aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

Archive for May, 2009

Lessons from the Illinois River Barges

Posted by Ellen on May 26, 2009


We spent the days leading up to Memorial Weekend along the Illinois River, hiking and biking, and — ever curious — learning all kinds of things beyond the essentials of living in a very small space.

For example… after watching the barges from the Starved Rock State Park bluffs, we ventured out to watch them close up, calling out questions to the workers on the barges — who traded info by asking us for our local restaurant recommendations (in the great tradition that is “knowledge sharing”). We knew how the locks worked that got the tugs and barges safely around the dam and from one level of river to the next.

What amazed us was how carefully fitted the barges and locks are: cabled together to float three abreast, the first tug we watched maneuver the lock pushed two rows of three each — six barges. Some were empty, the bargeman told us (okay, that’s probably not his official title). “It’s been slow,” he said.


Like clockwork, as soon as that load was through the lock, the next tug lined up. We watched, mesmerized. The patience and experience it took for the captain to steer his nine barges into place was inspiring to watch. And as we watched, we realized that the lock didn’t look big enough to hold nine barges and the tug.

barges2 barges3

So we watched the tug position the float of barges, then reverse out of the way of the gates. “How will they get the barge out of the lock without the tug to push it?” we asked a man whose job it was to rope the barges securely to the side of the lock. “Cable,” he called back, pointing to the side of the lock. “It’s along here.”

Sure enough, they secured a cable to the side of the barge, then used a sort of dockside winch to pull the cable — and the barge — through the gates when they opened. Now the tug would come through, reconnect with its float of barges, and go on down the river (or maybe up the lazy river).

It occurred to me that each barge captain had a decision to make regarding his cargo. The first captain opted for six barges — less cargo (and likely less money to haul it) meant his tug and barges made it through the lock at the same time. The second captain opted for nine barges — more cargo (and likely more money), but it also meant he had to navigate the lock twice — which took more time. Each captain had to decide which was the better financial decision: more cargo, more lost time… or less cargo, but a better pace?

Too often we think we know the best way to go with our online learning — something that seems to be the obvious choice might not be the best choice at all.

For example, are you thinking through all the best reasons to hire a Webinar production company, versus doing it yourself? Are you assuming that because products like Rapid Intake’s ProForm make it so easy to create a stand-alone course that it’s really the best answer for you?

Think about what’s most important (time or cargo load, if you’re a tug captain)… so you can use your resources as efficiently as possible, too. Remember: time is never a free resource. Just because your staff members aren’t paid the way consultants are paid doesn’t mean they work for free. Are you using their time to your best advantage? Their skills? If you’re not, then you’re wasting money. You’re wasting your members’ dues and your sponsors’ donations. worse than that, you’re wasting your staff members’ talents, which — eventually — can compel them to jump ship.

Just as the tug captains factor in the time it will take to get through the locks as they haul their cargo along the river, you need to consider time as a resource, too. Don’t wait. Start today. Time’s  a-wastin’!


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »


Posted by Ellen on May 16, 2009

I’m living that old adage — it’s not raining, it’s pouring!

First things first — many thanks to the folks at Digitec Interactive for letting me share a case study in their recent Webinar. If you missed it, and want a quick overview of how one small association decided where to start with online learning, what we did, and how it all turned out, you can see it via this link:

And many, many thanks to those of you who tuned in and texted your questions! The chat dialoge was great and gave us all a chance to think about the various challenges involved in initiating an online learning curriculum.

Now to the rest of the story….

Just as I was putting the final touches on the aLearning: a Trail Guide to Association eLearning book, we sold our house. This is no small feat in the suburbs of Lansing, Michigan, where the economy is pretty sour and is projected to get even worse. Our house had been on the market for two years, and after dropping our price periodically over that timespan, we finally found the sweet spot and the right buyers appeared. I gave notice on my association position (for those of you looking for me there, my last day was May 8).

What’s next? My husband and I have been planning to full-time RV for several years, and suddenly we were in a position to do just that. The last few weeks have been a dizzying whirlwind of packing, selling, tossing, scanning, and shredding. Tomorrow we hand over the key to the house and put the other key in the ignition.

Why this lifestyle? Well…. we travel whenever we can, and it seems as though everywhere we go we want to “buy a little place for retirement.” Choosing one spot seemed impossible — so we decided to choose them all!

So my apologies for the delay with the book — (Josh, I did see your note about the RFP chapter) — know that it remains a priority with me, and that I hope to have it available for purchase in the next month or so.

Having said that, you can tell that association elearning is still running in my blood, probably thicker now than ever, because I’ll be able to spend more time focusing on it, in between the hiking, biking, fishing, shopping (but not buying anything — do you know how little you can store in a 400 square-foot fifth wheel?!?).

I’ll announce here when the book is available, with full details about how to purchase copies.

Till then — you can keep track of our travels at

Maybe we’ll see you on the road!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Free Webinar!

Posted by Ellen on May 5, 2009

Tune in to “When eLearning Makes Sense for Your Association” — Wednesday, May 6 at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

Follow this link to register:

Hope to “see” you there!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »