You offer an online course and award certificates but they don’t really carry any weight until your program is accredited.
Certificates are great in online courses – and let me clear the air on one thing: you don’t need industry accreditation in order to offer them. People will still be happy to earn them and even print them off.
But what if you do want the certificate to mean something more?
Well, you have a couple options.
Before jumping into it, I must admit that my knowledge on the subject is only pertinent to how things work in the U.S., so it’s likely there will be some slight differences if you live in another country (though the differences are probably minor).
Paths to Accreditation
When it comes to accreditation there are generally two ways you can go. You can choose the university route or the accredited professional development route. This can get confusing though since a professional development route can be offered by a university. But for simplicity, think of these as separate.
In the U.S. if you want a course to carry weight it has to be tied to a profession, and that profession often has sanctioning bodies. These are the folks that determine the number of approved CEUs (continuing education units) that a course is ‘worth’ towards maintaining a professional certification. This is relevant across many industries, like real estate, healthcare, finance, etc.
These are broad accrediting bodies, but you can also go directly to the source. For instance, the Association for Training & Development offers accredited online courses for instructional design / e-learning development. You could talk with these industry specific organizations to see what kind of criteria they have in place, and if you can eventually position your course to be recognized for some continuing education credits.
Partnering with universities is a bit different, however it’s not “one or the other”.
You could, for example, get accredited by the IACET (link above) and then use that to get your foot in the door with universities.
That said, something to consider when attempting to get a university recognize your course is that they are the ones in control. You will be subject to their market perception. It won’t be seen as very impressive if your course is recognized by a small, unrecognizable institution.
Also, the university route in the U.S. comes with a lot of red tape. In the U.S., legitimate online degree programs are accredited by agencies recognized by either the Department of Education or the nonprofit Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). So yeah… government stuff.
Gaining accreditation for your online course isn’t always necessary, but could help to increase your visibility and overall value if it does become accredited. Given how easy it is for anyone to create an onlien course, this is a perfect way to differentiate from your competition – not to mention add a premium price to your offering.