Shari Rager, Deputy Director at American Medical Writers Association (AMWA), has over 20 years’ experience as a nonprofit and association executive, but recently she has been exploring uncharted territory while leading her organization with the rollout of a new online education program.
In this episode of the Leading Learning Podcast, Celisa talks with Shari about some of AMWA’s recent initiatives including details about the rollout of their online education program, transitioning to a new LMS, and launching a new online community platform.
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Read the Show Notes
[00:18] – A reminder to check out the upcoming Leading Learning event, Learning • Technology • Design (LTD) to be held May 18-19, 2016 in Arlington, VA. The event is designed specifically to help professionals in the business of continuing education and professional development find new and better ways to engage learners and create lasting impact through the effective use of technology.
[03:38]- Introduction to Shari and some background information about herself and the organization.
[05:56] – Your involvement with the online education program at AMWA is relatively new to you. Can you tell us more about how you inherited that hat and how it fits into the place-based education in terms of the overall sense of the offerings that you have to your members? Shari says that as Deputy Director, her role shifts to meet the needs of the organization and its members and that currently, their number one priority is to build and expand an online learning program. Shari explains that in-person and written offerings are no longer meeting the needs of their community and how that led them to adding an online education program.
[08:45] – As you’ve taken on this new role, what have been/are your biggest challenges and speed bumps as you’ve gotten more hands-on? Shari reveals that the biggest challenge has been the complete and total unknown in regards to this undertaking. She explains their approach and how they were really charting a new course with the creation of this to meet the specific needs of their members and organization.
[10:09] – What are you seeing as the biggest opportunities and possibilities and where do you want to take AMWA’s online education? Shari talks about how what they previously offered wouldn’t easily fit into an online system. They had to think about what content they had that would fit well in their system and meet the needs of their audience. She explains what happened in the process of doing this (including lessons learned working with consultants) and how that led to where they are now.
[12:30] – A discussion about AMWA’s experience following best practices from consultants and how they learned that you have to modify everything to your audience/organization. Shari explains how they wanted to offer a new and different experience to their members and not recreate or undervalue what they already have.
[14:16] –Shari talks about how they launched a new LMS at the end of 2015. She explains that they had the launch of the system and the launch of AMWA online learning.
[15:38] – What has the experience (of launching a new LMS) been like so far? Shari says she has learned if you build it, they will come but they may not buy. She explains that they are experiencing a lot of traffic but sales are slow and that they are expecting that to grow in the near future.
[16:52] – When you were thinking about the launch for the online education, how did you plan for that? What was the timeline like? Shari says that they really took their time to get it right and discusses how important it was not only to choose the right system, but the right partner. She explains that it took a full year from start to finish and that they worked with the vendors to set realistic expectations about what the system could do now and in the future to grow with them.
[19:51] –Looking back at the process (selection, implementation, launch) is there anything that jumps out that you would do differently (or the same)? Shari shares that the process they went through really was the right process for them. She also says to remember that the consultants are providing their knowledge/expertise/recommendations based on their experiences but that you are responsible for taking that information and making your own decisions that are right for your organization. Her biggest recommendation is to remember that it is your organization/audience/product/goals and to find a partner that can support you but ultimately everything lies in your hands.
[21:56] – One thing you have mentioned you are interested in is shorter, ten-minute, “quick learning” programs. Tell me a little about where you are and what you’re doing to move this idea forward. Shari says that AMWA is best known for their 3 hour workshops and one hundred page self-study books and that they are trying to transition to an experience that is shorter and more on demand. She says that everything they’ve created so far has all been about 45 minutes long but that her first goal is to develop a high quality, valuable learning experience in a 20-minute activity before they can realistically begin thinking about 10 minutes.
[25:27] – I understand you’re going launch an online community platform soon. To what extent have you thought about how that community fits with the organizations online and offline education? Shari says that they launch next week and that AMWA had a very robust Listserv so they anticipate that it will be successful. She shares that they are going to focus the first year on the informal learning but they would eventually like to consider whether they could create discussions around specific educational activities.
[27:49] – A discussion about how the culture at AMWA allows them to take their time when making big decisions and how they have been able to provide support in the area of technology to their members.
[30:15] – Speaking about some of the structural elements of AMWA, you are a small staff (9 employees). I know you mentioned that after you attended the Leading Learning Symposium in 2015, you went back to the office to advocate for a new position at AMWA. Can you talk a little about how that—both how you went about making the case for more resources and staff? Shari shares that they have limited resources and that online learning is again the top priority for the organization. She says this makes it difficult to create a new position but that they plan to realign existing staff/resources to help with this.
[33:15] – How do you approach your own personal lifelong learning? How do you keep learning and growing your knowledge and skills? Shari shares that she is currently pursuing a master’s degree in nonprofit management. She also mentions that she really values the online communities that she participates in with ASAE as well as the new Leading Learning community. Shari adds that she values time to absorb what she’s learned by doing things like exercising and exploring her creative side.
[35:18] – How to connect with Shari and AMWA:
[36:03] – Wrap-Up
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[37:59] – Sign off