aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

Archive for December, 2009

How Did You Do in 2009?

Posted by Ellen on December 31, 2009

Some of us see the end of the calendar year as a good time to evaluate learning against established industry standards. Benchmarking. Figuring out how we did. Where we stand. And from that, plotting a path through the next year.

With my usual caveat about how you need to be careful when comparing an association or non-profit’s performance against a for-profit business, here are some useful measurements, all extracted from “Building the Business Case for e-Learning” by Temple Smolen, published by the eLearning Guild:

— 61% of eLearning Guild members report elearning represents less than 30% of their overall training budget. If your association dedicates more than 30% to alearning, congratulate yourself for moving online for the convenience of your members!

— If you’ve experienced a return on your elearning investment, you’ve met the benchmark.  Only 0.9% reported losing money and fewer than 4% reported breaking even. Don’t know if you’re generating revenue? Time to find out!

— Half of those surveyed reported a return on investment greater than 15%. Half reported less or no return. Which half are you in?

— If your organization is increasing its elearning budget each year, you’re in the majority. And if your goal is to grow the elearning budget as the curriculum expands, learning management system capacity increases, or other enhancements are added, you’re in line with the progression path most organizations take.

— More than half those surveyed said the ongoing cost for online learning is less than $50/learner, outside the initial development and set-up costs. What’s it costing you, per learner, to keep your alearning offerings available?

— Discouraged by the quality of your first offering? Don’t be. According to the eLearning Guild survey, only 10% reported “good quality results on their first attempt” at offering online learning. Nearly 35% of respondents said it took them seven or more courses to achieve the desired level of quality, and of those, 25% said it took 10 or more. Of course, hiring a professional organization should ensure greater success earlier on, rather than taking on the learning curve yourself.

So, how did you do? What could you be doing better? What will you be celebrating?

And — if you know of association-specific data that provides useful benchmarks and standards, please share!

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Surveys, aLearning Trends, eLearning Resources, Measuring Results | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Fixing the Furnace

Posted by Ellen on December 26, 2009

Many of you know that my husband and I decided to pursue the alternative lifestyle of “full-time RVing,” and we’ve been travelling the country for more than six months. We’ve learned a lot, but our biggest lesson has been that things break. They break in an RV faster than with a house, and they are a pain to fix (because of the way RVs are built — from the interior out).

A few months ago, our furnace started rattling. We decided we’d wait to fix it until we got out of the winter weather, so while much of the Midwest and East Coast are dealing with the worst blizzard some parts have seen in many years, we’re in the desert, ready to fix the furnace.

Here’s my role: help or stay out of the way. If I’m needed, I’ll be there to hold things, shine a flashlight, find pieces and parts, whatever the chief mechanic needs. If I’m not needed, I’m staying out of the way, doing things like writing this blog post.

It makes me wonder: How much are you standing in your members’ way, and how much are you helping?

My previous entry (“Playing the Match Game”) touched on some ways you can uncover existing or emerging content within your association that might be delivered via social media.

Writing it made me think about the delivery modes associations provide members for sharing and interaction. Most use listservs and discussion groups. Some are on Facebook and LinkedIn. Others have incorporated their “white label” or internal social networking systems.

All that is good.

But are you still standing in their way? Are they trying to fix the furnace but you have the screwdriver and won’t let them have it until next week sometime?

Let’s take Webinars for example. Most associations organize and promote Webinars, then invite their members to attend. By the time the event is organized and registrations are collected, the hot topic might have cooled.

What if you made your Web conference service available to your members to use as they needed it?

What if a member who just discovered something and wanted to share it could send out a notice that he or she would be going online to make a brief presentation, then engage in a Q&A session about it?

You’re not standing in the way anymore. You’ve handed the member the screwdriver. Better yet, you placed the screwdriver where it can be picked up whenever its needed.

What? Your Web conference system is based on a pay-as-you-go model? Ooops! Time to revisit that. You might think it’s a less expensive billing model, but if you truly opened the system up to increased use, couldn’t paying a higher fee for it be justified? Couldn’t it become another member benefit?

In what other ways are you standing in your members’ way? How else can you provide the ways and means for your members to create their own content and deliver it — without you standing in the middle, blocking the way?

Why is this important?

Well, you’ve heard that a primary reason newspapers all over the country are collapsing is because the readership they relied up on is now getting its news online, without having to pay for the subscription (not to mention no longer having to fish the paper out of the bushes or call to complain because of a missed issue).

It used to be that newspapers were the conduit — one of a few ways people could access current events.

Many newspapers didn’t learn how to get out of the way of their readers, who were suddenly able to publish their own interpretations of the news, post their own videos — become their own reporters, producers, and publishers.

Here’s another example:

You’re hearing increased demands for recordings of sessions at your annual conference, but your resources are limited. You’ve controlled the use of devices in your sessions because you don’t want things to show up on YouTube (legal issues and all that). It seems there’s no inbetween.

Ah! But there is!

Let your members record what they want. Ask them to post them as they get them — on your Web site or to your LMS. Give them a small honorarium or an extension of their membership for posting their info. It doesn’t have to be much — as long as you make it easy for them to comply and you recognize their contribution in some way.

Otherwise you’re just standing in the way, blocking the light, holding the screwdriver hostage.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Happy Holidays!

Posted by Ellen on December 25, 2009

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Playing the Match Game

Posted by Ellen on December 24, 2009

Long-time followers of aLearning know I’m a big advocate of matching learning content to its most appropriate delivery mode, so I’m always happy to see elearning colleagues offer their recommendations for the process.

Back in the October 5 issue of Learning Solutions, the e-magazine from the e-Learning Guild, David Wilkins gives excellent advice for transforming “social media” into “social learning.” Though his focus is on internal corporate training departments, which operate differently than small associations, he still offers some great fundamental recommendations that can be adapted to association learning.

Here’s my take, with thanks to David for the ideas:

1. Examine the origins of your associations’ best practices. Do they come from a few members, or do they emerge more wholistically across your membership? 

  • If they come from a few members, would they be willing to blog periodically about what they’re discovering and doing? Participate in a podcast interview?
  • If they come from the membership overall, perhaps through a discussion forum or listserv exchange, can the essentials be extracted and summarized in a wiki, blog, or other mode? Can content be tagged for easy filtering and retrieval?

2. Examine the types of learning that take place in your face-to-face events. Which — in whole or in part — are conducive to social learning?

For example:

  • Where are the expert-to-group information deliveries occurring? Couldn’t this information be delivered via Webinars or asynchronous events with live Q&A followup? A blog with comments? Isn’t the most important thing here the information, rather than the specific exchange? How about a simple FAQ?
  • When are facilitated group discussions for solving problems, analyzing critical issues (such as ethics), and other collaborative examinations taking place? Could online discussions accomplish the same learning goals? What about an online audio session?
  • Which events include skills training and practice? Can those skills be transferred to an online format? Could they benefit from a social learning option?

3. Explore the sources of your members’ expertise. Are they subscribing to particular blogs? Could your association provide an aggregate through your Website to them?

Social learning, remember, is just another mode. It doesn’t replace anyone or anything. It’s just another option.

How are you leveraging it? The bottom line is this: you’re either helping or standing in the way. Are you facilitating your members’ ability to learn from each other 24/7/365, or not?

Opportunities for leveraging social learning abound. Look around you. You should have more to provide your members than they will have time to access. Or you’re missing something.

What are you missing?

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Trends, Social Learning | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Are Your Business Needs Being Met?

Posted by Ellen on December 22, 2009

Yes, non-profits/not-for-profits have business needs. Making sure you bring in enough revenue to cover your costs/expenses is the ultimate need, but what drives those revenues?

Membership dues, you say. Registration fees to the conference and other events. Conference booth revenues. Sponsorships. Maybe some advertising. Perhaps you offer additional products — reports, survey results, books, magazine subscriptions and advertising….

So how well are you educating your members about their dues and registration fees? Do they understand your membership application process? Renewal process? Timeline? How about registrations?

Most associations seem to cover these bases pretty well.

But what about sponsorships? Are you letting potential sponsors know what’s available to them? Do they understand how they’ll benefit from sponsoring? Are there particular parameters around the sponsor-member relationship that they should know?

Are your members responsible for attracting these sponsors? How clearly do they understand the process, the expectations sponsors need to have, and any regulatory requirements or limits? Are you in the position of having to re-educate volunteers for every event? Are you worried you’ll forget something? Do you give those volunteers the materials they need to secure sponsors (commitment forms, descriptions of events and sponsorship opportunities, etc.)? How familiar with those materials are your volunteers?

Sometimes we assume our members know more than they do, and they don’t want to admit otherwise for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we just forget things because we’ve trained so many people, over and over.

Here’s another example. An association has a complicated booth selection process because they consistently have many more vendors requesting booths than they have booths available. And because so many of the vendors are corporate competitors, that booth selection process has been refined over the years, incorporated into the policies and procedures manual, with each change requiring a vote by the board of directors — all to ensure the highest level of fairness and equality.

The process is long, with several intricate steps and hard deadlines.
But because only the board of directors and staff members have easy access to the policies and procedures manual, only the vendors who have been involved in the process over the years are truly familiar with it.
What does this mean? New companies wishing to get a booth are often surprised when they call to reserve a space only to find out that they are months late in starting the process. New representatives in long-participating companies who haven’t been fully apprised of the process jeopardize their booth reservation when they miss deadlines they didn’t know about.

What could be done differently?

It’s simple, really: provide easy access to a brief tutorial on what the process is, why it must be followed, and who to call for more information.

Yes, you could do this as a live Webinar, but why? Create a simple asynchronous tutorial and make it accessible to anyone who might be considering a booth, and direct any new corporate representatives to it so they’ll be up to speed on what they need to do.

Don’t assume a long waiting list means you can afford to let a few slip by. In 2009 many associations saw their historically long waiting lists rapidly dwindle, leaving them to wonder and worry about what could happen if they suddenly couldn’t fill the convention hall.

Don’t assume that the time it would take to create a tutorial won’t be worth it. Think about it. Don’t most of the questions requiring the longest explanations seem to come at the worst possible moments? You’re in the middle of organizing the annual conference and people want to know about booth space. Or you’re trying to gather and organize learning materials for and educational event when someone wants to know how they can participate as a sponsor for an event that doesn’t even have sponsors.

Those calls can feel like an unwanted interruption when, in fact, they’re some of the most important calls you’ll get. Without interest in booth space, sponsorships, advertising, membership and renewal procedures, where would your revenue go?

Your sponsors and those who reserve booth space at your conference and other events are also juggling other sponsorships and events for other associations and groups. Don’t take them — or what you think they know and understand — for granted.
Help them. Educate them. Make it easy for them to participate, and they will. Show them how to navigate a complicated process or sail through an easy one. Keep the tutorials easy to find so they can refer to them any time they wonder about it — not just when the process is already underway. Your timing is not necessary their best timing.

What other business procedures will be new to someone? Which ones are complicated and need more than one explanation?

Every one of them should be a brief tutorial for your members, volunteers, sponsors, booth participants, and advertisers. Keep them informed about how to fufill their roles. They’ll reward you with continued support, and that means your business needs will be met over the long haul.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »