aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

Deciding Not to Learn at Conferences?

Posted by Ellen on September 24, 2010

Remember awhile back when I posted on ASAE’s “Associations and CEOs: A Report on Two Studies During a Down Economy.” [“Why ANY Revenue Increase is a Good Thing”]? It got some followup (and needed correction on an interpretation of the data) from ASAE and — for the record — I’m still convinced the report made some faulty cause-and-effect conclusions.

The good news is that the new report, “Decision to Learn,” seems to clarify things.

According to Lillie R. Albert and Monica Dignam, writing in “Exploring the Decision to Learn,” from the August 2010 issue of Associations Now :

Though face-to face learning is a major preference, it is clear adult learners will participate in distance-learning formats as well. The current abundance of research and experimentation into distance learning by learning providers of all types, from the smallest association to graduate-level academic programs, suggests we are in a period of significant innovation as it applies how learning is delivered. Distance-learning offerings on topics that are easily applied to current problems and needs, are personalized and adapted to the individual learner’s learning style, and readily available and cost-effective will continue to grow.

Leaving aside the reference to “the individual learner’s learning style” as a topic worthy of its own post (when will ASAE finally accept what others are coming to realize, which is that the concept of learning styles is a myth?!?), at least this “Decision to Learn” summary admits that while learners might prefer face-to-face learning, the reality is that they are accessing online learning as well. The report’s own data support this notion: over 51% of respondents reported they attended face-to-face and “distance” learning events in the past year.

But that’s not the startling thing in this report, at least as noted in this summary article. Here’s the sentence that should make people sit up and take notice:

The preferred education format is in person, led by an instructor or presenter but not at a conference, tradeshow, or convention.

Whoa! Think of all those dollars you’re investing in the education sessions at conferences when it’s not the preferred face-to-face learning environment! What will you do about that?

What’s that you say? You’re going to leave your conference with its education sessions alone, despite what the report says? There’s so much other value that members get from it, you say? Too many better reasons to continue to offer it than to abandon it because of some report?

So here’s my conclusion from this report:

  • We’ve been doing conferences for years and years, are still trying to figure out the best ways to deliver effective learning via this type of event, and will not give it up.
  • We’ve been doing online learning for a very short period of time, are still trying to figure out the best ways to deliver it effectively, and should not give it up, either.

And forgive me, but I can’t help noticing that the two Web ads appearing on the page describing the report are for a major city’s convention and visitors bureau and a major hotel chain, while the Associations Now article Web page has two destination city ads.


Anyway, I applaud ASAE — especially the volunteers who worked behind the scenes on the report — for examining learning in associations. There’s great ammunition here for beleaguered association learning leaders who need something to point to when justifying the value of the educational programs they offer.

But it’s just a start. Now that ASAE has put some real data behind the generally held believe that members find educational events to be a key factor in their affiliation with an association, it makes sense that they provide more support when it comes to professional development.

Maybe an ASAE PD Conference? Oh — wait — people don’t prefer conferences for learning….

What do you think? What was your reaction to the report? Where do you think ASAE should go from here? Where should we go from here?

2 Responses to “Deciding Not to Learn at Conferences?”

  1. Jeff Hurt said


    Oooo…you have some good stuff in this post. I’m not sure how I missed it previously.

    1) ASAE And Learning Styles
    I agree with you about learning styles. When will ASAE acknowledge that the early 1980s & 19090s learning style theories are not accurate. I was floored to see it in this research document The Decision To Learn. Once again it shows how ASAE seems stuck in the past and willing to promote inaccurate information. They should retract all the information about learning styles from that research report so that they can be seen as credible.

    2) People prefer face-to-face education led by a presenter but not at conferences, tradeshows or events. H-m-m, I wonder if that’s because so much of the education at conferences and events is poorly done. I found that stat ironic as it is normally one of the top two reasons people attend conferences or events. So I have a hard time grasping this stat that is directly opposed to most conference reports.

    I wonder if conference education sessions were a deep-dive with a longer time if people would attend those and see them differently. I facilitated a two-hour session this summer at a conference and the participants wanted more time with the content and discussion.

    My reaction to the report is that it verified a lot of assumptions many professional development leaders already had. I too applaud ASAE for collecting and analyzing the data about education as a key factor for affiliation with associations.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Ellen said

    Jeff — Thanks for your comments! My take is that they gain something from educational sessions at conferences (conventions, trade shows, etc.) but *prefer* more focused sessions, such as institutes, seminars, workshops, and the like. This makes complete sense to me, as those more focused sessions — just as you found — are better venues for learning than those large (rather unfocused, if you ask me) events.

    It’s akin to learners who say they *prefer* face-to-face learning to online learning. Well, most of us do: better snacks, a chance to get away (even if it’s out of our office and down the hall to a conference room), etc.

    “Preferring” a mode doesn’t mean it’s more effective. It doesn’t even mean that the less preferred modes are ineffective. I just means that emotionally we “like it better.”

    I haven’t seen the questions, so I don’t know what the wording was in this case. But ask me how I *prefer* to learn and I might tell you something that doesn’t align with the ways in which I actually *do* learn.

    Don’t you think?

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