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Online Learning for Trade Associations

Posts Tagged ‘strategic planning’

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 »

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 »

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 »

Free eBook on Learning Strategies

Posted by Ellen on September 7, 2011

At over 100 pages, with eight strong case studies, the Masie Center has compiled an excellent overview of how learning leaders at major companies developed their learning strategies. Best of all, it’s FREE as “an open source eBook.” You can find it (and other great ebooks) here.

We can learn a lot from each of these case studies, but — assuming you have limited time for reading — here’s a summary of the case studies so you can see if you want to spend time downloading it.

I’ll jump to the editor Nigel Paine’s summary of what constitutes a good learning strategy, based on his interview with elearning thought leader and guru Elliott Masie: “Elliott sees a good learning strategy as the GPS that maps out how the investment in learning will contribute to the overall success of the organization.”

Elliott’s “fundamental principles that hold in strategy after strategy in public and private sector organizations all over the world”:

  • “A strategy requires a complex process of deep thinking about the role of learning, and it should end up a solid ‘document’ to be used and referred to long after it has been created.”
  • A learning strategy develops the learning culture within the organization that helps make judgment calls that balance new and existing technology against what you can afford.
  • “It is oriented toward action and requires visible outcomes” that are endorsed by the those who will oversee its implementation. And though it is “oriented toward action” it is *not* an action plan.
  • Your learning strategy must be unique to your organization. “This is not something you can buy off the shelf, hand over to consultants, or copy from some other place! You be skipping the alignment and buy-in, both of which are critical for a strategy’s success.”
  • A learning strategy is about innovation. “It calls for a deep look at what we do and how we can do it better.” (Or, in the case of our members, help them do things better.

Here are the eight learning leaders and a quick summary of how they approached their organization’s learning strategy.

Bob Baker of the CIA (yes, *that* normally secretive government agency), in its fourth iteration of a learning strategy, focused on “moving learning much closer to the learner, wherever he or she is located, and whatever the role being undertaken.” To do this, they defined four key learning trends (“learning will become increasingly mobile, social, available in multiple formats and accessible on demand”) and aligned them to the workforce; established the “disrupters that will impact the learning strategy and how to cope with them” (disrupters they identified included significant world events, changes in mission priority, and changes in technology); built a case for change by “establishing four key principles of the new strategy” (these are commitment, people-performance, access, and agility) and tying these principles to the agency’s mission; used a SWOT analysis to create an Agency-wide learning vision and mission; and defined ten initiatives “that serve as targets and outlines the parameters for achievement of those ten initiatives, which then became the benchmarks and indicators of progress for the strategy.”

Lisa Pedrogo, at CNN, needed a strategy that would help “the learning function stay relevant and add value to a business that is always short of time and where pressure to get the story and transmit it leaves little room for formal learning.” Agile learning is the key here, so they have developed a strategy and follow it, but also find themselves “crashing together a curriculum” using what they call a “blitz methodology.” Their strategy, by necessity, must allow them to “respond to disrupters and have a process for dealing with disruption and reallocating resources when necessary.”

At the very start of developing a learning function — much less creating a strategy for it? Then you’ll benefit from reading how Ruben Bonales conducted a needs assessment, implemented an initial training program that delivered results, “building validity, accountability, and tangibility in the eyes of the organization for his learning operation.” Through nurturing relationships with members of the senior management team, he “built trust, credibility, and, above all, accountability.” Using business results as his fundamental metric for success, he was able to “converse” with the company’s leaders. Eventually, his strategy defined three targets: “developing alignment to organizational goals, building a strong relationship with the business, and focusing on delivering tangible business results.”

While many of us might think a huge multi-national company like Shell can’t possibly give us any ideas for our learning strategies, they actually have an interesting two-prong strategy that’s worth some consideration. One part of their strategy “lists the key focus areas for learning in the short-, medium- and long-term. The second hinges on functional excellence or delivering learning in an efficient and effective way. They come together in the process of defining the key stakeholders and their required capabilities, working out the learning blend and then determining the most efficient and effective way of delivering learning interventions.” Whew! So how do they do this? “With part one, business results involved constant dialogue with all the managers from the global business. Part two emerges from a bi-annual benchmarking exercise using qualitative and quantitative data to identify best practices outside the company. This is based around identifying innovative processes, structure and governance, information systems, people and culture.” Simply put: work out what your members need to learn in one exercise, then conduct a best practices environmental scan to find out what you might be doing differently to deliver that education.

How do you assemble your strategic planning team? Keith Dunbar at the Defense Intelligence Agency has some suggestions. Other critical lessons in strategic planning: ask the right questions so you can “understand the context in which the learning strategy has to operate” focusing not only on existing circumstances, but emerging issues; select learning strategy metrics that make sense (not just because the numbers are easy to get); sell the strategy in ways that eliminate barriers (his case study lists fourteen identified barriers).

Bored by the entire idea of a learning strategy? Can’t get past thinking of it as sort of two-dimensional when you’d prefer a 3-D option? How about this one: Eaton, a global power management company, uses a “strategic learning portfolio” (SLP) which “represents a wide variety of learning opportunities to improve business performance through a continuous and multidimensional process, including both formal and informal routes to competence. The SLP is set at three levels: instruction (for novices, mostly and 20% of output), ideas and collaboration (needed mostly by competent performers, and 60% of output) and innovation (mostly needed by experts, and 20% of output). Each of these areas is divided into informal and formal learning.” For more about how Eaton accomplishes this, see the chapter, “Making a Strategic Learning Portfolio the Heart of any Learning Strategy,” by Terry M. Farmer and Evan Ishida of Eaton Corporation.

Though aLearing doesn’t advocate developing a strategy based on technology, sometimes that’s the only place an organization can start. Mike Cuffe describes how Farmers Insurance leverages its technology and corporate “university” to develop “multimedia ‘learning nuggets’ which can be accessed at any time,” based on the organization’s philosophy to “enable rather than constrain.” Flexibility and speed of program initiation is critical so they can effectively deliver a fast message to a lot of people in emergencies like natural disasters.

Finally, if selling your education committee or association leadership on having a learning strategy at all is a hurdle, take a look at what Lloyds Bank in the United Kingdom is doing. Peter Hallard “passionately defends the need for a learning strategy” but also says that “learning leaders who devote their time to the development of detailed learning strategies are destined to a lifetime of disappointment.” That might sound like a contradiction, but a focus on “process” rather than “plan” is the key. The organization’s learning leaders need to be experts in the business, “expert and confident enough to interpret business issues and postulate a learning solution” so “something innovative and comprehensive in scope that works quickly” can be developed. Lots of food for thought there.

Taken as a whole, a few common threads weave through all case studies:

  • A strategy (regardless of how it’s structured) is a necessity
  • Developing the strategy yourself — internally — is essential for gaining the insight required for an effective result (a consultant on the side can help but the job of developing the strategy should never be handed over to an outsider)
  • The strategy needs to allow for flexibility, fluidity, and a quick response in this volatile climate
  • The strategy needs to balance all available resources — people, technology, and budget

If you’re looking for some alternatives to standard strategic planning methodologies, the Masie Center ebook has them.

Does your organization have a learning strategy? aLearning wants to know! Please participate in our aLearning Survey, scheduled to close a the end of this week. We could use your voice to help reach a reliable sample! Among other things, let us know:

  • if you’ve got a strategy or not, and why.
  • if your education budget will be higher next year or not.
  • what sorts of elearning your organization is offering and how often.
  • the biggest change your education department in anticipating in the next year.

Remember — whether you have a strategy or not, whether you offer elearning or not — your voice is valuable and lends insight into your situation.

Ten quick questions. Five minutes max.
All responses are confidential. No registration to participate is required.

Click here to take the survey.

Don’t delay!

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Surveys, aLearning Trends, eLearning Resources, Learning in General | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »


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