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Online Learning for Trade Associations

Posts Tagged ‘retention’

What Would Your Members Say?

Posted by Ellen on August 30, 2011

When you spend a lot of time in an RV on the road, visiting different places, staying in various campgrounds, parks, and RV resorts, you realize what your expectations can be, based on the name of a place.

A campground, for example, traditionally includes places for tents, which means a bathroom facility that also includes showers (unless the campground is considered “rustic,” in which case, you can expect no such facilities to be on the grounds). At the other end of the scale, a resort is usually a meticulously landscaped property that often includes a pool, spa, and other amenities — horseback riding, or a clubhouse with activities and game room. We’ve stayed at resorts that only allowed certain types of RVs (yes, it’s permitted by law), and cost more than a room at a bed and breakfast.

This is important background for the point I’m going to make. Stay with me here.

We’ve stayed at a couple of places that were advertised as “resorts” and ended up being — on the high end — family campgrounds with a dilapidated miniature golf course and a campfire ring as the “resort amenities.” At another “resort,” the pool turned out to be above-ground, the horesback riding option cost more than a night’s stay, the “lodge” was being used as a private residence…

We don’t mind rustic as long as the facilities are usable and the power is reliable (faulty power feeds can destroy the electrical circuitry in an RV… an expensive repair), so we considered the experience an adventure and spent our spare time watching frustrated RVers pull in only to leave again. Yesterday we watched a man who’d come with two kids photograph the broken swingset, unsafe picnic tables, and “Out of Order” sign on the ladies bathhouse door. No doubt he’d thought the kids would be entertained with the hiking (we’ve yet to find the trail), volleyball (or a net), cookouts (don’t see a grill anywhere)… Today they’re gone.

So the first message in all of this is:

  • Advertise accurately. Don’t advertise something you’ve stopped doing or plan to do. Promote only the things your members can expect from you on a regular basis.
  • Think about your name. What expectations are you setting for potential members? If call yourself a “resort,” people will expect certain things from you and they’ll leave, dissatisfied, if you don’t. What do your new members expect from you? Are you delivering on your promises?
  • Don’t make excuses. When somebody says, “You call this a resort?!?” don’t say, “Well… eventually we’ll have cookouts… and hiking… and a spa… and an in-ground pool… it takes awhile to get there.” Nobody wants to hear their timing is bad and they’re missing the good stuff. Don’t say, “We just took over and the place was such a wreck it’s going to take awhile to get it into shape.” Nobody wants your whining. They just want what you promised them and they’re understandably upset when you can’t deliver it.
  • Accentuate the positive, as an old lyric goes. If the place is rustic and out of the way, say so. People who like “rustic” will stay and say nice things about the place, instead of leaving frustrated, angry, and feeling they’ve been had.

Which leads me to the next part of this analogy. Out of curiosity, my husband looked up this particular “resort” on the Web to see what others had to say about it, and post our experiences. We weren’t surprised to read a list of complaints by those who’d come expecting one type of experience but left upset. We posted a cautionary but accurate review: yes, the property has its issues, but we like that it’s quiet and off the beaten path; those looking for a “resort” experience ought to look someplace else.

The RV world has many forums and bloggers. RVers are an honest lot, and they like to share their stories. When RVers meet, they swap suggestions about attractions, restaurants, and places to stay. Word of mouth — especially via the Internet — is loud and long.

So — here’s the real question: if there were an online forum for reviewing associations, societies, institutes, councils, and other non-profits, what would former and current members be posting about you?!?

  • Does your membership brochure match what they’ll actually get? Or are you setting expectations you can’t meet?
  • Are your dues and fees fair? Or are you leaving members wishing they’d saved their money for something else?
  • If they could post a comment on a forum about the associations they’ve been members of, what would they say about yours? Would they recommend others join? Or would they warn other people against joining? Why?

All of this could be true about any aspect of your organization: what would they say about volunteering? Membership benefits? Educational experiences?

  • “I spent three hours a day of my own time on Project X for this association and then they completely ignored our group’s findings and recommendations… that’s the last time I do that!!”
  • “For $200 a year I get a magazine. Everything else is geared to attending face-to-face sessions I can’t afford to attend. This is my last year as a member. I can get a magazine for a lot less money.”
  • “They have some of the best educational sessions I’ve ever attended. If you haven’t been to one, go! They’re a little pricey, but you’ll get a lot out of them.”

There might not be an “associations forum” where people post their reviews of their membership experiences the way they do RV campgrounds, parks, and resorts, but they are sharing their experiences.

What are they saying? And what can you do about it?

Posted in aLearning Strategies, Conferences, eLearning Marketing, Learning in General, Measuring Results | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Are You Following Up?

Posted by Ellen on January 20, 2010

How much of your budget is spent on the learning event itself — the face-to-face part, the cost of the developing the online course, or conducting a Webinar?

How much of your budget is devoted to pre-work? How much is devoted to post-event activities, other than testing for certification?

My guess is very little, if any.

Too bad.

Research shows that attendees can rapidly lose what they learned. Even when they go immediately back to the workplace and begin applying their learning, chances are very good they are only applying part of what they learned — the new skills they most needed, or the new concepts that most intrigued them.

According to Jack Zenger, Joe Folkman, and Robert Sherwin, more than 75% of the learning that takes place occurs during the pre- and post-event phases. Of that, 50% occurs in follow-up.

Yes.  Only 24% of learning occurs during the learning event itself. Yet that segment of the learning process gets the monster portion — if not all — of our resources.


You say you can’t afford to divert half of your budget to follow up?

That’s okay.

You can do plenty with few resources.

What if your face-to-face instructors were asked to post just one follow-up e-mail a month asking the event attendees to “Reply All” with what they’ve been doing around Learning Objective 1 or 2 or 3?

What if you asked attendees to offer one additional resource on Topic A or B or C and post those to a social bookmark site?

What if you provided a way for everyone to post links to articles or other resources they’ve found online to a special networking space devoted to this event?

What if you asked everyone to jot down their AHA! moments, then asked someone to volunteer to collect them and post them to a wiki for everyone to see and share?

And what if attendees who attend the next session and the one after that and so on could meet online occasionally to share what they learned?

What are the ways you — as a learner — continue to keep your new knowledge and skills alive and kicking? Can you implement those tactics for your members? How can you help them build their own PLE — personal learning environment?

We’re either about setting up one event after another without looking back, or we’re about helping our members to learn and grow. The original event sets the foundation but it should never be our only delivery mode. Otherwise we need to get out of the education field and into meeting planning.

Which are you — an educator or a meeting planner? Don’t get me wrong — I’m not attacking meeting planners. See “I Am NOT a Meeting Planner” from 2008 for more… Just be sure you know when you’ve got to wear which hat if you need to wear one of each. Otherwise, you’ll show up at the wrong event wearing the wrong accessories, and then where will you be?

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

Convincing the Boss

Posted by Ellen on November 22, 2009

Justifying the value of attending a learning event is just the beginning. 

If you want your members to return to the same event (your national conference, for example), you’ll have to convince your members — and their bosses, who sign the  travel and expense requests — that the program will be different this time.

Otherwise, your members and their bosses will think they already got everything they could out of attending, and will opt to go somewhere else. (Yes, to someone else’s conference. It does happen!)

Be proactive. Tell them about the new:

  • Topics that will be covered
  • Approaches to previously presented but ever-important topics (last time it was a panel discussion; this time it’s a sharing of best practices, for example)
  • Content leaders and other experts you’ll be featuring this year, and how they plan to attack their topics

Answer the question your members’ boss is likely to ask:

“Didn’t I just send you to that program? What will you get this time you didn’t get then? Why should I pay for it a second (or third or fourth…etc.) time?”

But that’s just the beginning.

Mine your smile sheets and other feedback evaluations to let your members — and their bosses — know how others have benefitted from attending.

  • What one thing have they implemented or done differently as a result of attending your program?
  • What specifically has resulted from that implementation or change? (For example, have they reduced employee turnover because of more effective orientation materials?
  • Have they reduced the time it takes to process an application or other transaction?)
  • How much time or money have they saved their organization by implementing that change?  Over what period of time?

If you’re not already gathering this sort of feedback, start now.

Use the information ruthlessly. Get permission to use specific quotes and data. Use them in call-outs in your brochures and online announcements.

Convince your members — and give them the information they need to convince their bosses — that your programs have value to them. Chances are very good your competitors are doing this very thing — or will be soon.

We all know competition for our members’ time and dollars is at an all-time high. Don’t lay down in the middle of the railroad track. The train is coming.

Posted in aLearning Strategies, Conferences, eLearning Marketing, Learning in General, Measuring Results | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

More Training and Education = Higher Profits

Posted by Ellen on November 4, 2009

Or “Why Providing Education and Training Is Good for Your Members.”

Okay, we all know that, or we wouldn’t be in the field of education. But we’re also surrounded by those who keep demanding that we show some results for all the money we spend on our educational events — face-to-face and online.

For more than ten years, Laurie Bassi and Dan McMurrer have been studying the relationship between corporate training investments and their profitability. They’ve concluded — time and again — that companies providing training and PD to employees are consistently more profitable, even allowing for the wild market swings we’ve recently seen.

What does this matter to you and to your non-profit organization?

Too often we think of our association members as “members” rather than as professionals taking what they gain from our programs back to their medical practices, educational institutions, business offices, or other places of employment. They contribute there, which further contributes to the bottom line of their company or institution.

Here’s the challenge:

  • Mine your registration and completion data (for all programs) to find the members (or institutions, if you’re a trade association) that have participated most frequently in your educational programs.
  • Ask those individuals or institutions for data related to their profitability for a specified period. Have they consistently performed in the top 10% of their market segment? 20%? (Your measurement standard might differ, depending on the field.)
  • Look for a correlation. If  data from Bassi and McMurrer holds, you should be able to see a positive relationship between the amount of professional development and the level of profit realized.  

Now you have data that can come in handy in at least a couple of ways:

  • Shows your board of directors the effect your educational programs are having in your members’ businesses, institutions, etc.
  • Demonstrates to your members the value they’re getting from the educational programs you’re offering.
  • Provides your members with data they can take back to their superiors that helps make the case that the investment in your association and its education programs is worthwhile.

Sure, correlations are just that, and there can be many reasons for profitability. There are likely many organizations spending little on professional development but raking in the dough and at high profit margins.

But when someone just wants to see numbers, and when you can make a strong case for their validity, you’d be remiss not to at least take a whack at it.

Interested in reading more? Here’s the article summary, from Workforce:

Posted in Justifying aLearning, Measuring Results | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Learners Forget

Posted by Ellen on January 11, 2009

Okay, I’ll confess up front I can’t find the article, but we’ve seen the data that discusses how much learners forget as soon as they walk out the door (or close the asynchronous course), and how much more they fail to retain over time.

So we help them plug the holes with Web 2.0 — or my new favorite reference to these online tools, Social Learning — so they can connect with each other for answers, update their personal learning environments by blogging or podcasting or capturing their new knowledge on their wikis, or saving the links to their social bookmarking sites…. right? Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Learning in General, Online Learning in General, Social Learning | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »