How Emerging Learning Trends Can Ignite a Spark in Your Audience

The online learning marketplace is getting crowded. If you want to remain relevant and expand your market share, your association must offer educational experiences that learners can’t find elsewhere. Fortunately, you have an advantage over market newcomers: expertise, authority, credibility, trust, and brand recognition in your professional community. During our opening keynote at ASAE’s two-day virtual conference, Spark: The Art and Science of Adult Learning, we spoke about several emerging learning trends that can help your association create transformative educational experiences that engage learners—and become the preferred educational provider in your industry.

Focus on useful learning trends, not hyped-up technology

In our keynote, we didn’t talk about Artificial Intelligence or Virtual Reality. We agree with Ernie Smith who said in Associations Now, “If you’ve been feeling challenged to keep up with all the changes [in technology], 2019 might offer a bit of breathing room”.

You don’t need the latest technologies to deliver effective learning programs. “Technology is not a prerequisite for innovation to take place,” said Eric Lanke, president and CEO of the National Fluid Power Association. He believes technology can sometimes get in the way of innovation.

Here’s what we know from industry research and conversations with industry analysts and associations—both our clients and prospects: every association approaches learning with unique requirements, systems, and processes determined by the needs of their members and industry. It’s not the technology that makes your association innovative; it’s what you do with technology. The learning trends we discussed at Sparkand write about in this postwill help your association deliver the type of education your members and community need right now and in the future.

ignite a spark with these learning trends

Offer learning that fits into busy lives

The primary reason employees don’t engage in workplace learning is a lack of time, according to the LinkedIn 2018 Workplace Learning Report. Members must find it easy to access your learning content and fit it into their lifestyle and budget.

Your education programs must be accessible and digestible. Members must be able to access your learning content from their desktop or mobile device. Make your programs digestible by delivering content in small chunks. Microlearning provides opportunities for spaced learning—returning to a topic at short intervals to re-apply learning and reinforce learning outcomes. Learners can easily access microlearning content on mobile devices—another plus for this mode of instruction.

Think about how you can refresh and supplement existing courses with short videos, assign journal articles on a monthly reading list, or offer daily/weekly quizzes to earn additional CE credit. Use your LMS email notifications to let learners know when a new quiz or microlearning activity is available.

Satisfy the need and desire for community

Another insight from Ernie Smith’s article: “At a time when it’s not uncommon among a circle of friends to hear chatter about quitting Facebook, people will want to connect with their industry peers through something a little less cold than LinkedIn.” 

An online learning community is a great alternative to social platforms because it makes courses more engaging and enjoyable. Learners can talk with fellow students about their coursework, struggles, experiences, and ideas. 

Learning communities are an example of reciprocal, peer-to-peer learning in action. Active learning helps information go from short-term to long-term memory. Information won’t stick if it’s received passively and nothing further is done to recall it. For information to become knowledge, learners must engage in activities that help them put new information into context and make meaning of the content they’ve digested.

Link discussion forums to specific courses so learners can connect with their peers. Some of our association clients use their discussion forums to support informal learning, group project work, and even mentoring programs. 

Explore ways to offer continuous learning

The corporate sector is increasingly shifting from formal, episodic learning to continuous learning. People want to access learning at their point of need with the tools and apps they already use.

With embedded widgets, you can bring a learning application or content directly from your LMS into another software platform, like an online community. Learners can access learning content within the community platform or participate in real-time community discussions within the LMS. This experience unifies the social learning experience and enhances real-time participation and collaboration

ignite a spark with these learning trends

Use data to generate insights

Take advantage of the opportunity to track behavioral and transactional data that members and learners automatically generate in your online community platform and LMS, for example, topics discussed, content downloaded, or courses completed. When you analyze this data along with system reports, you can generate powerful insights that can help you decide how to better communicate, engage with, and serve learners.

Better understand learner needs with design thinking

Connie Malamad, learning experience design consultant at, said in an Association of Talent Development article, “Ineffective training solutions are often based on an incorrect understanding of the problem. In the design thinking approach, it is important to accurately define the problem at hand.” 

Start with empathy. Try to better understand the needs of your learners by putting yourself in their shoes. What are they doing in a typical day? What is it like to have their challenges? What problems do they need help with? Once you define the problem, it’s time to ideate. Come up with as many ideas for solutions as possible. Then, prototype to see which idea works best. Refine your solution and test, test, test…

“Note that design thinking shouldn’t replace instructional design [ID]. Rather, it can enhance ID techniques,” said Malamad. Make sure all learning content—online courses, microlearning, instructor-led sessions online or in-person, or discussions in an online community—adds value for the learner.  Design thinking complements instructional design and helps to ensure that all pieces of content and all modes of delivery work together to create content that is relevant, accessible, and valuable for time-strapped learners. 

Lori Niles-Hofmann, the author of Data Driven Learning Design, encapsulated the importance of designing effective education programs for your learners: “…the content we design and deliver could mean the difference between a person remaining relevant in the workforce or left behind. In this fierce employment landscape, we must exercise responsibility, manage our SMEs, and design only for learning effectiveness.”

Help to bridge industry skills gaps 

Digital transformation is creating skills shortages in many industries. Employers need your association’s help in training prospective employees and reskilling their existing workforce. John Leh, CEO and lead analyst at Talented Learning, identified strategic competencies as a key trend for 2019. He said, “As an offshoot of competency frameworks, continuing education providers are also mapping comprehensive lists of skills needed for a successful workplace in their respective professions.”

An increasing number of organizations are working with experts in their industry to create skill and competency frameworks. For each stage in the professional lifecycle, they define (and continually update) the hard and human (“soft”) skills needed for success. They tie educational goals and events to each of those stages, so learners can develop appropriate skills as they advance through their careers.

Involve employers in the design of new educational programs, learning pathways, and credentials. Alternative credentials such as digital badges are a good place to start since employers and learners are increasingly interested in stackable 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. 

Invest your time and resources in the learning trends that support your educational strategies and align with your mission. We’ll leave you here with an inspiring message from Tracy King, CAE, chief learning strategist and CEO of InspirEd, who said in an Association Success article

“Associations have so much power to strengthen the workforce pipelines of their industries and develop mastery for individuals by better leveraging their educational portfolio to offer transformation.” 


If you are a member of ASAE and registered for the Spark: The Art and Science of Adult Learning virtual conference, you will be able to access the recording of our presentation and handouts on the Collaborate platform for a limited time. The full recording includes practical tips for implementing these learning trends at your association and a deeper discussion of why they are relevant to associations.

Learn More at our Free Webinar

Join John Leh, CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning, and Linda Bowers, CTO at WBT Systems, as they dive into this topic in more depth to explore real-world examples and discuss innovation strategies that will help you create lasting value. Attend and earn 1 CAE credit. 

February 28, 1-2pm EST

Association Learning Tech vs Innovation webinar WBT Systems
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