We recently explored how education programs increase value for Association members, outlining how a strong, engaging education program can keep learners coming back for more training. If a strong, engaging education program is a key strategy for increasing retention, then how do you improve learner engagement among Association members?
What is Learner Engagement?
First let's understand what learner, or student engagement is:
"student engagement refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education."
Usually, this is taken to refer to the belief that people learn better when they are curious about or inspired by a topic, and that students 'disengage' and do not learn well if they are bored with, or detached from, a topic.
In the professional world, corporate organizations have implemented Training and Development programs to engage employees in learning and continuing professional development, as engaged learners tend to be more engaged employees, actively looking for opportunities to improve and develop their careers. Associations have increasingly taken on this role of providing professional education and training programs, as corporations struggle with limited resources and look to associations to outsource this service. One struggle for both corporate organizations and professional or trade associations is overcoming the issue of limited engagement with adult learners who may only participate in professional education programs to be compliant with industry requirements, especially where certification and credential maintenance is necessary.
How do you improve learner engagement among Association members?
Association members already display a higher level of interest in their professional or career development, as evidenced by their willingness to pay membership fees in return for the benefits of participating in a professional or trade association. However, in order to retain and nurture that interest into active engagement with the association, there are two areas in which associations can implement efforts to improve learner engagement among association members. These are:
- Learning and Development Strategy
- Marketing and Communications
Learning and Development Strategy
First, lets look at Learning and Development Strategy. We have already stated that a strong, engaging education program is one key element in maintaining an interested and active membership. To ensure your Learning and Development strategy provides an engaging education program for association members, here are some key questions you can ask when planning how to deliver education and certification programs:
- How can you align your educational content to both learner and industry priorities?
Offering an accessible, clearly defined catalog of educational courses, linking each content item to continuing education or certification requirements, revising or updating content to reflect trends within the industry, and offering a wide variety of content types to appeal to the different preferences of learners, are all good strategy options. By defining what will work for your learners and your industry, you can ensure that association members see that your education programs are relevant, interesting and constructive to achieving their development goals.
- How can you make your education programs easily accessible to all members?
Many associations are turning to cloud-based association learning management systems to ensure that all of their members, who can be geographically dispersed nationally or internationally, can easily access educational content any time 24/7, and from anywhere that has an internet connection. Carefully considering how to structure content for delivery and when to deliver content to offer just enough, just-in-time, can also boost engagement levels with members. Increasingly, associations are also ensuring device-agnostic access to their content, by ensuring their LMS provides a responsive mobile offering, to enable members to learn on-the-go, and structuring content into smaller sessions to support a growing trend for microlearning.
- How can you give learners an active role in their own development?
Providing a comprehensive catalog of educational content for association members, combined with a complete training history to show the courses completed, and credits awarded gives learners autonomy in managing their own learning and increases their interest. This facility, usually provided by a learning management system integrated with your association management system, allows the learner to review and select course offerings according to their interests or requirements for credential maintenance or certification, and to complete these in their own time and in their preferred order. Many association learning management systems are also incorporating a social element through communities, surveys, or discussion forums, which could be used to give members a platform for communication and feedback with other association members, instructors, mentors, or education and certification managers. Being able to connect with peers, discuss challenges, and have a forum to contribute to the analysis and improvement of education programs will further engage learners.
The article How to Engage and Inspire Adult Learners, from eLearning Industry, may also provide some useful and practical tips for planning the delivery of eLearning content to improve learner engagment among association members.
Marketing and Communications
There are many ways in which associations can promote education programs to members, to encourage engagement. Communicating the benefits of your education program clearly will be key to ensuring association members understand the benefit of active participation and see the value in your learning offering. Some key points we outlined in our post on Successfully Marketing Your Association Learning Management System, detailed how marketing your education offering to members will increase engagement by:
- Informing members about the value of the new eLearning system and how to access your content;
- Ensuring increased adoption of the new system, to streamline administration of your eLearning programs;
- Giving you insight into how to both increase your revenue and add value for your learners.
Some of the questions you can ask when planning a marketing and communications strategy to increase learner engagement are?
- What communication channels can we use to reach all of our learners? For example, could you use email, social media, your website, newsletter, direct mail, or a session at your annual conference to reach the widest audience possible?
- When is the best time to contact members to promote our education program?
- Can we offer incentives for members to actively engage in our education program? Perhaps you could offer a discount for online courses to conference attendees, to kick start or revitalize engagement?
- Can we share learner success stories to motivate other members?
- Are we monitoring and measuring engagement to inform planning of future offerings? This is key, and an essential part of marketing your educational programs. By knowing which content is popular or why it is highly valued by members, you can use this information to update or revise other offerings to increase learner engagement across the board.
Improving learner engagement is key to helping members to understand the value of education and certification programs, which in turn contributes to retaining and nurturing association membership.