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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.

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Trends, Online Learning in General | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

2011 aLearning Association Survey Results Summary — Part 1

Posted by Ellen on October 11, 2011

A heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone who completed the recent aLearning Survey for Associations and to those who helped promote it! We were thrilled to see more respondents to this survey than those in the past, although we were disappointed that we didn’t achieve the numbers desired for it to be a reliable benchmark.

Even so, the results are revealing and worth a close look. Those of you hoping to use the results as a benchmark will find some valuable insights as you compare your elearning status to other organizations.

It was clear at the start that one of the Profile questions might not have been worded correctly for accurate responses. We’d hoped to get some kind of ratio for the number of paid staff members to the number of members served (in the case of trade organizations, individuals served, rather than institutions). But when we saw organizations listing their size as “1001-3000” saying they had 100 (in one case ) and 300 (in another) staff members fully dedicated to education, we knew something was off. And when we saw an organization of 1-500 members say they have an education staff of 300, we guessed that these responses weren’t very reliable. (It’s possible volunteer-driven associations serving education see all of their volunteer education leaders as staffers… but that’s just a guess for why the numbers seem off.)

Despite some outliers, generalities can be made.

That said, here’s the first installment of a series covering the results of the 2011 aLearning Association Survey.

Organization Size and Education Staffing

Some respondents completed the initial profile information, then opted out of the additional pages for various reasons (in one case, the respondent was a vendor and realized her responses would skew results). Respondents who did not complete the full survey have been omitted from this summary.

The single largest group of respondents came from organizations representing more than 10,000 individuals, and the second largest group serves 1001-3000 members. Generally, the respondents were pretty evenly spread across all sizes of organizations. Organizations representing more than 10,000 individual members were asked to note the specific number, and (of those responding) these ranged from 20,000 up to 180,000.

You’d expect this would mean that these organizations are also all over the board in their other responses, and you’d be right.

We asked how many staff members in the respondents’ organizations are dedicated full-time to education, including directors, meeting planners, and support personnel. The numbers were all over the place, as already mentioned, so we have to be careful in interpreting the answers. But here’s what’s intersting:

1-500 members: 1-5 education staff members
501-1000: 0-9
1001-3000: 0-200 (or take your pick: 0-100; 0-15)
3001-6000: 4
6001-10000: 1-13
10000+: 1/2 – 100+

Talk about all over the place! If we take the most conservative numbers, staff members could be representing anywhere from 50-80,000 individuals! That’s quite a range. (The 80,000 number comes from a respondent who listed individuals served as 40,000 with one person dedicated 1/2 time to education.)


What surprised me the most about these results was the number of respondents who didn’t know what percentage of their organization’s overall budget is dedicated to education. Also surprising were those who said they didn’t know whether their education funding would be increased, decreased, or stay the same in the next year. (More on this in a future post.)

Here are the ranges from  those who did answer:

1-500 members: 5-70% of the organization’s budget is dedicated to education
501-1000: 0-100%
1001-3000: 1-30%
3001-6000: 30%
6001-10000: 8-50%
10000+: 4-80%

Budget is always rough territory — so much depends on the organization’s mission and how critical education is in supporting the organizational strategy. So we expected some range within these numbers.

The question is: what are you doing with those funds, and how are you deciding what to do with them?

So let’s take a closer look at two specific respondents from the 1-500 member category:

  • Respondent 19 said their education funding is just 5% of the overall budget. They have 1 individual fully dedicated to education, yet they offer up to 11 online synchronous and 2 blended events each year. They’ve tried social learning but haven’t fully implemented it. They expect their education funding to increase in the next budget cycle.
  • Respondent 15 said their education funding is 70% of their overall budget, but they aren’t doing any synchronous, asynchronous, nor blended learning events (including Webinars). Their focus (it seems) is completely on in-person, face-to-face events. They expect their education budget to remain the same for the next year. Like Respondent 19, they have one fully-dedicated education staff member. They’re doing a bit more with social learning by incorporating it with some of their face-to-face events.

Of course, lots of unknowns are in play here: even a 5% budget can be larger than someone else’s 70%… educational needs aren’t always best met online… etc etc.


Unless Respondent 15’s organization is reaching 100% of their membership with face-to-face events (and maybe they are) they could be leveraging online learning more effectively than they are. Do they have a plan? No. Does Respondent 19 have a strategic plan for their organization’s educational offerings? Yes. (And which organization is getting an increase in funding?!?)

Maybe this is the real difference between the two.

Anticipated Budget Changes

What about the organizations’ expectations regarding whether their budget will increase, decrease, or stay the same?

1-500: 50% of respondents expect an increase; 50% expect their budget to remain the same
501-1000: 50% increase; 50% stay the same
1001-3000: 60% increase; 30% stay the same; 10% decrease
3001-6000: 100% stay the same
6001-10000: 75% increase; 25% stay the same
10000+: 30% increase; 70% stay the same

In a time of cutbacks all around, it’s great to see educational initiatives holding their own — or, even better — their funding be increased. We can guess that this means more organizations are appreciating the value that good educational programming brings to the organization.

So what are organizations doing with their money when it comes to elearning and social learning?

Details on those next time….

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Surveys, aLearning Trends, Financing eLearning, Justifying aLearning, Online Learning in General | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Handy Learning

Posted by Ellen on August 26, 2011

Last fall Tagoras published an update of its “Learning 2.0 for Associations” report and I posted briefly on it. Great research is worth more than one look, and this report is no exception. (If you haven’t taken a first look at it yet, stop here and go do that before you do anything else!)

I couldn’t help making some notes as I perused all of the great examples and the recommendations for various uses of Learning 2.0 options covered in the report. So, with a grateful nod to Jeff Cobb and Tagoras, here are a few more ideas related to Learning 2.0 for associations.

Although the nature of Learning 2.0 tools is that they enable us to deliver bits of content faster than ever, “fast” doesn’t guarantee learning will occur. For example, recording a short video with your smart phone, uploading it to YouTube, then Tweeting the link might be adequate for capturing quick visual nuggets, but it’s important to remember that effective learning requires context and — sometimes — additional scaffolding.

So here’s the deal: there are good matches for Learning 2.0 delivery modes to certain content, and then there are great matches.

Audio Podcasting

The uses of audio podcasting the Tagoras report covers are excellent, and the examples super. Podcasting has been very effective for those wishing to learn non-native languages. And while I haven’t looked for it (so it might exist), a series on bird calls would be of great interest to the birdwatcher in me. These subject areas are a great fit to podcasting because they’re audio-driven. You don’t need visuals to learn to recognize the song of the meadowlark or to learn what “?Donde est la banos?” means in English.

Content that doesn’t require visuals for learners to absorb and recall can work for audio podcasting. Content in which your members are keenly interested works especially well. For example, if you offer a certification program, you could do a series of quiz questions that serve as a “check what you learned” touchstone.

See the e-Learning Guild’s *Learning Solutions* article, “Five Tips for a Better Audio Podcast” by Mary Arnold (June 21, 2011) for some excellent tips.


Video podcasting can be a more effective training tool than when used to simply capture a speaker with a digital camera then uploading the video file. An even better fit for v-casting is to demonstrate processes — showing step-by-step instructions and descriptions. For example, how should an item be scanned in a self-checkout line in the grocery? How do you make a three-egg, ham and cheese omelet?

V-casting is particularly effective for showing and telling what something should look like. An even better use of video is to show what something does. How does it operate?

Visual processes that need full-motion rather than still photos to demonstrate clearly how to proceed are great matches for v-casting. For example, someone learning how to connect the sewer hose and its connector pieces for a recreational vehicle (RV) would benefit better from a short video with verbal instructions than an audio podcast or a manual (though the latter would make a great supporting job aid).

Making such a video should be done with care and forethought: plan the angles for filming so viewer will be able to see clearly what they need to watch. For verbal instructions, a basic script will help you remember all essential steps. It doesn’t have to be formal, but some planning will help you end up with a video that’s useful and effective.

Photos and Slide-Sharing

Sharing photos online is incredibly popular, but photos alone do not make a learning event. The power of Web-accessible photo galleries is how easy they can support an online learning event. For example, if an association of landscaping professionals wants to share examples of well-groomed lawns, a gallery on Flickr can support an online event that discusses how those lawns were cared for. People love “before” and “after” images, and providing them in a way that they can be viewed as often and as long as someone needs to see them is a great instructional enhancement.

If you haven’t read the Tagoras report on how slide-sharing sites are best used for PowerPoint, you’re missing out on a key reason why some presentations, simply posted online, just don’t work.


The report’s summary of blogging’s benefits for expanding and sharing knowledge is super. Blogging can be text- or image-driven, include embedded PowerPoint, video or audio files, and generally be a platform for summarizing events, offering opinions, and otherwise sharing information, knowledge, insight, questions… whatever!

But here’s what’s most valuable about blogging for learning: the opportunity to engage with others outside your regular sphere. You read a blog post that refers to another, so you follow that link and suddenly you’ve discovered another point of view. You post a comment and that blogger responds, and now you’re thinking more deeply than ever about this particular topic. You’re inspired to write your own post about it, and refer back to the other posts that led you down this path. Now your blog readers have opinions, and the original bloggers who got you thinking about it leave comments, too. With nearly every comment you’re processing and analyzing your perspective on the topic. Someone commenting refers you to a white paper or research report, and you follow that link and it leads you to even more insight.

Venturing into the blogosphere dialogue is like walking into a cocktail party where clusters of people are chatting about all kinds of things… Most people drift from one cluster to another, listening then moving on. Or listening, adding their own point of view, getting caught up in the conversation awhile before moving on. Some people, passionate about a topic, stay in the same cluster all evening.

There’s something else that blogging can do, too. A blog can serve as a platform for aggregating links: for example, summary posts with links tied to particular topics can give your members quick access to valuable resources. A blog can summarize the points of view on a controversial topic that affects your membership and provides a place for members to comment.

We’ve all seen examples of organizations posting blogs — often with interesting topics — but the “conversation” is one-way. The organization’s leaders sit back and say, “Why isn’t anyone commenting?” Well, maybe there isn’t anything for your members to say.

Think of the blog not only as a way to provide information, but to engage in a conversation — a conversation more in-depth than you can have via Twitter — and you’ll begin to reap true benefits from blogging.

The Tagoras report also covers wikis, social bookmarking, social networking, virtual events and virtual worlds, and, as I’ve said, expands much more on the areas mentioned here.

If you haven’t read the Tagoras report, it’s not too late to generate your own ideas about how Learning 2.0 options can work for your association!


Posted in aLearning Strategies, eLearning Resources, Online Learning in General | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

Content Curation

Posted by Ellen on August 19, 2011

All debates about using the terms “curation” and “curator” aside, figuring out ways of “finding, grouping, organizing or sharing the best and most relevant content on a specific issue”* is something that all associations should be doing.


Because we’re already doing most of it, and it’s a big (maybe even gigantic) reason our members pay dues to belong to our selective group.

They might not say it in so many words, but when they come to your organization — its educational sessions, conference, networking site, publications, benchmarking reports, research studies, etc. etc. — for help in developing their professional acumen, they’re actually relying on your ability to “find, group, organize, and share the best and most relevant content on a specific issue” so they can readily access it.

Aren’t they?!?

Of course they are.

But let’s take this amorphous idea of “content curation” and make it concrete and actionable. Ideas are great, after all, but useless unless we do something with them.

We have Rohit Bhargava, at the Influential Marketing Blog, to thank for the definition of content curation that we’re using here. Now we can thank him again for his “Five Models of Content Curation.”

He calls them “potential” models because he suggests there might be others (or these, altered in some way), but they’re a great place to start. Here are the five models (see his post for more detail around each of them):

  1. Aggregation — “curating the most relevant information about a particular topic into a single location”
  2. Distillation — “curating information into a more simplistic format where only the most important or relevant ideas are shared”
  3. Elevation — “curation with a mission of identifying a larger trend or insight from smaller daily musings posted online”
  4. Mashup — “unique curated juxtapositions where merging existing content is used to create a new point of view”
  5. Chronology — “curation that brings together historical information organized based on time to show an evolving understanding of a particular topic”

“But Ellen,” you say, “We’re already doing most — if not all — of these things. What’s the big deal?”

Of course you are already doing these things.

But are you doing them conscientiously? Methodically?! Systematically?!?!?

Do you have a clear process?

Do you have someone who owns the task?  A content curator?

Didn’t think so.

But you should.

Here’s how Jeff Cobb describes the role in his post “Who are your content curators?” at his Mission To Learn blog :


“A good curator must be skilled at:

  •  locating and evaluating valuable content
  • organizing and connecting content so that it is as accessible as possible
  • creating and re-purposing content when it adds to the underlying value
  • capitalizing on the Social Web to build connections and context
  • building trusted relationships with learners and other curators
  • design learning experiences (in a much broader sense than traditional approaches)”


How do you find someone like that? Hmm… maybe you already have a staffer or highly active member who’s a good match for the role.

Or maybe you can utilize the talents of a few people.

In “Get Serious about Social Learning by Focusing on What Matters,” an article in the e-Learning Guild’s Learning Solutions e-magazine, Eric Davidove includes a fabulous chart of various roles within a community network (see the full article for complete descriptions):

  • Consumer — “looks for and uses content, information, and social connections”
  • Creator — “creates, shares, improves, and discusses content and information”
  • Connector — “helps others to find the content, information, and people they seek or need”
  • Carrier — “helps creators to transmit and promote their content and information to others”
  • Caretaker — “person who manages the learning community”

What I’m suggesting is that your Creators are likely those who are actively distilling, elevating, mashing, and chronologizing (is that a word?!?).

Your Connectors are likely those who can assist with aggregating — especially in identifying subject matter experts for various topics and subject areas.

Your Carriers promote the initiative while the Caretakers manage it, all for the benefit of the Consumers.


Okay, this might not be the perfect solution, but it’s a start, and you have to admit that there’s nothing here that you have to purchase or get approval for… (of course, you could implement it subversively!)

Your resources are within your organization: the content, the information, the people.

One Way to Get It Done

As you know, I’m not one for “what you need to do.” Instead I like to give “how to do it” lists, even if they’re imperfect. Adapt as you wish or need, but here’s a recommended action plan:

  1. Brainstorm: If you could categorize the information and content your members most want, what would those categories be? Write each category on a sticky note. Put the sticky notes on the wall from right to left in no particular order.
  2. Brainstorm: Who’s knowledgeable about each category? Who are your Creators and Connectors in each? Write each name on a different-colored sticky note and put those sticky notes under the category they could help with.
  3. Brainstorm: Who are your Carriers? Write their names on sticky notes of a third color and put those on the wall to the right or left of your categories.
  4. Brainstorm: Who are your Caretakers? Who might be willing to take on the role of maintaining the cache of information and content? Who would be willing to sort out valid info from “infomercials”? Write their names on a fourth color of sticky notes and put these on the wall outside all of the other groups.
  5. Brainstorm: What will you need to bring this content together and online? Make a list. Prioritize it. Investigate the possibilities.
  6. Go!

Yes, the last Brainstorm activity is where the rubber meets the road, technology-wise. More on how to make your curated content accessible in a future post….

Not that you don’t have plenty to do between now and then!

Note: If your association or non-profit is already curating content and delivering it to your members, we’d love to hear from you. What are you doing? Why did you decide to do what you’re doing? How did you develop it? What suggestions do you have for those venturing into organized content curation? Don’t be shy! If you prefer not to post a comment, feel free to send me an e-mail at We appreciate your insight on this topic!

* Content curation as defined by Rohit Bhargava in a 2009 blog post titled, “Manifesto for the Content Curator”

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Trends, Online Learning in General, Social Learning | Tagged: , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

You Ready to MOOC?

Posted by Ellen on August 8, 2011

All the recent discussion about how we learn from information has spurred me to post on MOOCs, before I’m really ready for it… but I do have a bit of insight to share, so that’s where we’ll start.

Haven’t heard of MOOCs yet?

MOOC = Massive Open Online Class. All the rage.

Okay, maybe within some circles.

The MOOC Guide on Wikispaces describes them this way:

“It is a gathering of participants, of people willing to jointly exchange knowledge and experiences for each of them to build upon. As such it is within the hands of the participants and organizers of a MOOC to change it to their needs. This allows them to use the information and to construct their own ideas or projects. A MOOC is by itself a non-defined pedagogical format to organize learning/teaching/training on a specific topic in a more informal collaborative way…. Connectivism theory … (paraphrasing heavily here) says that learning/training in this era will be successful if we learn how to connect and build relevant networks. This idea of connecting to each other to construct knowledge is one of the key dynamics of a MOOC….The MOOCs were following the trend of Open Education movement described by Iiyoshi and Kumar (2008). The open educational movement focused on open technology, open content and open knowledge. The MOOCs have given rise to a more specific focus on the actual human networking factor within these open courses.”

Touches on a lot of thought-provoking (and — therefore, for me — comment-provoking) threads… social learning… connectivism… where to start?!? (You can find more info from this source here.)

Interested in jumping into a MOOC? Here’s an opportunity for you to join the EduMOOC, offered by The Center for Online Learning, Research and Service at the University of Illinois Springfield. Topic? “Online Learning Today…and Tomorrow.” It’s going on now and continues through August 19.  Here’s their description:

“It is totally open, free, and collaborative. It can be totally asynchronous, or those attending can join in weekly panel discussions with experts in various aspects of the topic. This is an active and growing resource and networking center on the topic of “Online Learning Today, and Tomorrow.” You will have the opportunity to meet many people around the world who share your interest in this topic.

“You are invited to register (see right column) with only your name and email address so you can be given access to all materials, panels and discussions. Within a day after you register, you will admitted to Google Group Edumooc which will allow you to enter into discussions and – if you so designate – to receive a listserv of postings. You are invited to list your networking contacts such as email, blogs, twitter, etc. at the form linked in the left navigation column….

“We are elated to see enormous interest in this topic!  Since the Monday morning announcement of the MOOC, we  have  enrolled more than 2,500 participants from some 65 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas; still no one has identified as themselves from Antarctica, but we remain hopeful!  Those participating are from colleges, universities, community colleges, libraries, school systems, educational association, and many other entities.”

I signed up, but — quite frankly — I wasn’t keen on creating yet another e-mail address (a gmail address is required). If you’re game to see what’s going on, here’s the link.

A lot of great information is appearing on the Web about MOOCs… mostly because the sessions themselves generate thousands of posts and links and … stuff!

Here are just a few places to start:

“A Massive Open Online Class for Edupunks” from the site.

“U of Illinois at Springfield Offers New ‘Massive Open Online Course'” via the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Marc Perry.

And in this Chronicle article, credit goes to Stephen Downes and George Siemens for offering the first MOOC and the rationale behind it.

What Does This Have to Do With Associations and Non-Profits?!?


First of all, they’re relatively inexpensive to produce — free at their most basic level, because they’re conducted online and utilize readily available Web apps (wikis, bookmarking sites, etc.). If you want to pump it up a level, you could include the occasional Web conference event so participants can connect directly over the phone/Web, which would add $$ to your MOOC budget. If you do that, however, be warned: the point of a MOOC is to involve as many people as possible, so if you include this, you have to be mindful of the factors that can make Web conferencing counterproductive to the MOOC culture (i.e., time zones in particular are a challenge).

Second, the nature of a MOOC is in line with how knowledge is usually shared within association communities. Experts and novices alike come together at our annual conferences all the time to learn and re-learn and connect and share best practices, seek solutions to challenges, and in general swap resources and ideas. All of this happens in a MOOC, too.

Third, the MOOC facilitators really just facilitate! And participate. The facilitator’s role is to keep the resources roughly categorized (if needed) and maybe offer some guided questions or areas of discussion… The facilitator is never supposed to be the “expert.” Sage on the stage becomes “everybody on the stage.” Think of a MOOC as an educational flash mob 🙂 Everybody is an expert. Everybody has something to share and something to learn.

Finally, MOOCs are catching on really quickly, and they’re sure to keep growing. They’re particularly popular right now in the academic environment and for those involved with developing online learning. Those who have participated in MOOCs are (as far as I can tell) coming out of those experiences like the newly converted — ready to carry the message, emulate what they’ve experienced by offering their own MOOCs, and advocating for their benefits.

MOOCs won’t replace any of the things we’re doing. As we’re always saying here, there are appropriate uses of various educational modes, and that’s true of the MOOC. But you need to know what they are, how they work, and how they’ll fit into your curriculum.

Why You Shouldn’t Ignore MOOCs

One of the biggest challenges you’ve been facing is increased competition for your members’ time and money. Maybe another organization beat you to the punch with Webinars. Maybe social networking sites such as LinkedIn are cutting into your membership renewals — why join your organization when people can connect for free outside of it?

Now imagine what happens if someone announces a MOOC on a topic that hits right in the heart of your members’ industry or cause?

Here are a few pretend examples (with apologies to any real-life organization with one of these names) :

  • The National Beekeeping Institute discovers that someone is offering a MOOC on starting your own beekeeping business. Who’s doing it? A passionate beekeeper — who’s also one of the orgs most respected leaders.
  • The National Novel-Writing Coalition discovers a famous romance writer is offering a MOOC on writing and publishing.
  • The Association for International Envelope Manufacturers discovers a vendor member is offering a MOOC on equipment — finding, selecting, re-selling, and recycling. This one MOOC will cover at least three face-to-face events the organization offers each year.

But remember: these are “MASSIVE OPEN Online Classes.” They will attract people from around the world. Competitors. Members. Non-members. Everybody.

So this is the promise — and threat — of MOOCs. As with all innovations, you need to figure out how to leverage the promise of MOOCs to your advantage. You need to be aware of the potential risk they pose, if you have content that’s highly prized. With a MOOC, if it’s not proprietary, it’s fair game.

What To Do?!?

So… what should be done about MOOCs? Refuse to stand on the sidelines. Ignoring MOOCs is not a good idea. This leaves two primary options:

  • Offer your own. Amass a greater body of resources around a topic than you currently have. Involve your members and attract non-members. See the power in numbers, the value in “more heads are better than one.”
  • Make your resources available to MOOCs by others. Instead of fighting a MOOC on “your” topic, join the MOOC and offer up your own links, white papers, articles, blog posts, and comments. If you can’t fight ’em, join ’em!

You’re either in or you’re out. Lead, follow, or get out of the way.


Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Trends, eLearning Resources, Online Learning in General, Social Learning, Webinars | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »