aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

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?

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