aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

Learn or Die

Posted by Ellen on May 10, 2011

… as an organization, that is (though some brain experts are also telling us that continuing to engage and challenge our brains is essential to staying mentally healthy as we age).

Somehow I missed this report, which dates back to 2008, but it’s no less valid now (maybe even moreso) than it was then, so it’s worth a post.

“In Search of Learning Agility: Assessing Progress from 1957 to 2008” by Timothy R. Clark, PhD, and Conrad A. Gottredson, PhD, both of TRCLARK LLC, sponsored by ASTD, Chief Learning Officer, and The eLearning Guild, says it more plainly than I ever could:

“Unless an organization can learn at or above the speed of change in its environment, it faces the grave risk of irrelevance and failure.”

Given that change swirls faster than the strongest tornado and — if you’re not ready — leaves devastation in its wake, you really need to pay attention.

“We know that, Ellen,” you’re thinking. “So what?”

Here’s the so what:

“Unbounded and un-prioritized learning can actually make things worse. In any organization, learning imperatives are never created equal. Each organization has to prioritize its learning needs based on its strategic objectives. The point is that too few organizations learn fast enough or well enough.”

Let’s break this down:

  • How many of your programs are — at most — loosely linked, but generally fall into the “unbounded” category? How often do you pull together a session or program because someone said it’s “important for the members to know this stuff”? Do you have a unified curriculum, or a hodge-podge of sessions, programs, events and other offerings that have accumulated over the years?
  • Are your programs prioritized? Do you know which ones are the *most critical* for your members’ knowledge base and skills? Can you quickly answer the question: If you could only offer one thing that would benefit your members’ educationally, what would that one thing be? Why?
  • Do you have a learning strategy? Does it comprehensively direct your department’s decision-making for face-to-face (FTF), online, and hybrid learning offerings? Does it show a clear relationship to your association’s organizational strategy?
  • How quickly can you respond to a situation that immediately requires your members be trained? How quickly can you do that WELL? Throwing together a Webinar on new industry regulations is one thing. Doing it so it is *effective* in helping your members incorporate those new regulations into their processes and policies is another.

When you get right down to it, individuals actively using social media options for answering questions, solving problems, obtaining background information and insight as it’s needed, and otherwise participating in “just in time” training are practicing agile learning.

Your members get it. They’re actively engaging on all sorts of levels in many ways to continue to feed their need for the latest facts and most up-to-date skills.

You need to be able to deliver at their speed (or faster) through the modes they’re accustomed to using.

Aren’t Core Competencies Enough?

Clark and Gottredson make an important distinction, given associations’ reliance on competency models.

“Competence refers to an organization’s ability to meet the challenges of today… An organization may be highly competent today, but competence today is not necessarily a good predictor of future competence — learning agility is.”

So what is this “learning agility” an organization needs?

“Learning agility refers to an organization’s ability to respond to adaptive change — be it an opportunity, threat, or crisis — through the aquisition and application of knowledge and skills. High agility organizations are able to learn quickly and apply effectively the collective knowledge and skills of their members… At an organizational level, agility is the ability to grow, change, or innovate at or above the speed of one’s own market.”

Here’s the bottom line:

  • You can be competent, but unprepared.
  • You can be competent, but unable to adapt.
  • You can be competent, but unspectacular.
  • You can be competent, but unable to innovate or create.
  • You can be competent, and still fail.

Time to rethink competency. Time to be agile. Time to transform the culture of your association into one that celebrates learning agility — for you, your staff, your volunteer leadership, your members, and your constituencies.

3 Responses to “Learn or Die”

  1. Sally said

    Love this post! It’s a daunting challenge – knowing that competency is no longer enough, that we must do more with less, and that if we don’t keep up with the speed of change we’ll miss out altogether.

    I wrote a blog post not so long ago which suggests one way to tackle these challenges is to create a “stop doing” list, and that this can be more effective than a “to do” list. A “to do” list lists all the things that you need to get done. A “stop doing” list is just the opposite. A “stop doing” list lists all the things that you need to stop doing.

    Ask yourself the question “If we did not do this already, would we start doing it now?” and if the answer is no, stop doing it so you can free up your staff to take advantage of new opportunities. This isn’t easy, but anything that really makes a difference rarely is. If you’re interested in the post it can be found here:

  2. Ellen said

    Sally — Thanks so much for stopping by the aLearning Blog and for adding your comment. LOVE the idea of a “stop doing” list!! I read your full post at the link you sent and hope everyone who stops through here will link through to your post as well — great advice!

    I’ve become involved with advising a board of directors not only on their strategic planning process, but that’s branched into issues related to all things big and small, from budgeting to meeting agendas — all with a focus on becoming more efficient. Can’t wait until my next meeting where I’ll introduce your idea of a “stop doing” list and the criteria you offer for whittling away at long lists of projects that have gone so far past their tipping point that they’ve fallen over the cliff 🙂

    Thanks again!

  3. Sally said

    I’m sure once the board gets over the initial shock, they’ll be surprised at how much they don’t need to do anymore, and more importantly how little impact this will have on the bottom line. Best of luck!

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