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.
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.”
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!