aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

Posts Tagged ‘non-profit education’

aLearning Trail Guide Going Dark

Posted by Ellen on February 9, 2013

Not my choice, but the days for ordering e-versions of aLearning: A Trail Guide to Association eLearning are numbered.* The e-reader enabled versions and possibly the PDF version will no longer be available after the end of this month.

If you’ve been putting off purchasing the aLearning Trail Guide, don’t wait much longer. You can order here.

For info on this book and others, click here.

The print version will continue to be available (with its accompanying postage and shipping fees) for the foreseeable future.

* has decided to no longer support DRM, which provides certain protections for the way e-versions are made available.

Posted in aLearning Strategies, eLearning Resources, Justifying aLearning | 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 »

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.


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

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 »

Information or… Information?

Posted by Ellen on November 22, 2011

“It’s not the information, but our ability to use or apply the information, that truly counts,” writes Elliott Masie, internationally-recognized training and elearning futurist and analyst.

When I read this, it made me think of something an association education consultant recently told me about a misconception about the distinction between “information” and what I’ll call “informational content.”

It’s easy to see why it’s confusing.

Example Scenario

Let’s say your organization represents owners and managers of campgrounds across the country — ACOM, we’ll call it (Association of Campground Owners and Managers) [Hopefully there isn’t a group like this out there…. if so, note that the example here is completely fictional and separate from any true entity by this name.]

Over the years, ACOM has compiled what they consider to be the best practices for campground operations. In its bound format, members and staffers have come to call it a manual.

ACOM sells dozens of copies of the book each year and it’s become one of the jewels of membership.

The executive leadership considers this book an educational product because they believe members learn from reading it.

Well, maybe the get some ideas from reading it, but despite being called a “manual,” it doesn’t provide any specific, step-by-step instructions or procedures or guidelines for implementing any of the best practices.

Instead, the book is a compilation of “what” various ACOM members have implmented that led to success in one area or another.

Inside the Manual

Let’s take this a little deeper. Here’s a made-up example of one of the best practices:

“Make sure the largest RVs you want to attract can navigate your roads and sites. You won’t want your visitors to get into a site that they can’t get out of.”

Okay, that’s a great bit of advice, and there might be someone who might not have thought to do this without reading it. What it doesn’t say is how to do this. So someone might try to implement this but end up disappointed with the results.

What would “training” be instead?

If you said, “A Webinar that shows good and bad examples of campground roads for big RVs,” you’re only partly correct. Good and bad examples are a part of training, but on their own are *not* training. It’s just more information.

What if you re-wrote the manual so it said something like this?

“When designing the roads within the campground, make sure any corners are well-rounded and wide so the largest RVs you want to attract can easily navigate the turn.

1. Remove any overhanging tree branches, decorations that line the roads, and other obstacles that could impede the largest rigs along the roads, curves, and within each site.

2. Measure each campsite for length and width. Allow for slide-outs in the width and, if desired, towed vehicles in the length  (or provide for a separate hitching/unhitching area — see separate guideline on this).

3. Measure the clearance width between the site and the electrical/cable pedestal, water hook-up, and sewer drain opening.

4. Measure the clearance width between the site and any other fixtures on the site: fire ring, picnic tables, fixed barbeque stands, etc.

5. Grade the sites so they will be as level as you can make them. If possible, pave the sites, especially those designated for Class A motorhomes, making sure the paved surface is level.

6. Test the roads and sites by driving them in the largest sized rig you want to host. If you’re reluctant to do this, you’re probably not ready to send a guest down the road or into the site!

Is that more of an educational product? After all, it isn’t just information, right?

Well, this is where things get fuzzy. You are providing instructions. And you could say we’ve helped the learner “to use or apply the information” as Masie suggests in the opening quote.

But purists would say that still isn’t enough. We need to set up an environment where learners can see these skills (that’s what they’re learning after all — how to do certain things) demonstrated and then actually practice them.

Of course, that’s not always possible. So what do we do instead?

Lots of things! In no particular order:

  • Create and offer an asynchronous, online simulation that starts learners with a graphic of a campsite where they can see some roads and sites have been widened and others have not. A demo shows them the steps described, then they’re provided embedded tools for measuring and adjusting the sites and roads on the graphic. This would cost some money, but would be available in perpetuity to all members, regardless of their location. (If you charge a small fee to access it, you could earn back your investment.)


  • Because of your membership profile, you could offer an in-person workshop on this (and other aspects of the best practices) at a campground. The benefit to the host campground is a free review of their sites and roads, not to mention the free labor in making any needed corrections. The limitation, of course, is that only those who can actually attend the event would benefit from this training.


  • Least expensive, and the option you’re least able to measure in terms of successful learning, is to offer a blended, online experience. YouTube videos capturing those good and bad examples, followed by an instructional video showing the steps mentioned earlier. These could be supplemented with a live chat with a designated “expert” who can answer questions, provide specifics not covered in the videos, and generally add context around the videos. If a Webinar is used for follow-up, learners who’ve run into weird issues not covered in the basic videos could e-mail photos or uplink their own videos so their situations can be discussed.

All of these should include checklists for each step. (Instructions, remember, are not checklists. Each of the items in the list above must be broken down into several separate items to be an effective checklist.)

And *now* the difference between “information” and “training”/”instruction”/education should be clear.

Information is information. It serves as a foundation for the content of effective education and training. But information without providing the ways and means for using or applying will not give learners what they need to incorporate that information into their frame of reference, much less be able to implement it.

That Said…

If your association leadership keeps trying to make the case that your organization provides the necessary “education” to your members that its mission or strategy demands because of your manuals and best practices and white papers and research, show them this post.

Posted in aLearning Strategies, Justifying aLearning, Learning in General | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 742 other followers