In our just-released Association Learning + Technology: State of the Sector report (https://www.tagoras.com/catalog/association-learning-technology), Jeff and I assert that, while it has clearly arrived in the association sector, e-learning remains far from mature. In his post “Report Highlights Growing Pains of Association E-learning” on ASAE’s Acronym blog, Joe Rominiecki commented, “Surely complicating that maturation process is that the growth in options for learning technology has coincided with difficult financial times for the associations that are hopeful about their potential.”
We don’t disagree that these trying financial times are a complicating factor. But we believe that the economic downturn may really be an opportunity—even a call to arms—for associations to embrace technology-enabled learning.
The technology that powers learning has proliferated, grown easier, and gotten cheaper. Sophisticated but easy-to-use authoring tools are now available for well under $1,000. There are now full-featured LMS/authoring platforms that can be licensed for less than $30 per month. Solid Webinar platforms are available for $99 per month or less. For all of these, there are also free options, like the ones Jeff mentioned in “30+ Free Learning Technologies” (https://www.tagoras.com/30-free-learning-technologies). Along with “traditional” tools, free options include a wide range of social media tools that associations have yet to fully leverage for learning purposes.
The cost-effectiveness of e-learning, in fact, is one of the primary perceived benefits of e-learning; cost-effectiveness was cited as one of the top three benefits of e-learning by 73 percent of associations with current e-learning programs responding to the survey at the core of Association Learning + Technology. This doesn’t mean, of course, that e-learning is free of costs or that it doesn’t require building competencies to do it well. Indeed, we see this as one of the current problem areas of technology-enabled learning—most executives and boards have yet to embrace it, fully understand the possibilities, and make building deep competency in this area a key strategic priority for the organization.
The March edition of Associations Now highlights data that shows most CEOs aren’t seeing the returns they want in online education. In 2009, 60.9 percent of CEOs anticipated increased revenue from online education, but only 33.3 percent actually saw it. In 2010, 59.2 percent of CEOs anticipated it, while 36.3 percent saw it. In 2011, 62.4 percent of CEOs are again anticipating increased revenue. As we’ve mentioned before (https://www.tagoras.com/2011/05/04/online-education-revenue), we’re guessing the percentage of associations that actually see increased revenue will remain low this year unless executives and boards step up, empower their education departments, and make the investments needed to grow online learning as a core competency.
Strategy and leadership are key. Only 22 percent of the associations we surveyed for Association Learning + Technology have a formal e-learning strategy, but among those who consider their e-learning to be very successful, 47.1 percent follow a formal strategy. While we didn’t ask specifically about the role of executives in the association’s e-learning in the survey, we heard the importance of executive engagement in some interviews we conducted for the report. One of the technology providers we spoke with said:
It seems anecdotally…[e-learning] is rising in terms of the proﬁle of it within organizations. We’re talking to executive-level decision makers, and they, in turn, are conferring with their boards, or they’re serving a board mandate to get on the e-learning platform or movement…. So we do see that most of these organizations are not just saying, “We’ve got a checkbox here that we need to get an LMS.” There seems to be an organizational initiative to bring value through education products, which we think is going back to the roots of the association.
We’ve similarly seen more executives involved in e-learning in our own consulting work with associations, but there’s still tremendous room for growth. If associations want to see their expectations and reality align, they need a strategy—a realistic, clear vision of the future—and leadership—the people to set that vision and keep the organization in faultless pursuit of it.