Is Being Overwhelmed Required?

What can we expect of learning professionals?

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.


Dave Lee, CPLP

This morning I had an email from ATD.  It took a little bit of courage to click on that message.  Would I find out that I’m now a Certified Professional in Learning in Performance?  Or would I have to start studying again?

Well, obviously from the featured image and title of this blog, I passed.  YAY!  WHEW!

Months and months of studying, the 1000 pages of the ATD Learning System (thankfully in digital form),  120+ Mindmeister mindmaps, 14 weeks in a virtual study group, practice tests and quizzes, and lots and lots of stress provided to be successful.

®What Is CPLP®?
The Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) is a certification for talent development professionals offered by the ATD Certification Institute (ATD CI). The credential is broad based and measures a talent development professionals’ competency in 10 areas of expertise (AOEs) with a focus on global mindset as defined by the latest ATD Competency Model.  – The CPLP Handbook.

A year and a half after deciding on this goal, I’m happy for this achievement and grateful to my huge village that helped me achieve it.

First off, thank you to the Chicagoland Chapter of ATD for the scholarship they awarded me to help pay the costs.  As a whole everyone with ATD Chi was supportive and helpful throughout the process, but Tom WestAnthony Dudek, and Bill Cupuro were standouts.  Thank you, guys!

There was a special group of 14 friends who helped me out just as I was contemplating taking on this process.  Their kindness changed the game for me and was an inspiration when the hours and days of studying were grinding on me.

I participated in the Spring/Summer 2017 Virtual Study Group sponsored by the ATD Rocky Mountain chapter (along with several other chapters).  The format was very helpful not only in learning the content, but it kept me on schedule during the intense Knowledge Exam preparation.  After the Knowledge Exam, this group was a source of support and inspiration.  A special call out to Roberto Montanez who became my study buddy all the way through the process.  Congrats Roberto!

Trish Uhl was there with good advice when I was contemplating certifications, as I prepared for the Knowledge exam, guidance about the SAE, and at the very end, a reassuring voice to a very nervous candidate.  Her Owl’s Ledge materials were instrumental in my success.  In the process she’s become a friend and mentor.

There were dozens and dozens of friends and colleagues who supported me with encouragement, coffee, meals, and willing ears for a topic they generally new little about.

Was it all worth it?  I think so.  The statistics show that it should help in my career and earning potential.  But for me those four letters I can put behind my name in professional venues attest to a career’s worth of knowledge and actions that has real value to my profession.

Dave Lee, CPLP.

I like the feel of that.

One Down, One to Go

3+ months of studying paid off. Here’s what I did to pass the CPLP Knowledge Exam.

I’m happy to report that I successfully passed the Knowledge Exam of the CPLP certification process on Thursday.  Passage of the Knowledge Exam entitles me to study for another 3 months and take the Skills Application Exam in November.

Before moving on to the Skills Application Exam, I thought I’d share how I went about studying for the Knowledge Exam.

Established My Baseline

Before I started studying, I took the practice exam that ATD provides in order to establish a baseline score that I could gauge my progress against.  In effect, an understanding of the base knowledge I was bringing to the effort.  I scored a 63 when a 65 is needed to pass the Knowledge Exam.  Not a Herculean task, but I clearly had work to do.

Mind Maps

The first challenge, in my mind, was how was I going to process the 1000 pages of the “Learning System” – the corpus of information, based on the ATD Competency Model, that could be on the exam.  10 Areas of Expertise (AOE) and a unit on the Global Mindset Foundational Competency were broken down into 10 +/- Key Knowledge Areas each.

I knew simply reading and highlighting wouldn’t be enough for me to retain the information so I decided to mind map the content for each Key Knowledge Area.   (I use Mindmeister as my mind mapping tool.)

There was definitely an upside to this strategy.  I found summarizing and organizing the content into the maps was very helpful in processing the information and the natural groupings of the content aided review.  The downside was that they took a substantial amount of time to create.  I ended up not being able to create them for every Key Knowledge Area.  Here is one of them that you can peruse.

10.5 0rganizational Systems, Culture, and Political Dynamics (Click to Open in Mindmeister

I’m not sure if it was a positive or a negative, but the mind maps like this one for 10.5 – Organizational Systems, Culture, and Political Dynamics demonstrated very clearly the sheer volume of content covered by the Knowledge Exam.  There are over 75 Key Knowledge Area sections.  You do the math.

Virtual Study Group

The Rocky Mountain Chapter of ATD, along with 5 other co-host chapters, sponsors a virtual study group once in the spring/summer and another in the fall.  I decided to enroll in the Spring/Summer cohort that ran every Tuesday evening from mid-April to the end of June.

The weekly sessions were conducted with a teach-back methodology covering one AOE per week.  Participants were expected to select one of the Key Knowledge Areas and prepare a presentation/review/lesson to present to the cohort that week.  This action learning strategy was definitely helpful in learning the content.  But for me, it served an even greater purpose in time management.  If it weren’t for the schedule of the study group, I’m a bit afraid where I would have ended up trying to sort through all of that information.

The study group was facilitated by a group of CPLP’s led by Shannon Wzientek, CPLP.  Shannon, Mary, Trudy, and Lori not only took care of the administrative issues involved in running the group sessions, but they also provided invaluable advice regarding taking the exam, how content might appear in questions, and various study strategies.

I highly recommend this virtual study group for anyone preparing for the Knowledge Exam.  It is worth far more than the $50 registration fee for people who aren’t members of one of the hosting chapters of ATD.  (Members of hosting chapters get registration for free.)

Review Strategy

After the end of the virtual study group, I had 3 weeks until my testing date.  I had some content that I had to complete my first pass through, so that was priority #1.

I re-took the practice exam to gauge both my overall progress and what AOE’s I needed to focus on.  My overall score was 73 – a great improvement over my pre-study score of 63 and comfortably over the 65 required to pass.

I also paid for a 30-day subscription to Owl’s Ledge’s preparation site.  The variety of tests, quizzes, and other resources for preparing for the exam were incredibily helpful.

With 10 days to go, I laid out my final stretch strategy.  I dedicated time to the three AOE’s I scored the lowest on my retake of the practice test. I then methodically reviewed all 10 AOEs by reviewing my mindmaps and the ATD competency model for each.  Where I needed, I drilled down into the Learning Systems to clarify and refresh my knowledge.  I also reviewed the glossary.

As I worked through this process, I recorded my scores on the Can I Recall It? and Can I Apply It? quizzes.  When I missed a question I made a note of the topic.  My final review the morning before my test date was of these 47 topics.

Rest and Relax

I have long been in the camp that eschews “cramming” for an exam or worrying over the details of a presentation right up to the last minute.  I had to trust that my 3+ months preparation was adequate.  I had to believe the practice exam score and the various quizzes and tests I had used in my studies were correct.  So I relaxed, focused on other important matters, and got a good night’s sleep.

It Worked!

Obivously, my preparations worked. I passed.

In the process of studying for the Knowledge Exam, I gained a deeper appreciation for the amazing breadth of our profession. There was a tremendous amount of content to master and yet it was really only the surface level of the knowledge in each AOE.

Now I’m going to take a couple of weeks off before starting my studies for the Skills Application Exam which I will be taking in November/December.


The Night Before…

It’s a bit hard to believe, but tomorrow is the day I’ve been preparing for for 4 1/2 months.  At the beginning of March, I began studying for the Knowledge Exam – the 2nd of 3 stages of the Certified Professional in Learning and Development (CPLP).

As I said in my last post (Eight Days to Go: Review and Rest), I’m confident that my study plan has prepared me adequately to pass this test. But until I hit that submit button and my score is calculated ad shared instantaneously with me, I’ll be nervous.

150 multiple choice questions will determine whether my approach to studying worked.

150 mutiple choice questions will determine if my knowledge of my field is up to the highest standard.

150 multiple choice questions will determine whether the path forward is a bit smoother or if I have to go back and try to negotiate this obstacle again.

150 multiple choice question will determine if I can move on to the last stage of the CPLP journey.

Now for a good night’s sleep.

Send good juju my way at 11am central tomorrow.


Eight Days to Go: Review and Rest

Since March, I’ve been studying away for the CPLP Knowledge Exam, which is the second of three criteria that must be met to earn the Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) designation from the ATD Institute.

Now I’m only eight days from the big day.  I’m confident, but nervous.  Probably the right way to feel right about now.

The cause of the nervousness is obvious.  I realized a few weeks ago that not only is this the first high-stakes test I’ve taken in a very long time, but it is a key component of the re-crafting of my career path that I’ve been working on for a year now.  This is important to me, so of course I’m a bit nervous about it. The corpus of knowledge covered by 150 questions is huge.  Concern that gaps in my studies might be the target of those 150 questions have crept into my dreams and is fueling my last week effort (see my study plan below) to find and fill those gaps.

But I’m also confident.  My scores on practice exams and quizzes have been steadily trending up through my study period.  I feel my study strategy has been sound.  ATD supplied materials and content, advice from current CPLP’s on study and test strategies, the ATD Rocky Mountain Chapter Virtual Study group, the LinkedIn CPLP groups, and Owls Ledge’s site have provided the resources and support I’ve needed.

It doesn’t hurt that the first member of the virtual study group to take the Knowledge Exam passed earlier this week!

In the spirit of working out loud, here is my study plan leading up to the test next week:

Knowledge exam last 10 days study plan

One Month to Go!!!

A month from today I sit for the Knowledge Exam portion of the CPLP (Certified Professional in Learning and Performance) certification process.  I’ve been studying like crazy for 3 months now.  (One reason I haven’t posted here on neweelearning in past few weeks.)

I’ve been participating in a virtual study group sponsored by the Piedmont, Rocky Mountain, and West Virginia chapters of ATD.   We meet every Tuesday for 12 weeks using a “teach-back” approach where each of us has the responsibility of reviewing part of the unit covered that week.  It has been instrumental in keeping me close to on-schedule with my studies.  (Notice I said “close”)

Reviewing the material for 10 Areas of Expertise and a unit on Cultural Mindset is quite a task.  The ATD CPLP Learning System is 1056 pages chock full of content.  It really is amazing the breadth of expertise that our field encompasses.  It will certainly be an achievement to earn this certification. (Have to be positive, right!)

A huge thank you to the Chicagoland Chapter of ATD and the CARA Group for sponsoring a scholarship for CPLP candidates to defray the costs involved in the certification process.  I was fortunate enough to be named the winner of said scholarship!

While the Knowledge Exam is a big hurdle, passing it will then allow me to take the second and final exam, the Skills Application Exam, in November.  If all goes well, I’ll be a CPLP sometime around the first of next year.

OK, back to studying!