Association Education 2021: Time to Get Creative
Monday, April 5, 2021
If associations learned anything from the pandemic, it was that year-round learning and training programs delivered online can meet the needs of members and achieve revenue goals, if designed with the customer in mind.
Julie Ferry, an education director at SmithBucklin, says many associations scrambled to quickly adapt to an all-remote environment by converting existing in-person education to virtual delivery. Moving forward, organizations are encouraged to take the time to pilot and develop learning experiences that can be consumed in segments. "Replicating in-person learning in a virtual environment is too narrow of a focus," Ferry says. "Micro-learning can help provide targeted education for members in less time, allowing them to use that knowledge to solve problems they have at the office more quickly."
Learning and Engagement
As virtual education occurs more often, associations should be more open to stepping away from traditional learning formats to create learning communities and cohorts. These communities will be more intimate, allowing members to interact, collaborate, and learn while networking online.
Ferry says that the cancellation of the Building Service Contractors Association International's (BSCAI) — a worldwide network of member companies that provide cleaning, facility maintenance, security, landscaping, and other related services to building owners and managers — CEO event for January 2021 led to the development of a cohort structure. The event was structured around the C-level executive’s needs for networking with some high-level keynotes, but with more one-on-one interaction. Ferry comments that the cohort met every other Wednesday for three months, allowing executives to have shared experiences in a comfortable online environment.
Associations are using town halls and office hour meetings during which members can help one another solve certain challenges or share best practices. Applied Client Network (ACN), an independent global user community for Applied Systems and a professional network of insurance professionals worldwide, established an education program called Peer-to-Peer Connect through which members could interact with subject matter experts and get advice on current challenges. ACN Sparks was a new program that provided a way for peers to share 10-minute or less tutorials and/or quick tips in a video format.
Some associations are doubling down on webinars, as organizations may find that their employees have more flexibility to participate in online learning. "Active and more collaborative learning experiences are here to stay," says Ferry.
Value Add Education Programming
Associations have learned that members are willing to attend online education events, but those opportunities have to be worth it for members and offer information that they can only get through the association.
- Design education considering:
- Your audience’s learning/skills gap
- Emerging business and/or industry needs (problems to solve)
- Provide more peer-to-peer connection and learning
- Build communities
- Provide micro-learning
- Focus on active learning
- Create safe spaces for niche and informal learning
- Consider a variety of education delivery channels
- Personalize the learner’s journey
For 2021 and beyond, Ferry says virtual education will include more meaningful peer-to-peer connections and less traditional presentations. Education program design will require more creativity, more personalization, and a variety of delivery options. Members are looking for that person-to-person connection that they lost over the last year. The time is now for associations to shake it up a bit, test-drive new programs but remain steadfast in delivering education with the learner in mind.
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