5 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 (or your association members’!) reality. 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 and microcredentials that achieve learning outcomes for professional associations like yours. With experience working with a wide range of learners, we’ve gleaned many helpful tips and tricks to make your association’s online course materials more engaging and effective.

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

Whether you’re trying to help members meet mandatory continuing education requirements to earn or maintain certification or you simply want to share industry trends and best practices, effective online courses are a powerful tool. With these tips in mind, you’ll be well-equipped to increase membership satisfaction by providing them with the education they need.

Design the course with learner needs in mind.

As an association leader, your primary goal is to provide value to members. This is at the forefront of every decision you make, whether it’s choosing your association membership software, planning an event, or in this case, creating professional development courses.

To provide value with your professional development materials, tailor your courses to your members’ specific needs and interests. Consider your members’ expectations, prior knowledge, and future needs when curating content and developing each course. Aim to answer the following questions when conducting research:

  • What topics have members expressed interest in previously?
  • What content areas have you already covered in previous courses?
  • Do any of your previous courses need to be refreshed to align with current best practices?
  • How much time are your members willing and able to devote to a course?
  • Will they need to track CE credits to align with employer or licensing requirements?
  • Are there any industry-wide trends or concerns that you should consider covering?

You can obtain this information using a few different sources, including previous course performance data in your learning platform and member engagement data in your association management software. Consider going straight to the source and sending out surveys that ask about the topics that members would be most interested in taking courses about.

Include high-quality, multimedia and interactive content.

One of the biggest benefits of online courses is that you can include a wide variety of dynamic, interactive content to engage your audience. When members can explore different types of content, they’re more likely to stay engaged from start to finish.

In addition to maintaining attention, variation in content type allows members to interact with information that best aligns with their learning style. Whether a learner prefers visual, audio, or written content, they can find something that appeals to them.

Consider including any of the following multimedia elements in your content:

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

While you may have some of these multimedia resources already on-hand (such as ready-made infographics), you may also find yourself needing to create new content for your course. In that instance, consider exploring the world of open educational resources (OERs).

Skyepack defines OERs as “educational resources that are freely accessible to anyone who has internet access.” This could include text, video, visual, and interactive resources. With careful searching and evaluation, you may be able to find ready-made resources that are available for use in your course.

Lastly, consider going beyond multimedia content to also include interactive resources. While multimedia content is useful, it’s still a one-way teaching format. To increase engagement, you should create interactive learning opportunities for your members. These include features like drag-and-drop elements, embedded assessments, or reading comprehension questions within the content.

Consider incorporating microcredentials into your lineup.

Microcredentials are a specific type of professional development course that are especially effective for association members.

Unlike more robust professional development courses—like licensure-related courses that cover a wide variety of topics—microcredentials are hyper-focused on developing specific skills. They’re commonly found in high-growth fields, such as IT support, data analytics, project management, cybersecurity, and digital marketing. 

For a learner, the process of completing a micro-credential involves:

  1. Reviewing online learning materials.
  2. Completing any corresponding assignments.
  3. Passing an assessment or skills test that shows they’ve learned the knowledge in question.
  4. Earning the micro-credential badge or certificate.

These courses are most often asynchronous and learners can complete them in just a few hours to a few weeks. This means your members can purchase and complete microcredentials as a supplement to any required professional development efforts, better tailoring their educational efforts toward their personal goals.

To begin offering microcredentials to your members, consider partnering with an instructional design team that is already familiar with this newly-developing area of continuing education. This partner can both teach your instructional designers to create such courses and help your team physically build these courses.

Choose a modern, cloud-based platform.

NPOInfo notes that “Only 1 in 3 associations feel their association software helps them achieve their fundraising goals.” The more accessible and convenient that you can make content, the more likely members will be to purchase it. With that in mind, if you haven’t already, choose an online content delivery platform that’s cloud-based.

Your members won’t want to download software or be restricted to a single device to access content. The biggest benefit of a cloud-based delivery system is that content can be accessed from anywhere and at any time. So, whether members are working from home, in the office, or traveling, they will have access to the content they need to complete their professional development goals.

Beyond that, streamlined content delivery platforms are convenient because they offer a centralized hub for all course information. Members won’t need to manage physical documents or PDF packets, because all materials will be accessible from one location.

Continue to improve upon the courses over time.

Whether it’s new innovations in your industry, updates to professional requirements, or a shift in members’ working conditions, you may need to make changes periodically to your professional development courses.

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

To give you an idea of what this process could look like, consider the Agile Instructional Design method:

  1. Analyze learning needs.
  2. Research the course material.
  3. Design the course infrastructure.
  4. Curate materials for the course.
  5. Build the course.
  6. Launch the course.

This is an iterative process. After the course is launched, the cycle begins again as needed to ensure the content is kept up to date. This ensures that a course continues to engage your members as learning needs evolve over time.

Your association’s members look to your organization as a resource for growth and professional development. To make sure you’re meeting these expectations in providing educational content, you should strive to create highly engaging online development courses.

By researching learners’ interests, including high-quality multimedia and interactive resources, incorporating microcredentials, choosing a modern cloud-based platform, and continuing to improve your courses over time, you will be well-positioned to create and maintain informative and interactive courses.

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.