aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

From FTF to Online

Posted by Ellen on July 6, 2011

The past couple of posts have tackled the myth that waiting lists are a good thing [see “Wait Till Next Year”] and that multiple offerings of the same program are the best option [see “Waiting Lists are Overrated”], and I promised to walk through a process for adapting face-to-face (FTF) sessions for online delivery…

…because, as I said in the previous post, “Offering a series of Webinars that imitate what happens in the FTF sessions won’t cut it.” Won’t even cut a tiny little slice of it.

Which isn’t the same thing as saying that Webinars can’t be a part of your mix of delivery modes. I’m just saying that you can’t simply schedule a series of Webinars that follow the same general format as your FTF session and assume you’ll have the same success. They’re different teaching and learning modes, and need to be planned for accordingly. That’s what I’m saying.

First, you need to understand how the various options deliver training online. aLearning: A Trail Guide to Association eLearning thoroughly covers this, so we’ll use a case study to highlight some key points.

Let’s say you offer a multi-day FTF program on Financial Planning in Our Industry. A look at the agenda shows segments on the following topics:

  • Software spreadsheet basics
  • Basic accounting
  • Industry-specific accounting
  • Industry-specific price-setting
  • Industry-specific regulatory/reporting requirements
  • Case study

Although what follows isn’t the only way to tackle repurposing this content for online delivery, here’s a start:

The spreadsheet basics segment could be delivered via asynchronous, online tutorial — either purchased off-the-shelf (OTS) or created specifically to address the learning points required for the program either in-house or outsourced. As a prerequisite so learners will be prepared to use the spreadsheet program in the program activities, the tutorial could include a pre-test option so those who are already familiar with the software could efficiently test out of the session while those who don’t do well on the pre-test will be routed through the tutorial.

Basic accounting could also be offered as an asynchronous, online course and probably purchased as an OTS course as well. Ideally, because some learners might have an accounting background (if not in the association’s industry) the accounting prerequisite should include a test-out option as well.

The industry-specific segments will probably need to be custom-developed.

To transfer the principles of general accounting to the specifics of the industry, an asynchronous course should incorporate interactive spreadsheets and activities. These could be supplemented with an online-accessible mentor to answer any questions. If the mentor’s e-mailed (or text message) responses aren’t adequate, the learner and mentor should be able to set up a call for a more detailed conversation.

Price-setting is a skill, so it requires opportunities for learners to see the skill performed and then practice it themselves. It’s likely there are many ways for prices to be determined (regardless of the industry), so providing a general overview of the price-setting options is imperative. This could be provided in a short tutorial that provides simple opportunities for learners to see examples of the various price-setting options, practice each, and make some general applications to their own situations. Questions learners have could be submitted for the basis of a followup Webinar. Because the questions would be specific to the learners, the content would be timely and relevant. And because learners will have covered the basics in the asynchronous tutorial, the focus of the synchronous Webinar would be on price-setting trouble-shooting, unusual pricing options too complicated for the tutorial, and — of course — answering learners’ questions.

Addressing regulatory/reporting requirements requires someone to call on their understanding of those requirements — so this is a fact-driven segment (rather than skill-driven) that could be started with required readings (rather than a tutorial) and followed up with an asynchronous discussion using an expert moderator. By posing particular “what if” scenario questions, the moderator would generate discussions about how the regulations/reporting procedures would be followed.

And the case study? Might not even be necessary if the focus throughout the other segments is on what learners can transfer back to their own situations. A case study is often used in a group as a sort of simulation to demonstrate transference from theory to reality — but if the course itself is doing that, is the benefit of the case study still worth its inclusion? In many cases, it probably isn’t.

So there you have it.

Were you keeping score? Did you see how much can be covered on the learner’s schedule, rather than on your schedule? Here’s what I see from the learner’s point of view:

  • One possible phone call (if I have questions about applying general accounting principles to my field)
  • One Webinar on price-setting

Everything else is covered on my time (and one could argue that the phone call was set up with my schedule in mind, too).

And the budget? That’s another post. But I will say this:

  • …if you end up investing $54,000 (our estimated expenses for two FTF sessions on the same topic for 80 members — see the previous blog post, “Waiting Lists Are Overrated,” for the full discussion)
  • …and you could charge $650 for the “course”
  • …and all 120 people for your next three sessions of the popular FTF program signed up for the online version
  • …you’d net $24,000 in revenues.

Yes, that’s after expenses. Here’s the math:

$54,000/120 learners = $450 per learner

$650-$450 = $200 revenue per learner

$200 x 120 learners = $24,000

And my bet is that you’d have more than 120 members register for the online offering.

Which means you’d increase your revenues $200/registration. Not bad!*

So you’ve accomplished many things: you’ve eliminated your waiting list — learners who need a specific program will get it, when they want it, when they need it. You’ve eclipsed any temptation they might have had to slip over to your competitor to get their learning needs met.

Most of all? You’ve continued to deliver meaningful, effective education and training to your members and do so at an affordable price.

Isn’t that what it’s all about? Isn’t that more important than keeping some “waiting list” so you (or your boss) can feel popular and desirable?!?

Of course it is.

*Okay…. there’s no ignoring the fact that you’d probably need an LMS for this to work, and that would cut into your expected revenues — maybe even put you in the red that first year or two, but over time you’ll earn that investment back. The fact remains that you will have instituted a system of delivering a popular program in a way that retains its value while eliminating that dreaded waiting list.

It’s all good!

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