Hilary Lindsay (2016) More than ‘continuing professional development’: a proposed new learning framework for professional accountants, Accounting Education, 25:1, 1-13, DOI: 10.1080/09639284.2015.1104641
This paper explores literature relating to continuing professional development (CPD) and lifelong learning to develop an understanding of how the learning landscape has evolved in recent years, both in the accountancy profession and more widely. Three different perspectives on learning are drawn together and this synthesis is used to develop a framework for professional learning. In this, the concepts of CPD and lifelong learning are replaced with ‘learning relating to professional competence’ and ‘learning relating to career adaptability’. The framework also contrasts the learning of an ‘informed professional’,a ‘competent professional’ and a ‘complete professional’. This holistic model, derived from existing literature, will be of interest to professional accountancy bodies and educators of accountants and will inform their ongoing interactions with current and future professional accountants.
In 2004, the professional learning landscape of the accountancy profession changed when the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) issued International Educational Standard 7. The standard required member bodies to put in place mandatory continuing professional development (CPD) schemes, which could be input-based (requiring ‘a set amount of learning activity’), output-based (requiring demonstration of ‘outcomes’)or a combination of the two (IFAC, 2004, p. 5). The IFAC standard also required member bodies to ‘foster a commitment to lifelong learning among professional accountants’ (IFAC, 2004, p. 3). In the original standard, there was little reference to what was meant by lifelong learning, but in the successor to IES7, Continuing Professional Develop-ment (Redrafted) (2012), IFAC drew on a European Union deﬁnition (European Union, 2012) and stated that:
Lifelong learning represents all learning and development activity, formal or informal, under-taken with the aim of enhancing knowledge, skills, values, ethics and attitudes from personal, civic, social and employment-related perspectives. (IFAC, 2012,p.7)
This wide-ranging deﬁnition positioned CPD as one part of lifelong learning, but the inter-relationship was not explored any further in the standard. This paper reviews, brings together and synthesises existing literature to provide a holistic model of continu-ous professional learning for accountants.
The pace of change in the world and in the workplace means that professional accoun-tants are likely to be involved in more transitions within roles and between roles. Change will affect individuals on a daily basis. Increasing longevity means professional accoun-tants may need or wish to work for longer. In this context, learning has to become an ongoing process, a mindset. The professional learning framework in this paper brings together two elements of learning, ‘learning relating to professional competence’ and ‘learning relating to career adaptability’ to provide a visual aide-mémoire of all the aspects of learning that professional accountants will need to bear in mind as they seek to navigate their careers and achieve professional and personal success.
Despite the undoubted efforts of professional accountancy bodies to promote and in some cases provide access to career and personal development opportunities, recent research into CPD in the accountancy profession has found the focus of interest to be too narrow. From their research in the Asia Paciﬁc Region, where CPD schemes are input-based, De Lange, Jackling, and Suwardy (2010, p. 4) concluded that ‘member bodies of IFAC need to work towards shifting the focus of professional accountants from a compliance mentality in relation to CPD to more fully embracing the ethos of lifelong learning and professional development approach to CPD’.In research in a UK output-based CPD context, Lindsay (2012) found that although infor-mal learning activities were seen by professional accountants to be just as relevant as formal activities, it was the formal learning activities, such as attending courses and undertaking technical reading, that were much more likely to be described as ‘CPD’. More recently, De Lange, Jackling, and Basioudis (2013, p. 496) concluded from further detailed work that their ‘literature review and data support the view that most professional accountants view the primary needs of CPD as a guide to technical development’. They expressed concern that the role of CPD could be ‘relegated to the position of compliance rather than ongoing competence development in the form of lifelong learning’.
This paper explores the relationship between CPD and lifelong learning and in so doing develops a holistic framework for professional learning, derived from existing literature, which can be used alongside any professional accountancy body’s existing CPD arrange-ments to help emphasise to members that learning is more than the activities members would seem to associate more instinctively with ‘CPD’.
The framework identiﬁes nine elements of learning that are relevant to all professional accountants. By distinguishing between the ‘informed professional’, the ‘competent pro-fessional’ and the ‘complete professional’, the framework emphasises that now and in the future, professional learning needs to be integrated and holistic. In this paper, for the ﬁrst time, career adaptability attributes have been positioned across the interpersonal and intrapersonal dimensions of learning as part of an integrated framework encompass-ing CPD and lifelong learning.
The paper reviews the relevant literature before introducing and discussing the new professional development framework.
Review of learning literature
This review explores three alternative perspectives on how the learning landscape has changed in recent decades. It ﬁrst considers the transition from continuing professional education (CPE) to CPD and lifelong learning and the similarities and differences in the literature relating to CPD and lifelong learning. It then moves on to consider the model of learning and competence developed by Illeris (2004) from his review of many other learning theories and identiﬁes the cognitive, interpersonal and intrapersonal dimensions of learning. Finally, the review explores the evolving metaphors used to describe learning, beginning with ‘learning as acquisition’ and ‘learning as participation’ (Sfard, 1998) and moving on to ‘learning as becoming’ (Boud & Hager, 2012; Wenger, 1998). At the end of the literature review, the three alternative views of learning are drawn together into a composite model which is later recast into a professional learning framework.
CPE and CPD
Around 1970, the idea of CPE emerged (Cervero, 1998; Houle, 1980). Until then, it had been believed that pre-service training was all that was needed to underpin a lifetime of work as a member of a profession. Gradually, it was recognised that as professions existed primarily in the public interest, there needed to be some way of reassuring the public that members of professions were competent and CPE schemes, in some instances mandatory, emerged in response. In his twenty-year review of CPE, Young (1998, p. 135) concluded that: ‘Government bodies, professional associations and employers have used mandatory CPE as a method to quell public concern about professional incompetence’. However, practitioners themselves did not appear to be ﬁnding CPE of great value. After the ﬁrst three-year cycle of mandatory CPE for US accountants, Coffee and Beegle (1994) found the 20 accountants they surveyed ‘mildly agreed’ that mandatory CPE, with its required participation in an agreed programme of courses, enhanced the quality of their professional work. Meanwhile in the UK, Madden and Mitchell (1993) had identiﬁed conﬂicting reasons why CPE might be undertaken. Was CPE there to protect the interests of stakeholders such as regulatory bodies, professional bodies and, ultimately, the public? Or was it there to help individuals develop throughout their pro-fessional careers? In other words, was CPE a sanction or a beneﬁt? This was a question to which there was then no obvious answer.
By the turn of the century, CPE was gradually being replaced by CPD, which was seen as differing from CPE because it also involved ‘embracing and recognising informal learn-ing which can be achieved in practice’ (Friedman & Phillips, 2004, p. 371). However, this development did not of itself provide clarity around the purpose of CPD, with Friedman and Phillips still referring to it as an ‘ambiguous and contested concept’ (Friedman & Phil-lips, 2004, p. 370). Interestingly, the sanctions and beneﬁts elements are both reﬂected in IFAC International Educational Standard 7 (2012, p. 4). While the standard refers to the requirement to ‘develop and maintain the professional competence necessary … to strengthen public trust in the profession’, thus suggesting an emphasis on sanctions, it then permits an output-based approach to compliance which ﬁts better with the idea of CPD being a beneﬁt.
Moving on to lifelong learning
While the focus of the IFAC standard is on CPD and professional competence, there is also, as mentioned earlier, the requirement that professional bodies ‘foster a commitment to lifelong learning’ (IFAC, 2012, p. 4). What limited research there has been into CPD in the accountancy profession has usually been undertaken on behalf of professional accoun-tancy bodies in order to inform their CPD policies (IFAC, 2008; Paisey, Paisey, & Tarbert, 2007; Rothwell & Herbert, 2007; Wessels, 2007). However, more recently, there have been references to the need for CPD schemes to embrace lifelong learning (De Lange et al., 2010, 2013).
The terms ‘CPD’ and ‘lifelong learning’ had both emerged around the turn of the century at a time when the concept of individuals being passively educated (as exempliﬁed by CPE) was being replaced by that of individuals taking active responsibility for their learning. The IFAC standard (2012,p.4)reﬂects this change by making it clear that while professional bodies must put in place CPD schemes, it is ‘the responsibility of the professional accountant to develop and maintain professional competence’. CPE had gradually metamorphosed into CPD (Friedman & Phillips, 2004) with its increased emphasis on informal learning and professional practice. Meanwhile, in the lifelong learn-ing literature, Edwards (1997, p. 67) described how the traditional bounded ﬁeld of adult education had been replaced by the ‘more diverse moorland of lifelong learning’. Both CPD and lifelong learning reﬂected the increased importance and recognition of informal learning and learning in the workplace. ‘Learning at work’ was the ﬁrst recommended activity in one early output-based CPD scheme (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, 2005), while in research into lifelong learning, Livingstone (2002, p. 56) used the phrase ‘the informal learning iceberg’ to recognise the enormous area of often below-the-surface learning that was now apparent. Three themes common to both the CPD and lifelong learning literature had emerged: the transition from education to learning, the related shift whereby individuals take responsibility for their learning and the increased emphasis on informal and workplace learning.
However, the ground covered by the lifelong learning literature extended beyond that shared with the concept of CPD. In particular, the lifelong learning literature emphasised the need to respond to the increasing rate and complexity of change. Edwards (1997, p. 22) referred to the ‘triumvirate of demographic, technological and economic change’ which he saw as ‘heralding the need for lifelong learning’. He not only saw lifelong learning as a response to changes that were happening but felt that the process itself was a creator of change. This reﬂexive theme was echoed by Alheit (1994, p. 283) who argued the case for a ‘biographical’ approach to learning ‘which had the capacity to change both the indi-vidual and the context within which learning takes place’. Making sense of personal bio-graphies in the context of wider changes had been memorably described by C. Wright Mills in 1959 as ‘The Sociological Imagination’ (Sutherland & Crowther, 2006, p. 3). Sutherland and Crowther suggested that while this concept remained relevant, it could now be more appropriately referred to as the ‘lifelong learning imagination’. They described this as a ‘process that enables people to understand their personal circumstances and the habits of mind, knowledge and skills they possess’ and which helps them to look at how they ‘engage and re-engage’ continually in learning (Sutherland & Crowther, 2006, p. 4). Whilst CPD is primarily concerned with maintaining and developing competence, the lifelong learning literature suggests that there is an additional need for individuals con-tinually to learn and evolve in response to the changing environment, with reﬂexivity a critical skill.
Dimensions of learning
An alternative view of how the learning landscape had changed was provided by Illeris (2004, p. 80) who, like the authors mentioned above, also saw knowledge and learning as ‘being something ﬂuid that has to be renewed over and over again’. For him, learning was no longer ‘just a cognitive matter but also the total personal development of capacities, related to all functions and spheres of human life’. From his analysis of the learning the-ories of over 30 writers, Illeris identiﬁed two further dimensions of learning to add to cog-nition and represented the three dimensions as a triangle1 which he described as the ‘tension ﬁeld of learning’ (2002, p. 19). He took care to point out that the dimensions were in no sense discrete and that any learning would involve all three dimensions to some extent. Kegan (2009), in his research into the transformational nature of learning, identiﬁed three equivalent lines of development; the cognitive, the intrapersonal and the interpersonal and these are the terms used in this paper to refer to the three dimensions of learning. The cognitive dimension relates to the development of knowledge, skills and understanding; the intrapersonal dimension involves the assimilation of learning and the development of the individual and the interpersonal dimension relates to learning from interaction with others and the environment.
Illeris (2004, p. 80) had developed his theory of learning in response to the ‘emergence of a globalised and ever-changing late modern market society’. He felt the emphasis needed to shift from a focus on education to a focus on ideas such as learning and com-petence which he described as the ‘ability to deal with problems that are unknown and unpredictable at the time when the competence in question is acquired’. Whilst the cog-nitive aspect of learning would always be important, Illeris saw the intrapersonal and interpersonal dimensions of learning as increasingly relevant at a time of profound and ongoing change.
Metaphors of learning
The ﬁnal view of the learning landscape emerges from considering the use of metaphors in describing learning and assisting research. While research into formal learning, with its focus on qualiﬁcations and training, had been relatively easy, exploring informal learning activities had proved far more challenging. Felstead et al. (2005) found that an approach which involved metaphors enabled them to do so in their Learning at Work survey. They replaced the concepts of formal and informal learning with the metaphors of ‘learning as acquisition’ (which related to acquiring, storing and using knowledge) and ‘learning as participation’ (which involved learning from interaction and relationships), metaphors which had originally been developed by Sfard (1998). By dividing learning activities into those involving ‘learning as acquisition’ and those involving ‘learning as partici-pation’, they were able to carry out research into informal as well as formal learning activities.
In a more recent review of the use of learning metaphors in professional practice, Boud and Hager (2012, p. 20) recognised that the metaphor ‘learning as acquisition’ and the related metaphor of ‘learning as transfer’ were relevant in a CPE context because these metaphors ‘suggest pre-speciﬁcation and standardization of the content that is learnt’. However, they felt that these metaphors could not fully reﬂect the nature of learning in professional practice and were therefore concerned that such metaphors were inappropri-ate in a CPD context. They advocated instead the use of metaphors such as ‘learning as participation’ (the metaphor used by Felstead et al. (2005) to explore informal learning) and ‘learning as becoming’. ‘Learning as becoming’ had also been identiﬁed by others (Ecclestone, Biesta, & Hughes, 2010; Hager & Hodkinson, 2009) as a key element of learn-ing. Wenger (1998, p. 5) related ‘learning as becoming’ to the concept of identity which he described as ‘a way of talking about how learning changes who we are and creates personal histories of becoming in the context of our communities’. While ‘learning as acquisition’ and ‘learning as participation’ can be aligned with the cognitive and interpersonal dimen-sions of learning, ‘learning as becoming’ relates to the intrapersonal dimension.
Combining the three perspectives
The three alternative views of how the learning landscape has changed do in fact show a common direction of travel. Figure 1 shows how the transition from CPE to CPD and on to lifelong learning is mirrored by the development from the cognitive to the cognitive, interpersonal and intrapersonal dimensions of learning and by the corresponding devel-opment from learning solely relating to acquisition to learning involving acquisition, par-ticipation and becoming.
Developing a new framework for learning
Figure 1 shows the learning landscape incrementally increasing as further aspects of learning have been added, but all the elements of learning in the model are still necessary. This means that Figure 1 has the potential to underpin a framework for learning suitable for professional accountants today.
This is shown in Figure 2.
The top triangle can be seen to relate to the area described as CPE in Figure 1 while the next layer of three triangles reﬂects the addition of informal and workplace learning and CPE’s subsequent development into CPD. The top two layers encompass the learning needed to ‘develop and maintain … professional competence’ (IFAC, 2012, p. 4) and are collectively described as such. The two layers also provide the opportunity to dis-tinguish between the ‘informed professional’, an individual whose learning involves input-based learning activities such as attending courses and reading technical updates, and the ‘competent professional’ whose learning also involves the development and prac-tice of skills in a work context. The ability to perform a work role competently is a key requirement within the IFAC standard (2010) and it is the ‘competent professional’, whose learning encompasses the top two layers in the framework, who would fulﬁl this criteria. The confusion described earlier around the use of ‘CPD’ means that this learning is instead referred to as ‘learning relating to professional competence’.
There then remains the issue of how to describe the additional iterative aspect of life-long learning represented by the bottom layer of the framework in Figure 2. A search through recent relevant literature identiﬁed career adaptability as a suitable descriptor for this aspect of learning. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) had recently commissioned the report The role of career adaptability in skills supply (Bimrose, Brown, Barnes, & Hughes, 2011). In the report, career adaptability was described as:
the conscious and continuous exploration of both the self and the environment, where the eventual aim is to achieve synergy between the individual, their identity and an occupational environment. (Bimrose et al., 2011,p.5)
The concept of career adaptability encapsulates well the ongoing iterative nature of this bottom layer of learning. It was therefore possible to complete the new model for pro-fessional learning by bringing together ‘learning relating to professional competence’ and ‘learning relating to career adaptability’. This full model helps to address the sanction or beneﬁt dichotomy described by Madden and Mitchell (1993) and which led to Fried-man and Phillips (2004, p. 370) describing CPD as an ‘ambiguous and contested concept’. While learning relating to the top two layers provides the reassurance to the public which was the aim of IES7, the bottom layer encourages individuals to take advan-tage of and beneﬁt from more personal aspects of learning. An individual whose learning encompassed the three layers in the framework, not only developing and maintaining their professional competence but also learning reﬂexively from their environment, has been described as a ‘complete professional’.
Nine interconnected elements of learning make up the model. The four relating to pro-fessional competence were identiﬁed by referring to the three dimensions of learning: cog-nitive, interpersonal and intrapersonal. The cognitive aspect involves more formal learning activities such as courses and technical updates, the interpersonal dimension involves learning from or with other people and the intrapersonal element focuses on per-sonal learning processes such as reﬂection. Learning on the job involves all three dimen-sions and so ‘learning relating to professional competence’ can be divided into the four elements shown in Figure 2.
To complete the model, the elements within ‘learning relating to career adaptability’ needed to be identiﬁed. In fact, the concept of ‘career adaptability’ proved to be a meta-competence and previous research had identiﬁed ﬁve individual competencies within it.2 The elements have since been described by Lindsay (2014) as:
- Self-belief – having conﬁdence in yourself and in what you can do
- Positive attitude – being optimistic about the future
- Experimenting – being prepared to try out new ideas
- Exploring – ﬁnding out what is happening out there in order to see whether it might
- Engaging – interacting with others and with the environment to seek to inﬂuence the future (Lindsay, 2014, p. 140).
These descriptors have been mapped across the interpersonal–intrapersonal conti-nuum in the framework at Figure 2.Apositive attitude and self-belief very much resonate with the metaphor of ‘learning as becoming’ and so relate to the intrapersonal dimension, with self-belief being the more personal. Meanwhile, engaging and exploring relate to the interpersonal dimension and with the metaphor of ‘learning as participation’, with enga-ging being the more dependent on interaction. Experimenting sits between the two dimen-sions in that, while individuals need to motivate themselves to experiment, any experimenting could well involve interaction with others. The ﬁve elements relating to career adaptability have been added to the four relating to professional competence to complete the framework.
As mentioned earlier, Illeris (2004) had been keen to stress that all learning needed to draw on all the dimensions of learning. The example that follows demonstrates the differ-ence in the approach to learning of an ‘informed professional’,a ‘competent professional’ and a ‘complete professional’.If ‘competent professionals’ attended a course, they would acquire the same knowledge and skills as ‘informed professionals’. However, they would also be seeking to learn from interacting with speakers and delegates on the day. They would have tried to reﬂect both before the event about what they hoped to learn and after-wards about how they could put any learning into practice. They may well have discussed the subject matter with work colleagues before and after the event. Their learning would encompass the four elements within ‘learning relating to professional competence’. ‘Com-plete professionals’ who attended a course would also seek to engage with others both to check their understanding and to identify possible contacts for future reference. During or after the course, they would explore how they might put their new knowledge and skills into use and may well experiment with new ideas on their return to work. Any successes would lead to a positive attitude about their learning experience and to increased self-belief and could well lead to a desire to engage in further learning activities. Whilst attending a course has been used to describe how the framework could work in practice, the nine elements are relevant in all learning contexts. Overall, ‘complete professionals’ would be developing habits and mindsets that would enable them to ‘engage and re-engage’ conti-nually in learning and so epitomise the ‘lifelong learning imagination’ described by Suther-land and Crowther (2006, p. 4).
The framework at Figure 2 emerged from a consideration of the changing learning land-scape facing professional accountants and a review of the related literature. As Figure 1 shows, the landscape had expanded over time to accommodate new aspects of learning. The development from CPE to CPD had recognised the importance of informal and work-place learning. When IFAC issued International Educational Standard 7, it too encouraged informal as well as formal learning by allowing member bodies to choose whether they introduced input-based, output-based or combination CPD schemes. The IFAC standard also recognised lifelong learning. Although the main IFAC focus was on the development and maintenance of professional competence, there has also been a requirement that member bodies ‘foster a commitment to lifelong learning’ (IFAC, 2012, p. 4) and the redrafted standard currently in operation includes a very wide deﬁnition of lifelong learn-ing (IFAC, 2012, p. 7).
However, as described earlier, recent research shows that despite the efforts of pro-fessional accountancy bodies, how professional accountants think about their learning does not yet fully reﬂect this changed landscape (De Lange et al., 2010, 2013). Even in an output-based CPD context, it is the formal learning activities introduced during the era of ‘CPE’ that professional accountants are most likely to describe as ‘CPD’ (Lindsay, 2012). Because of this, it has been suggested that the framework at Figure 2 could be described as an iceberg, with only the top triangle visible above the waterline. This would reﬂect the ‘informal learning iceberg’ referred to by Livingstone (2002). However, if professional accountants only see the top part of the framework, and think that is all there is to learning, they risk ignoring the very important aspects of learning that to them would be out of view. The framework therefore needs to be presented with all nine elements of learning clearly visible.
Regardless of whether a member body is running an input-based, output-based or combination CPD scheme, it could promote an approach to learning based on the top four triangles of Figure 2 with the associated idea of the ‘competent professional’.Inso doing, it would be moving towards the ‘professional development approach to CPD’ rec-ommended by De Lange et al. (2010, p. 4). If a member body shared with its members the full nine triangle framework at Figure 2, it would be ‘more fully embracing the ethos of lifelong learning’ (De Lange et al., 2010, p. 4) and would also be meeting the IFAC require-ment that member bodies ‘foster a commitment to lifelong learning’ (IFAC, 2012, p. 4).
The framework could be used by member bodies in a variety of ways to promote and facilitate learning. For example, it could be sub-divided to focus on particular groups of learning elements. Meanwhile, professional accountants could use the framework as an aide-mémoire, to prompt them to think about all nine elements of learning and to help them develop the learning habits and mindset needed to succeed today and in the future.
The framework will also be of interest to accounting educators and to their students as they prepare for careers in accountancy. Prospective professional accountants should seek to develop both ‘learning relating to professional competence’ and ‘learning relating to career adaptability’ if they wish to make the best use of their professional qualiﬁcations in the challenging career environment they will be facing.
This paper with its holistic learning framework derived from existing literature makes a signiﬁcant contribution to the understanding and development of learning in the accountancy profession today and helps to address concerns raised by other recent research (De Lange et al., 2010, 2013). The common direction of travel identiﬁed in the review of the learning literature (Figure 1) has led to the development of a framework which reﬂects the current learning landscape by bringing together ‘learning relating to professional competence’ and ‘learning relating to career adaptability’ (Figure 2). The framework and the paper identify and distinguish between the learning of an ‘informed professional’,a‘competent professional’ and a ‘complete professional’. The framework also helps to address the sanction or beneﬁt dichotomy described by Madden and Mitchell (1993). While learning relating to the development and maintenance of professional competence must remain a priority, the second element of learning, learning relating to career adaptability, will help professional accountants be more successful in their current roles, move effectively into new roles and pursue more varied and longer careers. In so doing, they will beneﬁt personally and professionally and, by continuing as active members of their profession, will also serve the public interest.
The framework could be used by professional accountancy bodies to help foster a com-mitment to IFAC’s new and wider description of lifelong learning. Many are already pro-moting wider aspects of learning to their members. This framework provides another tool that could help them with this task. While it is not necessarily up to professional bodies to provide development opportunities relating to career adaptability, IFAC expects member bodies to foster a commitment to lifelong learning and this framework is a good way of spreading this message.
This paper has brought fresh insights to the concepts of CPD and lifelong learning in the accountancy profession. The professional learning framework provides a visually appealing and simple demonstration of what learning can mean in practice for pro-fessional accountants today. In doing so, it shows that there is more to professional com-petence than attendance at CPD courses and that there is more to learning than the professional competence required in order to comply with the IFAC standard. It is hoped that the professional learning framework will be used by professional accountancy bodies and educators of accountants and that, as a result, more current and future pro-fessional accountants will take advantage of more opportunities for learning and so will be better placed to enjoy rewarding and fulﬁlling careers. If the framework is adopted in this way, then further research could be undertaken to explore how effective this has been and what value has been added from its being adopted in practice.
- While Illeris (2002) initially referred to the three dimensions as cognition, emotion and society, he later described them in different ways: for example, as cognition, emotion and environment (Illeris, 2004) and as content, incentive and interaction (Illeris, 2009).
- The ﬁve competences were originally identiﬁed by Savickas et al. (2009) and described by Bimrose et al. (2011) as follows: control – the ability to exert a degree of inﬂuence; curiosity
– the desire to broaden horizons; commitment – experimenting to generate new possibilities; conﬁdence – belief in yourself; and concern – developing a positive attitude (Bimrose et al., 2011).
No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the author.
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To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09639284.2015.1104641