Posted by Ellen on September 3, 2007
Dear Ellen — I’ve been told our association needs to get into online learning, but I have no idea where to start. My specialty is [insert: membership, legal, marketing/publications, or anything else not related to an online learning expertise], so it’s all new to me. Help!! — Exasperated in D.C.
Don’t despair! Feeling overwhelmed and underprepared is natural.
Elearning is not only a specialty, it covers a lot of ground. Adding the expectations of your association’s membership and leadership to your burden doesn’t alleviate any stress, either. Remember when you were little and your parents told you that if you ever got lost (in the woods, the high wheat, the mall, the city streets….) that you should just park yourself where you were and wait? I’d suggest sort of the same thing. Start where you are. Do a little self-assessment before taking any steps. For example:
- Who’s driving the request for elearning? If not you, is it coming from your members and/or the association leadership? If your members are requesting it, pay close attention because they’re also expressing their receptivity to elearning.
- Why elearning? Find out from those asking for elearning why they want it. If the request is coming from your leadership (either from the staff executive[s] or membership board), probe to find out if there’s a true need or if they’re experiencing the “wanna have” phenomenon (similar to seeing something in the store or on TV that looks really neat and you think, “I wanna have that!”) — maybe because other associations are developing elearning options. There’s only one good reason to pursue online learning: because it fits the association’s education strategy. Period.
- Do you have the technology for elearning? Elearning demands a particular (though broad) set of circumstances be in place for it to be workable. Even if your members are asking for it (and therefore a needed level of motivation and familiarity already exist within your membership), you need to find out if you can deliver it and if they can receive it. This gets into all kinds of technical territory we’ll cover separately, but for now it’s important to make sure you understand that — at least with elearning — you can build it, but that doesn’t mean they will come.
- What’s your staffing status? How many people in your association are dedicated full time to education? Every decision you make about elearning in your association rests on the answer to this question because it drives whether you can even think about developing elearning in-house or will have to outsource.
- How much time do you have? Of course all things are possible in elearning, but when it comes to aggressive timelines, prepare to pay more money for whatever you set out to do — and whether you develop in-house or outsource. The more elbow room on the calendar you can get for your initiative, the greater the possibility for success.
Each of these assessment points will be discussed in more detail, because they are all intimately related to your elearning strategy. Proceed without answering them, and you risk a strategy that could risk your association’s investment, time, and energy — all too valuable to waste.