Teaching & Learning


What makes a great CPD course?

UCL Faculty of Laws delivered the first CPD course to win a Provost’s Teaching Award. Visiting Lecturer Mark Anderson shares his advice on creating engaging and effective CPD sessions.


6 August 2014

Back Row (left to right): Liz Carter, Events Manager; Mark Anderson, Convenor of IP Transactions Course; Dr Matt Fisher, Senior Lecturer (IP)/Vice Dean (Education); Dr Ilanah Simon Fhima, Senior Lecturer (IP). Front row: Philip Baker, IBIL Course Administrator; Professor Sir Robin Jacob, Sir Hugh Laddie Chair in IP Law; Lisa Penfold, Events & CPD Manager.

Just two years since its launch, the Faculty of Laws’ intensive five-day continuing professional development (CPD) course on IP transactions has already collected an impressive array of accolades.

As well as scooping the inaugural CPD and Short Course prize at the 2014 Provost’s Teaching Awards, Intellectual Property Transactions: Law and Practice also won praise at the 2013 Law Society Excellence Awards. Students seem to rate it highly too, with the last intake of participants giving it a score of 3.67 out of four.

So who better than course designer Mark Anderson to reveal the hallmarks of an effective course? Here are his five key points

1. Be niche

“This year, one of our practitioners travelled from South America to attend the course. She told us that she had done lots of research and this was the only course she could find on this topic. We actually believe this is the only course of its type in the world.

“Focusing on a very specific area – in this case intellectual property transactions – not only minimises the competition; it also means we can focus on the topic in depth.”

2. Be focused

“I’ve been attending CPD courses since I qualified as a lawyer back in the 1980s. At that time, the typical model was an all-day session, and I found an awful lot of were very mediocre.

“You could have up to eight speakers a day, and they would all do their own thing with no unifying focus. That’s something I tried hard to remedy on the IP Transactions course. I design the programme and give clear guidance to contributors on the required content. We all use the same templates for the course documentation, which also helps to give an impression of coherence to the students.”

3. Be good value

“I came away from those early CPD courses and thought, I’ve only taken away two nuggets of useful information in a day – and if I’d already read the textbook on the topic, I might not have learned anything at all. That doesn’t justify the cost of the course. What people want to know is how to apply the knowledge in real life.

“A target for anyone giving a 45-minute talk is to provide the top half-a-dozen really valuable bits of information. Real value means teaching things you could only learn from practitioners.”

4. Be interactive

“We aim to make the course lively, interactive and intense. We do that by using a mixture of lectures on the law, lectures on the practice and workshops in which participants can apply that knowledge.

“Each workshop is introduced the day before as part of an initial group discussion. That means that at least twice a day students have to interact and speak out.”

5. Be practical

“Teaching based on real life situations is far more effective than focusing on the theory in isolation.

“In the workshops, we draw up practical scenarios and then pose a series of questions as to problems that may arise. In the past I’ve also invited attendees to work in a real-life situation, for example, by forming two teams to represent different organisations that are negotiating a contract.

“I’ve found that this method still allows you to communicate the same level of technical academic knowledge – in this case, intellectual property and commercial laws. 

"Some people find it easier to learn starting from the practical application, rather than from the textbook, though the learning points may be the same. This method is especially effective when teaching a CPD audience, who already have some practical experience of the subject.”