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Online Learning for Trade Associations

Archive for April, 2011

Oh, No!! It’s Back!!

Posted by Ellen on April 28, 2011

What’s back? The soaring cost of oil… which means increased travel costs… which could also mean fewer members having the funds to get to your face-to-face (FTF) learning events.

I’m trying not to say “I told you so… I warned you to get your elearning act in gear… I cautioned you about ignoring the lessons we were supposed to learn back in 2008….”

Okay, maybe your association wasn’t affected then and isn’t seeing an effect now.

But you probably will at some point, even if airline prices don’t go through the roof; even if direct, hassle-free flights get easier to find; even if hotels are willing to give you more than ever to attract your association’s events.

Here’s why.

A recent study by Elearning! and Government Elearning! magazines reveals the following:

  • 69% of training hours are being conducted outside of FTF sessions
  • eLearning, blended or virtual methods account for 54% of all training hours; 50% in the government sector.

Here’s the take-away quote from the summary article: “Instructor-led classroom based learning is on the decline in both the enterprise and government sectors…Instructor-led classroom-based learning is falling in popularity among all corporations.”

Why should this matter to you?

  1. Your members are employed somewhere, by someone; these employers are probably corporations or the government.
  2. If those employers are using elearning more and more while cutting back on FTF training, they’ll wonder why their employees have to “go someplace” for their professional development, rather than access those educational sessions online.

It’s been said before, and I’ll say it again: we need to repurpose our educational offerings.

I won’t just say it. Here are some suggestions:

  • Pursue eLEARNING. Show your members you’re offering cutting edge online sessions. Speak the same learning language. You’ll increase your credibility and earn their continued business (and that’s what it is, really, getting right down to it).
  • Revamp the annual conference. REDUCE the number of on-site educational sessions. Link them to online pre-events and post-events, whether those be asynchronous sessions, Webinars, or other modalities.
  • With fewer educational sessions, you can better manage HOW they’re conducted. Get session leaders to show you how they’ll get the learners to DO something. Ask them, “What skill will they have when they leave the session that they didn’t have when they arrived? How will they PRACTICE that skill during the session?”
  • Incorporate activities, including GAMES. According to the study, “Interest in serious games shows a 111% increase.” Get past the assumption that your members somehow won’t respond to games. Instead of “game” think “competition.” Who doesn’t have a favorite professional team, or play a “friendly” game of golf or poker? At the heart of these activities is competition. Re-think your idea of “games” and get with it!
  • Feed the need to SOLVE PROBLEMS. Yeah, we all know a lot of conference attendees show up to “network.” Ask them why and you’ll discover there are probably two primary reasons: to find a job or solve a problems. With some of the new time you’ve carved out in your conference schedule, provide open-format sessions for solving problems, meeting challenges, and sharing great ideas. What better payback for the time and money spent attending than for someone to be able to go back to their corporate or government boss and say, “We spent $1000 for me to go to this conference, but now I have a solution to our $15,000 problem!”??
  • Plan to SPEND more money. With fewer sessions, you will need fewer rooms, maybe even less F&B. Use the saved money for increasing line items for A/V so you can provide Web access, rented laptops for actvities, and whatever else is needed so your learners can practice new skills rather than sit and listen to speakers.
  • Start EARLIER. To plan how you’ll allocate funds across the sessions, provide the needed guidance to content leaders, and incorporate pre-event actvities, you’ll need extra time. How many times have you said, “We would have done X, if only we’d had more time to prepare”?!?

Stop making excuses — make changes instead.

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Trends, Justifying aLearning, Learning in General, Online Learning in General | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Why You Should Always Check Your E-Mail

Posted by Ellen on April 21, 2011

Several years ago while working at an elearning development company, I received this e-mail message with the subject line: “dance assembly.” Having also worked in the arts (though in writing rather than dance…) I opened the message to read the following plea:

“I am trying to arrange performances for a school assembly in Brecksville in May.  We need two shows done back-to-back of about 50 minutes each.  What days do you have available in May and what are the fees for the Spanish Dancers?  Thanks for your help.”

Though I’ve worked among many bright, witty, talented people over the years, none have compared as a group to my colleagues at Novations Learning Technologies (a now-defunct arm of the Novations Group, though I’ve heard through the grapevine they now miss our talents and are scouting out new elearning developers). So, knowing they’d get a bang out of the message, I sent it to a few co-workers saying that maybe we could still help poor woman out.

I was not disappointed. Within minutes, one of my buds responded:


Dear Sarah,

Thank you for your inquiry.  We have a limited number of openings in May since most of our performers prefer to vacation during that month.  You see, while the Spanish dancers are heavily booked for Cinco de Mayo performances that go well past cinco de Mayo, the contortionist and the albino fire eater prefer to recover from a long, hard winter, since they perform outdoors, usually in the nude. Further, our pony-and-hairless-chimp act tends to go on hiatus during that time, since their east Romanian trainer’s case of
narcolepsy seems to be most acute in May.

So while we may be able to squeeze the Spanish dancers in for you sometime in late May, chances are the only other acts that will accompany them are the penguin-tossing jugglers, the lady with the beard of bees, the Canadian Mountie with fourteen toes (the foot with two toes is cool, but you should see the other foot!) and a guy named Bob who sticks knitting needles through his neck. Rest assured, these acts should pad a fifty minute performance with no trouble at all.

Let me know if you’re still interested.  I hope to hear from you soon.

I can’t remember now if I actually sent the note or settled for the boring, “Sorry your e-mail must have been misdirected but I wanted you to know so you can re-send it,” but I’ll never forget how that e-mail and the response from my co-workers lightened an otherwise hectic, stressful day in the midst of a crazy project schedule.

May it be a lesson to all of us to find the fun where we can, and to read every e-mail that isn’t clearly spam.

Posted in Learning in General | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Is the LMS Dead?

Posted by Ellen on April 20, 2011

Every now and then the blogosphere buzzes about whether the LMS (Learning Management System) is still the best way to manage training.

Some say yes, we still need a way to track learners’ progress, especially for compliance training or grades tracking (for those in higher education).

Others say the LMS is quickly being supplanted by the proliferation of PLEs (personal learning environments — where individuals construct their own mashup of Web sites, blogs, social network contacts, e-books and magazines, asynchronous courses, and other resources) which support informal learning.

Though I missed the November Webinar (being on the road can do that, as you all know), NetDimensions released a white paper summarizing what they consider the highlights of the session. (You can access a summary or view the archived session here. )

NetDimensions’ CEO Jay Shaw moderated a panel consisting of the following industry leaders:

  • Charles Jennings, Managing Director, Duntroon Associates
  • Craig Weiss, Analyst and Blogger at E-Learning 24/7
  • David Wilson, Managing Director and Founder of Elearnity
  • Richard Natel, CEO of Brandon Hall Research

Several key factors surfaced; remember, these are from the corporate perspective.  We’ll get to what this means for membership associations a bit later in this post.

  • Does the LMS, “in its present state… indeed help us manage learning or is it just a course vending machine”?
  • “The social learning versus LMS debate merely reflects the tension between the ‘course curriculum’ model and the ‘social learning’ model.”
  • Most LMS customers “seem dissatisfied and jump from one LMS to another.”
  • Despite dissatisfaction, the demand for LMSes is up.
  • “…[T]he majority of people do not access an LMS in their workplace,” so an objection to including social media within an LMS because it violates social media governance policy isn’t valid.
  • The increasing mobility of workers (35% of workers worldwide, by 2013, says IDC) “increases the need for organizations to have an LMS” which can manage “learning content through thumb drives, smart phones, tablets, and other mobile devices.”
  • “LMSes must shift from the ‘push’ mentality (traditionally advertising, marketing, etc.) to the ‘pull’mentality (people want to pull in information and what they need themselves, i.e., from the internet or some knowledge source…).”
  • “Another necessary shift is to move away from the traditional learning function (i.e., catalogue-centric, content-centric view) and shift towards viewing learning as being embedded within a work context… a key requisite of performance support.”
  •  “An LMS should be able to support the ‘5-ables’: it’s got to be linkable, searchable, taggable, editable, and feedable.”
  • “Today, increasingly, the LMS is being used as an information portal which pulls information from different sources (RSS newsfeeds, embedded videos) for a richer, more stimulating learning experience.”
  • Rather than focusing on staff, employees, and HR systems, LMSes now need to focus on “external partners and customer performance.” LMSes are currently “ugly and user-unfriendly,” and this has to change.
  • LMSes need to be leveraged for use in talent management for improved succession planning. The opportunities afforded by SaaS apps already exist with online storage (Google Docs, for example).

What Will the New LMS Be?

  • “…[A] widget which can be plugged into other interfaces, deployed on a memory stick, on an iPhone, etc. [where it can become] a ‘wallpaper’ or background map that measures what needs to be measured, where measurement will add value.”
  • “It will no longer be just the ‘shop window’ or interface for learning but should act as a ‘transactor’ pf learning, facilitating exchanges between different sources.”
  • Small, midsized, and large company configurations will evolve to meet the individual needs of organizations of various sizes.
  • It will be “much more social [and enable] collaboration between people and systems,” so it will look more like a social network system than current LMSes.
  • New configurations will mean finding subject matter experts will be easier.
  • “The LMS will become a dashboard that can report on measured results of learning initiatives.”

Whew! What are we to make of all this for associations and nonprofits?


The good news is that LMS vendors are working to integrate the three key components most of us want:

  • A way to provide access to learning across our state, nation, and world that’s right-sized for our organization.
  • A way to measure that learning, for certification or maybe just to keep watch on what’s effective elearning and what isn’t so we can pull that offering and do something else.
  • A way to connect our members (and maybe non-members) as learners within the context of elearning and across the social learning spectrum.

On this last point: It’s one thing to have learners from a session swap e-mail addresses or create an e-mail list or online forum so everyone can continue learning from each other. It’s another thing to open that out even further to include everyone who takes that course every time it’s offered or has an interest in the topic.

Right now we can do that if we can effectively move the dialoge from the session (wether it’s online or face-to-face) to an online forum space. But there’s the attrition issue, plus it takes additional effort to set the forum up, get the word out, etc etc….

Ah… pardon me while I daydream about what the world will be someday…

Okay, I’m back… Here are some other things we can look forward to, based on these experts’ predictions:

  • Talent management systems could provide us with the opportunity to identify potential leaders for our organizations from our membership base. Maybe your organization has a method in place, but the trade associations I’m familiar with struggle to find the best content leaders, committee members, and board of directors. Wouldn’t it be great to have a system that helped us to identify our best candidates because we know which learning events they’ve participated in, their certification level(s), and other information that our membership database system doesn’t include?!?
  • A movement toward “customer performance” and “external partners” as learner groups is exactly what we’ve needed all along.  Our members ARE our customers; our “external partners” are all of those potential members, vendors, sponsors, and others who are outside our core membership focus but whom we want to involve. A system built to provide us with these membership variables would make it easier to offer targeted learning to the appropriate groups.
  • Integrating social learning with formal, asynchronous sessions and/or Webinars means we could leverage the value of “networking” through learning in an online environment in ways that are still awkward at best with current offerings. We won’t replace face-to-face networking, but if we can create an environment for relationships to bud and flourish, what’s not to love?!?
  • Our members (and non-members) won’t be accessing our LMS via their workplace, so LMSes that incorporate social learning opportunities won’t encounter the same governance hurdles as corporate systems. Hooray for that!
  • Associations and non-profits are much more successful “pulling” learners than corporations have been. Our members are already accustomed to coming to us to fill for their learning needs — so an increased “pull” strategy within LMSes will strengthen our capacity even more.
  • Though a good number of our members access our learning offerings from their workplace, some (many? has anyone done a study on this?) are likely unable to do so, perhaps due to bandwidth or policy issues that prevent them. Our members, therefore, have been “on the move” ever since they became members: they are remote learners, and are becoming more mobile all the time. Anything that LMS vendors do to make their systems more accessible from more points of access, the better for us.

Even though all of the LMS morphing can be confusing and intimidating, this dynamic means better possibilities for finding the right fit for us among the LMS and its companion systems — Learning Creation Management Systems (LCMSes) and Course Management Systems (CMSes) [See the aLearning Fundamentals Tutorial, “eLearing Alphabet Soup” for more detail on the various systems and their distinctions].

The LMS hasn’t passed into the realm of obsolete yet. It isn’t even on its deathbed. But we might agree that it’s being prepped for major surgery — and if the operation is a success, it will come out of it healthier for all of us.

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Trends, eLearning Resources, LMS | Tagged: , , , , , | 8 Comments »

What Our Vendors Can Teach Us

Posted by Ellen on April 15, 2011

Awhile back, aLearning conducted a brief survey to get some insight into the biggest challenges association learning vendors face in our segment. Turns out, there’s a lot learning leaders in the nonprofit sector can discover from what they had to say.

Who Participated?

Most responding organizations provide consulting services (nearly 90%) and more than half (56%) provide learning management/learning content management systems (LMS/LCMS) as their primary product/service (P/S). None of the organizations provide Web Conferencing systems as their primary P/S, although one company reported it as a secondary P/S. One organization reported their primary P/S as an association management system.

The majority of companies are very small, with ten or fewer employees (73%) while another 20% employ 20-100.

A majority (67%) reported that half or more of their annual revenue is generated from professional/trade associations, societies, and/or other institutions, while another 13% reported at least half of their revenue comes from non-profit charities and/or philanthropic organizations.

So how do these vendors see their association clients? Do their perceptions match your reality?

A quarter of the respondents said they believe their clients expect more for what they’re spending.

You’d agree with that, I’m sure. Don’t we all want the maximum value for our investments?

But do we really know what we’re asking for when we seek solutions to our learning challenges? According to the vendors responding, not usually. Here’s how the question was asked, and how vendors responded:

One respondent added a comment that said, in part, that clients have some idea of what’s needed, but “do not feel their needs are well defined or feel comfortable that they understand all the options.” Perhaps because of this, most respondents also said they anticipate that the biggest purchase next year in the learning segment will be for consulting services — contracting for help in defining those needs and making the next step.

While associations are looking for guidance when it comes to elearning and the technologies around it, there’s also a shift in how face-to-face sessions are being led, according to at least one respondent: “Their attendees and customers are driving the change and younger generations are not putting up with half-hearted, poor education quality.”

Here’s how another respondent put it: “Whenever I speak about social media, open education, or other new paradigms that involve significantly less control than legacy models, I can pretty much rest assured that the first questions I get will relate to risk, liability, and the (supposed) value of intellectual property. I don’t want to devalue these questions, but for the most part, these are isssues that can be addressed by a combination of common sense, good policies, and the insurance that an organization should be carrying anyway. The bottom line is that organizations are going to have to be willing to stick their necks out a bit if they want to move forward in ways that truly provide value to their members.”

What Advice Do Vendors Have?

Maybe one of the most valuable findings from this survey is discovering how we can work better with those providing learning services and products. Just as there are many things you wish vendors understood better about your job and its challenges, there are things they wish we understood better or would do differently.

Seeing our world through their eyes might be enlightening. Here are a few comments and suggestions:

  • Believing we can control face-to-face events is “illusory,” so easing up on that need to control would mean our educational events could be “much more appealing and relevant to association members.”
  • Sometimes we just don’t understand what our vendors’ specialties are, and that means we all fail to maximize working together. One provider noted that this can be the due to a weak understanding of elearning in general, resulting in confusion about which vendors provide products such as an LMS and which provide custom content development or other aspects of elearning. Such confusion can make for a longer process and risks a disconnect between what an association needs and what it gets — and the awful gap that can unfortunately result, not to mention wasted money.
  • We don’t want to admit that sometimes we have to “spend money to make money.” Recognizing that we need to make investments in P/S that could take some time to earn back is important if we want to move forward, especially when we must invest in expensive outsourcing for elearning development or an LMS.
  • The advantage of getting third-party advice, especially from a “detached source,” is often overlooked, so we end up paying more in lost causes than had we invested in some good guidance up front.
  • How well do we understand the difference between “information” and “education”? Or “training” for that matter? Do we really comprehend what it takes to translate that content so it delivers on its outcomes online?
  • We’re reluctant to recognize that “good education and training can be delivered effectively for a reasonable cost.”
  • Even though the evidence is all around us, we’re slow to accept that the value association membership has traditionally delivered is now available without membership, particularly “with the rise of technologies that enable me to find knowledge resources and make networking connections on my own.”

Perceived Challenges

Learning P/S providers clearly appreciate the challenges alearning leaders face every day, from securing funding to the grindingly slow committee-board approval process that we generally operate within. One respondent commented on the limited time staff members have for any given task. In short, we’re overextended and underfunded.

But some of the other challenges they cited in working with us? Take a peek:

— “funding issues”
— “budget and knowledge”
— “fear of the consequences of changing the design of their events”
— “getting over the Blackboard image — LMS is expensive and only for universities and colleges”
— “meeting learning needs of members/nonmembers”
— “getting them to think realistically”

Another respondent remarked on his perception that “learning initiatives simply are not among the highest priorities” in some organizations, which affects how they are managed… which, of course, affects how vendors fit into the scheme.

So What Can We Take From All of This?

  • The more you know about elearning and how it works, the better partner you can be with your learning vendors. You’ll have clarity about what you need and why you need it, and you’ll be able to formulate your questions in ways they’ll can answer that help you both.
  • As much as you learn about elearning, you should remain open to the suggestions of your vendors. It’s their professional space, after all, and it’s in their best interest to help you achieve your goals.
  • Consider hiring a consultant to help you plan elearning implementation, especially if you have a small staff, lack IT infrastructure, or face other challenges. The investment will be well worth it.
  • Get curious about the possibilities. Accept there are more options than content management systems (such as iCohere or Blackboard), and that you can provide alternatives to Webinars.

Thousands of resources are available to you — so many that it can be overwhelming.

aLearning is a great place to start:

  • If you haven’t accessed the free tutorials, follow the link on the left to see. There’s no registration, no collection of info — come and go as you please. [You might want to start with the “3 Primary Types of eLearning,” then “eLearning Alphabet Soup.”]
  • Add this blog to your RSS feed and use the search function or tags to read more on various topics.
  • If you don’t have a copy of “aLearning: A Trail Guide to Association eLearning,” get one. “This is one of the best-executed books I have seen in some time on the topic of learning strategy. In my opinion, every association should have a copy of thisto refer to during creation or revision of the professional development curriculum. It will be particularly useful to associations with small staffs….” So wrote William Brandon, editor of the E-Learning Guild’s Learning Solutions e-magazine. Follow the blue Lulu link to find out more about how to get your copy.


Have your own questions for association-sector learning vendors you’d prefer not to ask face-to-face? Send them to Ellen and she’ll include them in her next vendor-specific survey!

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Surveys, aLearning Trends, Financing eLearning, Justifying aLearning, LMS, Online Learning in General, Social Learning | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Followup, an Update, and More Helpful Links

Posted by Ellen on April 8, 2011

…with apologies for my tardiness in posting this! Better late than never, given the value of these resources:

First the followup…

If you’re looking for ways to make your Webinars less passive for your learners, take a look at Christy Tucker’s “Synchronous Software Scavenger Hunt” post at her blog.

Christy’s been exploring how to make Webinars more active for quite a while, and the brief case study in this post will get you thinking about some possibilities.

For example, if you’re implementing a new LMS in your association, why not offer a Webinar that gets your members to hunt for various features or options? Wouldn’t that be far better than just doing a boring show-and-tell of the features?!?

What other ways could you leverage a “hunting” activity during a Webinar?

I appreciate Christy including a reference to aLearning and links to my earlier posts about Webinars and information-driven sessions. It’s great to get nudged (okay, pushed) into imagining how we can leverage the technology of live Web sessions for things other than talking heads.

Thanks, Christy, for a great post!


And the update comes from Craig Weiss, who’s made his very useful (and FREE) LMS/Learning Portal Directory even better. It now includes whether the vendor provides a demo, pricing (if so, there’s a direct link to that info — Craig also believes that pricing shouldn’t be a deep, dark secret when so much moola is at stake), indicators for products with new features, and link updates.

Some LMSes are categorized as “Lite” — a good place for associations needing a basic system to start looking. You can access the directory here

This is a tremendous service — and Craig has made it even better by starting a LinkedIn group that covers more detail than his blog, which gets into things like personnel and other business changes at LMS companies. These are important details to keep an eye on — who wants to make a major purchase from a company that always seems to be in some sort of internal upheaval? Of course, who has time to track all that?!? So leave it to Craig — whose business it is to do that — and reap the benefits of his insight.

To join the E-Learning 24/7 LinkedIn Group, go to


Helpful Links

Top 100 Tools for Learning 2010 from Jane Hart:

The following thanks to Stephen Downes’ OL Weekly:
“Questions I’m no Longer Asking” at eLearnSpace

More on the myth of Learning Styles

Do Shared Recommendations Lead to Learning?

Four Free Web-Based Screencasting Tools

Community in Asynchronous Learning

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Trends, eLearning Resources, LMS, Online Learning in General | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »