LaTrease Garrison is executive vice president of the education division at the American Chemical Society (ACS), which serves learners in the chemical education space spanning K-8 all the way through retirement. With over 28 years at ACS, LaTrease has a seasoned perspective and solid grasp on what it takes to succeed as a provider in the growing third sector of education.
In this sixth episode in our seven-part series, Jeff talks with return guest LaTrease about how ACS is meeting the diverse and evolving needs of their learners, including their recent initiative to provide competency-based learning. Jeff and LaTrease also discuss the potential threats and opportunities facing providers in the third sector and the critical role they play in preparing the workforce of the future.
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[00:18] – Intro and background info about LaTrease.
Also note that you can catch our first interview with LaTrease.
About the American Chemical Society
[01:18] – Could you tell us a little bit more about your role at ACS and also what ACS does, particularly in terms of educating its members and broader audience?
The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization serving over 155,000 members. ACS is chartered by the U.S. Congress, and its goal is to be the global leader in providing access to chemistry-related information and research.
In the education division, ACS provides learning for individuals interested in upping their chem skills. ACS does chemistry-related training, soft skills training, and outreach training, and they can also train those interested in sharing about chemistry as a volunteer in their local community or schools.
ACS also offers new faculty workshops for anyone seeking to develop skills, to be better in the classroom, and to better connect with students of today.
ACS is increasing its efforts in the K-8 space. Traditionally, many people have thought ACS is just for academic chemists in higher ed or for industrial chemists. But ACS also has programs, products, and services for K-8 teachers of chemistry and science. This is really helping them to broaden their portfolio to ensure that they’re able to meet the needs of everyone who’s working within the chemical enterprise.
LaTrease adds that ACS considers itself a specialist in the scientific information solution space.
[03:41] – What does it mean that ACS is chartered by Congress, ad does that charter specifically talk about your role as a provider of education?
The charter doesn’t necessarily mention education versus chemistry. ACS’s charter is more specific about what it does for the field of chemistry. It also allows ACS to provide guidance and have an advocacy arm. ACS has an office that focuses on government relations, and it trains individuals who speak to congresspeople, senators, etc. ACS also has a “call-to-action” network that provides members with insight and guidance around governmental issues. Essentially, it broadens their influence on public policy.
[04:57] – In terms of ACS’s educational activities, professional development, and the other forms of learning that you spoke about, do you oversee all of that?
There are 50 staff on LaTrease’s team, and they all have responsibility for a variety of programs in ACS’s portfolio. But ultimately everything learning rolls up to her.
She points out that when people hear “education” as being the name of her group, they likely think of it as the traditional educational space. But ACS stretches beyond the typical classroom setting.
Some of what ACS does is career awareness and career building. ACS has great opportunities with many of their products and the constituents they serve to help them make decisions about their career. ACS has a great resource called ChemIDP, which is an individual development plan tool, made for chemists by chemists because ACS understands what chemists are looking for. This helps individuals chart their career path.
Interactions with the Third Sector
[06:19] – You and I are talking as part of a podcast series we’re doing on what we characterize as the third sector of education. It’s a sector made up of providers, like ACS, who serve adult lifelong learners after they’ve finished their formal, degree-granting education. Where do you interact, or have you interacted, with that third sector of education, both professionally in your role at ACS and personally?
LaTrease discusses how connecting with Leading Learning (participating in events, professional development opportunities, etc.) is one way she has personally connected with the third sector.
I consider the third sector space as being for any lifelong learner who wants to continue to enhance their skills and keep up with the latest trends or for people who want to ensure that they have the opportunity to just explore what’s actually going on in the world today so that they can be of better service to others. I think it’s critical for individuals in positions like myself or others within the learning space to take advantage of the third sector learning world because I believe that provides us with the flexibility that we need to receive additional learning opportunities as they are available.LaTrease Garrison
LaTrease mentions the 2017 National Academy of Sciences report about building America’s skilled technical workforce, which asserts the U.S. is falling behind. But the report offers things that we can do as a country to advance our workforce to ensure that everyone is prepared to help ensure a more stable economy for the U.S.—and to make sure that our workforce is diverse.
LaTrease believes the third sector will play a critical role in preparing the workforce going forward. Even though people receive their degree, things are constantly changing, and not everyone has the time and the space to go back to a full, rigorous program to complete a certificate or a degree. Being able to take a course here or there is something that many people find an appealing as an opportunity to increase their skill sets.
LaTrease shares more about the continuing education courses ACS offers, ranging from chemistry-related to critical and soft skills, to meet this need. ACS’s long-term customers are clearly confident in their ability to deliver course content and they want to have the third sector as a part of the learning environment for their employees.
Sponsor: Blue Sky eLearn
[11:12] – If you’re looking for a partner to help you confidently deliver what your learners need, check out our sponsor for this series.
For nearly 20 years, Blue Sky eLearn has been transforming the way organizations deliver virtual events and educational content. Blue Sky’s customized, cutting-edge solutions connect hundreds of organizations to millions of learners worldwide.
These include their award-winning learning management system, Path LMS, Webinar and live streaming services for short events to multi-day virtual conferences, and learning strategy and development solutions. These robust, easy-to-manage solutions allow organizations to easily organize, track, and monetize educational content.
Awareness of Other Providers in the Third Sector
[12:15] – When you talk about K-12 and higher education, people have more of a clear idea about it. But when you get to the third sector, it feels like things become fuzzier, and sometimes it feels like a Wild West. When you think about this third sector, how cohesive is it? How aware are the different players in it of each other or even of there being this sector of education? Is it really a Wild West? Or do you see more collaboration and continuity that maybe isn’t immediately visible?
LaTrease admits it’s a bit of a mixed bagm and that the third sector is a competitive space. For providers trying to enter into this space, it may be more challenging if they don’t already have a footing because of the number of providers already in the space.
But she also thinks there’s opportunity for those that specialize in a subject area. For example, some providers that aren’t dedicated to a specific field may be trying to stretch themselves to be everything to everybody.
In contrast is ACS’s influence and ability to be what chemists need them to because ACS has a targeted market. This allows them to think more deliberately about who their subject matter experts should be. It also allows ACS to be strategic about its partners and to more effectively tailor its marketing messaging. It also gives ACS the ability to do customer-focused research to truly determine what their needs are so that ACS can make impactful changes.
If third sector groups try to stretch themselves too thin, they can miss the mark, and they could dilute the learning opportunity.LaTrease Garrison
LaTrease also notes that the user experience might not be as strong as it would be if a provider focused on a specific industy.
She recognizes there is crossover in terms of what individuals need to learn and the interrelationships in work sectors. We have to think deliberately about the core competencies needed on our team and then what unique competencies individual brings to the team.
While there are a lot of learning providers, LaTrease thinks organizations in the third sector need to be strategic about their partners and their subject matter experts and making sure not to stretch themselves too thin. She suggests thinking about your strategic objectives and your ability to be successful in achieving those objectives. Then you can build the right portfolio that will allow you to be a successful learning provider in the third sector.
Collaboration in the Third Sector
[17:07] – Do you actively seek out collaborations, whether with employers, commercial training firms, academia or others? And, to the extent that you do, are there examples you can highlight where ACS has collaborated with other providers in the third sector successfully?
Because of their large membership pool, LaTrease says ACS has a fantastic opportunity to collaborate with their members as subject matter experts. That gives ACS a great advantage in the content they develop and it makes it easier for ACS to own its content. When ACS is able to leverage the great talent in its membership, it gives the organization more flexibility.
As ACS is beginning to think more about competency-based learning (which ACS started devleoping in 2019) LaTrease says the organization is finding opportunities to partner with various groups. They are also finding opportunities to work more closely with employers of chemists to define and to establish competencies. And these competencies allow ACS to gauge the curriculum in the academic space to identify potential knowledge gaps of students when they graduate.
The Need to Provide Competency-Based Learning
[19:56] – I’m interested that you mentioned competency-based learning. I think a lot of organizations are intrigued by competency-based learning, but they’re not quite sure how to proceed. Were you feeling the demand from your audience for competency-based learning? What made you feel like you really needed to move in that direction? And, to the extent you can comment on it, I’d love to hear any perspectives you have around business models for competency-based learning too.
LaTrease shares that ten years ago the ACS launched the ACS Leadership Development System. ACS started with research on competencies that leaders n chemistry should have to be classified as extraordinary leaders.
That was the first time ACS approached something like this from a competency-based framework for developing learning. Volunteer leaders partnered with staff to drive this initiative forward. ACS had great success in developing the courses to help individuals build those competencies.
LaTrease explains how this venture into competency-based learning allowed ACS to clearly communicate the key takeaways (and how to leverage those takeaways) to their learners. At the end of each course, ACS was able to clearly demonstrate where the competencies learned in one would overlap with another. So ACS could map out how learners could build up some competencies in an individual learning portfolio.
In the past couple years she says ACS has started thinking about how it can leverage competencies and think more broadly about them across its entire portfolio of learning assets.
LaTrease admits it was initially a challenge to figure out how to best approach competency-based learning on a magnified scale, expanding across multiple areas of professional development. Ultimately, ACS partnered with a vendor that has been able to help them create competencies. Now ACS has to begin to map its current courses to those competencies to figure out where it is already prepared to help individuals build those competencies. After that, she says ACS needs to look at what courses need to be developed to address the remaining competencies.
And ACS is building a business model so they can look at competency-based learning as a revenue stream while keeping in mind that ACS is a member-serving organization. But ACS knows competency-based learning is critically important now for their membership—and for the workforce of the U.S.
The Growth of the Third Sector
[24:26] – Our view at Leading Learning is that the third sector has been growing in size and importance over the past few decades and dramatically in the last several years. What’s your perspective? Do you agree that the third sector has been growing in importance? If you do, what do you think are the key factors contributing to that growth?
LaTrease agrees the third sector is growing in scale and scope. She also thinks it’s growing in expectation by the consumer.
And part of that is being driven because of the demands placed on faculty in higher education. LaTrease believes faculty are doing an excellent job preparing students to be ready to work from a technical aspect. However, she notes, university resources are limited, and time is limited. ACS is there to fill the gaps.
She thinks everyone has recognized that as being a challenge that we all can solve together, which has prompted growth in the third sector space.
LaTrease also discusses how, as humans, we’re naturally competitive and want to get ahead. It’s not unusual to hear people talking about what their next move is, how to get ahead, or how to transition to another career space altogether. Providers have the opportunity to help people make these next moves, which is where the growth is.
Threats Facing the Third Sector
[27:40] – What worries you? What are some of the potential threats in the third sector, and what are some ways you’re trying to make sure you’re prepared for any downsides that might be out there?
LaTrease shares that resource limitations are a challenge, even for large organizations like ACS. So she focuses on making sure she has the right number of staff and the right talent on the team to drive the ship so they can meet the needs of their consumer base.
We need to maintain some sense of reality about how much we can truly do to be successful. I’d rather have a smaller portfolio that’s more impactful and relevant than a large portfolio that’s scattered all over the place, where people don’t value the content, the teaching, or the materials that they might receive. So maintaining a sense of quality is also very important. And quite often we lose some of the quality that we could have had if we had just taken a little bit more time to ensure that we were hitting the mark correctly. So that is definitely a concern.LaTrease Garrison
She also thinks about the competitors out there and how to remain relevant to learners. ACS has to constantly monitor the market and the opportunities, and LaTrease says that allows the organization to grow and to address challenges.
ACS is a global organization with members worldwide, and the needs might be different based on where a member lives, as well as the competencies. For example, when thinking about diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect, ACS has to consider what those things mean outside the U.S.
LaTrease says ACS needs to provide the training that’s going to be applicable across a large footprint of individuals. With a larger organization, she warns, you do have different challenges to think about.
Operating in a Global Market
[31:07] – You mentioned your global presence and very large membership. How important is the ACS brand in the international market? Traditionally American-based education has attracted people from other places. Does that still feel true to you operating in this global landscape?
LaTrease talks about how there many great international researchers presenting at ACS national meetings who are students at universities here in the U.S. A benefit ACS has is that it establishes international student chapters and also charters international chemical sciences chapters.
She says that working with those chapters and being able to provide them with programs, products, and services from the ACS does help the organization to build connectivity, learn more about their needs, and tailor some of what it offers so it is more relevant and applicable for the particular region of the world where they live.
But, LaTrease notes, it does present some challenges when it comes to delivery because ACS isn’t readily able to show up on site, even prior to the pandemic. Traveling internationally is quite expensive for any organization.
So ACS has to think differently about how to service members who are abroad. ACS takes the time to talk with constituents to see exactly what they need and want and how it’s different from what they’ve already developed. And then ACS makes adjustments so the content it delivers is relevant.
The Future of the Third Sector
[33:46] – And what do you see going forward for the third sector of education? Will it grow in importance? Is it going to assume a greater role for educating people for the careers that are out there? Or are there potentially some disruptions that are on the horizon for the sector?
LaTrease does believe the third sector will continue to grow, and she references how much ACS has grown in the 28 years she’s been there.
But she thinks what will happen eventually is that there will be another spark—whether a positive or negative force from somewhere—and then we’ll all need to either adapt, change what we’re doing, or figure out how to enhance our portfolios.
For example, just as the traditional academic systems now are negatively impacted by the fact that kids can find pretty much anything they need on the Internet, LaTrease predicts the same is going to be true for the third sector in some shape or form.
She also thinks that face-to-face learning in education is not going to go away.
As long as employers continue to rely on organizations in the third sector to provide the training for their employee base, LaTrease says there’s great opportunity there.
As long as we continue to have humans that are lifelong learners, I think there’s a space for the third sector. So I think that our importance will continue to be there. I think there may be some ebbs and flows along the way, and we just have to continue to monitor what’s happening and take advantage of any opportunities that come along and to view any challenge as an opportunity. That’s how I live. If it’s a challenge, it’s also an opportunity—we just have to dig a little deeper to find out what that opportunity is, but I think as long as we continue to do that, then we’ll continue to have a place.LaTrease Garrison
[37:36] – Are there specific ways that you’re trying to make sure that you and your team are as prepared as possible for the future of the third sector? Any advice that you would give to others who hope to thrive in that future?
LaTrease says ACS tries to maintain constant communication with their learners.
She stresses that you have to be willing to evaluate and assess your success—or lack of success. Know when something isn’t working and when you need to pull back or revamp. She encourages her team to fail because she believes that, in every failure, there are learning opportunities. If you can pull those out, then you can make something bigger and better the next go-around.
ACS has gotten a lot better as an organization about being data-driven and using data to figure out what they should do. But LaTrease admits that, as a membership-based organization, sometimes it can be challenging to make decisions based on data rather than what members may want.
You have to really be willing to have that difficult conversation and to figure out where on the middle of the road that you’re going to meet to allow you to be able to drive forward as an organization, as a business, while still being able to meet the needs. So I would just say to groups that are interested and that are in the third sector, just continue to press forward, continue to rely on feedback from your users and your customers, follow the trends, follow the data, and make sure that you’re putting out quality education that individuals can truly use, leverage, and learn, that’s going to help them to grow professionally and to allow for the U.S. and around the world to be that skilled technical workforce that the National Academy of Sciences is saying that we’re going to need. I wholeheartedly believe in that—that if our workforce is skilled, that the world is going to be a better place.
[39:49] – Wrap-Up
LaTrease Garrison is the executive vice president of the education division at the American Chemical Society. Connect with LaTrease on LinkedIn, and learn more about the education division and ACS programs, products, and services on the ACS Web site. The ACS site has something for everyone, including resources to help adults support kids with remote learning and kid-friendly activities for downtime at home.
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[41:47] – Sign off
Other Episodes in This Series:
- The Third Sector of Education
- Long Life Learning with Michelle Weise
- Accrediting Lifelong Learning with Casandra Blassingame
- Reflecting with Anthony Carnevale
- Continuous Development with Nigel Paine
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