5 Trends & Opportunities for Association E-Learning in 2019

The inevitable is unfolding. Realizations are dawning. Focuses are shifting. Digital transformation has turned “business as usual” into an exciting mix of challenges and opportunities for employers, professionals, students, and associations. Here are the e-learning trends and opportunities we see for associations in 2019. 

Association e-learning trends and opportunities for 2019

#1: Focus on instructional design 

In the last few years, we’ve been thrilled to see more conference sessions about the science of adult learning. More and more association professionals understand that poorly designed online learning programs are just as ineffective as poorly designed in-person sessions—and are taking steps to improve both. 

Instructional design isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity for effective content and engaging learning experiences. Even if your association can’t afford to invest in professional instructional designers for all your programs, you must at least become proficient yourself in the principles of adult learning design and delivery. 

The lifelong learning competition is heating up (see trend #3). Learners and employers expect a return on their professional development investment. If your e-learning programs don’t deliver the value and experience they desire, learners will go elsewhere.

#2: Offer microlearning and digital badges

According to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report, the primary challenge for talent development is getting employees to make time for learning. Your professional development programs must fit into a learner’s lifestyle and budget, which is why microlearning programs are so popular, especially with millennials. 

Microlearning is an effective mode of e-learning because it provides opportunities to recall and apply chunks of new knowledge in a spaced learning format. Learners can easily access microlearning content on their mobile devices—another plus for this mode of instruction.

Employers and learners are also increasingly interested in stackable credentials, such as digital badges. In fact, our most popular post in 2018 was about designing a digital badge strategy. According to McKinley Advisors’ 2018 The Economic Impact on Associations Study, more associations are expanding programs and services in the search for non-dues revenue and portfolio diversification. Alternative credentials such as digital badges are a good place to start. 

association e-learning trends

#3: Take on the growing competition 

Lifelong learning is a big business. Many associations have already seen for-profit organizations eat away at their market share—and the competition is only getting started. 

According to industry analyst Josh Bersin, LinkedIn has more than 17 million users, 14,000 corporate customers, and 13,000 courses, and it’s growing at high double-digit rates. In the last year, LinkedIn:

•    Launched Learning Pro, a tool that lets companies publish their own content and create custom learning paths. 
•    Released Skills Insights, tools that let companies analyze employee skills and promote courses based on known skills gaps.
•    Opened up its learning platform to external content partners. 

Bersin said, “The company wants to become a single place for all organizational learning content.” Can your association compete against that? 

LinkedIn isn’t the only threat. Coursera for Business reports 300 percent growth since 2017. Their free courses have become an effective stepping-stone into more lucrative offerings, like stackable credentials and degree programs. 

We’ve previously discussed how colleges and universities have experimented with boot camps and other educational programs that help bridge industry skills gaps. Now they are exploring ways to create lifelong learning relationships with alumni, including lifelong subscriptions to continuing education. Don’t assume your audience will keep coming back. Make sure your programs meet and exceed their value expectations.

#4: Build new educational partnerships

Digital transformation is creating skills shortages in many industries. Employers need your association’s help in training prospective employees and reskilling their existing workforce. Involve these companies in the design of new educational programs, learning pathways, and credentials.

Many associations have also become educational partners to their member companies through corporate sales and course licensing—a growing source of non-dues revenue for educational innovators. 

The LinkedIn report said that training in soft skills is the top priority for talent development teams. Udemy for Business, another MOOC lifelong learning competitor to watch, said in their Humanizing Learning Research Report, “As routine jobs become more automated and we move toward a digital-human workforce, people will need to specialize in key soft skills that robots lack.” You can help member companies fill their skills gaps and leadership pipeline—and yours—by offering programs in leadership development, communication, and other soft skills.

Associations may also have to step outside their comfort zone and consider learning business partnerships with other organizations, both for-profit and non-profit. If you see an educational need that is difficult for your association to meet, consider partnering with other organizations that can help you develop and deliver programs to fill that need. 

association e-learning trends

#5: Create a membership culture of lifelong learning 

It’s obvious to anyone who wants to be successful in life that you must become a lifelong learner if you wish to remain competitive in today’s workplace. Associations have the opportunity to build a membership culture that encourages the pursuit and support of lifelong learning. Remind your members and audiences about the necessity of lifelong learning. Shine the light on member companies who invest in the professional development of their employees. They’re the ones who will move your industry forward.

In a digital-detoxing, privacy-aware world, associations are natural communities. Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian believes people will get tired of the shallow return provided by social networks. They’ll hit “peak social” and migrate away from these networks toward more community-focused platforms. 

Associations are communities of integrity and value. Historically, these communities were based on face-to-face interaction, but now relationships are built online too thanks to online community platforms. When these platforms are integrated with learning management systems, social learning becomes a critical part of the membership experience 

We learned in a recent Tagoras webinar that some associations, like the South Carolina CPAs (SCAPA), are integrating lifelong learning into the membership experience. SCAPA members get a 40-hour CPE Bank that allows them to attend SCACPA conferences, seminars, and livestreaming.

Everyone in your industry or profession needs to become a lifelong learner. Remain laser-focused on your mission to provide education that helps them reach their professional goals. Be willing to experiment with new ideas, and play to your strengths and advantages in the lifelong learning marketplace. 

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