This guest post is by Susan Tomlinson Schmidt, who has dedicated her life to serving others through more than 25 years advancing the missions of social-impact organizations. Currently, Schmidt is the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance president, an organization that develops talent for the nonprofit workforce.
She received her master’s in public administration from the University of Memphis and is a Certified Nonprofit Professional. Schmidt and her husband, David, a professional chef, have two sons, Patrick and Walker. They live in Leawood, Kansas.
One of the silver linings of the COVID-19 crisis is that people have started focusing more heavily on how they can develop personal skills to make them better professionals. This new drive for developing professional skills will result in benefits like employee retention and engagement for businesses and (especially) nonprofits everywhere.
If you’re considering providing your own professional development course for your staff, you can’t expect to simply sit down and write successful material in a single session. It requires patience and research to make sure that the professional development courses you provide are high-quality and help your team enhance relevant skills.
Here at the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance, we not only provide nonprofit courses that individuals can sign up for, but our research experts also help organizations organize and develop their own learning materials for staff, volunteers, members and supporters. Using this experience, we’ve compiled these hallmarks of a well-developed professional development course:
- All course concepts are research-based.
- The course addresses a specific purpose.
- Course concepts are relevant to today’s world.
Ready to dive deeper into what makes an effective professional development course? Let’s get started.
1. All Course Concepts are Research-Based
When you develop a professional development course, the most important thing to keep in mind is that all of the concepts you discuss are based deeply and directly on research. While online courses rarely replicate the actual classroom experience, they should still be just as authoritative as a class built for in-person learning.
You may start with the internet, with books on the subject you wish to cover, or with journals and articles by other professionals. No matter what type of course you’re creating, it’s best to recognize the primary sources as well as any secondary sources, then analyze the potential bias that those sources might have.
After you’ve collected valuable information and written a first draft of potential course materials, you’ll be able to start creating an engaging platform for the course using a learning management system (LMS). If you’re looking for guidance on choosing an LMS, refer to the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance guide to LMS platforms.
Then, use the software to present your research information in an engaging and learnable way. Plus, some software providers even offer services that expand research further to make more robust course materials.
2. The Course Addresses a Specific Purpose
When you design your professional development course, make sure to address a specific purpose. Many organizations run into issues trying to create course materials that cover too much, ending up only scratching the surface of a multitude of different fields. It’s much better to take a deep dive into a very specific topic.
Before you begin, make sure the course purpose you choose is desired by and helpful for your staff members.
Start choosing the purpose by the current most demanded skills. For instance, according to this guide, some of the most desired skills for 2021 include artificial intelligence, people management, collaboration, and time management. Also consider your specific sector and the types of skills that are most relevant to working in it.
With this initial list of potential skills to work on, you can use data strategies to determine what will be most useful and intriguing to your staff. Just like how Accudata discusses data marketing strategies, when you use quantitative data to guide your course purpose you’ll find that what was once “based on an educated guess is now a factual effort based on what you know to be true.”
This means that by surveying your staff members, looking for weaknesses in the organization, and collecting data using other means, you’ll know for sure what subject your course should cover and the purpose it will serve at your organization.
3. Course Concepts are Relevant to Today’s World
When you design a professional development course, make sure that all concepts are inline based on today’s workforce trends. For instance, during the age of COVID-19, you likely wouldn’t ask your nonprofit staff members to learn in-person fundraising methods. Instead, perhaps it’s a good idea to offer courses about the best way to communicate with supporters digitally.
This resource lists some of the best nonprofit courses available that experts have put together recently, meaning that these types of courses are the most relevant for professional development in today’s world. Some of the listed courses include:
- The Equity Journey
- Crisis Communications for Nonprofit Leaders
- Ethical Leadership for Social Impact
Ensuring course concepts are relevant to today makes them immediately applicable, meaning the information can be easily adapted right away to help improve your organization and your staff members. You might also look for opportunities to grow as a team and build your organization’s capacity together in addition to supporting individuals’ professional development.
Designing your own professional development course isn’t easy. It requires research and instructional designing to ensure you not only provide the best information, but also present that information in an engaging way that encourages learning. With these three hallmarks for success, you should be well prepared to design the best course for your staff members.