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Online Learning for Trade Associations

Archive for February, 2012

Did You Feel That?

Posted by Ellen on February 28, 2012

We’ll call it a technological earthquake (because we’re currently in Soutern California; you can call it a tornado or hurricane or monsoon… whatever).

The “seismologists” are the researchers at the USC Annenberg School’s Center for the Digital Future. They’re reporting on more than ten years of studies, tracking the emergence and use of technology and online activity. (You can find a summary of the results here.)

The article identifies some key takeaways from their work.

  • Despite its popularity, social networking suffers from just a 14% confidence rate. According to Jeffrey I. Cole, Director of the Center for Digital Future, “…51% of users said that only a small portion or none of the information they see on social networking sites is reliable.” Yep. Makes you wonder: how credible do people think your association’s Facebook presence is? What can you do to improve their confidence in your social networking presence?


  • The desktop PC is going to dwindle to 4-6% of computer users — and those will primarily be professionals who rely on computers for their work (programmers, financial planners, scientists, writers, gamers, analysts, and scientists). Tablets will soon become the most used personal computing devices because they are “more convenient and accessible than laptops and much more engaging to use.” Are you preparing for this shift? And, as you know I like to warn, do your members fit into the tablet profile, or are they in a field that will be in the minority but devoted group of desktop PC users? Because it won’t matter if 96% of the country is using tablets if 98% of your members are still using desktop PCs and/or laptops. Just sayin’.


  • The irony about personal computing is that we believed they would be labor-saving devices — and they are — but they have also extended the workday into the evening and expanded the workweek into the weekend. Many people on vacations stay tethered to the office via e-mail, Twitter, and other methods. So here’s what you should be asking about your online offerings: are you making it worth your members’ time to participate in your Webinars, social networking discussions, online courses, and otherwise engage in the online activities you make available to them? Better make sure. The report suggests that people are soon going to have had it with all this and start cutting back. Don’t give your members reasons to cut you out.


  • With the exception of four major newspapers (the NY Times, USA Today, Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal), Sunday metros and small weeklies, most US print newspapers will be gone in five years. The report asks, “How will the changing delivery of content affect the quality and depth of journalism?” What opportunities for you does this open up? How can your organization make up for any lost quality or depth of journalism? Where are the gaps that you can fill?


  • How transparent are you? How do you reassure your members that their online presence with you is safe? “Our latest Digital Future study found that almost half of users age 16 and older are worried about companies checking what they do online; by comparison, 38% said that the government checking on them is a concern,” says Cole. While our members love making purchases and connecting with others online, they’re also very aware that the Web is public, and that information on them is collected with nearly every click. So far that isn’t stopping people from participating in online shopping, surveys, commenting on blogs, reviewing purchase experiences, adding rankings and ratings, etc…. But what are you doing to make sure your members don’t log off your site or your blog or move away from your Facebook or LinkedIn pages thinking, “Darn… I wonder what they’ll do with what I said there?” What are you doing to make sure your members aren’t balking at the information you’re asking for on profile pages? The tipping point for privacy concerns might still be a ways off… but there’s no doubt it’s on people’s minds.


  • “Even though online outreach to voters continues to expand, and Internet fundraising is a major priority for candidates, the Internet is not yet considered a tool that voters can use to gain more political power or influence,” Cole says. Yet they believe this is changing and over the next two election cycles the Internet will become “a major factor in changing the political landscape.” Occupy Wall Street, Occupy LA, Occupy [fill in the name of your organization]. Occupy it online. What are the possibilities here? Threats? How can you get ahead of the potential impact of influencing politics online to benefit your organization’s mission? Is there a part you can play in accelerating this trend?


  • Can you believe online buying is 18 years old? Amazon has flourished and Borders Books has suffered because of it, to cite an example from just one industry. Music CDs have pretty much gone by the wayside as fans download digital files. “Even though purchasing online has already had a significant impact on buying habits, the changes still to come in American purchasing brought by the Internet will no doubt be even more extensive,” says Cole. Are you leveraging online buying trends as fully as you could be? Are you taking orders online but still shipping out print books and manuals? Time to think hard about converting to ebooks…. I’ll digress from the report summary here to mention that ebook readers have satisfaction rates of 60% and higher (up to 75% for Kindle buyers). Kindle books outsold print books at Amazon this past year for the first time. It isn’t a fad. It’s a trend. Don’t be the Borders to someone else’s Amazon.


  • A friend recently recounted his nephew’s description of a college party. “About fifteen people were there. And they were all texting each other. In the same room. My nephew said it was quiet. The quietest party you can imagine. Except for the occasional laughter when someone forwarded something funny or texted something witty. Then there would be a laugh, then another, as the message floated around the room.” Yes. In the same room. Texting each other. It’s no joke, it’s true, and the Digital Future’s report validates it. People are spending more time connected online than they do face-to-face. “But is quality being sacrificed for quantity?” Cole asks. “Will those who use social networking services consider them as alternatives to face-to-face involvement with the people in their lives?” In your organization’s social networking and other online environments, how are you ensuring that quality is overriding quantity? That your members are getting something valuable for their time? That they are able to make the same sorts of strong connections online that they make at face-to-face events?


  • Are you ready for what’s next? “In 2006, YouTube and Twitter had just been born, and Facebook was a toddler. Six years ago, who would have thought that these nascent technologies would become the standard for social communication in 2011? The next major online trend is being developed right now by a new crop of Internet visionaries just waiting to be heard,” says Cole. How adaptable is your organization to upcoming change? Because there will be change.

And if I were to guess it would be about personalization.  Think about it. You can order M&M candies with any message you want (that will fit their basic specs). You can create your own movies and upload them for the world to see. You can write and publish your own books with a few clicks of the mouse (okay, the publishing part… not the writing part). You can produce your own music and market it to your fans. You can order any number of items with your name or logo on them.

So can your members.

And the youngest members of our associations have been growing up in a personalized, customized, all about “me” world for a long time.

What are you doing to give your members a unique experience in your organization? Do they get the same tee-shirt as everyone else, or do you give them the opportunity to design their own? Do they have a say in the educational sessions available at the national conference? Can they control how and where and for how long they access online learning sessions? Or are you still making them fit your schedule? (Oh, that’s so last century!!)

Okay, glad I got that off my chest.

At least you can start with these ideas from the Center for the Digital Future and your pal here at aLearning, right?

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Trends, eLearning Resources, Online Learning in General | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

You Built It…

Posted by Ellen on February 22, 2012

But they haven’t come.

“Recent statistics from the 2010 Tomi Ahonen Almanac estimate that there were five billion cell-phone subscriptions worldwide at the end of 2010. To me, that says the opportunities for m-learning are limitless.” — Tony Bingham, ASTD President and CEO

However… This statistic includes non-smart phones. I carry a basic TracPhone. It’s primarily (prepare to be shocked) a telephone. It does have a basic text-message feature, but I didn’t buy it for any of that.

Though I’m surely in the minority for US professionals, I’m also sure that, globally, I’m in the majority.

What am I getting at?

Statistics are helpful guides. But they are no substitute for profiling your members, for finding out how many have smart-phones and use them for anything more than a quick Web search and e-mails. If they don’t, then you could invest lots of time and money in m-learning only to discover that your members are not tuned in to that delivery mode.

Think I’m crazy?

Know history or risk repeating it, right? Here’s one example: an association I know of jumped onto the asynchronous elearning bandwagon several years ago, when it was the shiny new thing in education. They invested thousands and thousands of dollars and hours of staff time creating fabulous elearning courses.

No one showed up.

Their members didn’t have access to the Web back then, at least not the bandwidth needed at that time for a successful online learning experience. Result? Disappointment and a much harder sell when elearning and the Web evolved to the point when such an endeavor made more sense.

Moral of the story?

Don’t just listen to the experts and what they’re promoting these days. Don’t make decisions simply based on statistical trends. Instead, turn your research inward: find out if your members are prepared — with the technology and attitude — for the implementation you’re considering.

To do less is to suffer the consequences of “Fire, Ready, Aim.”

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Stealing from the Rich…

Posted by Ellen on February 17, 2012

Stealing what works in elearning from the rich corporations, that is…

First, my usual caveat: we’re not corporations. We shouldn’t assume that everything they do is worthy of emulation by associations and other nonprofits.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them, right? And because the series we did that dissected what the ASTD BEST Award winners did in 2009 had so many hits (and still does), I figure it’s worth our time to look at some other companies, what they’re doing, and what we can learn from them.

Source? Way last summer Intrepid Learning released a white paper, “Learning Experts at Work: How Social Tools and Technology Catalyzed a Learning Renaissance.” It’s a great read in its entirety, but here are a couple of nuggets:

  • “…[T]he best learning cultures encourage people to help teach others in the organization. This happens at Google a lot. A company shouldn’t get in-between the learner and the expert. Otherwise, you can’t democratize the spread of knowledge. And that’s what the next decade will require.” So say Ann Farmer (Information Engineer) and Julie Clow (Manager of Learning & Organizational Development), both at Google.
    •  Would you describe your association as having a culture of learning? Why not? Inadvertently or not, are you standing between your members and the experts and mentors they need? What can you do to bring them together, then get out of their way? Is “the spread of knowledge” “democratized” in your organization? If not, why not? What can you do to encourage open exchange of knowledge and training?
  • At TELUS, a Canadian communications company, “field technicians carry video cameras with them, and, if they encounter a particular problem or situation for which they need assistance, they’ll shoot some video, feed it back to company headquarters, and within a short amount of time they’ll have answers from other employees on how to solve the problem. The videos are highly practical, not highly produced, and have made significant improvements in the training and effectiveness of field technicians,” writes Tony Bingham (President and CEO) at ASTD, describing an one of the case studies he includes in his book, The New Social Learning.
    • Are you using video? To what ends? This is an example that supports what the women from Google said in the previous point: democratizing learning — field techs sending problems to other field techs who provide solutions. Are there ways you could be using video — or audio or Twitter or other technologies (other than social networking platforms) to enable this sort of exchange? What could you implement that would help your members learn from each other?

Some other key ideas from this report:

  • According to Ethan Zuckerman (Senior Researcher) at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, we’re making a shift from an “Attention Economy” to an “Intention Economy.” “In an Attention Economy, companies produce products and create advertisements to capture viewer attention and, eventually, their dollars. In an Intention Economy, customers tell producers what they want and companies compete to meet their needs.”
    • Do you still see your educational offerings as products you need to “sell” to your members? If you have to “sell” them so hard, don’t you think maybe your members are already telling you something about that program (traditionally offered and beloved as it may be)?!? What are your members saying they want — and need — to learn about? What training are they asking for? What can you be doing to listen more carefully to them?
  • David Metcalf, PhD,(CLO Adviser/Researcher) at the Institute for Simulation and Training the the University of Central Florida says, “Looking ahead, I think we should keep our eyes on the concept of ‘learning theory mash-ups.’  This approach will allow us to achieve a level of granularity with each learning theory and will also enable us to apply the right technology to a very specific learning objective. This is very similar to a technology mash-up, which doesn’t try to re-invent each component in a monolithic structure.”
    • Is your organization working toward a technology goal of having a one-stop-shop for your members’ learning needs? Are you crawling out from under the traditional notion of “programs” and into the bright new day of integrated learning? Of seeing your offerings as interwoven opportunities for learning — beyond a particular curriculum? Why not? What can you do to knock down walls so your members can learn more and learn better from each other?
  • The 9000 globally-located Peace Corps volunteers need more than their nine weeks of face-to-face training. To supplement that, they can access “extra learning [that] includes a series of how-to videos that are 60-180 seconds in length. They offer three to five steps, and they’re available on YouTube and iTunes,” says Chris Hedrick, Peace Corps Director in Senegal.
    • Have you been assuming that videos have to be long, or elaborate productions? Are the only videos you offer those that were filmed at a face-to-face event, and feature talking heads? How might you implement a series of 60-180 second visual learning nuggets? What could you be showing your members how to do?

The possibilities are everywhere. You just need to have a clear vision of what you want to accomplish, then look for the tools and methods to implement them. Making sure, of course, that those tools are the same ones your members use… (more on that next time).

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