The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) is an organization that serves more than 200,000 audiologists, speech-language pathologists, and speech, language, and hearing scientists. With a history deeply rooted in learning and education, ASHA is a leader among professional societies in the learning business and at the forefront of embracing new approaches to learning.
And leading the charge behind all of this since 2004 is ASHA CEO, Arlene Pietranton. With 25 years at the association, she’s nationally recognized for her exceptional leadership and commitment to voluntary membership organizations.
In this episode of the Leading Learning Podcast, Jeff talks with Arlene, first and foremost, about their response to the COVID-19 crisis and how they’ve been able to adapt to meet both staff and member needs. They also discuss ASHA’s historical vision for learning, why they are now heavily focused on the future of learning, and the critical role of associations in supporting adult lifelong learning.
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Listen to the Show
Read the Show Notes
[00:18] – A preview of what will be covered in this episode where Jeff interviews Arlene Pietranton, CEO of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).
[01:36] – You might consider the reflection question below on your own after listening to an episode, and/or you might pull the team together, using part or all of the podcast episode for a group discussion.
- The core of the discussion with Arlene is about the future of learning, and it can be hard to think about the future right now when we are also deeply mired in our present situation. So, we’d like to challenge listeners to ask themselves as they listen, what does the future look like for our learning business? What are the long-term implications of our current situation and what do we need to be thinking about and planning for even as we have to address pressing short-term needs?
[02:46] – Introduction to Arlene and some additional information about her background and ASHA.
Challenges and opportunities during the COVID crisis
[06:08] – I know many associations are facing their own particular set of issues around how to serve their members and their broader audience effectively in what are really challenging times. (We’re recording this during the COVID-19 crisis). What kind of challenges is ASHA facing at this point? And in what ways are you hopefully seeing a little bit of a silver lining here in seeing this as a learning opportunity?
Arlene acknowledges this is an unprecedented time in terms of the extent of the changes and disruptions that we’re experiencing. They really cut across all sectors, all areas of the globe. The scope and the magnitude, and the seriousness of this public health crisis that we are all trying to understand and navigate through can’t be underestimated.
For ASHA, like many (or even all) associations, Arlene says their challenge is to understand what their member’s most pressing needs are and how to help them. A couple weeks ago they began planning, in incremental steps, how to go fully remote. She notes that ASHA as a workplace has a lot of experience with some or many of their staff working remotely some of the time, but no one working remotely all of the time. And no one team working all remotely on the same day.
Their first priority was making sure they could be fully operational on an all-remote basis—something they were able to accomplish in a matter of a couple of days. And they were committed to operating in a socially responsible manner, so they wanted to make sure their staff was safe and that they were being good citizens in their community. As soon as they had the assurance that they were operational, they turned to understanding what their members most pressing needs were.
Arlene discusses how a large number of their members either work in educational/school or healthcare settings and those were settings that were going through very rapid changes with closures and requests to go into virtual modes of service delivery. She notes there are variations in terms of how easily and effectively one can transition one’s services from a predominantly physical mode to an entirely virtual mode.
Arlene says many of their members were looking urgently for information to help them learn about and understand what services could effectively be delivered remotely, and how to do it, particularly in situations with a lot of complexity. And she’s proud to say that all of ASHA’s staff have more than stepped up. They’ve done an outstanding job making existing information easily accessible and to develop new and additional information, sometimes on an hourly basis, as they’re monitoring external regulations and pulling together new and updated resources.
And most of those resources are being made available for free. They are turning out some additional Webinars for CE credits, which they will also likely make available at no cost for their members given the nature of the need they have now. They also have a relatively new subscription option for ASHA members to subscribe to the “ASHA Learning Pass” (where for a flat fee they get access to all of their learning products), and they are going to waive the fee for that in the coming months.
We know many members are in a heightened need for access to acquisition of new knowledge and information. And we also know that many of our members are not going to be able to earn their continuing education requirements to maintain their certification for their state licensure by going to in-person events that they may have previously planned to that are now cancelled. We want to make sure they have access to other opportunities to be able to continue their continuing education and professional development requirements without interruption.
ASHA’s historical vision for learning
[13:54] – As an organization, ASHA is starting to focus on the future of learning, but obviously you also have a rich history of delivering education and training to your members. How would you describe ASHA’s historical vision for learning and how has it fit into the organization’s overall value proposition?
From what Arlene knows of ASHA’s history, she explains that learning was a key reason why ASHA was formed to begin with and has continued to be a fundamental thread throughout their history.
ASHA was founded by about 25 individuals and when you read some of their notes and records it’s clear that a key reason they founded the organization was to share the learning with one another, to help support to learn with and from one another, and also to help assure that these would be professions that were knowledge based.
If you look at the history a few years after it was founded, Arlene says they started holding conventions and publishing journals. And pretty early on ASHA began accrediting the graduate programs in audiology and speech-language pathology—and they currently accredit all 300+ of those graduate programs in the United States.
Back in the early 1950s, ASHA launched a certification program to help assure that individuals who were entering the practice of the professions were competent to do so. Years later, as part of that certification program, continuing professional development became one of the requirements for maintaining certification.
Arlene talks about how, over time, this commitment has been operationalized and has grown and expanded. There are a variety of very specific programs and activities that ASHA engages in that are learning related. From a historical perspective, it’s been a very robust and core aspect of the organization’s history and growth.
How ASHA made the move to online learning
[18:52] – It seems ASHA made the move pretty early on—and pretty decisively—to move into online learning in a variety of formats. But so many organizations still haven’t really realized the promise of online learning in terms of expanding or having a rich portfolio of offerings there. What made it possible for ASHA to make that move and to be a strong online provider?
Arlene thinks a key factor that made it possible was the collaborative partnership/relationship that characterizes how their volunteer and staff leaders work together. They’ve been fortunate to have individuals who have been really focused and disciplined on, not only looking internally, but looking at what they’re hearing from members, what they’re seeing around them, and really being in sync with what’s happening in the world of adult education. And also how to use those existing, evolving methods and opportunities to help meet their member’s needs.
A focus on the future of learning
[21:07] – ASHA is consciously focusing as an organization around what the future of learning looks like. What has sparked the focus on that? And what steps have you taken to get a grip on the future of learning and the role that ASHA is going to need to play?
Arlene admits this focus on the future of learning and the implications it has for their professions and organizations is a really important priority right now and one of her CEO goals for last year and this year. She explains how this came up on the radar screen in a couple of different ways.
They are aware that the how, when, where, why that individuals learn is changing dramatically in terms of what’s driving the need for new information.
She notes a statistic that the average shelf life of professional content that a new graduate has when they enter their field lasts for about five years. Arlene says it’s very sobering to know that within those five years, on an ongoing basis, folks aren’t only going to need to learn new things in order to stay current, they’re going to have to unload the old things that are no longer reflective of the best knowledge.
So for the past couple of years, they’ve been having conversations internally about what those implications are as they relate to the continuing education offerings that ASHA provides or how ASHA approves other providers of continuing education. They’re also looking at how they plan, organize, and deliver their annual convention, and what they require by way of their accreditation or certification standards.
But they realized that with the way they were operating, they were tending to have those conversations in a bunch of verticals and they weren’t having them in any systematic way across programs. So for the first time (in December of last year) they brought all of the volunteer leaders (chairs of those committees for its councils) and all of the staff leaders (the managers of those programs) together for a generative conversation.
For the first time, we had a more explicit awareness that this really is an ecosystem—a learning ecosystem.
And they need to be approaching it in a hybrid way—on a program by program basis, but also in a manner where they’re doing the work with one another and having integrated collaboration—and she shares an example to illustrate this.
Exciting trends in learning
[26:40] – Are there particular trends in learning that you find exciting and potentially valuable for your members?
Arlene shares that one of the things that came out of the generative discussions they recently had was a different way of looking at the purpose of the learning offerings that an organization like ASHA makes available.
This was looking at them from the lens of how they could evolve their programs and offerings so that the user or member experiences them as more of a roadmap or opportunity to help inform their own self-awareness. Also to help them customize and personalize their learning needs and objectives across the span of their career.
Right now, like a lot of other learning requirements, be it for licensure or other certification programs, Arlene points out that members can choose to take and earn continuing education in an area they may already have substantial expertise. Or they can take a learning experience/event in an area where they are not likely to put it into practice.
So she’s thinking about how they can help build more of an integrated approach where they help meet members where they are throughout different points of their career, help them to have a high level of self-awareness of what their strong areas of knowledge and skills may be (and areas where there may be gaps that they want to think about addressing). And then help them to customize what that learning experience looks like at that phase of their career.
The role of associations in supporting lifelong learning
[29:07] – I feel like when I read about lifelong learning in the mainstream media, most of the focus is on what academia and the corporate sector are doing. But associations are rarely mentioned. Does that jibe with your experience, and regardless, how do you think association leaders – e.g., boards, executive teams – might best think about the role of their organizations in supporting that need for lifelong learning?
Arlene suggests that maybe the media is missing something and that maybe people in the association community aren’t doing as good of a job as they need to in terms of telling their story, but also being proactive about the kinds of societal benefit they deliver.
She notes the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) has done research that the largest provider of post-formal education of ongoing professional development for adult learning is associations. And collectively, that’s how most adults in the United States learn on an ongoing basis.
If you think about what that means, if you think of any profession that you might engage (an architect, accountant, attorney, etc.), she says we’re hoping an assuming that they are current in their knowledge of their field. And the primary way people are able to do that is through associations.
Arlene points out this might be formal education but it could also be accessing the resources/tools/information, which is also learning that an association makes available.
From her background and experience in the association community, Arlene truly believes they play a huge role in terms of adult learning. And with that comes a significant responsibility to do it well and to be aware of how member’s behaviors, needs, and their preferences (how, when, and why people want to access information) are changing.
She adds that associations deliver a huge societal benefit and that’s part of why they’ve earned the tax designation as a non-profit organization. With that comes a big responsibility to understand and do it as well and as effectively as possible for the benefit of their members and for the benefit of those who their members provide services to.
[34:50] – What is one of the most powerful learning experiences you’ve been involved in, as an adult, since finishing your formal education?
Arlene talks about how being in an environment—whether a set of circumstances, situation, or a culture—where it’s unfamiliar, is really powerful. So being in a different situation where she has to think differently, be open to learning new information, and approach decision-making without the tried and true, is what creates really powerful learning experiences for her.
[37:07] – How to connect with Arlene and/or learn more:
- ASHA website: https://www.asha.org (check out Arlene’s bio and email there as well)
[37:50] – Wrap-Up
- What does the future look like for your learning business? What are the long-term implications of the current situation, and what do you need to be thinking about and planning for even as you have to address pressing short-term needs?
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[39:39] – Sign off