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Online Learning for Trade Associations

Archive for November, 2009

Another “Suite Spot” Takeaway

Posted by Ellen on November 29, 2009

Tom Kelly hit a few notes I could harmonize with in his article for T&D’s September issue, “Hitting the Suite Spot: How Learning Leaders & Executives Can Speak the Same Language.”

Not only did he get me thinking about how we need to communicate to the two bosses about results (see previous posts), but this quote of his from a 2007 Forrester Research report got me thinking along different lines:

“[I]nformal learning continues to gain ground in the corporate training environment…. But there’s a disconnect: most organizations still spend the majority of their training dollars on formal learning even though most employees now learn primarily through informal activities.”

Cost of Formal Training

Associations are living the same disconnection: investing thousands of dollars — millions, for large associations — on one-time events that will reach a relatively small percentage of members. Think about it: if you spend $300,000 on your annual conference, and 700 people attend, you’ve just provided a one-time event that cost almost $430 per attendee.

If you keep in mind that the cost of an event isn’t just the dollars spent, but the time spent as well, then you can begin to see how much your formal training is actually costing.

Let’s also say that your annual conference requires one full-time meeting planner, and the part-time assistance of another three staff members. Let’s say the full-time meeting planner costs the association $50,000/year in salary and benefits, and the combined hours of other staff members (hourly rate x number of hours they spend preparing for and attending the conference) is another $50,000.

The real cost of your conference is now $400,000 and the cost per attendee is over $570.

Cost of Informal Training

Now let’s say you implement some ways your members can connect informally, over distance, using Web-enabled tools. You provide blogs, wikis, forums, and discussion groups, all using free Web applications.

You allocate one staff member to monitoring and guiding these informal, online activities. Maybe sometimes the blogs generate continued conversations about a topic from a live event, for example.

Now let’s say you hire that person full-time and their total cost (salary and benefits) is $50,000/year.

Let’s say these informal activities reach 1000 of your members.

Do you see where I’m going?

So here’s the real question:

If you can justify $500,000 to benefit a small percentage of your members, why can’t you justify a smaller investment to benefit a larger number of members?

Posted in Justifying aLearning, Measuring Results, Social Learning | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Convincing the Boss

Posted by Ellen on November 22, 2009

Justifying the value of attending a learning event is just the beginning. 

If you want your members to return to the same event (your national conference, for example), you’ll have to convince your members — and their bosses, who sign the  travel and expense requests — that the program will be different this time.

Otherwise, your members and their bosses will think they already got everything they could out of attending, and will opt to go somewhere else. (Yes, to someone else’s conference. It does happen!)

Be proactive. Tell them about the new:

  • Topics that will be covered
  • Approaches to previously presented but ever-important topics (last time it was a panel discussion; this time it’s a sharing of best practices, for example)
  • Content leaders and other experts you’ll be featuring this year, and how they plan to attack their topics

Answer the question your members’ boss is likely to ask:

“Didn’t I just send you to that program? What will you get this time you didn’t get then? Why should I pay for it a second (or third or fourth…etc.) time?”

But that’s just the beginning.

Mine your smile sheets and other feedback evaluations to let your members — and their bosses — know how others have benefitted from attending.

  • What one thing have they implemented or done differently as a result of attending your program?
  • What specifically has resulted from that implementation or change? (For example, have they reduced employee turnover because of more effective orientation materials?
  • Have they reduced the time it takes to process an application or other transaction?)
  • How much time or money have they saved their organization by implementing that change?  Over what period of time?

If you’re not already gathering this sort of feedback, start now.

Use the information ruthlessly. Get permission to use specific quotes and data. Use them in call-outs in your brochures and online announcements.

Convince your members — and give them the information they need to convince their bosses — that your programs have value to them. Chances are very good your competitors are doing this very thing — or will be soon.

We all know competition for our members’ time and dollars is at an all-time high. Don’t lay down in the middle of the railroad track. The train is coming.

Posted in aLearning Strategies, Conferences, eLearning Marketing, Learning in General, Measuring Results | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Justifying the Value of Your Learning Programs

Posted by Ellen on November 17, 2009

I’m catching up on reading, which is why I’m just now coming around to posting about an article from the September issue of  T&D (ASTD’s magazine). In “Hitting the Suite Spot: How Learning Leaders and Executives Can Speak the Same Language,” Tom Kelly writes:

“The most successful learning leaders operate more like a profit center than a cost center, whether or not they actually bring in any direct revenue. This means approaching each decision as an investment — a business decision with a measured, quantifiable return in top-line revenue; productivity; or satisfaction and loyalty.” (p. 50)

Business leaders are focused on business outcomes. Learning leaders are focused on learning outcomes.

The fact is, what you’re focused on is not necessarily what your leadership is interested in hearing about.

Our association leaders are interested in whether we’re meeting budget, generating revenues, and providing value to our members so they’ll renew. I don’t mean to suggest these are cold people, but really — the board of directors wants to make sure the association stays solvent and the executive director of CEO wants to make sure we stay out of legal trouble *and* solvent.

Association leaders want proof that your programs:

  • advance the association’s mission and value to members
  • provide information and training that will protect the association from any legal action or illegal activity
  • promote the image of the association
  • contribute to membership growth and revenue

What’s more, the association leadership constitutes just one of two bosses we need to satisfy.

The other boss is the member’s boss, the person who signs requests for attending our educational sessions and conferences. They also want to see results. They want to know that the money they spent for your association member to attend your event was worth it. 

  • How has the professional development event enhanced the attendee’s ability to contribute to his or her organization?
  • Is that person now more productive as a result of attending?
  • Did he or she learn new skills or develop new ideas that can be implemented to the organization’s benefit?

Answer those questions for your members so they can justify the expenditure to their bosses, and you’ll have won most of the battle.

Most? Not all of the battle? That’s coming up in the next post…

Posted in aLearning Strategies, Justifying aLearning, Learning in General, Measuring Results | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Association Learning Lagging Behind

Posted by Ellen on November 6, 2009

There’s probably no proving my theory, but I’ve long believed that associations and non-profits lag behind corporate and academics when it comes to adopting adult learning theory and the use of technology in education, among other things. The first — adult learning — is worthy of a separate post, so I’ll leave that aside for the time being.

And lagging in technology is easily explained: associations are generally more risk-adverse. This is a good thing. Countless organizations have invested hundreds of thousands (and in the cases of some corporations, millions) of dollars in technology just to get an edge, only to see those investments fail to earn back even a portion of their cost.

We need to be good stewards of our members’ investments in our organization, and that means being cautious.

But we’re slowly catching up.

According to Ambient Insight’s report, “The US Market for  Self-Paced eLearning Products and Services: 2009-2014 Forecast and Analysis,” the growth of self-paced elearning among NGO’s, non-profits, and associations will rise just over 5%. Highest growth sectors are projected to be the healthcare industry and academics (K-12 and higher education).

Why are associations and non-profits expected to grow more rapidly than corporations? Primarily because we’re just catching up to their reliance on self-paced elearning, which is established among for-profits but still relatively new for us. They haven’t given up on self-paced elearning, their growth in that type of elearning hast just stabilized while they focus on other initiatives.

And why is this important for you to know? Benchmarking across the training industry — not just across other associations — is essential if you want to continue to offer leading edge educational events. Stand-alone, self-paced, asynchronous elearning can be a big part of that, so if you’re not devising a strategy for your association’s growth in this area, you’re going to be behind the eight ball before you know it.

More and more associations are starting to feel the pressure of encroaching competition from all sides:

  • For-profit corporations are better equipped than ever to offer free Webinars and other opportunities to customers (our members), often providing the same or similar content that we would have to charge a fee to offer.
  • Institutions of higher education are functioning more like member associations, offering social networking and other ways of connecting and sharing experiences and knowledge.

The technology necessary for self-paced elearning and social networking is less expensive, more available, and more accessible every day. Ambient Insights reports that the largest investments (across all sectors) that will be made in elearning include hosted platform services (for example, social networking and/or learning management systems housed by the vendor on the Web, rather than on your server) and non-IT, self-paced elearning content. [For access to a free, downloadable executive summary of this report and others, click here.]

Aren’t these the very things your association is considering? Obviously, you’re not alone.

But here’s another factor in this equation that deserves some attention. Bear with me for some important economics. As the recession loomed, investors anticipated that elearning would get more attention and business, and acted accordingly. They dropped over a billion dollars in learning technology companies, particularly those specializing in academics. Tens of millions of those dollars went to companies that provide learning platforms to corporate and government clients.

Those companies now have lots of money for research and business development which they will then offer to their customers — in the corporate and government sectors.

Of course, you’ll benefit in the long run from those investments in a sort of “trickle-down” fashion — the corporations and government will continue to finance the newest innovations at the highest cost, and we’ll reap the rewards of systems and programs that will have the bugs (mostly) worked out of them, with efficiencies that will make them more affordable and stable. 

The trick will be to find that most opportune time to incorporate those innovations — early enough to avoid losing your members’ attention to corporate competitors, yet late enough to get an affordable, working solution.

Does your elearning strategy position you well for this? Are you ready?

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Surveys, aLearning Trends, Asynchronous Learning Types, eLearning Resources, Justifying aLearning | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

More Training and Education = Higher Profits

Posted by Ellen on November 4, 2009

Or “Why Providing Education and Training Is Good for Your Members.”

Okay, we all know that, or we wouldn’t be in the field of education. But we’re also surrounded by those who keep demanding that we show some results for all the money we spend on our educational events — face-to-face and online.

For more than ten years, Laurie Bassi and Dan McMurrer have been studying the relationship between corporate training investments and their profitability. They’ve concluded — time and again — that companies providing training and PD to employees are consistently more profitable, even allowing for the wild market swings we’ve recently seen.

What does this matter to you and to your non-profit organization?

Too often we think of our association members as “members” rather than as professionals taking what they gain from our programs back to their medical practices, educational institutions, business offices, or other places of employment. They contribute there, which further contributes to the bottom line of their company or institution.

Here’s the challenge:

  • Mine your registration and completion data (for all programs) to find the members (or institutions, if you’re a trade association) that have participated most frequently in your educational programs.
  • Ask those individuals or institutions for data related to their profitability for a specified period. Have they consistently performed in the top 10% of their market segment? 20%? (Your measurement standard might differ, depending on the field.)
  • Look for a correlation. If  data from Bassi and McMurrer holds, you should be able to see a positive relationship between the amount of professional development and the level of profit realized.  

Now you have data that can come in handy in at least a couple of ways:

  • Shows your board of directors the effect your educational programs are having in your members’ businesses, institutions, etc.
  • Demonstrates to your members the value they’re getting from the educational programs you’re offering.
  • Provides your members with data they can take back to their superiors that helps make the case that the investment in your association and its education programs is worthwhile.

Sure, correlations are just that, and there can be many reasons for profitability. There are likely many organizations spending little on professional development but raking in the dough and at high profit margins.

But when someone just wants to see numbers, and when you can make a strong case for their validity, you’d be remiss not to at least take a whack at it.

Interested in reading more? Here’s the article summary, from Workforce:

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