aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

Why aLearning Won’t Go Away as Non-Dues Revenue

Posted by Ellen on April 6, 2008

I’ve been reading Jeff Cobb’s Mission to Learn post, “You Want Me to Pay for Learning?” and while I agree that learners will be more reluctant to pay for online learning — because so much is free already on the Web — I don’t agree that this alone is the reason we should stop charging registration fees for our online offerings (see my comment and his response for more dialogue on this, including the fact that some online learning costs real money to produce and those costs need to be recovered).

Here’s another reason: increasing costs related to in-person education and training sessions will drive people to the Web as an alternative. Some associations have even moved their annual conference online (Jack Coursen and Matthew Cutter presented on why and how the American Speech-Hearing-Language Association did this for their audiologists at the 2007 ASAE and The Center’s Technology Conference).

The challenges won’t go away as costs continue to rise. Even if they stay the same, we’re seeing some participants tackle $800 flights, $200/night hotel accommodations, plus meals, ground transporation, and other costs, with per diems that have never been adequate to start with.

A woman at a national training and meeting center recently posted a note to a forum saying she had heard from a customer who said “they have cut their training budget, placed a moratorium on all offsite training, and is losing her job at the end of the month. I was shocked… I haven’t heard that from a customer since after 9/11.” She asked if others on the forum were feeling similar effects of the current recession.

The posting got a lot of traffic, most of it agreeing that in their respective companies and non-profits they are seeing cut-backs. Others are seeing an increase in online learning. One wrote he’s seeing an increase of 10-15% in the utilization of elearning compared to the same time last year.

Here’s my argument: our members will pay for elearning IF the value is there for the content, IF the cost is affordable, and IF it means saving money in the long run.

If you had to choose between

(a) sending a staff member to live training that costs $250 for the registration fee, airfare, ground transportation, at least one night in a hotel, and meals (let’s just say it all totals $1000) while trying to adjust the workload to accommodate that person’s absence from the office for at least two days


(b) registering for an online class covering the same content but will cost one day “out of the office” (in the office, but with the door closed) for $175

which would you choose?

2 Responses to “Why aLearning Won’t Go Away as Non-Dues Revenue”

  1. Jeff Cobb said

    Ellen–Thanks for the comment over on Mission to Learn. I agree that there are compelling reasons for aLearning to move online, and the cost and productivity savings that are realized in the process represent a value proposition for which associations should be able to charge. If cost savings for the association can actually be realized through online delivery (sometimes the case, sometimes not), then the move online could also increase margins or result in savings that can be passed on to members.

    Still, over the long haul, there tends to be downward price pressure on online offerings. This has been true historically, and the trend towards “free” is only the latest manifestation of that. That doesn’t mean, in my opinion, that it won’t be possible to charge, only that those who plan to charge and maintain a sustainable price point better be really focused on delivering very high value that is conveyed both in their marketing and in the actual substance of the education delivered. –Jeff

  2. Ellen said

    Jeff — Thank you for your insightful response. I agree about the downward price pressure, which has always been in play with online education. We have the corporate world to thank for driving many of the innovations in cost savings — at least in associations we have the option of charging fees for training, whereas internal, corporate training doesn’t. Because of that, they need every cost-saving measure they can get when developing online training, and they need to detail their ROI to demonstrate their payback. Associations benefit from the advances that have been the result of these corporate drivers.

    We’re at the intersection where downward price pressure meets reduced development costs (due to improved technology and increased options), increased pressure to reduce costs (money is tighter everywhere), which drives up demand for online learning options.

    You’re absolutely correct, and you said it well — even in the middle of this intersection, we need to “be really focused on delivering very high value.”

    Thanks, Jeff!

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