aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

What Was That Noise?!?!

Posted by Ellen on November 1, 2009

Remember that alarm that went off last year? The loud one that seemed to wake up PD and education leaders in associations everywhere? Remember scrambling to figure out alternatives to face-to-face meetings and educational events because you worried that members might not be able to attend them?

Even those most reluctant to move into online learning saw real value in developing elearning for their members. Many actually implemented new initiatives or ramped up existing alearning programs.

But what happened when the alarm bell went silent? Did your alearning strategy go back on the shelf?

If you have a hard time justifying the value of elearning outcomes to your association leaders or members, here’s another piece of evidence for you:

Relative to learning efficiency, according to Brandon Hall, online learners are twice as efficient in learning times as ILT learners. In other words, depending on the structure of the course, online learners may be able to acquire the needed information in half the time they would in a traditional classroom. If a learner can jump ahead or skip around in an online module to get exactly what they need, instead of sitting in a classroom for a designated amount of time, he or she will potentially save the organization time and money.    — From the e-Learning Guild’s report, “Building the Case for eLearning”

[ILT = “instructor-led training” or classroom instruction]

Because of all the focus on collaborative and social learning, we sometimes overlook the fact that our members sometimes have very good reasons to learn individually rather than in a group, in person, face-to-face, sitting at the feet of an expert instructor.

Yes, it’s true!

If your association membership includes competing entities (for example, medical supply companies that compete with each other for the same customers), then you might have attendees who would prefer not to reveal what they don’t know. In this case, they might avoid attending a face-to-face session that they *would* take online, privately.

If your association membership includes individuals within the same organizations but at different levels of responsibility, online learning can appeal to those who’d prefer to review basic information privately, online, than to expose their need publicly at a face-to-face event. For example, if I’m relatively new to my industry and I know that I’d benefit from attending a certain session, I might be reluctant to register because I don’t expose my knowledge gap to my direct reports or peers. Even if I attend, I might be less willing to fully participate, which won’t result in the best learning outcome.

If your association members possess a range of educational and experiential levels, providing face-to-face events that adequately cover all needs is impossible. Providing online learning that allows everyone to register and to skip around the content as needed, then you will have leveraged the online event to meet the maximum number of members for the best financial investment, resulting in targeted learning for the attendees. In this case, it’s important that you avoid emphasizing “completion” of the course or module; instead, suggest skipping content that’s already familiar and focusing on what’s needed. Even better, design the content so they only need to access and pay for what’s needed — i.e., create brief segments based on specific topics or a problem that needs solved, versus developing a broader module or course.

You can do this.

You need to do this.

If you don’t do this, your members will eventually drop out, fading away just like the blaring of that persistent alarm a year ago.

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