As an industry, the professional association sphere is growing as more and more workers turn to these groups to advance their careers. Between 2014 and 2019, the industry grew an average of 4.5%1, and it’s likely we’ll see this number continue to increase as more professionals seek development and networking opportunities.
Your role as an association professional is to help members grow in their careers, connect with other successful peers in their field, and learn new skills. One key way to achieve these goals is by offering education and development resources to your members.
As the digital education e-learning landscape continues to evolve2, it’s important to develop courses that are dynamic, interactive, and customized to the needs of your unique industry and members. By offering high-quality professional development courses, you’ll engage your current (and prospective) members and advance the interests of your organization as a whole.
At Skyepack, we specialize in developing and delivering engaging digital course materials for associations, corporate training programs, and higher education institutions3. We’ve seen firsthand the many advantages that a robust professional development program can bring to an organization. Among innumerable other benefits, a professional development course will:
- Provide valuable content to members.
- Increase member retention.
- Create a stream of non-dues revenue.
- Add useful material to virtual conferences and events.
- Adapt to changing circumstances and best practices.
As you design and launch your professional development course, just be sure to take into account the interests, past experiences, and educational background of your members. To do this effectively, it can be helpful to partner with a professional course design service that specializes in learner-centered course development.
With the right course topic and content, a professional development course can help your association and its members to thrive and grow in the following ways. Let’s get started.
1. Provide valuable content to members.
All of your association’s programming and initiatives are driven by the need to provide value to members. Even in a situation where you are unable to hold in-person events, training, and engagement opportunities due to COVID-19, you must continue to prove the merits of your organization.
Professional development courses are a key way to establish your association as an invaluable resource for your members’ careers.
Depending on the nature of the program, members may be able to take the following benefits from your professional development course:
- Industry insider knowledge. Your course should include relevant and useful information from proven industry experts.
- Tangible skills. Some courses may teach members how to use a new software solution or explore another technical skill.
- Continuing education credits. Many employers require the regular completion of continuing education (CE) credits.
- Industry certifications. In some fields, your members will need to maintain professional certification4 or licensure on a bi-annual basis.
To offer all of these benefits, your course may need to become approved by the relevant industry board or governing body. If you partner with a course development service, make sure they can assist with acquiring continuing education credentials or certification accreditation.
2. Increase member retention.
Member retention rate is a critical marker of success for your organization. A high retention rate promotes long-term stability for your organization. Across sectors, the cost of attracting a new customer is thought to be around 5x higher5 than retaining a current one, and this also applies to the association space. While new member recruitment is important, it’s more sustainable (and more cost-effective) to strengthen relationships with the members you already have.
To ensure renewals continue year after year, you need to constantly create new opportunities for members. Providing value is an ongoing process, not a one-and-done activity.
Strong professional development courses are a rewarding way to engage members6 and ultimately increase your retention rate. Since you can continue to launch new courses and improve on existing offerings over time, they’re an effective strategy for emphasizing the continued value of your association.
Consider launching your latest courses during your annual push for membership renewal. This will ensure anyone on the fence about continuing their membership has your newest and most engaging offerings at front of mind.
3. Create a stream of non-dues revenue.
One of your largest funding streams as an association is dues from your members. However, it shouldn’t be your only source.
To continue running your organization year after year and to become less vulnerable to economic shifts, it’s wise to develop multiple sources of revenue7. By diversifying your funding streams, you’ll be more resilient in the face of crisis and able to push forward if membership rates suddenly drop.
By selling access to high-quality digital course materials8, you can turn your professional development offerings into a profitable investment.
To make the most of this strategy, make sure you’re choosing in-demand course topics that your members will be willing to invest in. If possible, base this decision based on participation data from past e-learning courses or on feedback from members. Prioritizing the needs and desires of your members throughout the course development process will help improve the likelihood that they will purchase and engage with your course.
4. Add useful material to virtual conferences and events.
This year, many in-person conferences and training opportunities have pivoted to virtual settings9.
When offered alongside a virtual event, online course material can cover relevant topics in greater depth, provide additional context, and enhance the overall learning experience.
Consider the following ways in which your professional development course can support a virtual event:
- Companion materials for synchronous sessions. An online course can provide additional information that is meant to be paired with live training, keynotes, or other educational sessions.
- Follow-up content for continued engagement. Once the session or entire conference is over, a professional development course tailored to the conference can encourage attendees to revisit the content for improved knowledge retention.
- Information for members who are unable to attend live. Your course can also provide an asynchronous version of the live conference or event material for interested members who had a conflict during the original time.
Pairing your virtual conference10 with a digital course can help to enhance the conference experience for existing attendees as well as expand access to even more participants.
5. Adapt to changing circumstances and best practices.
Finally, a well-established professional development program positions your association to adapt and change as needs arise.
To demonstrate why this is important, consider the rapid change in work environments caused by COVID-19. If your association already had a framework in place for developing and delivering educational content online, you were better prepared to launch content that equipped members with the skills they need to succeed in the remote workplace.
Additionally, the most effective courses are those that can evolve and improve over time. With an iterative curriculum development process11, you continue to revisit and refine your course’s content and structure. This way, as your members’ needs change or new industry best practices come forward, you’ll be able to integrate these shifts into an even stronger course.
In conclusion, well-designed professional development courses are invaluable assets to your association and its members. In order to leverage this resource effectively, be sure to design your course through a process that prioritizes your members.
About the Author:
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).