aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

Posts Tagged ‘benchmarking’

2011 aLearning Association Survey Results Summary — Part 4

Posted by Ellen on October 14, 2011

If you’ve been following our recent posts that summarize our 2011  survey, you’ve seen that organizations of all sizes are leveraging online learning in some way or another. (Click here to see part 1 covering profiles and budget, here for part 2 on elearning programs, here for part 3 on social learning.)

But how are associations and other non-profit organizations making decisions about which programs to pursue? Do they have a strategic plan? Do they have a different method they follow?

Again, results were scattered. But, again, there’s a lot we can learn from taking a look at them.

Half or more of responding organizations have some sort of method for planning educational programs (click the image to see it enlarged):

Here’s the question that was asked: “Do you have a strategic plan for your association’s educational offerings? If not, how do you decide how and when to make changes regarding your educational offerings?”

Many respondents didn’t seem to see a distinction between getting input from an education committee (just to use one example) from creating and implementing a strategic plan for the education function. Other organizations were quite clear about the differences, saying (for example) they were in the process of developing a strategic plan.

What are the different methods for deciding how and when to make changes in educational offerings? Here are some responses:

  • “courses are evaluated on an ongoing basis by the education committee”
  • “an annual education plan”
  • “analytic and sales results judge whether programs are implemented”
  • “content changes/edits occur at every event, different volunteers lead the program content, including Webinars”
  • “Our decisions about educational offerings are guided by our association’s overall strategic plan, which includes some direct  strategic directions related to education and online engagement.”
  • “input from committees, board and membership”

So does it really matter whether you evaluate your programs in these ways or have a more formally created (and attended to) strategic plan?

We were curious about this, and decided to look at what organizations will be changing in the next year next to whether they have a strategic plan (or follow the organization’s overarching strategy).

See what you think. Does having a strategic plan make a difference?

Certainly major decisions — about whether to incorporate an LMS or get a new one, for example — can be made without a strategic plan.

But as you can see, organizations with a plan had a greater variety of anticipated changes — from implementing mobile learning to adding virtual experiences into the mix.

Did you also notice that organizations with a strategic plan are adding education-dedicated staff members?!?!?

I sure did.

One of the biggest challenges paid education staffers face is limited time. With only so many hours in a day, it’s hard to get everything done. So when the case can be effectively made to add personnel, it’s worth celebrating.

Can such a case be made without an education strategy? Probably. And of course this survey wasn’t designed to try to show a causal relationship between having a strategic plan and being able to hire additional staff (or purchasing an LMS, or making other significant changes), but there does seem to be some relationship between them.

So if you’re thinking you’re okay moving from event to event, making changes here and there, adding a program and subtracting one as the numbers seem to fluctuate… think again. Are you really moving your organization forward in leaps and bounds toward a clear destination, or inching it along to who knows where?

Your organization is relying on you to lead them. Don’t let them down.

My sincere thanks to all of the survey participants, and special congratulations to Mary Beth Ciukaj, Director of Education for the Council of Residential Specialists in Chicago, who won a signed copy of aLearning: A Trail Guide to Association eLearning.

More general comments about the survey next time, then I’ll put the survey and its results to rest.

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Surveys, aLearning Trends, Financing eLearning, Justifying aLearning, LMS, Social Learning | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

2011 aLearning Association Survey Results Summary — Part 3

Posted by Ellen on October 13, 2011

Once again, our sincere thanks to the many association learning leaders who responded to our request to participate in the 2011 aLearning Association Survey and to those who promoted it. While we had the best response yet to an aLearning Survey, the number of responses wasn’t high enough for us to confidently suggest that the results serve as any sort of benchmark. Instead, we recommend that you use this summary as a way of seeing what other associations and non-profit organizations are doing in the way of online learning.

Past posts have summarized profiles of the survey participants, their staffing, budget, and online programs.

In this post we’ll take a look at how many of the respondents are using social learning.

Respondents were given these answer choices to a question about how often they have been using social learning:

Every Event
Every Online Event
Every Face-2-Face (F2F) Event
Some Online & Some F2F
Sometimes for Online Only
Sometimes for F2F only
Tried it but haven’t used it consistently
Have Never Used It

For summary purposes, we’ll use the following abbreviations:

EE= Every Event
EO= Every Online Event
EF2F = Every f2f Event
SOSF2F = Some Online & Some f2f
SO = Sometimes for online only
SF2F = Sometimes for f2f only
T = Tried it but haven’t used it consistently
N = Never

Remember, respondents were asked to use the number of members served, rather than the number of memberships to identify the size of their organization. (For example, a trade organization with 500 institutional members that serves 5000 individuals, should have identified themselves as an organization in the 3001-6000 category.) We can’t be sure all respondents followed this request, but we’re trusting that they did :)

Take a look at this table showing how various organizations are (or aren’t) using social learning elements with their programs:


I don’t know about you, but a few things stand out for me:

  • A lot of organizations, regardless of the number of members or staff size, has incorporated social learning in some way. And while we might assume that the larger organizations are more aggressive in this area, our results don’t support that assumption.
  • Some organizations have opted to incorporate a social learning component with every event; it seems that this would only happen if the benefit of doing so had proven well worth the additional time and resources required.
  • Social learning components are primarily tied to face-fo-face events, rather than online events.

This last item is a bit puzzling… Maybe social learning isn’t being implemented as an element of online events because those events are structured to allow for interaction with others — so there is no perceived need for a supporting “social” element. But that wouldn’t explain why, then, a “social” element would be desirable to supplement a face-to-face event, where — presumably — people are about to meet and talk one-on-one. Hmmm! I confess to expecting to see social learning linked to asynchronous events, as those tend to be situations with solitary learners. Supplementing them with social learning elements seems to make sense, don’t you think?

Some of those who commented remarked that they use Twitter but in a general way, rather than tied to specific programs. Another respondent remarked that every event incorporates social learning because all elearning is connected to their organization’s social network. Yet another said they require a social component within a formal, online certification program.

As usual, these variations indicate that associations and other organizations are navigating their way along the social learning and elearning paths… but what big changes do they see coming in the next year?

For that insight, watch for our next post, summarizing more of the survey results.

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Surveys, aLearning Trends, Asynchronous Learning Types, Justifying aLearning, Social Learning, Webinars | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

2011 aLearning Association Survey Results Summary — Part 2

Posted by Ellen on October 12, 2011

Last post we looked at the general profiles of respondents to the recent aLearning Association survey and some of the outliers we noticed in the data. We also summarized the educational staffing and general budget information.

In this post we’ll take a look at how respondents are spending their money. As has been the case throughout, you’ll notice what we did: use of online and social learning is uneven. Some organizations are neck-deep while others are not involved at all. The survey didn’t explore reasons, but differences in how education supports each organization’s strategy probably account for most of the cases.

Remember, we asked that the size of the organization be identified by the number of individuals served in the membership, even if the organization is a trade association with institutional members.

The pattern is easy to spot (click the table to see it larger):

The larger the organization, the more likely it is to be involved in synchronous and asynchronous learning. Remember that these include Webinars and Webinar recordings (though we asked respondents to differentiate by a sub-question, many didn’t make this distinction — so it’s entirely possible that the only way synchronous elearning is being delivered is via Webinar and that most asynchronous elearning consists of recorded Webinars.

Of course what’s most interesting is the uneven implementation of blended options. First it should be noted that although none of our respondents in the 501-1000 category uses blended learning, we can’t conclude that no organization of this size uses it, or that half of our respondents in the 1001-3000 category report using blended learning that half of all organizations of this size use it. (As much as we hoped to have adequate responses for true benchmarking, we didn’t…. To everyone’s disappointment, I’m sure.)

The uneven implementation of blended learning has (we believe) everything to do with the various types of “blend” that are going on. Here are various ways some of the respondents described their use of blended instructional modes:

  • Online forum discussions before & after face-to-face events
  • Webinars with structured face-to-face activities
  • Face-to-face programs with follow-up Webinars
  • Recordings from face-to-face programs made available online
  • Live sessions from the annual conference streamed online
  • Incorporating Webinars, online workspace and conference calls into a year-long training program

So what does all of that say about using social learning across associations? Our next post covers what the survey revealed about that.

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Surveys, aLearning Trends, Asynchronous Learning Types, Justifying aLearning, Webinars | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

2011 aLearning Association Survey Results Summary — Part 1

Posted by Ellen on October 11, 2011

A heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone who completed the recent aLearning Survey for Associations and to those who helped promote it! We were thrilled to see more respondents to this survey than those in the past, although we were disappointed that we didn’t achieve the numbers desired for it to be a reliable benchmark.

Even so, the results are revealing and worth a close look. Those of you hoping to use the results as a benchmark will find some valuable insights as you compare your elearning status to other organizations.

It was clear at the start that one of the Profile questions might not have been worded correctly for accurate responses. We’d hoped to get some kind of ratio for the number of paid staff members to the number of members served (in the case of trade organizations, individuals served, rather than institutions). But when we saw organizations listing their size as “1001-3000″ saying they had 100 (in one case ) and 300 (in another) staff members fully dedicated to education, we knew something was off. And when we saw an organization of 1-500 members say they have an education staff of 300, we guessed that these responses weren’t very reliable. (It’s possible volunteer-driven associations serving education see all of their volunteer education leaders as staffers… but that’s just a guess for why the numbers seem off.)

Despite some outliers, generalities can be made.

That said, here’s the first installment of a series covering the results of the 2011 aLearning Association Survey.

Organization Size and Education Staffing

Some respondents completed the initial profile information, then opted out of the additional pages for various reasons (in one case, the respondent was a vendor and realized her responses would skew results). Respondents who did not complete the full survey have been omitted from this summary.

The single largest group of respondents came from organizations representing more than 10,000 individuals, and the second largest group serves 1001-3000 members. Generally, the respondents were pretty evenly spread across all sizes of organizations. Organizations representing more than 10,000 individual members were asked to note the specific number, and (of those responding) these ranged from 20,000 up to 180,000.

You’d expect this would mean that these organizations are also all over the board in their other responses, and you’d be right.

We asked how many staff members in the respondents’ organizations are dedicated full-time to education, including directors, meeting planners, and support personnel. The numbers were all over the place, as already mentioned, so we have to be careful in interpreting the answers. But here’s what’s intersting:

1-500 members: 1-5 education staff members
501-1000: 0-9
1001-3000: 0-200 (or take your pick: 0-100; 0-15)
3001-6000: 4
6001-10000: 1-13
10000+: 1/2 – 100+

Talk about all over the place! If we take the most conservative numbers, staff members could be representing anywhere from 50-80,000 individuals! That’s quite a range. (The 80,000 number comes from a respondent who listed individuals served as 40,000 with one person dedicated 1/2 time to education.)

Budget

What surprised me the most about these results was the number of respondents who didn’t know what percentage of their organization’s overall budget is dedicated to education. Also surprising were those who said they didn’t know whether their education funding would be increased, decreased, or stay the same in the next year. (More on this in a future post.)

Here are the ranges from  those who did answer:

1-500 members: 5-70% of the organization’s budget is dedicated to education
501-1000: 0-100%
1001-3000: 1-30%
3001-6000: 30%
6001-10000: 8-50%
10000+: 4-80%

Budget is always rough territory — so much depends on the organization’s mission and how critical education is in supporting the organizational strategy. So we expected some range within these numbers.

The question is: what are you doing with those funds, and how are you deciding what to do with them?

So let’s take a closer look at two specific respondents from the 1-500 member category:

  • Respondent 19 said their education funding is just 5% of the overall budget. They have 1 individual fully dedicated to education, yet they offer up to 11 online synchronous and 2 blended events each year. They’ve tried social learning but haven’t fully implemented it. They expect their education funding to increase in the next budget cycle.
  • Respondent 15 said their education funding is 70% of their overall budget, but they aren’t doing any synchronous, asynchronous, nor blended learning events (including Webinars). Their focus (it seems) is completely on in-person, face-to-face events. They expect their education budget to remain the same for the next year. Like Respondent 19, they have one fully-dedicated education staff member. They’re doing a bit more with social learning by incorporating it with some of their face-to-face events.

Of course, lots of unknowns are in play here: even a 5% budget can be larger than someone else’s 70%… educational needs aren’t always best met online… etc etc.

BUT:

Unless Respondent 15’s organization is reaching 100% of their membership with face-to-face events (and maybe they are) they could be leveraging online learning more effectively than they are. Do they have a plan? No. Does Respondent 19 have a strategic plan for their organization’s educational offerings? Yes. (And which organization is getting an increase in funding?!?)

Maybe this is the real difference between the two.

Anticipated Budget Changes

What about the organizations’ expectations regarding whether their budget will increase, decrease, or stay the same?

1-500: 50% of respondents expect an increase; 50% expect their budget to remain the same
501-1000: 50% increase; 50% stay the same
1001-3000: 60% increase; 30% stay the same; 10% decrease
3001-6000: 100% stay the same
6001-10000: 75% increase; 25% stay the same
10000+: 30% increase; 70% stay the same

In a time of cutbacks all around, it’s great to see educational initiatives holding their own — or, even better — their funding be increased. We can guess that this means more organizations are appreciating the value that good educational programming brings to the organization.

So what are organizations doing with their money when it comes to elearning and social learning?

Details on those next time….

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Surveys, aLearning Trends, Financing eLearning, Justifying aLearning, Online Learning in General | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

What Our Vendors Can Teach Us

Posted by Ellen on April 15, 2011

Awhile back, aLearning conducted a brief survey to get some insight into the biggest challenges association learning vendors face in our segment. Turns out, there’s a lot learning leaders in the nonprofit sector can discover from what they had to say.

Who Participated?

Most responding organizations provide consulting services (nearly 90%) and more than half (56%) provide learning management/learning content management systems (LMS/LCMS) as their primary product/service (P/S). None of the organizations provide Web Conferencing systems as their primary P/S, although one company reported it as a secondary P/S. One organization reported their primary P/S as an association management system.

The majority of companies are very small, with ten or fewer employees (73%) while another 20% employ 20-100.

A majority (67%) reported that half or more of their annual revenue is generated from professional/trade associations, societies, and/or other institutions, while another 13% reported at least half of their revenue comes from non-profit charities and/or philanthropic organizations.

So how do these vendors see their association clients? Do their perceptions match your reality?

A quarter of the respondents said they believe their clients expect more for what they’re spending.

You’d agree with that, I’m sure. Don’t we all want the maximum value for our investments?

But do we really know what we’re asking for when we seek solutions to our learning challenges? According to the vendors responding, not usually. Here’s how the question was asked, and how vendors responded:
]

One respondent added a comment that said, in part, that clients have some idea of what’s needed, but “do not feel their needs are well defined or feel comfortable that they understand all the options.” Perhaps because of this, most respondents also said they anticipate that the biggest purchase next year in the learning segment will be for consulting services — contracting for help in defining those needs and making the next step.

While associations are looking for guidance when it comes to elearning and the technologies around it, there’s also a shift in how face-to-face sessions are being led, according to at least one respondent: “Their attendees and customers are driving the change and younger generations are not putting up with half-hearted, poor education quality.”

Here’s how another respondent put it: “Whenever I speak about social media, open education, or other new paradigms that involve significantly less control than legacy models, I can pretty much rest assured that the first questions I get will relate to risk, liability, and the (supposed) value of intellectual property. I don’t want to devalue these questions, but for the most part, these are isssues that can be addressed by a combination of common sense, good policies, and the insurance that an organization should be carrying anyway. The bottom line is that organizations are going to have to be willing to stick their necks out a bit if they want to move forward in ways that truly provide value to their members.”

What Advice Do Vendors Have?

Maybe one of the most valuable findings from this survey is discovering how we can work better with those providing learning services and products. Just as there are many things you wish vendors understood better about your job and its challenges, there are things they wish we understood better or would do differently.

Seeing our world through their eyes might be enlightening. Here are a few comments and suggestions:

  • Believing we can control face-to-face events is “illusory,” so easing up on that need to control would mean our educational events could be “much more appealing and relevant to association members.”
  • Sometimes we just don’t understand what our vendors’ specialties are, and that means we all fail to maximize working together. One provider noted that this can be the due to a weak understanding of elearning in general, resulting in confusion about which vendors provide products such as an LMS and which provide custom content development or other aspects of elearning. Such confusion can make for a longer process and risks a disconnect between what an association needs and what it gets — and the awful gap that can unfortunately result, not to mention wasted money.
  • We don’t want to admit that sometimes we have to “spend money to make money.” Recognizing that we need to make investments in P/S that could take some time to earn back is important if we want to move forward, especially when we must invest in expensive outsourcing for elearning development or an LMS.
  • The advantage of getting third-party advice, especially from a “detached source,” is often overlooked, so we end up paying more in lost causes than had we invested in some good guidance up front.
  • How well do we understand the difference between “information” and “education”? Or “training” for that matter? Do we really comprehend what it takes to translate that content so it delivers on its outcomes online?
  • We’re reluctant to recognize that “good education and training can be delivered effectively for a reasonable cost.”
  • Even though the evidence is all around us, we’re slow to accept that the value association membership has traditionally delivered is now available without membership, particularly “with the rise of technologies that enable me to find knowledge resources and make networking connections on my own.”

Perceived Challenges

Learning P/S providers clearly appreciate the challenges alearning leaders face every day, from securing funding to the grindingly slow committee-board approval process that we generally operate within. One respondent commented on the limited time staff members have for any given task. In short, we’re overextended and underfunded.

But some of the other challenges they cited in working with us? Take a peek:

– “funding issues”
— “budget and knowledge”
— “fear of the consequences of changing the design of their events”
— “getting over the Blackboard image — LMS is expensive and only for universities and colleges”
— “meeting learning needs of members/nonmembers”
— “getting them to think realistically”

Another respondent remarked on his perception that “learning initiatives simply are not among the highest priorities” in some organizations, which affects how they are managed… which, of course, affects how vendors fit into the scheme.

So What Can We Take From All of This?

  • The more you know about elearning and how it works, the better partner you can be with your learning vendors. You’ll have clarity about what you need and why you need it, and you’ll be able to formulate your questions in ways they’ll can answer that help you both.
  • As much as you learn about elearning, you should remain open to the suggestions of your vendors. It’s their professional space, after all, and it’s in their best interest to help you achieve your goals.
  • Consider hiring a consultant to help you plan elearning implementation, especially if you have a small staff, lack IT infrastructure, or face other challenges. The investment will be well worth it.
  • Get curious about the possibilities. Accept there are more options than content management systems (such as iCohere or Blackboard), and that you can provide alternatives to Webinars.

Thousands of resources are available to you — so many that it can be overwhelming.

aLearning is a great place to start:

  • If you haven’t accessed the free tutorials, follow the link on the left to see. There’s no registration, no collection of info — come and go as you please. [You might want to start with the "3 Primary Types of eLearning," then "eLearning Alphabet Soup."]
  • Add this blog to your RSS feed and use the search function or tags to read more on various topics.
  • If you don’t have a copy of “aLearning: A Trail Guide to Association eLearning,” get one. “This is one of the best-executed books I have seen in some time on the topic of learning strategy. In my opinion, every association should have a copy of thisto refer to during creation or revision of the professional development curriculum. It will be particularly useful to associations with small staffs….” So wrote William Brandon, editor of the E-Learning Guild’s Learning Solutions e-magazine. Follow the blue Lulu link to find out more about how to get your copy.

*********

Have your own questions for association-sector learning vendors you’d prefer not to ask face-to-face? Send them to Ellen and she’ll include them in her next vendor-specific survey!

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Surveys, aLearning Trends, Financing eLearning, Justifying aLearning, LMS, Online Learning in General, Social Learning | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 730 other followers