aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

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?

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