Professional development. We all know we should do it, but in the busy world that we live and work in, it's often difficult to find time to devote to growing our knowledge and skills. That's way I'm so delighted to be involved in ARMA's professional qualifications, along with Lucidity associates, The Partnership Lab. We've welcomed more than 50 staff from research offices across the UK onto the qualifications this week. And that's why we thought we'd share some ideas about what makes professional development work.
There are different types of professional development. You can get a mentor, to help with specific aspects of your role or more general professional and personal skills. You can attend workshops, webinars or other training events, to learn about different areas of knowledge. You can learn on the job, shadowing colleagues in a variety of roles. And you can join networks, to learn informally with and from your peers. The ARMA qualifications bring together all these elements of professional development, creating a great opportunity for participants.
And being involved in the design and implementation of a refreshed qualifications offer has led us to identify our five top tips for successful professional development.
The starting point for any type of professional development should be relevance. The times they are a-changing, so your overall topics and the detailed content should take these changes into account. For the ARMA qualifications, last updated three years ago, this meant going back to basics. Were the units covering the right areas for the profession today - and into the near future? Could the approach to assessment change to embrace different technologies? And was the way ARMA was supporting students still appropriate? These questions can be applied to any offering - in any sector - so make it a regular part of your relevance testing.
If the first step is getting the content right, the next step should always be context. Your content will be meaningless unless you can demonstrate how it is put into practice within your profession. For ARMA, we involved expert practitioners in the review of content, and then engaged them to help deliver the programme. This meant that they could find the right examples to illustrate the ideas, and talk convincingly about their own experiences. For your professional development, take time to identify who can provide the right context.
Whatever type of programme you're offering, you'll need to take into account that your students are likely to have multiple demands on their time. There's work, of course. But they might also have second jobs, or caring responsibilities, or hobbies that they're passionate about. Flexibility is a key element of any professional development. For ARMA, this meant developing two different options. One is offered through an online route, with regular webinars to deliver the content. The other encourages students to attend workshops, so that they can meet their cohort in person. There are other ways to build flexibility, but these different pathways mean that people can find space amongst their other commitments for their professional development.
Now you have your programme in place, you need to make sure that the people using it understand what they need to do. Clarifying expectations is essential. Juggling professional development with other commitments can be stressful, so being as clear as you can with information about your programme will help to allay any worries and stress. For ARMA, we delivered induction webinars for all students, setting out in detail what they had to do, and when they had to do it. This also gave space for clarifying questions. We recorded the induction, meaning that people can refer back to it. And we shared key information online. Think through how you're going to share the key bits of information with your cohorts, and test it out to make sure it really is clear.
ARMA's two pathways provide one way to tailor the support to the needs of our students. We've also worked with the organisation to provide a whole host of online resources, from handbooks, to links, to FAQs. These resources will build as the courses develop into a library of content for the students to access in their own time. Other support includes online discussion fora and regular video calls. However, the most important support isn't provided by the association. Because these are work-based self-led programmes, students are supported by a professional mentor within their own organisation, who understand the context and can provide much more relevant guidance on how their learning shapes up. And they can learn from their peers, wherever they find them. The key message? Think as broadly as you can about support for professional development, and make use of different resources, wherever they're found.
These are by no means the only ways to approach professional development, but we think we've come up with a programme that will work for the new ARMA students. And we'll continue to tweak our approach as we progress. Putting all that together should mean a successful outcome - and one that supports the growth of the profession.