Last updated: 21.02.22

What is CPD and Why is it Important?

No matter what industry you work in, it is likely that you will come across the idea of professional development early on in your career. You may hear the words ‘CPD’ used to describe this kind of training, or join an organisation that has an accredited CPD program that requires employees to spend a certain number of hours each month working towards a certified qualification.

Additionally, if you work in an HR position then you may be responsible for implementing different types of continuing professional development for the staff you manage or monitoring the progress of those undertaking this kind of training.

CPD is an incredibly valuable method of learning that can make a big difference to people’s careers and experiences at work. This article explains what the term means, what kind of activities it involves, and discusses why it is important for both individuals and the businesses that they belong to. 

What does CPD Stand For?

Officially, CPD stands for continuing professional development.

Sometimes, it may also be referred to as continual professional development or continuous professional development.

What is CPD?

Continuing Professional Development is a term that is used to describe a method of learning that is used by many people in their careers to enhance their skills and abilities in a professional context. It incorporates a range of different approaches to gaining these skills, including workshops, online courses and collaborative events like conferences.

CPD involves setting short term and long term goals for professional development and then keeping a record of the steps taken to reach these goals. It may be undertaken with the help of an experienced mentor or can be done individually.

The purpose of CPD is to help people remain proactive at all stages of their career by continually growing their skillset and refining their knowledge across a range of topics. Instead of reaching a certain point in your career and feeling that there is nowhere else to progress, CPD gives professionals plenty of options to keep learning and improving, no matter their role or experience.

Whilst academic qualifications are required for many careers, they do not necessarily provide you with the relevant skills to thrive in a professional workplace. Continuing professional development gives workers a way to gain these necessary skills through vocational courses and activities no matter their background and position, giving everyone a chance to ‘up-skill’.

CPD is available for both individuals and organisations, meaning that you can independently work on increasing your skill set or that companies can assist their employees’ professional development with officially accredited courses. Training is available from a range of providers, including Virtual College.

Completing CPD training can give you CPD points, which are used to quantify the time spent on professional development and the quality of the course that has been undertaken. Many organisations view certain amounts of CPD points as equivalent to certain academic qualifications, so earning these points can be a way for people to get into certain roles or industries without following typical routes through higher education.

Some organisations may require their employees to earn a certain number of CPD points each month, quarter or year to indicate that they are dedicating time to professional development. This can be used as a KPI either for the individual or the business as a whole.

People who undertake CPD training may end up with a record or portfolio of CPD points and qualifications to demonstrate the work that they have done to improve their skills and act as evidence of continuous professional development.

Types of CPD

Continuing professional development isn’t just about sitting and completing vocational courses or working through educational resources. There are various types of continuing professional development that individuals are encouraged to engage with to learn in a range of ways and maximise the impact of their newfound knowledge.

Structured CPD

The first main type of CPD is Structured CPD, also known as active learning. This involves participation-based learning that is usually interactive and involves multiple learners engaging in activities and teaching together.

Structured CPD can take the form of virtual or in-person training courses, meetings or conferences based around sharing knowledge and ideas, workshops and other group events. The key is that the learning is proactive, usually follows a defined syllabus, is based around sharing ideas, and often involves undertaking professional exams or assessments as a way of consolidating the knowledge gained.

If you’re looking for a structured, accredited CPD course, you can browse the range of options offered by Virtual College here.

Reflective CPD

Reflective CPD is also known as passive learning. It is a one-directional form of professional development that isn’t participant based, and instead focuses on indirect ways of gaining knowledge and enhancing skills.

This type of CPD often involves reflecting on professional performance or behaviour and using this reflection as a way of identifying where an individual’s strengths and weaknesses lie. They can learn from previous challenges or mistakes and use this reflective time to outline what the next steps in their development will be.

Reflective CPD may also take the form of consuming content and resources that either complement the professional development being done or expand an individual’s knowledge of the industry they work in. 

Self-Directed CPD

The final type of continuing professional development is self-directed CPD, or unstructured learning. This is characterised by any activity that the learner decides to do themselves, without any outside influence or structure.

Self-directed CPD doesn’t tend to follow a curriculum and will instead be dictated by what a learner wants to focus on and improve. It tends to begin with an individual drawing up a plan of the areas they want to spend their CPD time working on, and consists of consuming a range of resources that allow them to expand their knowledge.

Self-directed and reflective CPD overlap somewhat, but the key difference is that unstructured learning still tends to be proactive, whilst passive learning is not.

Benefits of CPD

The importance of CPD is twofold; it benefits the individuals who undertake it and it benefits the businesses that they belong to.

From the perspective of the learner, one of the benefits of CPD is that it expands their personal skills and can expand their knowledge so that they become much more well-rounded. This means that they are a more valuable employee which expands their job prospects and means that they are much more likely to have a successful and fulfilling career.

Having more transferable skills also means that individuals have the freedom to work in a variety of industries and don’t end up with a skill set that is only useful in one specific kind of role. This leads to a more diverse career and allows people to pursue different passions at different stages of their life.

Many people finish education at the start of their lives and then don’t ever go back to learning. Completing CPD means that you keep the neural pathways in your brain associated with learning active, making it easier to continue to learn new skills throughout your life.

Creating a CPD plan and following this can also give your career more direction, which can be very useful for learners who are lacking motivation in their professional life. This can lead to greater satisfaction in all areas of life as well, providing a sense of purpose and something to aspire to.

From a business perspective, the importance of CPD stems from the fact that it keeps standards for businesses high. If your employees are all continually developing professionally then you’ll have a more talented workforce, which means that the company will be more successful and better equipped to face any challenges it comes up against.

Having a skilled workforce will also improve the reputation of your business and mean that more potential customers are likely to hear about you. This also works in the favour of your recruitment efforts, as being known as somewhere where employees grow and thrive will make you a more desirable place to work for candidates.

If different forms of CPD are a key part of your company culture, your workplace will be an environment where learning and growth are encouraged. This leads to happier and more fulfilled employees, as well as a workforce that is eager to tackle challenges and learn from them instead of admitting defeat straight away.

Having a structured CPD system also makes it easier to carry out individual appraisals and reviews, as all employees will be working with similar resources and support. This means you can easily spot who is thriving and who may need extra help, as well as providing benchmarks to identify employees who deserve extra recognition.

In a general sense, a key factor when it comes to the importance of continuing professional development is that having an organisation like CPD keeps standards for professional development high. Instead of numerous companies offering various training packages that all meet different requirements and may not cover statutory or mandatory training information, CPD certification and accreditation ensures that everyone is completing professional development to the same high standard.


What is CPD training?

CPD training is any kind of learning and development that is done as part of a continuing professional development program or course. It will lead to an official CPD qualification which may give an individual a professional advantage in their career.

What is CPD certification?

If a course or training resource is CPD certified, it means that it has been approved and endorsed by the official Continuing Professional Development organisation. You will receive official certification upon completing any of these accredited training programs, which have more influence than most other vocational courses when it comes to looking at an individual’s qualifications.

What is a CPD accredited course?

CPD accredited courses are any kind of training courses that have been assessed and found to meet the required Continuing Professional Development standards and benchmarks. Plenty of CPD accredited courses are not run or produced by the organisation, but they have been reviewed and approved so that the qualification carries the same weight.


There are numerous reasons why CPD is important, from the way that it places importance on vocational skills to the way that it helps individuals and their employers to grow and improve. Whether taking part in structured courses working towards CPD qualifications, or spending self-directed time expanding skills and industry knowledge, the benefits of personal and professional development are widespread.

If you’re a professional such as an HR manager who would like to learn more about how CPD can benefit your employees and organisation, we cover this topic in much more detail in our ‘Developing the Skills of a HR Manager’ course, which is also CPD certified.