Need Professional Development, But Have No Money?

Shantell Strickland-Davis and Karen Merriman
Innovation Showcase

Meeting the demand for quality professional development programming in times of constrained resources created an opportunity for innovative and creative thinking at Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) in Charlotte, North Carolina. Over 1,200 full-time employees at CPCC are required to complete 20 hours of professional development credit annually, and all full- and part-time employees—more than 1,800—must complete a series of three required annual trainings, thus creating a demand for over 60,000 hours of professional development opportunities annually.

This demand occurs at a time of diminishing departmental and campus funding for travel, guest speakers, and external conference attendance, and when new federal, state, and local mandates put the college at risk if employees are noncompliant with required educational programming. Increasingly, it is becoming more complicated to schedule time away from work stations to attend professional development offerings. Access to quality online professional development opportunities for employees would address this problem. However, the development of quality online programming requires time and credentialed professionals.

Creativity and innovation came to the rescue at CPCC in the form of the Professional Development Instructional Design (PD/ID) Internship Program. This program addresses the continuous needs of employees and the college by producing high quality, interactive, 24/7 online learning for faculty and staff, and provides graduate students with real-world instructional design and development experience.

Creativity Meets Reality

The time and effort to develop a self-paced, one-hour, high-quality, online learning opportunity is approximately 75 to 100 hours. To stay ahead of departmental requests and college initiatives, and to ensure that professional development proactively responds to employee learning needs, CPCC would have needed to hire three to five additional full-time designers and developers.

The PD/ID Internship Program applies the concept of a traditional internship model, but in this case, the internship is unpaid and not affiliated with a credit-bearing course. Potential interns apply to the program, which is posted on a variety of websites and social media outlets. The PD/ID Internship Program provides an ongoing pipeline of future employees for instructional design and developer positions, and boosts the college’s perspective on the growing trends in innovative teaching techniques, interactive technologies, and learning options. The program design and implementation incorporates CPCC’s values of inclusiveness, responsiveness, excellence, and responsibility.

The program creates a work environment that fosters learning; delivers quality processes, services, and learning experiences; encourages faculty and staff to enhance their skills and knowledge; and creates a positive environment that expands opportunities and experiences for all members of our community.

PD/ID Interns are provided with an opportunity to work on a dynamic instructional design and development project with college stakeholders, and experience new tools, techniques, and strategies. Interns are provided with support and mentorship for instructional design, continuous feedback on their work and submissions, collaboration opportunities, a LMS resource course, e-learning authoring tools and media, evaluation support, and a CPCC email address for communication. This program benefits interns by:

  • Offering them real career experience in an organizational setting.
  • Allowing them to develop skills of working independently, and with a team.
  • Providing new learning opportunities for them to move from theory to practice.
  • Providing course samples for portfolio evidence or capstone requirements.
  • Providing a letter of recommendation for those interns who successfully complete the program. 

At the conclusion of the internship, the intern will:

  • Analyze and interpret training needs with ID concepts and theories.
  • Create an e-learning storyboard that can be used to develop instructionally sound training.
  • Produce a training course or media file that incorporates effective and engaging course content attributes.


The PD/ID Internship Program introduces graduate level—master’s and doctoral—instructional designers, instructional technologists, or media content developers, to the field of instructional design and technology. Individuals interested in the internship submit an application and go through a selection process that includes portfolio review, if available, and an interview process. Once selected, interns:

  • Complete an onboarding process that includes an overview of course design, the role of learning outcomes, authentic assessment strategies, and project definition.
  • Participate in a rigorous and demanding one-semester curriculum built to refine their practical skills in instructional design and development and assist the Internship Director to gauge their abilities, strengths, and opportunities for growth.
  • Contribute to a CPCC professional development project or combination of projects relating directly to instructional development, instructional design concepts, theories, and multimedia development.

The program uses collaborative and cross-functional teams from across the college to respond to and address the true needs of training and development opportunities. Team members include quality reviewers, subject matter experts, pilot group participants, and project stakeholders from all areas and in all roles at the college. Employee input and feedback is critical in developing quality online learning.

The deliverables produced by the PD/ID interns contribute to a growing employee online learning catalog that includes over 25 individual, fully online courses that support CPCC faculty and staff in achieving their annual professional development goals.

Student learning and success is the number one goal at CPCC. With the implementation of this program, the college has created and delivered accelerated high-quality learning at low cost, thus directly influencing the college’s ability to serve students and impact their success. If faculty and staff are kept abreast of student success initiatives, accreditation agency requirements, college policies and procedures, and skills to enhance productivity in the workplace, employees are better prepared to teach, anticipate, and respond appropriately to our students’ needs.


An important part of the program is the evaluation of its effectiveness for both the college and the interns. To ensure training deliverables are effective, useful, and have met the outlined objectives for the college community, both formative and summative evaluation measures are implemented. Deliverables are evaluated using the Quality Standards measures for employee online learning, a peer evaluation process, and an employee pilot group made up of sample users who test and evaluate the deliverables. Reports are created and analyzed from the employee learning management system to provide further information about employee progress, access, assessment figures, and satisfaction related to each online learning opportunity. Deliverables are put into a continuous improvement queue which entails constant review and revision of the project (up to a two-year cycle) based on employee needs. To ensure that interns gain valuable design and development experience, the program is evaluated by the interns based on their individual experiences, learning needs, and progress.

Our instructional design interns are a valuable, yet inexpensive, resource. They are driven more by learning than finance. They seek relevant, practical experience to add to their resumes and portfolios, or to meet a graduation requirement. They bring with them novel perspectives, fresh ideas, and specialized strengths and skill sets. The college has benefited from the professional work of the interns as they share their time and talent, and the college provides interns the opportunity to hone their skills. The industry salary for instructional design is, on average, $28 to $75 per hour—depending on experience, higher education, or corporate model. At a minimal rate of $28 per hour for 75 hours of development for one course, the college would compensate a designer/developer approximately $2,100. Our interns, on the other hand, are producing an average of three to five courses per semester. The PD/ID Internship Program, therefore, saves the college, on average, between $12,600 and $21,000 per year for employee online learning. The program is currently managed by the Director of Employee Online Learning and Development and accounts for 15 percent of the job responsibility.

As the employee learning opportunities produced by the PD/ID Internship Program are predominantly online and available 24/7, departments save funds that may have otherwise been spent on travel for employee training and other resources. Employee efficiency increases because there is less time lost for travel purposes, thus allowing for additional time in services affecting or helping students. If a department or division chooses to move a traditional seated employee learning course to an online format, funds spent on refreshments or supplies used in the traditional classroom setting are saved.

Recommendation and Next Steps

CPCC’s PD/ID Internship Program consults with other institutions to bring the project management process to other institutions. The use of interns and low cost labor can be beneficial to any program or department, but how interns contribute is a key part of the program’s success. A CPCC program feature to replicate when creating an internship program is to plan, design, and implement the intern’s role so that it is beneficial for both parties. The interns need to be invested and engaged in their work so that they feel valued, gain relevant experience, develop new skills, make connections, and assess their own interests. The program needs to be organized; enjoy collegewide inclusion; incorporate the college mission, vision, and goals; and define the type of intern sought. Overall, if the program speaks to the benefits of the institution, the department, and to the intern profile, the internship program can be successful.

For additional information about the PD/ID Internship Program and how it might be implemented on your campus, contact

Shantell Strickland-Davis is the Director of Employee Online Learning and Development and Karen Merriman is Dean of Professional Development and E-Learning at Central Piedmont Community College.

Opinions expressed in Innovation Showcase are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.