Associations offer invaluable resources for building professional networks, maintaining industry certifications, and learning new skills. As a membership development coordinator or programs administrator, you work tirelessly to bring worthwhile career and educational opportunities to your members.
Some of these opportunities come in the form of professional development courses. While these courses are critical to member engagement and satisfaction, they can be challenging to plan and execute correctly. What if you launch a course that doesn’t interest your members, or worse, ends up being completely useless?
To create a successful professional development course, it’s best to follow an iterative design process that prioritizes your members from start to finish. In other words, you’ll continue to make improvements even after the course has gone live.
At Skyepack, we follow this kind of instructional design process to develop digital courses for associations, businesses, and college classrooms across the country. In some ways, this process is similar to building your membership website. You want to provide compelling and valuable content that appeals to the needs of your association’s members and to present it in an intuitive and organized way. Then, once the website is launched, you’ll continue to make updates as members’ needs evolve.
Creating your professional development course should follow a similar workflow. The following graphic shows our curriculum development process at Skyepack.
This process is a cycle, demonstrating the fact that a truly learner-centered course will always have room for improvement. In this guide, we’ll walk through each of these steps to explore how they can be applied to creating a professional development course for your association:
Some associations may have the staff time and resources to go through this process independently, but it is often more effective to seek the expertise of an experienced course design team. If you want this external support, look for a provider that offers a similarly learner-focused process to the one we’re about to dive into.
First and foremost, determine the goals of this professional development course, both for your association as a whole and new members.
For instance, as an association, you may be trying to extend your online reach and attract new members. In this case, you may draw topic inspiration from similar associations in order to become more competitive in the market.
Another common overarching goal is to increase the value you provide to existing members. Fonteva’s guide to association member engagement discusses how increasing educational offerings and other engagement opportunities can increase member retention (and renewal revenue). Or, you can sell access to the course as a new source of non-dues revenue.
No matter what goals you have for creating the course, you must ensure the course itself is tailored to the needs of your current and prospective members, as well. To start this analysis, take a look at any professional development programs you currently have in place or have launched in the past. Consider questions such as:
If you don’t have a lot of past experience to go on (or just want additional information), you can also send a survey to members to solicit feedback directly.
Once you’ve settled on your broad goals for the course, you can begin to explore what specific material to include.
In this stage, you’ll identify any available learning resources that will address the necessary topics. If you have any preexisting professional development courses, you may choose to pull some material from there.
Now is also a good time to determine the scope and depth of your course. Are you trying to provide a broad overview or take a more granular approach? Of course, the scope of your course will depend on your members’ previous education and experience, so be sure to take that into account.
Just like your association’s website, your online professional development course needs to be well-designed and intuitive.
If your members are lost and confused while trying to learn from a professional development course, they’re likely to feel frustrated rather than engaged. To avoid these potential pitfalls, make sure your course is:
Additionally, be sure to design your course as an interactive and dynamic experience rather than simply an online textbook. Include elements like embedded assessments, multimedia content, and interactive tasks in order to more effectively convey material.
More than likely, you’re not going to be writing the content for the course on your own! Instead, you’ll want to gather material from a variety of high-quality and reputable sources from your industry. These may include:
Ultimately, the digital course materials you create will be a fully customized solution based on the specific needs of your associations.
This step is one where an expert course development team can be particularly beneficial. With such a large quantity of untested open-source material available online, wading through it all yourself can feel like an overwhelming challenge. In contrast, an instructional design team will be able to curate the most helpful and trustworthy sources for you.
Just like when choosing the other elements of your association’s tech stack, you’ll need to find a content delivery platform that has all the features you need.
While it’s possible to share course material with members in a low-tech way, today’s professionals expect more than hard copy packets or scanned PDFs. A dynamic online platform will facilitate a more effective learning experience.
Look for platform features including:
The best option is to choose a cloud-based platform that supports all of these needs. Additionally, according to this article about the advantages of digital course materials, an online platform is much more convenient for members. They will appreciate the ability to access your course material at any time or while on the go.
Once you’ve made it through the previous steps, it’s time to bring your hard work to fruition and share the course with your members.
Whether you’re offering the professional development course alongside regular membership or charging an additional fee to enjoy it, you’ll want to provide immediate access once the course is launched.
However, if your members are less experienced with technology, they may experience difficulty getting connected. Make sure to offer resources for troubleshooting, whether that means setting up a contact form through your association’s website or choosing a course provider that offers full tech support.
Once members have completed the course, provide the opportunity to give feedback. Their thoughts and criticisms will help you make improvements to the course in the future and design your next course!
Remember, once you’ve been through these six steps, your instructional design journey still isn’t over. Set up a plan to revisit the course’s performance and content on a regular basis to determine what is working well and what could be improved. By doing so, you’ll have a professional development course that continues to meet the needs of your members over time, even as circumstances change.
Author: Brady Kalb, CEO of Skyepack
Brady is a "reformed engineer turned entrepreneur". After engineering gigs at two Fortune 100 companies, Brady left the corporate world to pursue a business degree and seek out new challenges. Brady's passion for education stems from his desire to "always be learning" and find innovative solutions to difficult problems. Brady enjoys family outings to the park, explaining the answers of "Life, the Universe, and Everything" to his daughters, and reading just about anything (favorites are classics, popular fiction, and biographies).