice will provide referrals to specialists for a colonoscopy or oncology care, it would be professional for an instructional designer to seek the assistance of a learning analytics specialist to help design a data strategy to gather the right data needed or to do big data analysis.

Overwhelming a certification candidate in the evaluation process is one thing, but to demand that learning and performance professionals live in a constant state of being overwhelmed in neither professional nor ethical.

What do you think?  How much do learning professionals need to know to be certified?  Do they need to maintain that broad knowledge on an ongoing basis? or is specialization after certification, like accountants, doctors, and lawyers acceptable?  Please comment in the space provided below.

Featured image provided by Mikito Tateisi on Unsplash.



  1. Dave, you’ll see that in the UK, LPI (and Towards Maturity) have similar lists (hence the appendices in the Revolutionize L&D book). And while I have no problem with folks specializing after having foundations, I think that everyone needs a grounding. And a continuing interest in maintaining their knowledge. It’s more a personal commitment than a requirement, in my mind. (So CPAs, lawyers, pilots, and doctors could ruin someone’s life if they aren’t up to date, so require continuing certification, but it’s a legal requirement, CPLP isn’t.) And I just think it’s a tragedy that so few folks in our field seem to reflect an understanding of learning science.


  2. Dave, in the UK, the LPI is similarly extensive. And while CPAs, etc, may be able to specialize, they still need to meet the legal requirements of continuing education. As do lawyers, doctors, etc. We (our industry) just don’t have the same requirement. ATD may require it to maintain CPLP status, but you can be hired to do the job without a CPLP. Note I don’t have one, either! And I think it’s important to maintain currency in the areas you act in, and have the foundations at least in the related areas. Which is sadly not true in much of our industry (I wonder how many practitioners have the CPLP out of all those acting as IDs, and other practitioners in L&D). Happy to be wrong, but for one I fear the lack of an understanding of learning science continues to exist. And I do want to exhort a professionalism of maintaining curiosity about our field, not complacency.


  3. Interesting question, David. I see why many folks are behind the idea of establishing a rigorous and generally recognized credential for learning professionals, something similar to those in other professions. I do like your idea of having specialties as well. The greatest risk I see to having any formal certification is that the certifying organization has a real challenge, staying ahead of our rapidly changing field. A new discovery from learning science can change the way we understand the learning process over night, so spending time studying older models and theories may be a bit too academic an exercise to be truly useful.

    I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’m interested in following the discussion. Thanks for asking the question!


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