Is It Time to Consider a More Sustainable Professional Development Strategy?

Every year around this time, a slew of articles are published about trends for the year ahead. So far, in every 2020 event trends article we’ve read, sustainability is one of the top trends mentioned. Not so surprising, when ‘climate emergency’ is Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year. Do associations need to think about providing a more sustainable professional development option to their members and market?

“Flight Shaming Calls for Virtual Meetings” is trend #1 in EventMB’s 10 Event Trends for 2020. EventMB editor Julius Solaris wrote, “As the meetings industry embraces a stronger commitment to sustainability …, unnecessary flying will be a key target of green company policies in 2020. Unnecessary travel, especially for … event attendance (i.e. education, workshops, learning in general), will be cut in favor of online delivery methods.”

This prediction was echoed by Air France CEO Anne Regail who said flight shame is ‘our biggest challenge.’ In an article about the EventMB report, Samantha Whitehorne at Associations Now wrote, “It may be time for associations to consider a different conference strategy.”

We’ll take that a step further: it may be time for associations to consider a different professional development strategy. Now’s the time to consider a more sustainable and green strategy that doesn’t rely so heavily on in-person experiences and instead offers plenty of online learning experiences.

Why online learning comes naturally to your audience

Of course, you’re thinking, as an LMS company, we would have a bias toward e-learning. Yes, but other signs point in this direction as well.

What older generations once called ‘distance learning’ is now just regular learning for younger folks. Many of them have taken online courses in college. They’re used to watching videos to learn how to solve difficult math problems, apply makeup, cook dinner, or change their oil.

More people are remote working now. Every day, they use web platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Asana to collaborate and communicate with co-workers. Learning and connecting with fellow learners online is not such a big stretch, even for those who have never done it before.

sustainable professional development

A greener option for sustainable professional development

Flipped learning is a great way to help conference attendees adapt to online learning. Before meeting in person, learners progress through online learning activities—reading, watching videos, and meeting fellow attendees in an online community. Then, they put their new knowledge to work at the conference with group exercises, case studies, role-playing, problem-solving, or facilitated discussions.

One thing to keep in mind: people don’t go to conferences just for the education. They go to connect with peers, clients, vendors, mentors and mentees, and possible employers. Your online education must have a networking component too.

Online communities (discussion forums) enhance the online learning experience. Make a space in these forums for personal (off-topic) conversations so learners can get to know each other better. If program design permits, have learners work together on team projects. Or, encourage them to use video conferencing tools for study groups and study breaks.

How associations benefit from a shift to online learning

What percentage of your members or market attend your in-person events now? For most associations, only a minority of members attend conferences and other face-to-face events. Left behind are all the people who:

•    Can’t afford or don’t have the budget for travel expenses.
•    Can’t take that much time away from work or family.
•    Don’t have the opportunity to travel for professional development because of their position level.
•    Have physical or psychological reasons for not being able to comfortably travel.

In this sense, conferences are exclusive. Online learning is more inclusive and more accessible to a larger crowd. Employers are more likely to ‘send’ staff to schedule- and budget-friendly e-learning programs.

Your association can save money by shifting some of your programs to an online platform. You won’t have to print and ship materials (handouts and evaluations), or pay for staff and instructor expenses, meeting rooms, A/V, and catering.

Online learning programs provide more taggable content for your website. You can show webinar or online courses as ‘related resources for blog posts and other online content. You can include these programs in learning pathways so members and others know what programs they can take to earn credentials or prepare for exams.

A wide portfolio of online learning programs also helps you better compete with colleges and for-profit learning companies who are meeting market demand with their own online learning and credentialing programs.

Most importantly, you’re providing what members and industry professionals want: learning programs that fit conveniently into their lives at a price they (or their company) can afford.

sustainable professional development

Why many members prefer online learning

How environmentally conscious is your membership and market? In some professions and industries, people are more likely to consider the environmental impact of their purchasing decisions. Events are increasingly seen as overly wasteful with their leftover food, session table clutter, abandoned plastic water bottles, and exhibitor and attendee trash, such as booth swag and marketing collateral.

Younger generations are especially concerned about environmental sustainability and climate change. They make purchasing decisions based upon their perception of an organization’s business practices and values, according to Deloitte’s Global Millennial Survey.

Staying home means not contributing to carbon emissions, dealing with traffic congestion, or adding waste to landfills. Money isn’t spent on travel expenses. They don’t have to spend time away from work and loved ones. Instead, they can fit e-learning into their daily or weekly routine.

Because well-designed e-learning programs space new information out over time, instead of being an intensive information dump, online learners have more opportunities to recall and apply new information.

When thinking about your professional development programs for the coming year, consider putting more focus on designing and delivering online learning programs. You’ll give more people the opportunity to acquire new skills and knowledge at a time and place of their choosing. Online learning, for many of your members, is the more sustainable option for education.

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