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Online Learning for Trade Associations

Archive for December, 2011

Lessons Learned at the End of the Year

Posted by Ellen on December 31, 2011

Lesson One

It’s been a hectic year — we traveled more than 11,000 miles, driving from the West Coast to the Atlantic and back again, straying northward during those scorching summer weeks.

What we learned is that free Web access — despite the fact that we’re a dozen years into the new millenium — is still elusive. We knew when we sold our house in early 2009 and became “full-time RVers” that we’d need to watch our expenses, so we chose not to spend money on a satellite system or any of those plug-in cards for Internet access. When you’re living on a modest, fixed income, $60 or more each month just isn’t feasible.

Besides, it’s much more fun to spend that on 100 miles of USA (at $4.00/gallon and 7  miles to the gallon on an average trip).

So when we stop for the night — whether it’s to crash in the parking lot of a casino or rest area, or at a regular RV park or campground — we’re glad to discover free Internet connections. In many places, access is fast, easy, and free.

But not always. We spend time in Southern California this time of the year, tucked away in the foothills, and Web access is tricky and expensive.

What does all of this have to do with you?

Plenty. If you’re not tuned in to your members’ ability to easily access the Web, you’re overlooking a basic requirement for a successful online program.

You might have quick, easy access via your office or even on the road. You need to be connected, after all.

But what about your members? Or others you serve?

If you want to reach road construction workers, for example, you’ll need to look at mobile solutions or scrap the idea of elearning. They work long, physical hours away from laptops and iPads. They might have a few minutes to check messages and access quick elearning tutorials via their mobile devices, but don’t expect them to spend a lot of time online.

How are your members accessing the Web? Do they have a regular, high-speed connection? Or are they reliant on public libraries? Free wifi hot spots? Other alternatives?

You can offer it, but they won’t come if they can’t get from where they are to what you have.

Lesson Two

A year ago my husband and I became members of a nonprofit mutual benefit corporation. All members are expected to volunteer in whatever way they can, so he joined the kitchen committee (among other things) and I jumped onto the long range planning committee. After much encouragement, I decided to throw my at in the ring when they made the call for candidates to the board of directors.

It’s a long story, but after just a few weeks, I withdrew my name. With five candidates and five spots to fill (three regular spots plus two vacated by those leaving prior to the end of their terms), I was guaranteed a position on the board. The only question was how long I’d be serving.

As soon as my name went out as a potential board member, my phone began ringing and people started pulling me aside for whispered conversations. I likened the experience to being the tie-breaking vote before a tribal council on the reality show “Survivor.” There were alliances and people were trying to figure out which one I’d be joining.

It took a lot of time. I had meetings every day for various committees to learn how they function. I was spending evenings reading bylaws and pertinent nonprofit corporate codes and regulations.

I was ready to quit before I started.

Then I discovered a breach of the bylaws and found out the sitting board members had known about it and chose to overlook it because it was convenient. There was a clear alternative to violating the bylaws but for whatever reason they chose not to take the alternative. This disturbed me.

As I said, there’s a lot to this, but here’s the lesson learned: board members are not exempt from the rules. If you allow them to do what they want regardless of the rules, you’ll suffer consequences you can’t imagine.

I’m still hearing from people who are kind enough to say they wish I hadn’t withdrawn. But here’s the thing: I didn’t want to walk into a mess, alone. I didn’t want to put myself in the position of knowingly joining a board that’s proven to violate the corporation’s bylaws.

I questioned their ethics. I wondered what sorts of battles I would be putting myself in the midst of.

How much was I willing to do as a volunteer?

Not that much.

The lesson learned is that your board needs to exemplify the best that is your association. Anything less and you risk losing volunteers, contributors, sponsors, and other much-needed support.

Take a close look. Be ruthless. The future of your organization depends on it.


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December Quick Clicks

Posted by Ellen on December 28, 2011

As usual, here’s aLearning’s attempt to provide you some valuable, quick PD — for you! We know that you give more time to your association members and fellow staffers than you do to nurturing your own professional acumen, so we’ve gathered some links to articles, sites, blog posts, and other resources that we think would be worth your time.

This is a brief version… whenever it’s quiet on this blog, you can be sure there’s a lot of activity behind the scenes. Watch for an end-of-the-year post for a peek.

In the meantime, if you have suggestions for Quick Clicks, send them along for a future post!


Help With Tutorials

Thinking of creating some online courses yourself, but don’t know where to start? Feeling intimidated about learning how to use an elearning authoring tool? Patti Shank’s “Beginning Instructional Authoring: Learning How to Author” at Learning Solutions e-magazine breaks it all down and provides a plethora of resources. Take a look.


But Which Tools to Use?!?

Craig Weiss at the E-Learning 24/7 Blog has evaluated what’s out there and has posted his Top Ten “Best of the Best” list. Find out who made the list and why popular choices like Articulate Studio and Captivate didn’t make the list.


When Brainstorming Fails

“Even though groups generally enjoy their brainstorming efforts, it turns out that people in groups actually tend to generate fewer ideas than they would if they were to brainstorm individually and then submit their ideas to be compiled later,” writes Mary Arnold in another great Learning Solutions article: “The Human Factor: The Trouble with Group Brainstorming.” Here’s the best part: she gives specifics for how to create an environment for the best brainstorming. Don’t assume you can bring people together in front of a whiteboard or flip chart and that amazing things will happen.


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Why Your Board of Directors is Dysfunctional

Posted by Ellen on December 21, 2011

And it is, isn’t it? Admit it. Well, maybe things seem okay for the moment, but at some point, you’ll experience frustration with a board of directors that you’ll be convinced is off its rocker, in whole or part.

It isn’t their fault.

Think about it.

They volunteer to run for the board of directors of your nonprofit organization, get elected or appointed, and voila! — they’re supposed to know what’s expected of them.

“But Ellen! We have an extensive board orientation program,” you say.

Sure you do.

You cover the organization’s pertinent documents (bylaws, standing rules, etc.), mix in the most critical legal stuff (open meetings laws, liabilities, etc.), spend some time with the financial data, maybe cover some of Robert’s Rules of Order.

Everybody leaves with a fat binder and cognitive overload.But nobody leaves having experienced effective training.

Stop a second and think about that.

You’ve just entrusted major decisions to a group of people based on a binder, a lot of conversation, and maybe a few expert speakers.

You’ve given them a lot of “what” stuff, but very little “how.”

Board members perform several tasks. Learning those tasks requires learning new skills — or adapting existing skills to new applications.

When is the last time your board orientation included practicing performing a necessary task? Or practicing anything?

When’s the last time you presented your board members with hypothetical problems of the sort they’ll need to solve? Case studies? Asked them to work together on a simulation?

I hear your protest: “But Ellen! That takes so much time and we already have several days devoted to this orientation!”

You’re right. You do not want to extend your orientation time. If anything, you want to reduce it.

Instead of walking the members through the bylaws, pick a half-dozen key items and create role-playing scenarios so they will experience them.

Instead of asking members to sit through a presentation by a legal expert, create a few scenarios based on the most likely litigation you could face. Have members work in small groups to work through what they should do and why.

Instead of handing your members a manual on Robert’s Rules of Order and expecting them to magically know the ins and outs of conducting a meeting with them (even assuming they actually take the time to read the manual, which they probably won’t), tell them you’ll be conducting part of the orientation using Robert’s Rules.

Instead of handing them a bunch of financial documents and tediously explaining each item line by line, ask them what they think the most pressing financial issue for the organization is, then use the documents to show the current fiscal situation. Ask them what they think the organization wastes the most money with, then use the budget to determine where the most money is spent, and where the least money is spent.Create an online version that includes explanations of those items through call-outs that appear when the mouse hovers over them so they can continue to refer to it even after the orientation session.

You probably have even better ideas than these to introduce more effective training techniques into your board orientation — the point is to involve them actively in the materials they will be using as board members. Get them thinking like board members through case studies and scenarios and small group discussions. Help them begin to behave like board members by modelling and practicing Robert’s Rules of Order (or other meeting management techniques).

We expect our children’s teachers to be trained in classroom management. We expect our doctor’s office to know how to keep our medical records straight. We expect our attorneys to have the answers to our questions.

Why should our board members be any different?

You wouldn’t want your children in a classroom where the teacher was given a week’s series of lectures and handed a binder then considered ready to do the job. If you’ve had a car accident, you wouldn’t want your insurance agent showing up in his pajamas complaining you interrupted his favorite daytime TV show, would you? of course not. You expect that they’ve been properly trained so you will get the service you expect from them.

Members expect that your board members are properly prepared, too. But taking on a board position is taking on a new job. New jobs require training. Yes, there’s some “orientation” involved, but to overlook the importance of training new board members is to render those members incompetent to fulfill their duties…

…leading to the very dysfunction you really, really, really don’t want permeating your board.

Posted in Learning in General, Online Learning in General | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

More is the Word

Posted by Ellen on December 9, 2011

We’ve all been watching what’s been happening around the world: from grassroots political movements that are changing who’s running a country to mass demonstrations with multiple themes
championed by thousands of passionate followers. Flash mobs have morphed into demonstrations lasting weeks and months. More people are connecting to common causes faster and more cheaply than ever before in history.

But you knew that.

So what does this have to do with learning?

According to Duncan Lennox, co-founder and CEO of learning tech company Qstream, we should be offering “more” educational events:

“Learning is increasingly moving from occasional long events (a classroom lecture or a self-paced traditional online course, for instance) to more frequent and shorter events (five minutes of questions per day, but everyday, for example).

“Of course, this isn’t a binary situation, where it must be one or the other; instead, it’s a blend of event types and lengths, but with a consistent shift over time away from ‘long but few’ to ‘short but often.'”

Lots of face-to-face events, for most organizations — especially small, underfunded groups — just isn’t practical. Not only would the logistics be a nightmare, but the likelihood that our members would be able to afford to travel more often than they already do — particularly for an event that’s even shorter in duration — is slim.

“Short but often” events must occur online. Period.

The good news is that ‘short but often’ fits online delivery extremely well, and with increasingly mobile members, ‘short but often’ fills that need as well, especially since “mobile” doesn’t mean a two-inch square phone monitor any more. Tablet computers and other super-portable devices make carrying learning almost anywhere possible.

More learning doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Think small bits.

Think “easy to develop and access” options: podcasts, simple tutorials, Tweets, blog posts.

You can KISS (Keep It Stupidly Simple) and still do more.

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