4 Tips for Creating Online Professional Development Courses

4 Tips for Creating Online Professional Development Courses

Picture this: you’re sitting in a conference room, yawning your way through a mandatory professional development workshop. There’s limited opportunity for interaction, and the accompanying reading materials are lackluster. The training session may even be covering material you already know or have learned in a previous course, creating an even more monotonous experience.

Luckily, this nightmare doesn’t have to be your reality—or the reality for your association’s members. Most of today’s professional development courses take place online, especially in our current circumstances of social distancing. However, just because a course is in an online environment doesn’t mean it will automatically engage your members effectively.

By creating online professional development courses that are convenient, engaging, and customized to your members, your association will be better able to provide value to members and boost engagement.

At Skyepack, we create interactive digital courses that achieve learning outcomes for professional associations like yours, as well as higher education institutions and K-12 schools. With experience working with such a wide range of learners, we’ve learned some helpful tips and tricks to make your association’s digital course materials more engaging and effective.

To develop a course that helps your members thrive, consider the following strategies:

  1. Design the course with the needs of your learners in mind.
  2. Choose a modern cloud-based platform.
  3. Include high-quality video content.
  4. Provide ample opportunities for interaction.

Whether you’re trying to help members meet mandatory requirements for continuing education, earn or maintain certification, or share industry trends and best practices, an online course can be an effective tool. With these tips in mind, you’ll be well-equipped to provide members with the education they need to succeed in their careers.

1. Design the course with the needs of your learners in mind.

As an association leader, your primary goal is to provide value to members. They should be at the forefront of any decision you make, whether it’s choosing your association membership software, planning an event, or offering useful resources. Your members should also be prioritized when creating a professional development course.

In general, a course works best when it is tailored to the specific needs of the learners. This is true for any kind of classroom and learning environment, including professional development and continuing education.

You should consider your members’ expectations, prior knowledge, and future needs when curating your content and developing the course.

You’ll want to take into account questions including:

  • What topics have members expressed interest in in the past?
  • What content areas have already been covered in previous courses?
  • How much time are your members willing and able to devote to the course?
  • Do they need to track CE credits with their employer or to meet licensing requirements?
  • What are the learning styles of your members?
  • Are there any industry-leading trends you need to include?

These are just a few suggestions; you’ll want to consider any information you have on hand about your members and their preferences. You may even consider sending a survey to your members for more direct feedback.

By incorporating this information into your plans for the course, you’ll be able to design a curriculum that is overall more relevant and engaging to your members. 

2. Choose a modern cloud-based platform.

Next, be sure to choose an online content delivery platform that is cloud-based. Your members won’t want to download any software or be restricted to a single device. Instead, they should be able to access material via a computer or smartphone for more flexibility.

Plus, cloud-based content can be accessed from anywhere at any time. Whether your members are working from home, in the office, or traveling, they will still have access to the content they need to make progress in their learning. 

Streamline online course materials are convenient because they act as a centralized hub for the information. Your members won’t need to manage physical documents or PDF packets, because all of the material will be accessible in one location. They’ll also continue to have easy access to this information to reference it in the future, even once they’re done with the course.

A cloud-based professional development course can also be an excellent solution to accompany a virtual event. As the WebCourseworks guide to virtual events discusses, engaging static and interactive content are key when trying to replicate an in-person experience. Once in-person events are feasible again, online material also works well to convey information to members who aren’t able to attend.

3. Include high-quality multimedia and interactive content.

Online courses allow you to include dynamic content to delight and engage your audience. While you’ll likely still want to include traditional text-based lessons, adding multimedia and interactive elements will create variety.

This variety helps ameliorate the fact that attention spans have decreased in the digital age. When members can shift their focus to different types of content, they’ll be more likely to stay engaged overall.

First, the power of video should not be overlooked. In a world where streaming content reigns supreme, your members will enjoy the opportunity to sit back and learn for part of the course.  

However, to be effective, video must be done right! Low or poor production value will detract from the experience and leave your members unimpressed with the course. If you’re developing the videos yourself, invest in basic professional equipment rather than relying on a low-quality webcam. If needed, you can bring in an outside course developer to facilitate the entire process including storyboarding, scripting, and filming.

In addition to video content, you can also include other multimedia elements such as:

  • Animations
  • Photos
  • Graphs, charts, and infographics
  • Audio clips

Including content in a variety of formats will ensure your learners can process the information in a way that works well for them.

As this guide to digital course materials recommends, adding interactive elements to your material can also enrich student learning. While multimedia content is useful, it’s still a one-way teaching format. To increase engagement, you should create opportunities for your members to interact with the material hands-on. 

For a few examples, consider incorporating features like drag-and-drop elements, embedded assessments, or reading comprehension questions within the content.

4. Continue to improve upon the course over time.

Especially in the digital age, change happens quickly. Whether it’s new innovations in your industry, updates to professional requirements, or a shift in members’ working conditions, some changes may impact the needs of your professional development course.

To ensure that your course continues to be engaging and useful, set up a protocol for continuously improving it. Depending on the nature of the course, you may choose to make updates annually or after each new cohort of learners completes the course. 

Our instructional design team takes this idea of iterative improvements very seriously. For a visual representation of Skyepack’s curriculum development process, take a look at this graphic:

Here, you can clearly see how we view instructional design as an iterative process based on Agile methodology. Even once a course is launched and students start learning, there will always be room for further improvement. This is true for your professional development course as well!

For a course that continues to engage your members even as things evolve over time, you should revisit the course regularly, seek feedback from members, and implement that feedback.

Your association’s members look to your organization as a source of growth and professional development. To make sure you’re meeting these expectations and providing quality educational content, you must make sure your online development courses are highly engaging. With these strategies, your association will be well-positioned to create informative and interactive courses. Good luck!

Austin Bates: Director of Operations & Instructional Design 

Born and raised in Texas, Austin learned at an early age the importance of dedication to a craft. During his Masters pursuit at Texas A&M University in Educational Technology, Austin began to question “Why not create better ways to teach in the online environment?” Skyepack soon became his catalyst for this new paradigm in online instruction. He is valued for his abilities to plan course designs, implement powerful teaching technology, and execute daily production assignments. In his spare time, Austin enjoys biking, watching football, and making every minute count.