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Online Learning for Trade Associations

Posts Tagged ‘business planning’

Cloudy About ‘The Cloud’?

Posted by Ellen on January 10, 2012

Don’t be. Here’s the easy-sneezy version of what you need to know to help your association or nonprofit.

First, “The Cloud” is just another way of referring to the Web, the Internet, cyberspace. Services “in the cloud” are available via the Web instead of systems having to be installed on your server(s) or applications or programs being installed on your desktop. It means they’re out there — in cyberspace — and you connect to them.

What this means is that the responsibility for maintaining those systems rests on the company providing them, instead of on you.

Yes, this is very good news.

“SaaS” or “Software as a Service” has been around for awhile, and “The Cloud” references have sort of evolved from that.

But here’s the best part. According to TSIA’s October 2011 report, “Understanding the Impact of Consumption Economics on Education Services”:

“Customers no longer have to buy all the complexity. They can buy the capacity, features, and functionality they need, when they need them, and in the amount they need them. The best part for the customer is that huge, up-front payments are replaced by manageable, monthly payments. No longer is the customer held hostage by a product that is too hard to use and too hard to uninstall.”

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Wait! There's more!

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"…[T]here will be constant price pressure as new suppliers enter the marketplace and/or new cloud offerings are promoted."

TSIA anticipates a shift from long-term licensing fees to micro-transactions, which could be pricing per user per month, per feature, per gigabyte of data stored, per content downloaded, or any number of other similar yet singular types of transactions.

We’re already seeing this from some vendors. Charging a $X fee per user per month for up to X number of users is one example.

This is great because we’ll only be charged for the actual number of users in the system and/or for the actual downloads or other access options.

Of Course There’s a Catch

You can get your calculator out and do the math if you want, but the logic is clear: the better the deal is for us (the consumers), the more the vendors will have to work to make the same levels of income.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’ve decided on ACME LMS. Let’s say you’re just starting with elearning so you’ve chosen their low-end “Basic” option: features A, B, and C, for $5/mo per user.

Let’s also say they have a “Standard” option that includes the features you already have and use, PLUS features D, E, F, G, and H for $10/mo per user.

Even with the same number of users, ACME LMS stands to make more  money from you.

They might not try to get you to opt for the “Standard” bundle at first, but you can bet they’ll be looking to “upsell” you at some point. They have revenue needs, and you’re the way to fill those needs.

I’m not saying don’t take the upsell. But I will tell you to ask for the data.

More Cloudy Benefits

A hidden benefit of a product that sits in the Cloud is that it’s generating a bunch of data on your use of the system. You might be getting that data, you might not. But you can bet the company is sucking as many numbers out of the system as it can get.

That’s not a bad thing.

They can tell you how your members are using the system in ways you probably can’t imagine. It’s to their benefit to do that.

So if they’re suggesting an upgrade to another bundle — let’s say to the Standard option in the example we’ve been using — then ask to see the data. Look at how the features you’d be adding could enhance the learners’ experience in the training you’re giving them. How many users would likely be affected if you incorporated those additional features? Would it be worth the additional cost? Why? Why not?

If you’re not convinced, no need to make the jump. The next “level” of service will be around for awhile. You can make the change whenever your organization is ready, and you can do it pretty quickly compared to the old license-renewal cycles that are measured in years.

Yes, there are terrific benefits when you let your elearning programs live in the Cloud rather than on some server in a back room someplace. Start modestly, graduate up if needed, and be sure the vendor you choose has a great reputation for uptime and excellent back-up systems.

Could your elearning benefit from living in the Cloud?

Posted in aLearning Strategies, Financing eLearning, LMS, Online Learning in General | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

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 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 »

Free Webinar on Selecting an LMS

Posted by Ellen on September 5, 2011

Looking for all the help you can get while you hunt down the best learning management system for your association? Though targeted to “medium and small businesses,” any free help is worth checking out.

So if you’re available for this Brandon Hall Webinar, it could be worth your time:

Wednesday, September 7, from 1-2 p.m. Eastern Daylight time.
To register, follow this link: https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/773178310

Posted in aLearning Strategies, eLearning Resources, LMS, Webinars | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Waiting Lists are Overrated

Posted by Ellen on June 30, 2011

Last post I said making members wait for a year to get into a much-desired educational session doesn’t make sense and risks chasing them into the arms of the competition. But some organizations cling to the notion that waiting lists are a good thing.

“Look at all the interest we have in this program,” the executive director coos. “That’s guaranteed revenue for the next year or two for this one! Why can’t we have a waiting list for everything we do?”

Ikes! It’s NOT guaranteed revenue. The more someone is forced to wait for something — especially if they need it now — the more likely they’ll look to other sources to fill that need.

Besides, unless that precious program generates a bunch of money, its waiting list is probably doing the organization a disservice as well.

Think about it.

Here’s an Example

Let’s say you have a three-day face-to-face program that includes a primary content leader (much respected and a very effective facilitator who’s in great demand) and several supporting experts — panelists, guests, and session leaders. This program has been going on in your organization for many years, although some of the segments have changed with the times.

It gets rave reviews. It’s become a “must” for newbies in your industry. So even though you only offer the program once each year, and you’ve steadily increased the maximum number of participants from 20 to 40 to accommodate the demand, you’re still running a waiting list of 80.

That means anyone signing up TODAY won’t be able to get into the session for at about two years. (40 get in during 2012; 40 get in during 2013; assuming a couple of cancellations, someone signing up today could actually get into the session in 2013).

So what if you offered that program twice a year? You’d gain some efficiency in scale — you could use the same marketing materials, perhaps get some discounts for AV and F&B, particularly if you use the same venue.

Looking at the Numbers

But what do the financials really look like? Sharpen your pencil or fire up your calculator. Here’s the way the numbers unfold.

Let’s say your program costs $30,000 if you do it once each year. That means for 40 participants you need to charge $750 to break even. So you charge $799 to buffer things a bit and hopefully make a bit of revenue. (You tried $825 once but somehow getting into the “8” figure turned people off — you lost your waiting list and got nervous, so you’re now content to make $49/pp).

$49/pp = a whopping $1960 in bottom line revenue. Assuming nothing goes wrong and your estimated costs don’t balloon.

If you offer a second session, your savings might amount to about 20% — $6000. So between the two programs, you’ll have $54,000 in total expenses ($30,000 + $24,000). With 80 participants, you only need $675/pp to break even. So if you still charge $799, you’re now putting $9920 in the bank ($124 x 80).

Not a bad piece of change! Of course, this assumes you’ll have a 20% economy of scale benefit…

So why not just offer the program twice a year? Why not three times a year — move through that waiting list even faster? After all, you’ll get even greater economy of scale, increasing your revenue even more, right?!?

Sounds like a no-brainer. But there are very real reasons why we only offer such a program once each year, regardless of the downfalls of a waiting list:

  • There’s only so much room on the calendar. Especially if our members work in industries that are cyclical, we often have certain times of the year when they just aren’t available to attend face-to-face sessions.

 

  • Our expert facilitators and content leaders only have so much time to devote to our programs. They might not be available at other times, and changing the session leaders and contributors will change the dynamic of the program — which could affect its quality, perhaps falling short of members’ expectations (the purpose of offering the session more than once gets defeated if people resist those new offerings).

 

  • The time it takes to organize additional offerings increases staff workload. Time isn’t just money, time is energy. Our staffers are overtasked as it is — adding additional sessions will add more to their workload. Yes, there are economies of scale with their labor, but it’s nevertheless critical that we consider what the impact on their overall responsibilities will be to add these offerings.

All of this isn’t to say that we need to just live with the reality of waiting lists.

Oh, contraire!

It is to say that we need to consider whether it’s time to offer an online equivalent of the popular face-to-face (FTF) program. Why online?

  • You’ll not only be able to meet the immediate needs and desires of those on the waiting list, but an unknown number of other members who’ve either dropped off the list because they got tired of waiting or never signed up because the timing of the sessions didn’t fit their schedule (remember what we said about that in the previous post?!).

 

  • You’ll leverage the best aspects of the FTF program by finding the balance of providing asynchronous and synchronous online sessions.

 

  • You’ll create a program once that will require much less expense and maintenance over time — true economies of scale!

 

  • You’ll provide your FTF content leaders with an opportunity to further showcase their expertise — something they’re not likely to shy away from.

 

  • You’ll eliminate the “wait till next year or the year after or the year after that” frustration your members are currently experiencing. Young professionals, more than ever, live in an “immediate” mindset: they’ve grown up in a world of fast food, high speed internet, international TV via satellite, and 24/7 access to all of it. If they aren’t already asking why they have to wait a year, they soon will be.

Even if you’re already onboard with the idea of leveraging the Web to deliver online versions of your most popular educational programs, you need to do it correctly.

Offering a series of Webinars that imitate what happens in the FTF sessions won’t cut it. You must design an online experience that incorporates the best of the FTF program and deliver that content in a combination of formats that will do so effectively.

To do otherwise is foolish and fraught with financial peril.

So how do you do this?!? Tune in next time for some pointers…

Posted in aLearning Strategies, Financing eLearning, Justifying aLearning | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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