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Archive for the ‘Financing eLearning’ Category

aLearning Trail Guide Now Available on Amazon

Posted by Ellen on March 25, 2015

Though I’d thought it was time to retire aLearning: A Trail Guide for Association eLearning, I continue to see sales and interest in the book — a great sign that online learning is alive and well and growing in the world of nonprofit and trade associations!


Much has changed in the technology of elearning since the trail guide was originally published in 2009, but the step-by-step instructions for gathering what you need to develop, and then create, your association’s elearning strategy are still valid. When the book came out, it was the only place to get such detailed information in a practical, useful format.

Whether your online learning strategy needs an overhaul or you’re just getting started, the aLearning trail guide can help.

And that help is easier to get than ever.

While I still believe the book is best used in print format, those who’d prefer a copy on their Kindle or other device can now purchase and download it. And the e-book can be given as a gift: with a few clicks, you can purchase it and have it sent to someone else via their e-mail address. How cool is that?

Order now, for just $9.99.

Oh, and tell your friends!


Posted in aLearning Strategies, Asynchronous Learning Types, eLearning Resources, Financing eLearning, Justifying aLearning, Online Learning in General | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

How Time Flies…

Posted by Ellen on January 27, 2012

…when you’re having fun, right?!?

And we have been having fun here at the aLearning Blog! Suddenly, it seems, we’re publishing our 250th post and celebrating five years.

Yep, five years. And so much has changed!

When aLearning published its first post back on January 27, 2007:

  • no LMS systems (that we know of at the time) were designed especially to meet the needs of associations and nonprofits
  • few (if any) research endeavors about online learning focused on associations and nonprofits
  • few (if any) organizations bothered to survey association learning leaders to find out what we’re doing in the field and how things were going
  • the number of association-specific blogs could be counted on the fingers of one person’s hands
  • social learning and virtual learning environments were mysterious, hocus-pocus, scary entities

A lot has changed over just five changes of the seasons, hasn’t it?!?

Top 100 aLearning Blog Posts

To celebrate this milestone, we’ve compiled an ebook of our Top 100 aLearning Blog Posts. Just skimming through these selections made us realize how quickly the elearning sands shift, affecting the landscape, even moving the horizon.

At over 200 pages, this compilation brings together in one place the best — and most controversial — writing from the aLearning Blog. We’ve included most comments (the fine print is that we’ve deleted pingpacks, backtracks, and outright sales pitches) and are proud of the attention the aLearning Blog has garnered over the years by elearning and education experts.

To Get Your Copy

We’ve made this e-publication very affordable at just $5. To order, go to and click the “Buy Now” PayPal button. You should be able to read this PDF from any device with a PDF reader (such as Adobe Reader).

Special Offer

If you’ve purchased aLearning: A Trail Guide to Association eLearning, we’ll send you a copy of the Top 100 Posts for free. Just send Ellen an e-mail at and attach an electronic copy of your Lulu receipt, and we’ll send you the Top 100 Posts by return e-mail. We appreciate your support and are happy to say “thank you” in this small way.

Thank You!

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Surveys, aLearning Trends, Conferences, eLearning Marketing, eLearning Resources, Financing eLearning, Justifying aLearning, Learning in General, LMS, Measuring Results, Online Learning in General, Social Learning, Webinars | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Cloudy About ‘The Cloud’?

Posted by Ellen on January 10, 2012

Don’t be. Here’s the easy-sneezy version of what you need to know to help your association or nonprofit.

First, “The Cloud” is just another way of referring to the Web, the Internet, cyberspace. Services “in the cloud” are available via the Web instead of systems having to be installed on your server(s) or applications or programs being installed on your desktop. It means they’re out there — in cyberspace — and you connect to them.

What this means is that the responsibility for maintaining those systems rests on the company providing them, instead of on you.

Yes, this is very good news.

“SaaS” or “Software as a Service” has been around for awhile, and “The Cloud” references have sort of evolved from that.

But here’s the best part. According to TSIA’s October 2011 report, “Understanding the Impact of Consumption Economics on Education Services”:

“Customers no longer have to buy all the complexity. They can buy the capacity, features, and functionality they need, when they need them, and in the amount they need them. The best part for the customer is that huge, up-front payments are replaced by manageable, monthly payments. No longer is the customer held hostage by a product that is too hard to use and too hard to uninstall.”


Wait! There's more!


"…[T]here will be constant price pressure as new suppliers enter the marketplace and/or new cloud offerings are promoted."

TSIA anticipates a shift from long-term licensing fees to micro-transactions, which could be pricing per user per month, per feature, per gigabyte of data stored, per content downloaded, or any number of other similar yet singular types of transactions.

We’re already seeing this from some vendors. Charging a $X fee per user per month for up to X number of users is one example.

This is great because we’ll only be charged for the actual number of users in the system and/or for the actual downloads or other access options.

Of Course There’s a Catch

You can get your calculator out and do the math if you want, but the logic is clear: the better the deal is for us (the consumers), the more the vendors will have to work to make the same levels of income.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’ve decided on ACME LMS. Let’s say you’re just starting with elearning so you’ve chosen their low-end “Basic” option: features A, B, and C, for $5/mo per user.

Let’s also say they have a “Standard” option that includes the features you already have and use, PLUS features D, E, F, G, and H for $10/mo per user.

Even with the same number of users, ACME LMS stands to make more  money from you.

They might not try to get you to opt for the “Standard” bundle at first, but you can bet they’ll be looking to “upsell” you at some point. They have revenue needs, and you’re the way to fill those needs.

I’m not saying don’t take the upsell. But I will tell you to ask for the data.

More Cloudy Benefits

A hidden benefit of a product that sits in the Cloud is that it’s generating a bunch of data on your use of the system. You might be getting that data, you might not. But you can bet the company is sucking as many numbers out of the system as it can get.

That’s not a bad thing.

They can tell you how your members are using the system in ways you probably can’t imagine. It’s to their benefit to do that.

So if they’re suggesting an upgrade to another bundle — let’s say to the Standard option in the example we’ve been using — then ask to see the data. Look at how the features you’d be adding could enhance the learners’ experience in the training you’re giving them. How many users would likely be affected if you incorporated those additional features? Would it be worth the additional cost? Why? Why not?

If you’re not convinced, no need to make the jump. The next “level” of service will be around for awhile. You can make the change whenever your organization is ready, and you can do it pretty quickly compared to the old license-renewal cycles that are measured in years.

Yes, there are terrific benefits when you let your elearning programs live in the Cloud rather than on some server in a back room someplace. Start modestly, graduate up if needed, and be sure the vendor you choose has a great reputation for uptime and excellent back-up systems.

Could your elearning benefit from living in the Cloud?

Posted in aLearning Strategies, Financing eLearning, LMS, Online Learning in General | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

How Does the Money Flow?

Posted by Ellen on October 23, 2011

As we noted in our summary of the aLearning Survey results, we were surprised by the number of respondents who didn’t know what percentage of the organization’s overall budget is dedicated to education.

Perhaps the organization is so small that there’s just one pool of money from which everything is dispersed.Or some organizations have an education budget but the education staffers don’t have eyes on the organization’s overall budget, so they don’t know what their portion of it is.

This seems supported by the fact that the respondents most in the dark about this percentage are those from the 10,000+ members served category. The bigger the budget, the more departments involved, the more people = the harder it is to get eyes on the big picture.

Why is aLearning so fixated on these particular “don’t know” answers? Why is it so important to know how much of the pie your education function is apportioned?

Because you can’t advocate for an increase in your budget unless you know how the money flows in your organization. And the data in this survey support this. Of those responding they don’t know what the percentage of their education budget is within the overall budget, only 40% report that they will be experiencing an increase in the next year.

Here’s a fictional example of how knowing what the overall budget is, and how education fits into it, can help.

Without Percentage Information

Let’s say your organization serves 8000 individuals and you have an education budget of $180,000. You have only a vague idea of how other departments are funded, but no information on the organization’s overall budget.

You have been providing educational events for many years, as education is a key benefit of membership. You’d like to add an LMS but the price — $50,000 upfront and $15,000/year afterwards is being met with resistance. You’d like these amounts to be funded through an increase in your education budget.

You’ve taken the numbers to the executive director and board: you serve 35% of the membership through your education events, with an additional 20% as a result of your online offerings. You’d like a more robust system for tracking and scores so you can transition into a certification program sometime in the future (this, the board supports). So, overall, you’re serving about 4400 individuals with your elearning.

The board responds by saying they need to devote their financial attention to other needs — including upping their marketing and increasing their research offerings.

What can you say to that? “Don’t do it?” “You’re making a mistake”?

You have no leverage. You don’t have a way of weighing the costs or comparing apples to apples.

With Percentage Information

Now let’s say you know that your $180,000 budget is 10% of the overall budget. Even if they don’t tell you or show you the numbers, you can calculate that the overall budget is $1.8 million.

This tells you that the $50,000 will increase your education budget to just over 12.7% of the overall budget. You also know you’re serving 55% of the membership, a number that could increase with the addition of the new LMS, given the feature set you’ve got your eye on.

Let’s say that your organization has these general departments:

Education (including national conference) (10%)

You now know that 90% ($1.62 million) of the overall budget is distributed across these general areas.

When you look at the picture this way, you can begin to see that your request for $50,000 isn’t a huge one, not in the broader scope of the organization’s money flow — just under 3%.

You can put all of this into context by saying that a 3% “cost of living” increase for your department is well spent.

Even without knowing how much money the organization is planning to invest in marketing and research, you can now make the argument that even if you increase your membership participation by only 5% with the additional infrastructure, the investment will have proven itself to be more affordable than it might seem upfront.

Finally, if your organization has education or training as a key component of its mission, strategy, purpose, or goals, you should be making the case that adding 3% to the expense line is a small investment for supporting your overall mission/strategy/etc.

Furthermore, if research (in particular) isn’t part of the organization’s mission/strategy/etc., then you have even more evidence that the investment you’re requesting has perceived value.

Don’t Put the Competition Down

So, to review:

    1. Find out what percentage of the organization’s budget you have. (If you can, find out what the percentages other departments have as well.)
    2. Determine the percentage of members served (and number of individuals, whenever possible, even for trade associations).
    3. Compare that number to your budget percentage. Although they might never become equal (and it might not be desirable that they do), be alert to any huge discrepancies.
    4. Review your organization’s mission, strategy, purpose, vision, goals, etc. for every piece of evidence that education and training are important and valued.
    5. Create your case. Use current or recent registration numbers, feedback, surveys, polls — whatever you can provide.

Most of all, don’t put the competition down. In our example, we focused on how to make your case — not how to attack the other areas the board is considering funding. Those could very well be critical areas — more marketing, for example, could bring you more members and more registrations. More research could lead to more areas for educational development. Avoid trying to position your education needs above other needs. It’s a hard argument to make, will alienate possible allies who are tied to those causes, and — in the end — could cut you out of the conversation entirely, rather than perhaps give you at least a partial victory.

Sure, some executive leaders prefer to keep financial information from their staffers (I’d wonder about that leadership… but then… maybe that’s just me).

  • Tell your boss you’re just looking for the percentage of total dollars allocated to your function — just one number, and a percentage (rather than a hard number) at that! You’re not asking for full access to all of the organization’s financial records or accounting data.
  • Remind the boss that you’re responsible for the healthy financial status of the education department, and this can help. (If you’re really good at being passive-aggressive, you might be able to make the boss feel as though he/she isn’t doing his/her job by keeping you from doing your job well.)
  • Find out if your organization must make its financial information public; if so, there are a number of Web sites that can provide that information to you.

You might be surprised that the boss hands over the information without much of a squeak. Perhaps you don’t have it because it never really occurred to anyone that you might need it — or want it. So if you do get the percentage number without much trouble, wait awhile, then go back and ask for more info.

You’ll never know what you might be given unless you ask.

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Surveys, Financing eLearning | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

2011 aLearning Association Survey Results Summary — Part 4

Posted by Ellen on October 14, 2011

If you’ve been following our recent posts that summarize our 2011  survey, you’ve seen that organizations of all sizes are leveraging online learning in some way or another. (Click here to see part 1 covering profiles and budget, here for part 2 on elearning programs, here for part 3 on social learning.)

But how are associations and other non-profit organizations making decisions about which programs to pursue? Do they have a strategic plan? Do they have a different method they follow?

Again, results were scattered. But, again, there’s a lot we can learn from taking a look at them.

Half or more of responding organizations have some sort of method for planning educational programs (click the image to see it enlarged):

Here’s the question that was asked: “Do you have a strategic plan for your association’s educational offerings? If not, how do you decide how and when to make changes regarding your educational offerings?”

Many respondents didn’t seem to see a distinction between getting input from an education committee (just to use one example) from creating and implementing a strategic plan for the education function. Other organizations were quite clear about the differences, saying (for example) they were in the process of developing a strategic plan.

What are the different methods for deciding how and when to make changes in educational offerings? Here are some responses:

  • “courses are evaluated on an ongoing basis by the education committee”
  • “an annual education plan”
  • “analytic and sales results judge whether programs are implemented”
  • “content changes/edits occur at every event, different volunteers lead the program content, including Webinars”
  • “Our decisions about educational offerings are guided by our association’s overall strategic plan, which includes some direct  strategic directions related to education and online engagement.”
  • “input from committees, board and membership”

So does it really matter whether you evaluate your programs in these ways or have a more formally created (and attended to) strategic plan?

We were curious about this, and decided to look at what organizations will be changing in the next year next to whether they have a strategic plan (or follow the organization’s overarching strategy).

See what you think. Does having a strategic plan make a difference?

Certainly major decisions — about whether to incorporate an LMS or get a new one, for example — can be made without a strategic plan.

But as you can see, organizations with a plan had a greater variety of anticipated changes — from implementing mobile learning to adding virtual experiences into the mix.

Did you also notice that organizations with a strategic plan are adding education-dedicated staff members?!?!?

I sure did.

One of the biggest challenges paid education staffers face is limited time. With only so many hours in a day, it’s hard to get everything done. So when the case can be effectively made to add personnel, it’s worth celebrating.

Can such a case be made without an education strategy? Probably. And of course this survey wasn’t designed to try to show a causal relationship between having a strategic plan and being able to hire additional staff (or purchasing an LMS, or making other significant changes), but there does seem to be some relationship between them.

So if you’re thinking you’re okay moving from event to event, making changes here and there, adding a program and subtracting one as the numbers seem to fluctuate… think again. Are you really moving your organization forward in leaps and bounds toward a clear destination, or inching it along to who knows where?

Your organization is relying on you to lead them. Don’t let them down.

My sincere thanks to all of the survey participants, and special congratulations to Mary Beth Ciukaj, Director of Education for the Council of Residential Specialists in Chicago, who won a signed copy of aLearning: A Trail Guide to Association eLearning.

More general comments about the survey next time, then I’ll put the survey and its results to rest.

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Surveys, aLearning Trends, Financing eLearning, Justifying aLearning, LMS, Social Learning | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »