There are two professional development centers at my college. I have been trying to convince them both for several years to offer custom online learning. The time has finally come and one project is now complete. This post will detail my experience in making it a reality.

My thinking about custom online professional development began about 7 years ago. Though many professional development centers on college campuses do offer online programming, the programming is usually pre-packaged and offered through an external system such as Ed2Go. It is not custom, it is not personalized, and it doesn’t do a good job of showcasing the wealth of expertise that only college campuses possess. This last point just kills me. Professional development centers are extensions of the college and of the college brand. No programming should be pre-packaged, nor should it be found on another campus or through another organization.

When we discuss professional development on a college campus we are really discussing centers that offer professional development to the outside world. Sometimes this looks like executive education or it could look more like community education. Most professional development centers offer programs that run all-day or that take place in-person over many weeks. The price they pay an individual to conduct such training is significant because the time spent conducting the sessions is significant. Once an organization makes a switch to online, that time is no longer required of the moderator and of the participants. The cost to participate in such programming goes down, and the likelihood that participants sign-up increases (especially those who couldn’t attend a full day session).

Another reality is that the directors of these centers for professional development usually lack the expertise needed for all that is involved in online programming. This is why many of them turn towards already developed solutions. There really isn’t a standard way to create custom online programming. What do the contracts look like? Do you hire individuals to create courses and to also moderate them? What about after the course is already developed-do you continue to pay individuals a royalty fee? These are the kinds of questions that have plagued online learning and Higher Education for years. Usually, colleges are dealing with salaried tenured faculty members. Professional development centers may be dealing with contractors as well as tenured faculty members. They have to create the right kind of situation for all audiences. Obviously, it has to be equal and fair.

Online professional development is not well developed yet for higher ed. After discussing the idea with several colleges in and out of my area, I realize that most of them are operating in the ways I have mentioned above. It is time for a market shift. The great news is that the cost and time-involved in making the leap is pretty cheap… like dirt cheap. The solution can’t be found in higher ed, however. Professional development centers need to take their cues from other industries.

Have you noticed that there are many bloggers out there offering online courses now? They are mainly showing other bloggers how to turn a profit. This profit earning strategy is interesting and something to take note of. These bloggers are a brand themselves and they are using online learning to sell their knowledge. Sounds familiar, right?

The tools they are using are pretty low cost. Hosting and domain = $200/year. WordPress = free. A learning management system plug-in for WordPress = $150. PayPal = free. Online learning for $350. If they are reputable, they could turn that cost over with just a few enrollments.

So what is the formula professional development centers could be using to offer custom, college-branded programming that showcases the unique talent and expertise on their campus? Below is the strategy I am collaborating with my center for professional development on.

  1. All instructors are paid to develop self-paced courses with no royalty fees. In the near future, we will only be offering self-paced online programming. Should there be any courses that require a synchronous component, such as a webinar, or instructors to review content and meet with participants, they will be compensated separately for that time. This is a strategy that will work for both tenured faculty and contractors.
  2. We are using a combination of products to get the job done. a) The CPD Web site is built on WordPress. b) The main product we are using is called LearnDash ($150), a robust learning management system plug-in for WordPress. I love working with it so much, my office will be offering self-paced professional development to the campus using the plug-in this coming semester. c) PayPal (cost per transaction – fight for the NFP percentage!) for turnkey payments. d) Uncanny Owl LearnDash Toolkit (free version, for now). The plug-in adds much-needed features to the self-hosted CPD site. My only hiccup so far has been getting this plug-in to operate on my office’s blog/site, which is multi-user WordPress. I submitted a ticket today to find out if this is the issue. e) BadgeOS with Credly (both free) integration for digital badge distribution. The LearnDash plug-in has a digital certificate feature that works really well. This digital badge functionality offers another form of credit.

So far, I have been building our first/demo course in the system. Looking good so far!

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