Did you encounter any obstacles getting here? Probably not. Or, you didn't notice because you’re a learner. You made your way here because you wanted to read something that will help you do your job, in this case, increase attendance for your online learning programs. You wouldn’t hesitate to pursue other learning paths, like registering for an online course if it fit your needs, budget, and schedule. But, not all your members are like you.
Many of them don’t gravitate naturally toward learning of any kind. Too many barriers stand between them and the “register” button. Some of these obstacles are self-created, some are environmental, and some may be related to your learning management platform and programs.
The first step to improving this situation is to identify possible obstacles in a prospective learner’s path. Then, help them remove or lessen the influence of the psychological and environmental obstacles. And, finally, create an enticing path to learning by removing any technical barriers that could get in their way.
Psychological Obstacles to Learning
Humans can be their own worst enemy because of self-created obstacles and self-limiting beliefs about learning.
Lack of motivation. Most people won’t even consider taking an online class if they’re not motivated (or forced) to do it. How do you help them develop the initial motivation to learn?
Become a membership culture that values and emphasizes lifelong learning. Keep up a continual discussion about the necessity for lifelong learning in your communications and marketing. Help members develop the learning habit.
Self-limiting beliefs. A negative mindset about learning affects both ends of the career spectrum:
- Some in the C-suite think: “I already know what I need to know.”
- Some of their employees think: “What’s the point, I’m stuck in this dead-end job.”
Both groups need a slap of reality. Let members know the most important 21st century skill is the ability to learn new skills. No one can predict what the future holds, but one thing we can predict is that change will be ceaseless. Paint a picture for your members of the need to keep up by continually learning, if they hope to remain valuable and employable. Don’t pull any punches—it’s for their own good.
In the promotional copy for every learning event or product you offer, focus on the impact it will make on the student. How will this class help them do their job, advance their career, or change their professional life?
Provide social proof that people “like them” invest in professional development “like this.” Collect testimonials or stories from past students. To induce a little FOMO (fear of missing out), share why prospective students say they’re investing time and money in this program.
Fear of failure. People spend their entire careers avoiding judgement and failure. No one likes discovering they’re lagging behind or no longer have what it takes to succeed.
Examine the messages your association is intentionally or unintentionally sending members about taking risks, trying new things, and learning from set-backs. Do your staff and leadership walk the talk? Share stories of students who struggled yet succeeded. Offer mentoring or coaching to new learners.
Negative previous experiences. Fear of failure is often based on past experiences. Student success stories can help dispel those bad memories.
Keeping at it when things get tough. New students eagerly dedicate time each week to their online course. Then, some fall behind or get a low grade on a quiz. Their enthusiasm wavers. They might even abandon the program.
New habits and routines are fragile and will quickly be discarded if enough obstacles get in the way. First, keep expectations in check from the start. Never sell anything as “easy.” Let them know the number of hours they can expect to spend on classwork each week. Describe the homework, evaluations, and other class activity so they know what they’re getting into.
Remind students: they can do this. Their peers have felt the same pressure and persevered. Send encouraging emails to students who get below a certain grade on a quiz or have fallen behind on work. Ask program alumni to serve as mentors.
Misery loves company. Require participation in eLearning social forums. Start discussions about learning challenges: “What did you have to give up this week so you could spend time on class?” or “When do you find time to study?” Let students know they’re not alone.
Environmental Obstacles to Learning
As if inner demons weren’t enough, learners must also contend with the barriers imposed by their job, lifestyle, and environment.
No support. Prospective learners might have to contend with an office culture (or supervisor) that discourages them from taking time off for professional development. Even worse, education might be off-limits because their boss doesn’t want to have to replace them if they advance in their career.
How can you help?
- Give students the opportunity to access online learning when they have the time.
- Offer a ‘letter to the employer’ as many conferences do. This letter makes a compelling case for the employee’s professional development, focusing on how it benefits the supervisor and company.
- Include learner outcomes in the description and promotion for each program. Describe how program completion will impact the student and the employer.
No money. Many people aren’t given the budget to pursue professional development, especially entry-level or early career professionals.
Provide something for every budget. Hook someone on learning with free or low-cost content and programs. One day, they may have the budget to invest in their education.
No time. We make time for what we value—or what our community tells us we should value—as long as the ROI is high enough. But making time for learning often means developing a new habit. And new habits are fragile unless you anticipate obstacles.
The WOOP method is an obstacle-proof plan for developing a learning habit.
- What do I wish to do today?
- What will the outcome(s) be?
- What obstacle(s) might stand in the way?
- What’s my plan for dealing with those obstacles?
When you articulate when, where, and how you plan to do something and anticipate how you’ll deal with obstacles, you’re more likely to follow through on your professional development plan.
Help members eliminate obstacles by frequently sharing productivity tips for removing distractions, batching work, and increasing focus. Make sure your learning management system and all your content is mobile-friendly so members can easily access “learning in their pocket.” Send reminder notifications about programs they started but abandoned.
Another way to battle the “no time” excuse is to offer plenty of microlearning content as part of a course, designation, or digital badge. Break courses up into short pieces of content—videos, audios, readings—so learning becomes doable by fitting into their busy lives.
Technical and Programmatic Obstacles to Learning
You can help a member overcome psychological and environmental barriers but what if your learning management system (LMS) is yet another obstacle to learning?
Unfriendly LMS. We’ve become spoiled by Google, Siri, and Amazon to get what we want in an instant. Don’t let your LMS test your members’ online patience level.
Reduce the steps it takes to access education by integrating your LMS with your website and association management system. Use Single Sign-On (SSO) so members don’t have to enter or remember another username and password.
Make it easy to register. Remove lengthy forms that will test a member’s patience. Collect only the data you need to get them started. Once they’re regularly using the platform, ask for the rest.
Build your LMS into other aspects of a member’s life. Use it for activities like new member orientation, board and volunteer training, leadership development, and mentoring programs.
Lack of technical savvy. Because of the nature of their work, many people haven’t had sufficient experience with online platforms. They shouldn’t have to take a class to take a class. Your LMS should be intuitive and easy to navigate without training.
If you’re a TopClass LMS user, you know this isn’t an issue. But if you’re using an LMS that’s less than user-friendly, invite new students to view a video tutorial that walks them through the process of registering and participating in a class.
Lack of program relevance. Regularly review the relevance and value of your educational content. Your LMS reporting can help you to detect enrollment trends. Learner needs change quickly these days, your online curriculum must keep up.
Association membership is more than just a transaction, ideally, it’s a transformative experience. By helping members overcome internal and external obstacles to learning, you’re giving them tools they can use to improve and transform their lives.