Becoming a CPA is a great decision, one that will open global career doors, allowing you to live whatever life you imagined for yourself. But, as we all know, passing the CPA exam is a step we all have to take to get there.
Luckily, the CPA exam is made easier by the existence of learning materials. However, not all learning materials are created equal. Some courses use traditional, and tired linear methods, while others focus on delivering content matched to a student’s specific skill level that continues to adapt based on answers and demonstrated competence.
At the end of the day, you want to choose CPA study materials that help us get through the CPA Exam as quickly as possible. But, what’s the best way to learn the material? Should you stick with a traditional model or go for something adaptive and designed to be more individualized? Let’s take a look at the two methods of teaching presented in most exam prep materials, and talk about why adaptive software might be the best choice for you.
Linear Learning: the “Traditional” Method
Think of linear learning like a manufacturing plant producing widgets. Every widget comes out exactly the same, meaning every person who buys a widget is getting the same product; some people are pretty happy with the product while others aren’t as impressed. Linear learning centers around every individual learning via the same trajectory, meaning everyone learns from the same materials and takes the same steps. You start with step one, then proceed to step two, and so on until you’ve mastered a concept.
Linear learning is considered “traditional” because it’s the learning that has been employed in the public education system for decades. Before you learn multiplication, you need to learn addition and subtraction. Before you start to read, you learn the alphabet. This type of learning is cost-effective, because it can be applied to large groups of individuals with pretty good results, and teacher focused, because a teacher can implement it easily in a classroom.
Linear learning is practical for teaching the masses, but isn’t necessarily the best way for individuals to learn. Over time, and with the advent of technology in learning, we’ve realized that other methods of learning might be more effective.
Building Networks Through Non-Linear Learning
Truly traditional learning is not step-by-step or textbook driven. Think about a baby learning to speak. The alphabet and corresponding letters aren’t introduced slowly; the baby hears people speaking and observes gestures from the day they’re born. In the beginning, the child has no awareness for the sounds and movements, but over time develops a sense of language through continued observation. We make connections between things we do know and things we don’t; we also notice and learn to recognize patterns. We know this approach works because, despite our unique familial and social upbringings, we all end up fluent in our native language before we even start school.
The non-linear approach to learning focuses on variation and change, connecting the dots as opposed to following a straight line. Instead of learning through steps, we learn a variety of topics at the same time, and by changing up the topics we make more connections and learn more efficiently than a traditional straight-line method.
Adaptive Learning: A Non-Linear, Truly Individual Model
Adaptive learning utilizes the non-linear approach and truly individualizes it to the person. Software built around adaptive learning starts you off with a test of topics to see where your strengths and weaknesses lie. From there, adaptive learning technology tailors your learning to what you need to know. You don’t continuously go over topics that are strengths, but rather spend time on weak areas to reinforce new or challenging concepts.
As time goes on, the software adapts to your specific needs and builds a learning plan that works for you. It jumps between topics in a rational manner, allowing you to connect information together without having it in a strictly sequential order and offering bite sized models of different topics to keep the material interesting.
Choosing What’s Best for You
Again, when it all boils down, each one of us is looking for materials that check our boxes and get us through the exam as quickly as possible. So how do you decide which materials are best for you?
Since adaptive technology is truly individualized, it’s generally a better choice when it comes to CPA exam prep material. It caters to your learning needs and develops a plan that will get you through the exam more efficiently. But if you’ve had good success with traditional learning methods in the past, maybe check out options that provide that type of teaching.
There are many factors you should consider while deciding on the right course. How many people are passing the exam with certain materials? How much time are they spending studying? What are the ratings saying about the materials? Answer these questions, and couple those answers with how you learn, and you’ll be well on your way to finding learning materials that get you through the CPA exam.
Post written by: Liz Kolar, CPA, CGMA
Liz Kolar has been teaching CPA Review for more than 30 years in the United States, has personally taught more than 2,500 live sessions, and has helped thousands of candidates pass the CPA Exam. She founded Pinnacle CPA Review and co-founded Surgent Kolar CPA Review.