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Online Learning for Trade Associations

Archive for January, 2010

Working Weekends is BAD for You!

Posted by Ellen on January 28, 2010

Have you seen the TV commercial with the three skiers on the lift, each with their app-infested phones? At least one is doing something related to work… 

Then there’s the commercial showing a man poolside on vacation who tries to hide his laptop but his wife finds it anyway when she almost sits on it?

These commercials make me crazy.

Too many of us are working around the clock, seven days a week. We’re the “constantly connected” generation of employees — thanks to e-mail, the Web, and the thousands of cool apps that make staying in touch with what’s going on “at the office” much easier.

Some of this is the result of an increasingly competitive attitude among workers – Who’s working the longest hours? Who is most deserving of the limited bonus pay? — The result of a depressed economy and the need many people feel to prove their worth.

Our society encourages all of this — not only are there commercials galore touting the advantages of 24/7/365, wider, broader, faster access, but even “60 Minutes” had an episode about how the workweek is going away.

All of this is framed in a very positive light: see how cool it is to be constantly connected? See how much we need to be globally competitive?

At the same time, Americans are experiencing higher stress (and all the physical ailments associated with it), less sleep, and higher levels of obesity than ever before.

We’re killing ourselves, working all of this overtime.

It’s the slow suicide of at least one generation of Americans — probably more as time presses on.

Don’t try to tell me you’re one of the innocent ones. You know you haul books, magazines, and articles you found on the Internet home to read over the weekend. You trot your laptop back and forth to the office every day (or keep your cell phone on) so you can keep track of your e-mails,

Confess it: you’re worried you’ll miss something.

The fact is, you’re not likely to miss anything.

Yes, we all have the occasional emergency. We all have the now-and-then weekend meeting.

But how much are you contributing to your own overtime? How efficient are you really being with your time? (See “Running Out of Time”)

How unhealthy do you want to be?

Because recurring, refreshing breaks — e-mail and cell-phone free weekends and vacation — are imperative if you want to stay healthy.

And focused.

Case Study, a True Story:

Before I worked for an association, I worked as a project manager (among other roles) at a company that developed Web-enabled elearning. The company also had teams of programmers building learning management systems (LMSs) for companies including some major US auto manufacturers and phone service providers.

These were multi-million-dollar projects. They had intense deadlines.

When I walked through their cube area, I marvelled at how such amazing computer feats could be summoned from the brains of these code magicians. Everything we produced — from the LMSs to the elearning courses — came from the creative talents of the employees.

Take the employees away, and all that would be left was a building of desks and computers. Unlike a manufacturing company, where if one worker goes away you hire and train someone to stand at the machine and perform the same tasks, these programmers and developers and graphic artists and writers were not so easily replaced. Their project knowledge alone was critically unique.

When a very major project started to go very wrong, these people were asked to work more hours — some logged over a hundred hours a week. Think about that: 7×24 = 168 hours in a week. Working that much means you’re doing nothing except driving to and from work, catching a few hours of sleep, showing, changing clothes, and working more than 14 hours a day inbetween.

The demands started slowly — just give up this weekend. Just work an extra hour a day. Now we need you to work Saturdays.

Then vacations were denied. Six-day workweeks became mandatory.

The company started ordering in pizza and sandwiches for lunch and dinner so no one would have to leave. They kept coffee flowing for free and charged just 25 cents for a can of pop.

Those not on the team started volunteering to help. They didn’t have the same skill sets, so they couldn’t help write code, but they could walk dogs, feed cats, do laundry.

Marriages ended. Affairs started. One Web developer was hospitalized.

And every day I walked into the office surprised to see that everyone who was physically able — and some who weren’t — kept showing up.

We’ll push ourselves too far sometimes.

We should stop.

Because here’s the rest of the story:

For all their hard work and dedication, the programmers started making errors. They didn’t realize it — they were too sleep deprived and malnourished to notice. They were burnt out.

Our bodies will work past our brains sometimes (you’ve heard those stories of heroic rescues where people say they didn’t even think — they just acted).

We need to feed our brains. We need nutritious food. We need sleep.

And we need to give our brains a variety of things to think about. To see. To experience.

The programmers couldn’t do that in their cubicles, not after weeks and weeks of staring at the same screens in the same building surrounded by the same people.

Association professionals can’t do that, either.

We need evenings that are our own — our time to laugh with our loved ones, swim at the Y, take dancing classes, or relax with a good novel.

We need weekend strolls in the park, shopping in the mall, movies on the big screen.

We need vacations that take us places we haven’t been before, to visit places we aren’t planning as locations for future educational events.

We need to let our minds — and our spirits — rest.

To do less is to risk burnout.

Because if you burn out, what good are you to your organization?

What happened to that LMS project? Well, eventually it got delivered to the client, but the cost was far too high for the company to bear. The corporation decided to excise this now unhealthy chunk of the company as if it were an infected tumor or a cluster of cancerous cells. The monitors went dark and the doors closed forever.

How does all of this relate to alearning?

Recently, a colleague at a small-staff organization sent an e-mail about the aLearning book, and in our exchange she mentioned the challenge of getting so much done with so few resources.

You can’t implement an alearning strategy without the time to do it. You can’t maintain online learning options without the energy to sustain it.

As association professionals, it’s important to focus on our members and what they want and need. But if we don’t focus on ourselves, too, we’ll never be in a position to give them that.

So, are you ready to turn off your e-mail for the evening? Stay away from your laptop for the weekend? Book yourself a week’s vacation (better yet, two weeks) to get away for awhile?

What’s stopping you? Why is committing slow suicide the highest priority in your life?

Give me one good reason.

Posted in aLearning Trends, Learning in General | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Running Out of Time

Posted by Ellen on January 27, 2010

“There’s just not enough time!”

“Where’d the day go? Seems like nothing on my to-do list got done!”

You’ve heard all the tips about time management — have probably even led sessions on the topic. We know to plan our time, prioritize, make the most of delegation, etc. etc.

Don’t shrug them off!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Your TIME is a valuable association resource. Think of it as another thing your members are paying for when they send in their dues — the association magazine, the discounts — and your expertise.

Make the most of that member benefit — your time — in every way you can. Here are a few ideas:

  • Maybe you’ve seen this  handy cue-card before (above). Though your Importance/Urgency blocks would probably differ than this example, the chart itself is an excellent reminder that you don’t have to answer every e-mail immediately; some phone calls can be returned rather than answered directly. Take a few minutes to create your own time management matrix, laminate it, and prop it next to your phone or computer screen. Respect it and live by it.
  • Track the data. Not only will it will provide important evidence for the success of your programs, but it can — and should — be used as evidence when you campaign for staff assistance or other resources.
  • Watch the calendar. When do you most need help? Are there tasks a temporary worker could handle for a short period of time so you’re free to attend to other responsibilities? Think about the best uses of your time for what your association invests in you. Where can you make your time work more efficiently, task-to-dollars? (See the post on Best Resolution You Can Make)
  • Set aside the time you need — and do it without guilt. If you need to draft an elearning strategy, revise your curriculum to meet new competencies, or complete other tasks that require concentration, don’t be afraid to close your office door, have your calls held, or ask for time to work away from the office. Turn off your e-mail.

You were hired for your expertise. Your special knowledge and skills. Require your association to make the most of what you have to offer.

Sometimes they’ll need your help to do that, so take the lead, create the environment you need to get those important tasks checked off your to-do list.

What are you waiting for?

Posted in Learning in General | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Are You Following Up?

Posted by Ellen on January 20, 2010

How much of your budget is spent on the learning event itself — the face-to-face part, the cost of the developing the online course, or conducting a Webinar?

How much of your budget is devoted to pre-work? How much is devoted to post-event activities, other than testing for certification?

My guess is very little, if any.

Too bad.

Research shows that attendees can rapidly lose what they learned. Even when they go immediately back to the workplace and begin applying their learning, chances are very good they are only applying part of what they learned — the new skills they most needed, or the new concepts that most intrigued them.

According to Jack Zenger, Joe Folkman, and Robert Sherwin, more than 75% of the learning that takes place occurs during the pre- and post-event phases. Of that, 50% occurs in follow-up.

Yes.  Only 24% of learning occurs during the learning event itself. Yet that segment of the learning process gets the monster portion — if not all — of our resources.

Hmmmm.

You say you can’t afford to divert half of your budget to follow up?

That’s okay.

You can do plenty with few resources.

What if your face-to-face instructors were asked to post just one follow-up e-mail a month asking the event attendees to “Reply All” with what they’ve been doing around Learning Objective 1 or 2 or 3?

What if you asked attendees to offer one additional resource on Topic A or B or C and post those to a social bookmark site?

What if you provided a way for everyone to post links to articles or other resources they’ve found online to a special networking space devoted to this event?

What if you asked everyone to jot down their AHA! moments, then asked someone to volunteer to collect them and post them to a wiki for everyone to see and share?

And what if attendees who attend the next session and the one after that and so on could meet online occasionally to share what they learned?

What are the ways you — as a learner — continue to keep your new knowledge and skills alive and kicking? Can you implement those tactics for your members? How can you help them build their own PLE — personal learning environment?

We’re either about setting up one event after another without looking back, or we’re about helping our members to learn and grow. The original event sets the foundation but it should never be our only delivery mode. Otherwise we need to get out of the education field and into meeting planning.

Which are you — an educator or a meeting planner? Don’t get me wrong — I’m not attacking meeting planners. See “I Am NOT a Meeting Planner” from 2008 for more… Just be sure you know when you’ve got to wear which hat if you need to wear one of each. Otherwise, you’ll show up at the wrong event wearing the wrong accessories, and then where will you be?

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Trends, Learning in General, Online Learning in General, Social Learning | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

More Justification — For Your Members

Posted by Ellen on January 19, 2010

There’s more than just explaining why paying $XX to attend an educational program will be worth it to your members and to your members’ bosses… you have to convince them it will be worth it more than once.

That’s if you want your members to return to the same event (your national conference, for example) again and again.

After all, you’re asking that member and the member’s boss to shell out (okay, invest) $XX x1 for the first time they attend, but $XX x 2 or x3 or x4 to come back over and over.  

They’ll need to know how the program is different each time:

  • What new topics will be covered?
  • What new approaches will be taught?
  • Who are the new content leaders and other experts?

Answer the question your members’ boss is likely to ask: “Didn’t I just send you to that program/conference? What will you get this time you didn’t get then? Why should I pay for it a second (or third or fourth…etc.) time?”

Go ahead and distribute the smile sheets if you must, but follow up later to find out how your attendees benefited from the program:

  • What one thing have they implemented or done differently as a result of attending your program?
  • What specifically has resulted from that implementation or change? (For example, have they reduced employee turnover because of more effective orientation materials? Have they reduced the time it takes to process an application or other transaction?)
  • How much time or money have they saved their organization by implementing that change?  Over what period of time?
  • Have they informed their boss of the savings or other improvements that resulted from their attendance at your event?

Give your  members and attendees what they need to make their case to attend more than once. Here are just a few ideas for doing that:

  • Collect individual responses and summarize them, then send them back to the respondents with an encouragement that they share the results of their training with their boss.
  • Aggregate all the responses you receive and create promotional materials that describe the average or total savings your members have experienced as a result of the program.
  • Provide dollars and cents whenever possible: include overall savings (“Our attendees were able to save their organizations an average of $X as the result of attending this program.”) or other data that will help make the case for continued improvement as the result of attending.

The bottom line is this: Dollars and good data speak louder than words! Don’t assume members will return because the smile sheets gave the program high ratings — make your case.

Again and again. So they’ll return — again and again.

Posted in aLearning Strategies, eLearning Marketing, Justifying aLearning, Measuring Results | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Learning Team of One

Posted by Ellen on January 18, 2010

So many of the resources available about elearning seem to be directed primarily at organizations (especially for-profits) with a large training staff that it’s hard to implement much of what they do — couldn’t we do so much more with bags of money and rooms full of learning specialists?

So what do organizations serving large numbers of members on the backs of one or two staff members do to accomplish their goals? And how do they do it with a tight budget and high urgency for producing timely training?

This is the learning version of a perfect storm. So much to do, so little time and even less money.

The good news is that we’re not alone in this — others have faced the same challenge and emerged with successful learning offerings.

For example, one of the ASTD 2009 BEST Award winners is VF Asia Limited, a business unit of VF Corporation. Even though VF Corporation is the largest apparel company in the world and owns such brands as Lee, Wrangler, North Face, Jansport, and Nautica, VF Asia is a small unit of fewer than 800 employees and an education staff of two, Tommy Lo and Tom Nelson.

How did they accomplish their goals? Here are a few take-aways from their experience:*

1. They had a clear plan. They recognized early on that they couldn’t reach their goals with a piecemeal approach. They devised a set of four learning areas, then identified learning topics within them that were appropriate to each employee level.
      — What’s your plan? No excuses! No time to develop one, you say? How about setting aside one hour of uninterrupted time each day to devote to it until it’s workable? How about 30 minutes a day? Put all calls through to voice mail, and close your office door. Make this the priority it should be. After all, how can you steer the ship if you don’t know what course you’re on?!? (Looking for help? “aLearning: A Trail Guide to Association eLearning” was written just for this purpose — it will walk you step-by-step through the process. Click the blue “Buy Now” button on the left to see more information about it.)

2. They based their curriculum on real business needs. For example, one initiative was launched to reduce staff turnover. By providing training to improve interviewing techniques, the unit saw a significant increase in retention and — as a bonus — shortened the lead time for filling vacancies.
      — What drives your members’ business? How can you help them improve their business performance?
      — What drives your association’s success? What puts that success at risk? Is there a training need that you could address that would alleviate that risk?

3. They leveraged elearning to make topics available at the convenience of the employees. They produced inexpensive, online tutorials to cover a range of general topics.
      — Is your mix of learning modes as efficient as it could be? Are you devoting too much time to live event development when you could be developing elearning that would reach a wider membership group and garner more revenue?
      — Can you identify a group of topics for development outsourcing — making your development dollar per vendor go farther?

4. They partnered with the corporate learning function to benefit from their existing offerings and development expertise.
      — Have you adequately identified the skill sets available among your volunteers and other potential partners to leverage their help in developing face-to-face and elearning offerings? For example, do you have a member with a Web conferencing license and experience using it who’s willing to host or produce your Webinars for you, rather than your hiring an outside vendor and paying them to do so?
     — Have you investigated partnering with a local college or university to develop alearning? Have you sought out Web development and graphic artist students who would be willing to develop tutorials or short elearning to enhance their resume and portfolio?
    — What other partnerships would enable you to hand over some time-consuming but important tasks or to bring in expertise you need?

5. They track and measure all key indicators. They can tell you how many training hours employees in their units devoured in a year, for example. They have even devised a “training effectiveness index.”
     — Have you defined the most important metrics for your learning offerings? What are they? Are you currently measuring them? If not, why not? What needs to be put into place to start?
     — Are you using your LMS (if you have one) to garner the metrics you need? Why not?
     — If you don’t have an LMS, what simple database or spreadsheet could you implement to provide the tracking you need? Who — other than you — could be tasked with keeping the data up-to-date?

The bottom line is this: you need to make the most of what little time you have (and whatever staff you have). Period.

(For more on managing your time, see the post on The Best Resolution You Can Make.)

*For the details, please see the October 2009 issue of T+D.

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Trends, Online Learning in General | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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