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The Association Professional’s Guide to Moving Learning Online

There has been a lot of hype concerning the need for associations to take learning online. And, for good reason. The demand for online learning is growing as learners seek more flexibility and availability and organizations look for cost-saving options. Both top universities and businesses are putting student and employee training courses online where they can reach a larger audience faster. It’s a trend worth following if you’re looking for better learning solutions or just seeking a competitive edge.

The real question, however, is how to quickly and effectively move learning online so that it works well for you and students. This guide will help answer that question.

Factors You Should Consider When Moving Your Association's Learning Online

Whether you’re looking for an easy way to distribute training materials for employees or trying to help students succeed in their degree programs, expanding online content offerings without a well-thought-out strategy can be costly and ineffective. You will want a plan in place for how to implement this change. Below are some key considerations in determining your strategy.

1) What is the purpose of your online training?

Why do you want to move your learning online? To attract more students? To improve learner engagement? To diversify your offerings? To simplify training courses? To move to a distributed learning model? Whatever the reason, keep your purpose in the back of your mind to help inform all of your decisions and keep things consistent during this transition.

2) What subset of your membership will you target with online learning?

Know your audience. Who are you making this change for? Identify who in your membership will benefit most from online learning and why so you can meet their needs and expectations.

Younger generations are leading the way in the use of technology, but there is a growing number of users in all age groups that are reliant on technology for learning. News, sports, weather, do-it-yourself instructions, professional training, and college degrees are increasingly sought out online.

The ongoing technological revolution has led to the growing expectation that content should be available on demand and easily accessible online. It’s up to you to determine which knowledge seekers your online learning is for.

3) Which courses are best suited to offer and market online?

Not every subject or course will translate well into e-learning. You may choose to do an audit of your course offerings or training materials and identify which ones are best suited for learning online and which ones still require a hands-on or in-person approach.

4) What constitutes an effective and engaging online course?

One of the most challenging parts of e-learning strategy is planning for course material that both satisfies the learning objectives of the program and engages the learner. You’ll have to consider different types of content that both teach and engage your learners and help them complete your online courses successfully.

Here are five content types that we find can enhance e-learning:

  • Video
  • Interactives
  • Surveys
  • Self-assessments
  • Discussions
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A Process for Moving Your Association to E-learning

Once you’ve identified your goals for moving towards e-learning, it’s time to take steps towards those goals. Before embarking on a major investment in online learning, a process should be in place to help develop the right vision and strategy. Without this vision, your transition to e-learning will flounder.

Knowing the reason for your online learning aspirations is a critical element of developing an effective vision. You need to know why you are wanting to create a stronger online presence and how you plan to do it. A vision for online learning must be embraced by the leadership of an association in order for it to be sustainable.

A commitment to an effective strategy will require resources in terms of labor and finances. If there is not a shared vision and an achievable strategy for implementation in place, the leadership will not be committed to providing the resources long-term.

Below are the steps to take to develop this vision and help everyone involved in your move to online learning stay on track.

1) Talk to your members

Sometimes it is easy to forget that the purpose of any expanded educational offering is to meet the needs of your members. Any attempt to take learning online should be based on relevant information about what your members need and want.

Surveys are a very useful tool to get a high-level overview of what your members are thinking and needing. However, it is important that you ask the right questions so you get the information you need. If you decide to send out a survey, take advantage of the opportunity to get other important information at the same time.

An effective way to get quality feedback is to initiate open-ended conversations with your members concerning their professional learning needs. These can be done one-on-one, or in small focus groups. Here are some questions you may want to ask:

  1. -What education needs are most important for you?
  2. -What sorts of learning opportunities are important for your career progression?
  3. -Do you have education needs that are not being presently met?
  4. -Are there existing association courses you would like to take online?
  5. -How much would you be willing to pay for an online course?
  6. -What obstacles would keep you from taking courses online?
  7. -Are you taking online courses elsewhere, and which courses are you taking?
  8. -Should the association create new content to expand services to members?  

Considering and analyzing information from members should play a central role in developing a  strategy to meet members’ education needs online. If you know what your members need, you will make winning decisions regarding your online programming.


2) Build up your team

The online learning vision must be a central part of the association’s future aspirations if it is to be implemented successfully. If there is not a strong commitment from the association leadership, the vision will not survive when it encounters implementation difficulties.

Therefore, when developing something as important as a vision for online learning, a team of internal stakeholders should be assembled. Members of the team might include the CEO, possibly a board member, the education/program director, as well as key personnel who will be involved in the vision implementation.

Additionally, you will want the support and viewpoints of external experts who act as an extension of your team. This would be your learning management system (LMS) vendor, association management system partner, a learning designer, etc. These individuals will bring valuable insight and expertise about how to implement e-learning for your organization.

An effective team requires balancing a variety of skill sets and personalities. Tools such as the Myers-Briggs or StrengthsFinders can help you assess your team’s capabilities. Building the right type of team is critical to the success of your online education goals.

3) Define your vision & business model

It is important that the financial conditions of an e-learning venture are fully considered. Most association leaders have one or both of the following motivations:

  1. They want to build value for members by offering them online content for free.
  2. They want to increase non-dues revenue by selling online courses.

Either way, there must be a financial model to support building a quality online course library. When considering the costs for an online learning venture, in addition to the annual license for a learning management system, keep in mind the costs of marketing, data keeping, course development, and staffing. Many online learning programs fail because of a lack of human or monetary resources.

Once all costs are considered regarding the implementation of online learning, an association should employ a system to project revenues. While creating a system to analyze revenues and costs, information gathered from surveys and conversations with members should also be considered.

All of this information needs to lead to a self-sustaining business model, which is required to grow online learning services.

Either the revenue from the courses will need to pay for the venture, or your association will need to budget this as a benefit for your members. Much like a new business start-up, an online learning venture can take some time to become profitable.

4) Choose an LMS

A great LMS, or learning management system, is a must to create online learning. An LMS provides a single organized hub for easy access to all of your courses, allows you to use dynamic content, and provides easy tracking and reporting for both you and learners. The best systems foster a learning environment that allows for learner participation, collaboration, and a sense of community.

Carefully choose an LMS platform that fits all of your needs. This might require you to make a list of what you need an LMS to do for you before you shop around. When you’ve identified your needs, match those needs to what each LMS offers.

A few considerations when choosing an LMS might include

  • -Can it integrate with your existing software?
  • -Has the LMS vendor successfully worked with an association like yours before?
  • -Does the vendor offer support when issues arise?
  • -Does it have all the features and tools you want?
  • -Does it include an authoring tool with an intuitive user interface?
  • -What kind of data can it track, and how easy is it to generate reports?
  • -Do you want a cloud-based LMS or software installed on your own server?
  • -Is this a competitive price for what you’re getting?

Take your time choosing an LMS. There’s a lot of options on the LMS market and what you pick will determine many things about how successfully you go about moving learning online and engaging with learners.

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5) Build out your courses

Once you have an LMS in place, it’s time to get your courses set up in it. Of course, you already have your original courses, but putting them online and managing them with your LMS should give you more capabilities than before for using engaging content that truly enhances the learning experience.

There are so many ways to enhance and expand your training content to attract more learners and help them learn more successfully, that traditional school and training materials just can’t compete with. Below are just a few methods that are ideal for e-learning courses.

Video production for education, training & learning

Learning and training videos are great teaching tools. High-quality video can be a nice change of pace for students who tire from just reading text. It gives them instructor-led training that engages multiple senses, which studies have found is ideal for better knowledge retention. When students can watch a video, they’re both seeing and hearing information. This helps them focus on understanding the information and create a memory of what they learned to aid in information recall later.

Subject matter experts

You can enhance online courses with videos and other features all you want, but don’t forget their real purpose: communicating information for learning. In-depth, lasting learning comes from good teachers who know what they’re talking about.

You’ll get much richer coursework and learning experiences when you collaborate with subject matter experts who know all the ins and outs of their fields and industries and can share their knowledge with learners. This kind of expertise brings added value and authority to your e-learning courses and will help them stand out from other educational institutions or training programs.

Not sure where to find subject matter experts? Ask your e-learning industry partners. For instance, NextThought has its own subject matter pool to pull from for clients. These experts are qualified in a broad range of different subjects including electrical engineering, chemistry, business, and more. They help our clients build compelling online course materials.

SCORM, the e-learning standard

The Shareable Content Object Reference Model, or SCORM, is a set of technical standards that tell programmers how to write code to make e-learning software products compatible with other software.

If you're planning on transitioning courses from a different platform or sharing content with other associations, you will want your courses to be SCORM-friendly. This guarantees that your LMS will be able to communicate and coordinate with other systems now and later.

6) Implement & market to your members

The final step in following your vision for moving learning online is to make it happen! Along the way, you have identified the needs of your learners, built a team, created a business model, selected the best LMS for your purposes, expanded on your courses, and fine-tuned everything as you went. Now it’s time to put it all out there for your learners to use.

Everything should be in place to get your LMS set up and make your courses live. Your LMS vendor should be on hand to walk you through the steps of making the system do what you need it to and troubleshoot any issues. Your team will need to transfer courses to your LMS platform or build new ones. And of course, you’ll want to test everything.

At the same time, you’ll need a marketing strategy for advertising your new online e-learning offerings. You’ll want to let existing members know they have new and improved learning options and how to access them. If one of your goals of moving learning online was to attract new members, you’ll need a way to market your courses to a wider audience of students as well.

This isn’t the place to get into detail on marketing strategy, but your marketing efforts should focus on entertaining, educating, and ultimately selling potential students on the courses you offer and their effectiveness at teaching and helping learners meet their learning goals.

The Benefits of a Mobile Friendly LMS for Your Association

Moving Forward with Moving Learning Online

Of course, this guide is just the basics of how an association like yours can efficiently move learning online. Every business or institution has its own goals for adopting e-learning and therefore will take different routes to meet those goals. But whether you’re looking for a way to provide new training to employees quickly and easily or expanding your course offerings to students living in a high-tech, online world, you share at least one goal with other e-learning users: an improved educational experience for learners.

If you’re looking to give students or trainees a new way to learn, explore your options with NextThought. Whatever your LMS needs, we can help you meet your e-learning goals. Get in touch today for more information and a free demo.


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