aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

More on the Vendor-Client Gap

Posted by Ellen on November 18, 2007

With thanks to Jeff Cobb (Mission to Learn) for his comment and to the vendor representative who contacted me last week off-line, I’ve decided to spend a little more time with a statement I made in my “View from the Outside In” entry, posted as an observation of the recent eLearning Conference hosted by ASAE and The Center: 

It was clear to me that there’s a disconnect between the vendors and clients, between what’s perceived as important and what truly is, and between the often-used solution and the right solution.

First let me emphasize that the conference format was — essentially — an experiment,  a test to see if some of the benefits of a live conference would still result from an online format.  On that count, did it succeed?

Absolutely.  I made connections with vendors and fellow association professionals I would never have made without the conference.  I got a sense of who was dealing with which issues — and made lots of tiny handwritten notes in my directory printout.  I learned more about some of areas of expertise across the vendor landscape. 

And I certainly appreciate how very tough it is to design and conduct a learning event, selecting topics based on well-intentioned guesswork.  We do it all the time when organizing programs: what do we think our members want or need to know about? 

In this case, ASAE and The Center landed on trends in elearning, with emphasis on social networking and the Web 2.0.  Some associations are probably all over social networking and Web 2.0.  After all, finding ways to connect geographically dispersed members is critical for us.  I’m sure our association isn’t the only one where “networking” lands on the top of every survey asking about important membership benefits.

But in the chats, most of the questions and dialogue zeroed in on topics like pricing, strategy, getting buy-in, dealing with projects gone wrong, repurposing live content for the Web, and other practical issues.  Maybe those who are pursuing Web 2.0 options chose not to attend the live chats — maybe they got enough from the recorded and live Webinar sessions that they didn’t feel a need to attend the chat sessions (if so, kudos to the presenters!). 

For whatever reason, a gap opened between the questions attendees had and the topics presented.  What surprised me about the chats, where the opportunity existed to shift the dialogue to address what the attendees said they needed to know, was a seeming reluctance to leave the pre-determined topics. 

The good news is that it appears every posting got a response, and hopefully those with questions got enough information to get to their next step (I know I did). 

But the disconnect is critically important — I trust ASAE and The Center pays close attention to the same thing so future events are seen as necessary and the topics clear, at least to meet the needs of some of their members (and in this case, the most active participants at the event). 

And I trust the vendors in the conference were paying close attention to the questions and challenges association members were expressing.  It’s one thing to stick to the topic.  It’s another thing to hear what your customers are saying they need. 

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