Online continuing education courses have gained in popularity among licensed professionals in recent years mostly because of their affordability and convenience. There are literally hundreds of thousands of state licensed professionals across the country who are required to complete continuing professional education in order to renew their licenses. This creates an equally huge market for authors of continuing education course material.
In an earlier article, Become a Continuing Education Author and Earn Mailbox Money!, I described the benefits to licensed professionals, such as architects, engineers, land surveyors, interior designers and landscape architects, in sharing their expertise and experience with others by becoming an author of continuing education courses. In this article I will explain in more detail just how to go about doing it.
First, select a topic in which you are both interested and experienced. It is much easier to write about something that interests you and you have experience with than something outside your interest and experience. Be careful to choose a topic that is neither too broad nor too specific. Your course must be broad enough to appeal to a wide audience, but specific enough to provide useful information.
For instance, if you are an architect who specializes in retail interiors in shopping malls you probably have a lot of experience dealing with the property management’s Tennant Coordinator who reviews and approves your designs. A course that covers the general process of complying with the landlord’s technical and submittal requirements, sprinkled with real-world examples of common pitfalls and solutions could be of great interest to other architects and interior designers who also work on projects in shopping malls.
Once you have a topic in mind prepare a brief outline of the issues you want to talk about. This doesn’t have to be a formal outline, just enough to get your basic ideas on paper. You can then begin to expand upon each item.
At this point you should consider writing what are known as “Learning Objectives.” Learning Objectives are basically what the student can expect to learn by taking the course. Nearly every state licensing board requires that Learning Objectives be clearly and concisely spelled out at the beginning of a continuing education course. There should be at least three Learning Objectives for each credit hour of the course. So a one-hour course should have at least three, and a three-hour course should have at least nine. Learning Objectives should be no more than one or two sentences in length.
With your basic outline and Learning Objectives in hand you can now begin to break up major headings into subheadings and further expand upon those. Your outline and course should flow naturally and logically from the broader topic to the more detailed specifics and examples.
You should consider including pictures, drawings, diagrams or charts as visual aids to help explain your points. Asking a student to read one paragraph of text after another, page after page, without graphic aids to reinforce and break up the text is not a good idea. Use only non-copyrighted graphics and never plagiarize someone else’s work. You should also use major and minor headings in your text and pleasing combinations of bold and italicized text to further break up and reinforce the concepts you are explaining. And be sure to proof read your course for spelling and syntax errors before submission.
The last step in creating your course is to prepare a test. Tests should be in the form of True/False and multiple-choice questions. Both types may be used, however, True/False questions should not make up more than 50% of the questions. Multiple-choice questions should contain no fewer than three and no more than six choices. The test questions can be either part of the course document or a separate document. You will also be required to provide the course provider company you are submitting to with a copy of the test with the correct answers highlighted in some fashion.
The number of test questions required will depend upon the credit hour length of the course. A one-hour course should contain no fewer than ten test questions. Each additional hour should contain at least five additional questions. So a two-hour course should contain no fewer than 15 test questions.
Continuing education courses are generally assigned credit according to the length of time an average student can read and understand the material and take the accompanying test. The universally accepted units are the “PDH”, or Professional Development Hour, and the “CEU”, or Continuing Education Unit. One PDH equals one hour of professional development. One CEU is equivalent to ten professional development hours. So if your course takes an average student two hours to read and comprehend and take the test it should be rated as worth two PDH or 0.2 CEU.
You are free to include at the end of your course a list of references for further study and a bibliography. Be sure to give appropriate citations to any quotations used from other sources. You should also be prepared to submit a short biography of yourself along with your first course.
Each course provider company has their own submission requirements and pay scales. Generally speaking, you can expect to either be paid outright for the copyright to your course, or to receive a commission of around 20% of the sales of your course for some period of time. Again generally speaking, the shelf life of a continuing education course is three years. After that period of time many providers will require that you update the course and possibly sign a new contract to extend your commission for another period.
There are a variety of online continuing education course providers easily found through an Internet search. Each serves certain target professions, such as architects and engineers, or mechanical and electrical contractors. Find the ones who serve your profession and contact them. You will want to be familiar with their writing guidelines, commission rates, contracts and submission requirements before you attempt to prepare a course for them. They may also have course topic suggestions and even restrictions. Most providers will not accept a course on a specific topic for which they already have a course. So check it out before you invest your time and energy.