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Online Learning for Trade Associations

Archive for October, 2009

Finally! Help Selecting an LMS Has Arrived!

Posted by Ellen on October 28, 2009

Kudos and deep thanks to Jeff Cobb and his team at Tagoras for the significant effort they undertook in compiling, editing, and publishing their report, “Association Learning Management Systems.”

Eleven companies responded to an extensive list of questions about their systems, resulting in a report of 400+ pages that include tables, profiles, and product reviews, as well as a valuable list of questions you can use or modify as you investigate your LMS options.

How much for such a valuable report?!? With apologies to Tagoras, I’ll be frank: it’s CHEAP!! Okay, I’ll be polite: it’s VERY INEXPENSIVE.

At just $199, this report will save you bookoo bucks in equivalent time spent trying to gather the information. Do the math: let’s say you earn $20/hour. Let’s round up the report cost to $200. Now I dare you to try to get this sort of information on your own in just 10 hours.

Can’t be done. Can’t. Be. Done.

So stop reading and go buy the report. Or take a look at the overview.

Oh, did I mention the importance of having sorted out what you’ll need from an LMS, based on your elearning strategy?

Tack another $25 onto your investment and get the aLearning: A Trail Guide to Association eLearning first. That way you’ll get the best value from the Association Learning Management Systems Report.

And we sure don’t want to waste money, do we?!?

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Trends, eLearning Resources, Justifying aLearning, Online Learning in General | 2 Comments »

Social Networking Providers

Posted by Ellen on October 14, 2009

If your assocation has decided to incorporate an internal social network (“white label network”) — a network that resides in your Web space, attached to your Web site and usually connected to your AMS, as opposed to FaceBook, LinkedIn, and other publicly-available systems — then you’ll want to get your hands on this new white paper from Socialfish.

Maddie Grant and Lindy Dreyer have pulled together a great starting point for anyone considering implementing a system. Drawing from interviews with key vendors, the 50 or so page document summarizes the companies and their systems, with details about the features, backend structures (important to make sure members will be able to access the system and you’ll be able to provide it), pricing models, and contact information.

They intentionally didn’t provide one of those checkmark charts, but you might decide to create your own in order to sort through the narrative comments.

And keep in mind that these are vendors Socialfish knew to contact — rather than a comprehensive representation of all available vendors and systems. Keep your eyes and ears open to any other companies you hear about, because this is not a complete list. The white paper provides a good model for the sorts of questions you can ask to begin exploring those companies.

More than that — make sure you have done your homework! You won’t know what you’re looking for if you don’t know what you need.

It’s like ordering at your favorite restaurant — you could order everything on the menu (it all sounds so good, right?!), but that gets expensive and you’ll be full before you get through everything.  Going in with an idea of “what you’re hungry for” will help you narrow your choices and make the best decisions.

Get your copy of the white paper here:

Posted in aLearning Strategies, eLearning Resources, Social Learning | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Mentoring vs. Training — Why Social Networking Isn’t Enough

Posted by Ellen on October 13, 2009

Let’s say you’ve been spending the last few years on the other side of Mars and just tuned into the blogosphere to find out where online learning is today.

What would you discover?

With all the focus on social networking and social media (SN/SM) you might conclude that online learning — especially asynchronous elearning — had gone the way of the manual typewriter, 8-track tape, and those TV dials that used to change the channel and adjust the volume.

Advocates of SN/SM probably don’t see a problem with that (who wants to get up, walk over to the TV, and change the channel anyway?!?).

But here’s the thing:

Mentoring and training are not the same thing. They serve different purposes, take different amounts of time, and require different skill sets.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say your fundraising for program development in your association is conducted by volunteer members from a committee. The committee of five rotates 2 or 3 members off and on each year.

Which is the most effective way to prepare your volunteers for their responsibilities? (Select one answer.)

A. Call each individual and explain to them what’s expected.  This is individual mentoring.

B. Convene a general call with the full committee and explain everything. This is group mentoring.

C. Create a brief tutorial that covers all the essential information, and make sure all committee members complete the tutorial. This is training.

D. None of the above.

Best answer? D. Why?

A& B are more personal, but you risk leaving something out that could have significant legal or financial implications. A requires a lot of patience and time. B requires you to decide whether to have the entire committee on the call (with some attendees who have heard the information already) or just the newcomers (who won’t gain from the experience of those who served on the committee the previous year).

If planned carefully, a tutorial will ensure you have covered the essential tasks, requirements, legalese, etc. But even the best online training can’t anticipate every question that could come up.

So the best way to prepare this committee is to provide an asynchronous tutorial that gets everyone on the same page followed by individual and/or group mentoring to answer questions that the volunteers might still have.

If you expect your volunteers and members to learn everything from you (as a staffer) and each other via SN/SM, you’re guaranteed to discover gaps and misunderstandings.

There is no mistaking it: online social networking sites (whether they are interal or public) provide for excellent mentoring.

But mentoring is not the same as training, and shouldn’t be substituted for it.

Social networking/social media are not the same thing as training, and shouldn’t be substituted for it, either.

So let’s not let the big discussion (necessary though it is) to cloud over the continuing importance of online training.

eLearning is not the 8-track tape. It’s the electric guitar you could hear on the 8-track and the cassette, and now hear via CD and digitally in other ways. The guitar will likely change over time, and the delivery of how you access it will certainly change, but the instrument itself is here to stay.

SN/SM is the tape deck, the turntable: it’s the platform. It’s another way of delivering content.

Don’t mistake the CD player for the music you hear when you turn it on.

Posted in aLearning Trends, Learning in General, Social Learning | Tagged: , | 6 Comments »

LMS Selection Processes on Display

Posted by Ellen on October 12, 2009

How have various universities selected the course management systems (CMS) or learning management systems (LMS) they are now using?

What processes did they follow? What criteria did they use?

How did they involve the eventual users in the evaluation process?

If your organization follows — or is considering — the university model for providing synchronous, instructor-led online educational events, you should take a look at Mark Smithers’ Learning and Educational Technology in Higher Education blog. He recently posted brief summaries and links to the original documentation. Sakai, Moodle, Blackboard Vista, Angel, and Desire2Learn are among the systems included.

You might also find it interesting to see that the minimum amount of time a university team spent on such a process was about nine months, with several taking a year or more.

Since his original post, several readers have submitted comments with links to additional online documentation. Read away!

Just keep in mind that these processes and outcomes might not be a match for your organization, as these are large universities, well-funded (they might disagree, but compared to a small non-profit budget, they are swimming in money), and have internal staffing to support the sorts of systems that small organizations probably couldn’t maintain.

Even so, it’s worth a look to see what they decided to evaluate and how they organized their review process.

So far, I haven’t found similar resources for associations, so if you’re willing to share your association’s process for selecting a CMS/LMS and your outcome, or if you know of a summary of such information — send the info along!

Posted in aLearning Strategies, Online Learning in General | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Helpful — Free — Resources for Finding LMS and LCMS Vendors

Posted by Ellen on October 11, 2009

If you’re starting with decisions about your learning management system before working through a full strategic planning process, don’t expect to end up with a system that does what you need. Do expect that you could be wasting valuable time and much — probably all — of the money you spend on a system by moving forward too soon.

If you haven’t developed a strategy for your learning programs (including your elearning offerings), no resource — even if it’s free — will help you make the right decision.

So I offer this recommendation to those of you who:

  • have already planned your elearning strategy
  • know how it fits into  your overall education plan
  • have a clear idea of the trail ahead of you regarding certification or licensure programs (no matter how far in the future they might be)
  • understand the differences between an LMS and an LCMS and know which system is your best choice
  • have decided whether you will be developing any elearning programs in-house (this includes tapping the talents of your volunteers) rather than hiring a vendor company for development
  • know your technological environment for hosting (or not) these sorts of systems
  • have identified most if not all of the features you’re seeking in an LMS or LCMS

Not you? Maybe you’ll benefit from working through the *alearning: A Trail Guide to Association eLearning* book first (click the Buy Now button or here for more information), so bookmark this post for later.

One of the most common questions I hear is, “Where do we send our RFP? Now that we know what we’re looking for, how do we find the companies that can provide it?”

Brandon Hall Research ( is making three valuable reports available free — I’d post them here, but they have asked that the reports not be duplicated, so you’ll need to download them from BH directly.

Before you do that, here’s what’s available (to save you some time):

Learning Technology Products 2009: Learning Management Systems includes descriptions of more than 100 LMSs. They’re ordered alphabetically by company name and include products from all over the world, so be prepared to filter the options in some way to make the listing more accessible (for example, perhaps you’d prefer to work only with a company based in the US). Descriptions include basic information about the company and the product so you can determine whether it might fit your key requirements.

Learning Technology Products 2009: Learning Content Management Systems provides basic data on each company and descriptions of the features of more than 40 LCMSs. Note that these are not rapid prototyping or rapid development products, but systems that enable complex development and deployment of large elearning curricula. Unless you’re in a large association or non-profit and plan an extensive online learning library which you will develop in-house, this is not likely a resource you’ll need.

Learning Technology Products 2009: Authoring Tools is the go-to resource if you’ve wondered if you have more choices than simply deciding between Articulate and Captivate (you do, many more, and often for lower cost).

A few caveats:

  • No pricing is included; you’ll need to find that information out on your own.
  • Some descriptions aren’t very complete; take a look at the Web sites provided for more information on products that strike your fancy.
  • And some companies weighted their descriptions with not-so-subtle sales-speak: “develop highly engaging experiences” … “quickly develop”… “anyone can easily develop…” We learned a long time ago to be cautious of such claims, so read analytically, not subjectively — one person’s easy hike is another person’s Everest!

Click  here to access and download these helpful resources from Brandon Hall Research. 

Posted in aLearning Strategies, Asynchronous Learning Types, Online Learning in General | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »