The phrase “lifelong learning” has become so commonplace it’s nearly a cliche, but this popularity is for good reason. Lifelong learning enables professionals in all industries to improve their skills, learn new perspectives, and become more valuable and effective team members. Businesses and organizations that support professional development initiatives are better equipped to grow and thrive over time than those that remain stagnant.
This principle holds true for nonprofit organizations as well. Nonprofit HR professionals must facilitate opportunities for staff members to continue to grow and learn throughout their careers. Ultimately, a high-quality continuing education (CE) program will strengthen your nonprofit’s ability to pursue its mission.
However, creating an effective and engaging nonprofit CE program is easier said than done! Many of us have likely sat through monotonous training materials or waded through extensive, forest-killing printed packets—possibly with little new knowledge to show for the effort.
Modern digital courses are the solution to designing a CE curriculum that drives your mission forward and adequately captures the attention of each of your staff members.
At Skyepack, we specialize in designing educational experiences that meet the unique needs of all kinds of learners. To help you create an engaging CE program for your nonprofit, we’ve created a guide that covers the following:
- The importance of continuing education for nonprofits
- How to design a course that meets your employees’ unique needs
- Specific ideas for boosting engagement and learning
With a captivating course, your staff members are better able to process, retain, and implement new knowledge and skills to support your organization. However, to maximize the potential benefits of a CE program, you must cater to the needs of your specific organization. Let’s dive in and explore these ideas further.
Importance of Continuing Education for Nonprofits
First, we’ll explore the benefits of creating a CE program at both an organizational and individual level.
It’s possible your nonprofit has invested heavily in training and orientation for new team members, but not continuing professional development for current employees. Although the need for ongoing CE may be less urgent and obvious than the need for an onboarding program, it’s still vital to your sustainability as an organization.
Across staff onboarding, new board member orientation, and volunteer training programs, you already dedicate a significant amount of time and energy into bringing each new team member up to speed. By continuing to develop the capacity and ability of everyone at your organization, you maximize this initial investment.
On an individual level, a solid professional development program has the following advantages:
- Improve employee satisfaction and engagement. When you provide professional development and CE opportunities, you show employees you care about their growth as individuals. This will foster increased satisfaction and a higher level of engagement. Additionally, career development opportunities play a proven role in employee retention. Your staff is more likely to stick around when you’ve established your desire to help each individual succeed.
- Boost efficiency and work quality. Employees who are committed to learning and growing through CE are driven to implement these lessons into their everyday activities. Whether the program covers new tech tools and programs, industry best practices, or other information, the new knowledge will help them to work more effectively. This will boost productivity and work quality across the organization, leading to greater fundraising revenue and program success.
Finally, a thoughtful CE program also can help foster an atmosphere of growth and improvement across existing programs and internal processes. When team members are encouraged to improve themselves, they’ll feel more empowered to challenge the status quo when things aren’t working as efficiently as possible.
Designing a Course That Meets Employees’ Needs
Now that you understand the myriad benefits of creating a CE course for your nonprofit, you’re likely wondering how to do so in a way that meets the needs of both your employees and your organization as a whole.
At Skyepack, we follow a curriculum development process based on AGILE design principles. In traditional AGILE design, computer programmers iterate on a product to create designs that are each incrementally better than the last. This focus on continuous improvement that prioritizes the target audience has informed how we approach the design of our courses.
Our process follows a dedicated cycle of steps: analyze, research, design, curate, build, and launch. The first few steps of this process emphasize the needs of teachers and students to create a final course that meets everyone’s expectations and objectives. Even after the course is launched, the development process can be revisited and material can be refined as things change.
As you navigate through this process, consider the following questions:
- How can you make the course convenient to access? Look for a cloud-based platform that can be used via a computer or mobile device. If staff members can access material while on-the-go, they can more easily reference the course even after they’ve completed it.
- What material should the course cover? This will vary widely by organization, but you’ll want to take stock of any existing training sources you have on hand and assess where there are gaps. Look to new industry best practices or what peer organizations are doing to help inspire content areas to explore. Or, consider surveying staff members to see what topics they’d like to learn more about.
- Does the course need to align with any other internal systems? If you use a performance management system, you may want to track CE data as part of employee goal tracking.
Of course, these questions assume you’re starting from scratch in your continuing education efforts. However, if you already have a professional development program in place, it’s worth revisiting each component to make sure it’s still relevant and engaging.
4 Ideas to Create a Highly Engaging Course
1. Curate high-quality course content
The foundation of a successful e-learning experience isn’t the platform or the technology—it’s the content. To create the best curriculum possible, you want to leverage a variety of available content from your own programs and other reputable sources. For example, DonorSearch has a list of virtual training resources that you may be able to draw from.
Along with text-based content, look for multimedia material to engage learners further. These may include:
- Photos, infographics, or other images
- Audio clips
- Animations or gifs
With such a huge volume of content available online, it may be difficult to sift through the noise to find the most valuable resources. For both text and multimedia content, an instructional design team also can help you to curate the best available material for your program objectives.
2. Create interactive and dynamic experiences
When content is only delivered in a one-way format (even if it’s an exciting multimedia experience), course participants may lose focus or have difficulty processing large amounts of material.
To facilitate greater comprehension and deeper engagement with the material, incorporate interactive and dynamic content into your continuing education course.
These interactive elements may include:
- Quick comprehension questions
- Drag and drop activities
- Embedded quizzes
Manipulating content or answering questions will require course participants to activate different areas of their brains for enhanced learning outcomes.
3. Encourage employee feedback
One of the most effective ways to know whether your employees find your CE program enriching and entertaining is also the simplest—just ask them. When staff members complete the course, ask questions about which lessons and activities they found to be most and least helpful.
You also can analyze available metrics from your content delivery platform to see where staff members may be struggling or where there’s a lack of clarity.
Then, use this feedback and performance data to make continued improvements to your course.
4. Consider cutting-edge trends
Looking to the future, this list of instructional design trends highlights a few innovations that are worth keeping an eye on, including:
- New learning realities
While it may be difficult to immediately implement these advanced technologies, they’re worth exploring, especially as online learning continues to evolve.
With an engaging continuing education curriculum in place, your staff will have the infrastructure they need to improve their skills and make an even bigger impact. To get started, be sure to fully analyze the needs of your program, staff, and organization. Then you’ll be on your way to curating content that fits those needs. Good luck!
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.