Professional development – The case for short courses

The value of continuing professional development can never be overstated, hence the plethora of research, resources, blogs, courses, etc. that one can find. For the most part, the onus is (or should be) on schools and educational institutions to provide teachers with opportunities to progress and learn. This may take the form of observations (assessed, peer, blind, etc.), mentoring, team teaching and planning, etc. Some larger institutions (e.g. the British Council and International House) are even able to subsidise their teachers’ courses fees, should they wish to undertake internal or external courses. This being said, this is not always the case for all teachers in all teaching contexts. As such, some teachers may wish to undertake their own professional development outside of their workplace.

Why devote extra time outside of work to development? I assume that as you are reading this blog you are interested in and understand the value of development. It is far too easy for teachers to stay in their comfort zone, perhaps becoming complacent and even stagnating. These are but a few of the reasons why taking on short courses can be a good thing. Furthermore, self-driven professional development has the added advantage of career progression – employers value the fact that teachers have taken the initiative to further themselves in some fashion.

In this post, I will be talking about some of the options available to teachers with regard to short courses, covering details about why they are a good option and where you can find them.

Why take online short courses?

Now, I think I need to clarify here what I mean by short courses. Delta is, in my mind, not a short course. Neither is an MA in TESOL or DipTESOL, etc. Rather, the short courses that I am referring to are courses run by online training institutions that have a duration of around 2 – 6 weeks. So, why enrol in these courses? Below I’ve listed just a few reasons:

  1. Time – Most teachers don’t have loads and loads of time to devote to the more heavy courses such as Delta. However, most of the online short courses are self-paced (to a degree) and can be completed in a relatively achievable and manageable timeframe.
  2. Community of practice – A number of the short courses that I have taken have included a community element. By that I mean that you are expected to say hello to people, comment on other teachers’ work, contribute to forums, etc. Thus, short courses allow you to network with and learn from other likeminded teachers.
  3. Certificates – Most, if not all, reputable short course providers will award completion certificates. You may not necessarily be able to use the certificates with regard university credits, etc., however you will be able to show these certificates online (e.g. LinkedIn) and presenting them alongside your CV to any potential employer will no doubt benefit your job application.
  4. Choice – Perhaps one of the best things about short courses is the fact that you can choose whatever you like. There are loads of courses out there and you can choose something that is relevant to your current teaching situation or, alternatively, you could choose one that is likely to benefit your career in the future.
  5. Money – So let’s get one thing straight – it is highly unlikely that by working in ELT you are going to become the next Jeff Bezos. Salaries and wages simply don’t work that way in this industry. And taking on the bigger, more illustrious courses will set you back a pretty penny. An excellent selling point for the majority of short courses is that they are free! Some offer you the possibility of completing the course and then if you would like a certificate, you need to pay. Some give the certificate with no financial commitment. Some give you a digital certificate, but if you would like something more formal, you need to pay a small fee. It all depends on the provider, however one thing is certain – you generally get good value for money. Not only are you not paying anything (or paying something small), but the potential monetary returns career-wise should be motivation enough to start enrolling.
  6. Versatility and ease of studying – Distance learning allows you the freedom to study anywhere at anytime. Many providers use Moodle or other learner management systems (LMS), and these more often than not have apps for your phone, can be accessed remotely through their websites, or you can have a permanent programme set up on your desktop/laptop.
  7. Autonomy and motivation – If you are like me, you tend to encourage your learners to be autonomous (as much as they can) and you ensure that they are as motivated as possible. Taking on an online short course can really test your own levels of autonomy and motivation. If you struggle with time commitments, studying, etc., taking on a shorter short course could be a stepping stone to building up your motivation to take on longer short courses.
  8. Empowerment and confidence – I’m not talking about taking control over your school or conquering the industry. No, I’m talking about your confidence as a teacher in the class, as a peer amongst professionals, and as a person who is aware of their level of self-efficacy. Again, short courses are good bang for your buck!

Where to find short courses?

Finding good short courses can be difficult. With this in mind, I have grouped together a number of the providers that I have experience with and a number that I have not had experience with but have heard good things about.

Trinity – Excellence in Education

Trinity offer various short courses through their Moodle platform Excellence in Education. I have had the pleasure of completing two of their courses and I was pleasantly surprised at not only the quality of the content and instruction (James and Richard are both excellent trainers and it was great to work with them) but also the level of commitment and contributions by all those that took part (the amount of content created by everyone was phenomenal). Some other reasons Trinity is a good choice:

  • The courses I took were both very teaching focused – loads of ideas as well as sufficient theory to ensure everyone had a knowledge of why certain tasks, activities, etc. were being put in focus. There were loads of other courses that I could chosen from as well, from Trinity exam courses, to reading skills and more.
  • All of this was done with constant feedback and monitoring from the trainers – this must have been a whole lot of work as there were, from memory, between 30 – 50 teachers on each course.
  • The platform itself was very easy to use and I had no issues. Moodle is amazing!
  • At the end of the courses I received a certificate of completion with detailed information about what each of the courses covered (great to show to employers).
  • Time commitment was around 4 -5 hours a week for about 3 – 6 weeks. Certainly doable even when working a full timetable.
  • Completely free

Future Learn

Future Learn is a private company owned jointly by the Open University and the SEEK group. On this site you will find a plentitude of short courses from a range of industries (everything from Robotics to ELT). With regard to ELT specifically, there are loads of short courses (at the time of this post, there were 30 just under the search term: English Language Teaching). What is interesting to note is that many of the big names in ELT – British Council, Cambridge University Press, etc. – hold their short courses here. I am currently enrolled on a course that covers English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) – something that is not that relevant to my current teaching situation, however interesting nonetheless. Here are some reasons as to why you might choose to take on a short course with Future Learn:

  • The range of courses available is incredible. As previously mentioned, there are loads of ELT and non-ELT courses. For those looking to move into management or those who might be interested in research, you will find loads of relevant courses here as well.
  • All the courses on Future Learn are from highly respected sources (In fact, if you go to the partners page you can see that all of them are either high-ranking universities or well-known organisations), and as such the quality of the content is very high.
  • The content in the course that I am currently taking is all relevant, easy to digest and, importantly, up to date. It is presented in manageable chunks through videos and short articles.
  • Once enrolled on the course, you can complete it whenever you like (within the time frame of the course). Some of the courses are open for a period 2 – 3 months, so plenty of time.
  • There is a ‘community’ for each course, however with so many people enrolled on the courses it’s hard to see how the community could be as ‘close’ as Trinity’s Excellence in Education. That being said, there are plenty of opportunities to respond to questions, state opinions and communicate with others.

Now, all of the courses are free to complete. However, if you want a certificate to say that you have completed the course, then you need to pay. For one course, it is usually €49 – this may sounds step, however, like I said, the quality of the content and the providers is very high. And it’s still cheaper than other development courses. There is also the option to pay €239 and you get complete access to as many courses as you want for a year (this includes certificates).

I am very happy with my experience thus far with Future Learn, and I believe that should you give them a try, you will probable say the same.

Open Learn

Open Learn is another site like Future Learn. Interestingly enough, it is also owned and operated by the Open University. It operates in the same fashion, however all of the courses are free and you can get a certificate of completion without paying (from what I understood!). Take a look at the range of courses that they have here.

I completed the short course titled Language as a medium for teaching and learning, which was a five-hour course. The platform was clear, although not as well done as Future Learn (it seemed a less ‘smooth’). I did receive a certificate of completion, which included what was covered in the course.

I would need to do more courses on this site to give a better review of it, however from the short time that I was using it I can say that I was impressed by the range of courses, the content and how easy it was to enrol.

Cambridge English Professional Development

The Cambridge English PD courses get a mention here not because I have done them (or have heard of any teacher doing them), but because I am aware that they exist and am sure that the quality of the courses is very high. Through their LMS, teachers can purchase short courses (from 5-hour to 20-hour) in which content about Cambridge exams, systems and skills, etc. are taught. If you have undertaken one of these course, I would really love to hear your opinion of how they are run, the quality of the content, etc. – please get in touch!

International House

International House gets a mention here as I did some training (Delta Module 3) with them. They have loads of other courses available, however they are generally quite expensive (in my mind). This being said, their courses are always very well run and the guidance you receive is excellent. If you would like to have a look at their options, have a look here.

Ready, set go!

Hopefully you’ve got a clearer idea of why short courses are beneficial to you as a teacher, and where you can find them. If you have the time, why not give one a try? If you do and would like to share your experience, feel free to get in touch. Also, if you know of any other platforms/sites where good short courses are held, please let me know so I can update this post!



  1. Sandy Millin says:

    Hi Jim,
    Another good provider of short courses is iTDi. They also have forums where teachers can interact with other professionals.
    Thanks for including the IH short courses on the list. You mentioned that IH can subsidise course fees, but that depends to some extent on which IH a teacher is working for, as every school is different. Having said that, IH teachers do get a reduction on the courses you mentioned above, sometimes up to half price.


  2. Amrit says:

    I really appreciate the work you have done, you explained everything in such an amazing and simple way.


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