The challenge to creating an online continuing education program is
how to move education content in a way that provides the best
possible learning experience for the student, and the easiest all
around management experience for the organization providing the
They may be doing work-related research, updating their LinkedIn
profiles, or catching up with the kids on Facebook, but adult
professionals are online. They are lawyers, doctors, bankers,
social workers, and engineers. Many are required to earn a
designated number of continuing education (CE) credits each year.
Some must stay current on regulations and best practices in their
fields. Some are encouraged by employers to expand skills. All are
very pressed for time.
These are the adult learners who gravitate toward online courses
and their numbers are considerable. It only makes sense. Online
education is much more convenient and it saves time and money. It
also helps professionals, whose work schedules would not
accommodate travel to an in-person classroom, earn the continuing
education and the credits they need.
So what is the biggest challenge when it comes to creating an
online CE program? The challenge is not finding enough students to
fill the online classes; it is bringing educational content online
in a way that provides the best possible learning experience for
the student, and the easiest all around management experience for
the organization providing the content. Why is this a challenge?
Because bringing CE online requires technology and technical
expertise that is rarely available within the organizations, often
professional associations, that create and present educational
What are professionals seeking?
First and foremost, professionals are looking for the courses they
need to maintain licenses, professional certification, and an edge
in their careers. Professionals are also hoping to spend less time
looking for the courses they need and more time participating in
them. This means that finding the right CE courses should not be a
complicated or time-consuming scavenger hunt. A good online catalog
should be organized in a way that makes it very easy for
participants to find, read about and register for courses or
Once they have committed to an online program, participants expect
easy access and a seamless, pleasant experience, whether the
program takes the form of a live webcast, on-demand webinar, or
podcast. This may sound like a simple request, but the technology
needed to deliver quality, uninterrupted online programming is
anything but simple. This shouldnt scare an organization away from
bringing courses online. The technology is out there, but
participants dont want to see it. They dont care whats under the
hood. They want to get in, drive, and arrive at their destination
without incident. When bringing programs online, the CE providers
most important job is to make sure that the right technology is
driving the program, but that it is invisible to the people taking
How do you know its time to move online?
Its tempting to say that every provider of continuing professional
education should move online. And the fact is, there are very good
reasons for many, even most, to do so. But what signs should an
organization look for from its CE market and potential
participants, or members, in the case of associations?
In some cases, the process needs to begin with the governing body
that regulates the particular industrys continuing education
credits. If CE participants in that industry are not yet allowed to
earn credit online, they may need to wait until the industry
catches up with the current trend. This scenario is rare. Most
industries allow at least a percentage of credits to be earned
online, and many industries (the legal industry, for example) are
allowing more and more credits to be earned online or as a remote
participant, in the case of webcasts of live events.
If an organizations members and customers are professionals who
require ongoing education or training in order to keep their jobs,
there is a very good chance that they will respond well to an
online CE program. Organizations currently providing continuing
education via in-person events can begin the move online by
webcasting those events.
Another question often considered during the decision-making
process: Does the organization have, or have the ability to obtain,
sufficient course material to populate a reasonably robust online
catalog? This material can take the form of courses that can be
turned into webinars (with slides and audio), telephone seminars,
podcasts (they could be written documents that can be recorded and
offered online) or live events that can be captured (digital video)
and broadcast in real-time and later in on-demand formats. It is
important to note that there are a variety of very reputable
content providers in the continuing professional education space.
These providers create courses based on the latest practices in the
fields that they operate in and use top subject matter experts as
presenters. These courses are available, at varying prices, to help
organizations build a catalog.
Assemble the online CE puzzleone piece at a time
As the Red Queen told Alice, Start at the beginning, go through to
the end, and then stop. The first step in bringing CE online is to
identify all the moving parts. Once they have been identified,
finding the solution or combination of solutions to handle the
various components of online CE becomes easier. Lets break the
moving parts into 10 categories:
Each of these represents a critical part of the online CE process.
Remove one from the online CE equation and there will be a hole in
the CE providers ability to provide the optimal online experience,
deliver the end result that participants seek or manage continuing
education programming in the way required by the governing bodies.
Content. Like any offline educational program, the
best online programs begin with great content. If the program
content is not accurate, relevant, well-organized, and
well-presented the rest wont matter. Also, keep in mind that if the
content provided is accredited contentrequired for licensure or
certificationit requires special consideration when implementing
the technology part of the equation, because interaction with the
content needs to be tracked closely if your participant expects to
be certified at the end of the program (think: evaluate).
Production. Quite often, online programs start as
live events that are captured on video, distributed to remote
audiences in webcast format and, transformed into on-demand
webcasts. Other courses are created specifically as webinars or
podcasts. But no matter the format, high-quality production is a
must for online CE. The production quality must be so good that you
dont notice ityou only see the program.
Catalog. A well-organized online catalog provides
an easy way for participants to learn about online offerings. CE
providers should make sure their course catalog is an integral part
of their website and that it is easy for participants to find and
read about courses of interest.
Process. The registration and buying process is an
important part of the overall online CE experience. If selling
online courses, as most associations do, participants need an easy,
efficient, and secure way to register and pay for the online
transactions. Shopping online is not new to online CE participants
and large online retailers have set the bar fairly high for a
shopping cart experience.
Notification. With online CE, notification comes
in different colors. Seemingly simple notifications, like purchase
confirmations, course access information, and event reminders are
critical to participants. Other types of notification that may not
be crucial, but are very helpful to users and help CE providers get
the word out, are things like opt-in systems that allow
participants to sign up to proactively receive information about
Delivery. Online CE program delivery requires
sophisticated infrastructure, including Internet technologies for
delivering courses to participants. It is important to use a
distributed content delivery network, one that is designed to
shorten access time and latency. Redundancy is also an important
consideration as the technical requirements for the online program
are laid outno one would want their service interrupted during
Without getting into the technical underpinnings of networks, lets
just say that this is an area where top notch technical advice is
required. Another key component for consideration should be media
conversion. This is where live events and other programs are
transformed into online forms. For participants to have a
satisfying online experience, high- quality conversion is a must.
Evaluation. Although I believe that evaluation is
an important part of any professional continuing education program,
it is especially important when dealing with accredited content.
Use a technology that allows for the tracking of a participants
progress throughout the course (time spent with the material and
indication of where they left off) as well as post-program testing.
Certification. When it comes to certification,
think in terms of time-tracking, polling, and codes embedded in the
course material. The CE provider, or the licensing or certifying
body, will determine the criteria to be met. Once thats determined,
the next step is to ensure that there is an ability to prove that
the participant has in fact completed the course in a satisfactory
Reports. Successfully managing an online
continuing education program requires a variety of input. The right
type of reporting mechanism will save time, money and have a
positive effect on the program. At the very least, there should be
a method in place to track attendance and program performance as
well as test results and certificates awarded. Internally, the
organization needs to determine what information they need to keep
their program running smoothly and shoot for an automated way to
get that information.
Online CE is becoming a necessity
Ten years ago, the argument could have been made that online CE was
a luxury. But that is no longer the case. Professionals in every
industry are wired and more pressed for time than ever before. They
are also required to be more knowledgeable and more current in that
knowledge than ever before. They are performing more and more
tasks, work-related and personal, online. They have the technology
and the expectation of greater convenience based on their
experience with the Internet, and if providers of professional
continuing education want to meet their needs, they must meet them
Online CE requires a shift in thinking, connecting with the right
expertise and top-notch technical infrastructure, but thousands of
organizations, most without in-house technical expertise, have
successfully brought their CE programs online. Any organization can
do the same.