Top Ten Best Practices for Continuing Education Certificate Programs

The fastest growing area in continuing education today is certificate programs – the ability to have cohort programs or a grouping of courses that when completed a student earns a certificate. With the increased need in the workplace for specialization and knowledge, certificate programs will play a prominent role in the future of continuing education, particularly for Generation Y who are demanding these types of programs and will become the leading purchasers of continuing education during the coming decade.

The Learning Resources Network (LERN) tracks the best practices and trends in continuing education and has done extensive research, analysis, and testing on certificate programs. The following are the latest industry best practices and trends continuing education programs should consider adopting for their certificate programs according to LERN.

  1. Create units or modules – Instead of weeks or chapters, create units or modules for your certificate program. The units should be based on job skills needed, and each unit includes the content, interaction (discussion with other students and the instructor), and assessment (usually a unit quiz) required to complete the certificate.
  2. Create a study guide – You may already have readings or a text, and also may require a test or exam be taken to award the certificate. Create a Study Guide with questions taken from the readings. The Study Guide has from two to four times as many questions as appears on the exam. The content (not necessarily the exact wording) of any exam question is covered by one or more of the questions in the Study Guide.
  3. Create an advisory board – The advisory board should consist of 5-10 people that will help you update the curriculum and certificate program. Initially the advisory board members can help you determine the required job skills and content. After the certificate has been offered for a year, you can also consider including past recipients of the certificate to be on your advisory board.
  4. Create a separate brochure – A separate brochure on the certificate program should be created and mailed to a select target audience.
  5. Choose your niche – Create and promote certificate programs that are broad enough to have a good audience, but narrow and specialized enough to be distinguished and different from the certificates being offered by your competition.
  6. Enhance Instructor Credentials – The credibility of your certificate program is dependent on the expertise of your instructors. You can assist your instructors in building their credentials for teaching by encouraging or assisting them to become published, obtain speaking engagements and do consulting. Then highlight those qualifications and expertise in your instructor biographies, which will give your certificate program a marketing edge.
  7. Budget for 50% operating margin – At a minimum, your certificate programs should have a 50% operating margin. Do not allow your costs to give you lower profitability.
  8. Have a sufficient research timeline – Do not skimp on researching the viability of the certificate program you plan to offer. The more time you spend in market research, the more successful and profitable you will be with a certificate program.
  9. Own the content – Pay for development and then have an agreement that the ownership of the certificate program belongs to your organization, not to an individual instructor or an outside organization.
  10. Develop a learner-friendly format – The length of the courses, the time needed to complete the certificate, the meeting times, and the mode of delivery (face-to-face, hybrid, online) should all be learner-friendly. Do not create an unnecessarily onerous workload for your participants in order to complete a certificate program.