aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

More Measurement

Posted by Ellen on September 29, 2007

A few association-related blogs recently have been discussing whether membership retention is the best measure of progress and success, and I’ll leave that to the membership experts to wrangle over.  But measurement for success in the corporate world has been around for a long, long time, and will eventually arrive on our doorsteps because where the corporate world goes, the world of higher education follows, with associations eventually falling in line. 

Corporate training directors will tell you they’ve been struggling with increased pressure to demonstrate — financially or in terms of performance — a return on the training investment. Now it’s becoming more of an issue on campuses.  In his article, “Innovation, Adoption, and Learning Impact: Creating the Future of IT” in the March/April 2007 issue of the Educause Review (viewable online here:, Ron Abel discusses the September 2006 Spellings Commission report, “A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of US Higher Education.”  He says the report calls for “improved access, affordability, accountability, quality, and innovation, and mapping them to the return on investment…” (emphasis added).  

Abel goes on: “In addition, the Spellings Commission report is simply one more instance of an unavoidable trend toward accountability…. And since calls for accountability are bound to increase in a world in which the product of the system is so inextricably connected to the shaping of knowledge, higher education itself must ultimately define what it means to be accountable.”

How will those of us charged with our association’s education programs demonstrate return on investment (ROI)?  How can we be accountable by showing evidence that our members are applying what they have learned from us? 

One way is to measure — the best we can — whether our members are able to apply in the workplace what they have learned in our programs.  To see how one association went beyond smile sheets to measure how relevant and applicable their educational programs are to their members, see the article, “Do Your Members Actually Learn What You Teach Them?” in the September 2007 Professional Development Forum Online e-newsletter from ASAE & The Center. (If you are not a member of ASAE & The Center, send an e-mail to this blog and I’ll send you a copy of the article.)

Abel is on to something — the Spelling Commission report and history compel us to see the writing on the wall: saying “our members want this, therefore we will provide it” might not be enough someday.  Establishing methods for measuring ROI for your programs that include proof that they are able to put into practice what they’ve learned is a start.

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