Over the past year, we’ve filled notebooks with ideas about issues that could affect association learning programs in 2020 and beyond. The list would be even longer if we could read our own handwriting, but we’re giving you a good place to start: ideas to put on your association’s radar, discuss, and act upon in the coming year.
Are these 11 topics on your association’s radar yet?
#1: Learner self-reliance
Smart companies know if they want to remain competitive, they must invest in their employees’ professional development. Yet, many aren’t willing, fearing their staff will take that training and find a better job elsewhere.
As a result, people are realizing they must take charge of their own learning. They can’t rely on their employers for professional development. They can’t sit back and wait for their supervisor to suggest a training program for them.
Some people still haven’t figured that out yet. Your association can help move them in the right direction with messaging about the need for self-reliance when it comes to lifelong learning and staying relevant in the working world.
Self-reliance starts with self-awareness, understanding the skills and knowledge they need to develop, and taking the initiative to explore professional development opportunities. Introduce them to your credentialing and online learning programs so they know that going back to school is not the only option.
#2: Unending digital transformation
Digital transformation has been a regular topic of keynotes, sessions, articles and blog posts for the past several years, so much so it’s now starting to elicit eyerolls when mentioned. But it shouldn’t because it’s critical to the work we all do and the value we provide.
Digital transformation isn’t a project to complete in the next year or so, it’s a constant state of being. Your association will always be working on it because technology will continue to change, expectations for online experiences will continue to change, and therefore the value you provide will continue to change.
Change is the new status quo, unsettling but true, so get used to being unsettled. You can never just sit back and manage things. Instead, you must continue to learn about your audience and market—members and nonmembers, employers and employees—and their needs, expectations, and preferences.
#3: The need to know
If people give you data, either directly or indirectly (website behavior, email opens, etc.), they expect you to do something with it that benefits them. They expect you to use their data to understand their needs, interests, and preferences, and deliver something of value to them.
They also expect some degree of personalization. For example, you need to know enough about the different segments of your audience to provide relevant content, recommendations, and curated content.
They need to know too. But, don’t make them Google. Get them in the habit of turning to you first for answers. They should be able to find the information they need on your website, in your articles and videos, and via your posted links. When they want to dive deeper, they can easily explore all your podcasts, recorded webinars, session recordings, and online learning programs.
#4: Mapping the experience
Associations have always talked about being member-centric but it’s only human to rely upon your own perspective and biases when making decisions. That’s why no one designs a new website or software without considering user experience (UX)—the interactions between the user and the software.
The UX concept has been adapted by other professions, for example, in customer experience (CX), learner experience (LX), and even member experience (MX). In November, the Australasian Society of Association Executives hosted MX, a one-day Member Experience event.
One way to get into the member (customer or learner) perspective is by journey mapping. This exercise helps you understand the needs, emotions, and expectations of a member during different touchpoints of their membership experience, and the factors that contribute to or influence their experience, so you can spot opportunities and make improvements.
#5: Learning pathways
Learning pathways or journeys give learners a place to start and a suggested roadmap for achieving their goals. They can vary in length, for example, focusing on a specific competency or building a larger set of competencies that prepare the learner for a new role.
Pathways can include online learning programs only or can be supplemented with other educational programs and experiences, such as webinars or capstone projects. Learners are motivated by a sense of progress as they move further along the pathway.
Design standard pathways to share on your website or work individually with learners to develop customized pathways. Offer this coaching for free to members or establish member and nonmember fees for the service.
#6: Microcredentials and digital badges
In nearly every profession and industry, people must learn new skills to remain employable and promotable. They’re seeking ways of obtaining those skills in a short timeframe and proving their mastery of those skills to prospective or current employers. Associations have an opportunity to meet market demand for new skills and credentials while adding new revenue streams.
Online microcredentialing programs help learners gain specific skills in a short period of time. After demonstrating their mastery of those competencies (through assessment or other means), learners receive a digital badge that represents their completion of the microcredential and validates their new skills.
#7: Growing competition
Competition in the lifelong learning market is heating up. Colleges and universities, MOOCs, and other for-profit businesses are responding to the need for upskilling or reskilling. Students, recent graduates, job seekers, and professionals are all looking for affordable, high-quality education that will bring a return on their investment.
New credentials are entering the marketplace along with digital badges that explain what competencies those credentials represent. The number of online learning programs continues to grow as more companies get into the lifelong learning business, many of them funded by venture capital. They can afford top-notch instructional designers and large marketing budgets.
#8: Trust, the market differentiator
Trust is an endangered resource. The government, media, religious organizations, academia, brands, social media… some people trust them and just as many don’t.
Associations have the advantage when it comes to trust. You are mission-driven and member-run. Hopefully, people in your industry or profession have no reason not to trust you, so you’re in a better starting place than most. In the lifelong learning market, lead with your mission and your other market differentiators, for example, your community.
To maintain the trust of your community, you must be a responsible steward of the data in your care. You must also be transparent about operations, governance, and decision-making. Be ethical, inclusive, and fair. Don’t be complacent about your standing in the community. You must continually assess your traditions, practices, tendencies, and the way you’ve always done it to ensure you are worthy of your community’s trust.
#9: Market expansion
Loyal members may keep your educational programs in business, but you must cast a wider net. Nonmember participation is essential if your programs are to remain sustainable in a competitive marketplace—and their registration fees will boost your bottom line.
A recent Associations Now article about non-dues revenue discussed a sales analysis done by Avenue M Group for a large association. “…looking at purchases by members and nonmembers, [they] came to a startling conclusion: ‘If they had converted these people to members, they would have millions of dollars of lost revenue.’”
If your association’s membership value proposition is convincing enough, and if their employer’s budget and policies allow, nonmembers will join. But focus first on converting them into loyal customers.
Focus also on employers. They have the power of the purse. They also know which skills their employees need. Make them a part of your program design and marketing plans.
Effective adult education isn’t cheap to design, you can’t always afford to go it alone. Just last week, ASAE announced a partnership with Meeting Professionals International. The two organizations will collaborate on education programs in experience design at several upcoming conferences.
Get creative in thinking about possible partners who can help share design and marketing expenses, for example:
• Corporate sponsors
• Colleges and universities
• Large employers
• Other associations and membership organizations
#11: Professional development budgets for association staff
There’s a reason so many people enter the association industry and never leave—whether they’re on the association, consultant, or vendor side, or go back and forth between them. This is a driven, giving, passionate community of people who love to learn and love to serve. You can never get bored, not with all the changes affecting associations and their many lines of business.
Association professionals are highly interested in education and exposure to new ideas, but they don’t all have the support and budget to pursue learning opportunities. As associations find themselves competing against for-profit organizations for the best talent, they will have to ramp up their investment in their most valuable asset, their staff’s professional development.