aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

Talking Strategy and Measurement

Posted by Ellen on September 23, 2007

On a day too rainy to hike some of Acadia National Park’s mountains, I spent some time instead following an interesting blog thread on association growth strategies that even led me to some blogs I didn’t know about (interestingly, only one I found had to do with online learning in associations specifically, but the latest entry was more than a year old).

Things being as they are in blogs, finding the original post is a challenge, but the entry that caused me to pause longest was Scott Briscoe’s Acronym posting “Why does growth always seem to be a strategy?” on September 6, 2007.

In it he writes: “I think too many associations get caught up in designing products and services for the purpose of attracting people. It would be better to design those products and services so that they provide meaningful experiences for people. It’s a subtle difference, but I think an important one.”

I agree.

When it comes to online learning — in any shape or format — we’re challenged to demonstrate the value of what can be a steep initial investment.  The best argument I’ve been able to make is not so much that it contributes to the growth of the organization but that it increases the reach of our educational programs.

In a highly specialized association where membership is held by an institution rather than an individual, “growth” can be a challenge regardless of what you offer.  But “reach” is another story.  The more individuals within member institutions that take advantage of the association’s benefits, the greater the likelihood the instituion will renew, and retention is everything in this situation.

Online learning stretches the benefit of your educational programs past the narrow group of individuals who can attend in-person programs.  In our case, we were able to increase the reach of our educational programs in one year by 135% just by offering one new (short) asynchronous course and one Webinar. 

The other measurement that’s particularly powerful here is the cost per learner: even accounting for the as-yet, unrecouped cost of the development, our online course costs $250+ less per learner than the per-learner cost of one of our live sessions. The “+” covers the cost our members incur for travel, lodging, per diems for food, and the high cost of someone being away from the workplace for days at a time, which could easily quadruple the $250 number!

And let’s not even get into how online courses are much “greener” than live sessions when travel is involved, allowing us to help our members leave a smaller carbon footprint.

So increasing your reach, reducing your overall costs, and reducing the carbon footprint your members are leaving — all can be achieved by adding just one online course to your association’s curriculum.  All that while doing what Scott suggests — providing a meaningful experience for them.

One Response to “Talking Strategy and Measurement”

  1. […] by Ellen on September 28, 2008 You’ve seen the argument all over the place — including here — that online learning is “green.” Now you can calculate just how much CO2 your […]

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