aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

Worth Much More Than the Admission Price

Posted by Ellen on May 31, 2008

Before you accuse me of waffling or flip-flopping (depending on whether you’re craving breakfast or the beach) on the issue of free resources, remember that I try to qualify my generalities about whether something that’s free is worth it or not. And credit goes to Jeff Cobb, who — on his Mission to Learn blog — walks his talk about free elearning by offering a Learning 2.0 resource that’s worth FAR more than the admission fee.

This is  important — there are differences between giving away information free as thinly disguised come-ons (see my post on White Papers as Lead Generators) and offering something of genuine value for little or no cost.

I’ve been investigating free (or nearly free) online learning options so that I could save my association some money while still moving us forward with some internal projects. I’ve come across two online platforms that are free and easy to use.

In future blogs, I’ll share what those are and links where you can see the examples I’ve put up there for comparison’s sake.

But just because these are available doesn’t mean they’re the right fit for you. Make deliberate, thoughtful decisions about which tutorials/courses you want to create with these options (if any), and which ones you should to invest real dollars into having a custom content developer create for you.


  • the content is complex and/or multi-layered
  • the course is required for certification, re-certification, licensure, academic credit, or for any reason requires testing, validation of learning, tracking, or record-keeping
  • the course should include high-end visuals (video clips, animations, interactions that require the learners to do something such as make calculations or engage in branching exercises)
  • the content isn’t already written with online learning standards in mind or if you’re not sure how to re-purpose your content for the Web
  • you will be (or might be, in the future) charging a registration fee for the course
  • you, another association staff member, or a volunteer cannot invest about a day to learn the program and must rely on someone else to develop the course
  • you or someone else cannot create professional illustrations, graphics, or animations…

THEN … hire a custom content creation company to develop the course for you.

Do not attempt to develop it yourself, using any of these tools.


  • the content is straightforward, with one or two basic learning objectives
  • the content is primarily information-driven (rather than skill, concept, or process-driven)
  • the course/tutorial can be illustrated with photos you already have, can take, or if clip art will serve your purpose
  • audio will be used but doesn’t have to be of professional quality
  • you have a day or more to devote to learning the content management system and creating your short course/tutorial
  • the course/tutorial is brief (no more than 20 screens)
  • you’re not planning to charge a registration fee
  • no tracking, recording, or reporting of quiz or test scores is needed

THEN you should consider developing the tutorial yourself, using one of these tools. They’re usually fun to learn and the best online options provide ample resources to get you quickly up to speed.


  • helping your members with particular roles. For example, if you get a new education committee chair each year, you could create a quick tutorial about what the chair can expect during the term so you don’t have to repeat the same orientation each year to someone new
  • providing sponsors with an understanding of what they can expect as benefits for providing a donation
  • offering your program volunteers a brief tutorial on adult learning with guidelines on how to structure their sessions to keep their colleagues engaged

… the list goes on!

Are you using online authoring tools and platforms for your membership training? What are you using? How are your members responding? We’d love to hear your experiences!

3 Responses to “Worth Much More Than the Admission Price”

  1. Jeff Cobb said

    Great post, Ellen. And thanks for mention of the Learning 2.0 eBook. I agree you have to be very careful when evaluating “free” options (the word almost always demands quotation marks in today’s world!) and I have had many clients for which the guidelines you outline here would have been very helpful. I will recommend them to future clients. I look forward to what you post about free platforms as well. I have been doing a lot of research in this area myself.

    Finally, I fully agree on your take on white papers. In general, I think white papers can be a great thing, but I believe less and less in requiring downloaders to submit anything at all to get the resource. If it valuable, and what you offer actually fits the need of the prospective customer, then he or she will contact you after reading the white paper. Period. If that isn’t happening, then your value proposition is not compelling enough. –Jeff

  2. […] Welcome « Worth Much More Than the Admission Price […]

  3. Ellen said

    Thanks for the comment, Jeff! As you well know, the trick is in finding something free that has value and doesn’t have a gimmick. The MyiCourse platform (see post dated June 15, 2008)is a good example. They offer a terrific tool for free; they pay for it through extras that others decide to opt into. It’s not a perfect option, but it can get the job done for certain situations.

    If only the Internet were still free (remember when NetZero had that name because it really was access to the Net for Zero dollars?!?)… then we’d have all kinds of options available to us. But with fees for access, hosting, storage, etc., it’s a different dynamic.

    Thanks again!

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