aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

Learning Team of One

Posted by Ellen on January 18, 2010

So many of the resources available about elearning seem to be directed primarily at organizations (especially for-profits) with a large training staff that it’s hard to implement much of what they do — couldn’t we do so much more with bags of money and rooms full of learning specialists?

So what do organizations serving large numbers of members on the backs of one or two staff members do to accomplish their goals? And how do they do it with a tight budget and high urgency for producing timely training?

This is the learning version of a perfect storm. So much to do, so little time and even less money.

The good news is that we’re not alone in this — others have faced the same challenge and emerged with successful learning offerings.

For example, one of the ASTD 2009 BEST Award winners is VF Asia Limited, a business unit of VF Corporation. Even though VF Corporation is the largest apparel company in the world and owns such brands as Lee, Wrangler, North Face, Jansport, and Nautica, VF Asia is a small unit of fewer than 800 employees and an education staff of two, Tommy Lo and Tom Nelson.

How did they accomplish their goals? Here are a few take-aways from their experience:*

1. They had a clear plan. They recognized early on that they couldn’t reach their goals with a piecemeal approach. They devised a set of four learning areas, then identified learning topics within them that were appropriate to each employee level.
      — What’s your plan? No excuses! No time to develop one, you say? How about setting aside one hour of uninterrupted time each day to devote to it until it’s workable? How about 30 minutes a day? Put all calls through to voice mail, and close your office door. Make this the priority it should be. After all, how can you steer the ship if you don’t know what course you’re on?!? (Looking for help? “aLearning: A Trail Guide to Association eLearning” was written just for this purpose — it will walk you step-by-step through the process. Click the blue “Buy Now” button on the left to see more information about it.)

2. They based their curriculum on real business needs. For example, one initiative was launched to reduce staff turnover. By providing training to improve interviewing techniques, the unit saw a significant increase in retention and — as a bonus — shortened the lead time for filling vacancies.
      — What drives your members’ business? How can you help them improve their business performance?
      — What drives your association’s success? What puts that success at risk? Is there a training need that you could address that would alleviate that risk?

3. They leveraged elearning to make topics available at the convenience of the employees. They produced inexpensive, online tutorials to cover a range of general topics.
      — Is your mix of learning modes as efficient as it could be? Are you devoting too much time to live event development when you could be developing elearning that would reach a wider membership group and garner more revenue?
      — Can you identify a group of topics for development outsourcing — making your development dollar per vendor go farther?

4. They partnered with the corporate learning function to benefit from their existing offerings and development expertise.
      — Have you adequately identified the skill sets available among your volunteers and other potential partners to leverage their help in developing face-to-face and elearning offerings? For example, do you have a member with a Web conferencing license and experience using it who’s willing to host or produce your Webinars for you, rather than your hiring an outside vendor and paying them to do so?
     — Have you investigated partnering with a local college or university to develop alearning? Have you sought out Web development and graphic artist students who would be willing to develop tutorials or short elearning to enhance their resume and portfolio?
    — What other partnerships would enable you to hand over some time-consuming but important tasks or to bring in expertise you need?

5. They track and measure all key indicators. They can tell you how many training hours employees in their units devoured in a year, for example. They have even devised a “training effectiveness index.”
     — Have you defined the most important metrics for your learning offerings? What are they? Are you currently measuring them? If not, why not? What needs to be put into place to start?
     — Are you using your LMS (if you have one) to garner the metrics you need? Why not?
     — If you don’t have an LMS, what simple database or spreadsheet could you implement to provide the tracking you need? Who — other than you — could be tasked with keeping the data up-to-date?

The bottom line is this: you need to make the most of what little time you have (and whatever staff you have). Period.

(For more on managing your time, see the post on The Best Resolution You Can Make.)

*For the details, please see the October 2009 issue of T+D.

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