Archive for the 'Learning' Category

11
Nov
14

On screen or in a chair?

webeventMost of us would agree there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. The email inbox is always full. Meetings seem to pop up on the calendar. And deadlines continue to loom.

Then, if you’re a working professional with kids, you have to balance sports, clubs, carpooling and snack schedules.

It’s exhausting.

No wonder so many of us are spending less time away from our offices and our families to attend professional development events or other workplace functions.

It seems associations got the memo as the industry experiences a slow uptick in virtual events.

Last week, consulting firm Tagoras released Association Virtual Events 2014, a survey of associations’ use of virtual conferences, trade shows and other events. Conducted in August, 33 percent of the 112 respondents indicated they have offered a virtual event. And about 21 percent indicated they plan to offer such an event in the next 12 months.

Tagoras found there are three standard technologies for virtual events: webinar or webcast tools for presentations; communication tools to allow for real-time conversations among participants; and document and resource sharing of event materials.

So why the boom? More than 75 percent of respondents said they offer virtual events for members who can’t attend an association’s place-based events. Tied for second place were “to be seen as offering cutting-edge technology for members” and “to support an overall strategy to deliver more services online.” The third most popular reason for offering virtual events? To reduce costs for attendees.

Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele

Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele, co-founders of Tagoras

“These motivations clearly reflect necessity — organizations see a need to provide more options as travel budgets are trimmed and time becomes an increasingly precious commodity for members — but they also reflect a willingness to experiment,” study authors Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele wrote. “Many association professionals are embracing virtual events even before their members ask for them, and they’re doing so as part of an overall strategy built on online service.”

Obviously, virtual events aren’t for all associations, and several have yet to embrace the growing technological trend. Cost and complexity of technology were the top reasons for not going virtual, while concerns about cost ranked No. 3.

At the same time, most of the respondents indicated a virtual event has to be self-sustaining to be worth the investment, while 50 percent reported a virtual event should drive revenue. And most associations reported they charge both members and nonmembers to participate in a virtual event.

“Over time, we think associations will grow more adept at estimating realistic costs and determining a plan for covering those costs, whether through registration fees, sponsorships or both,” Cobb and Steele said. “That said, there’s skepticism on the sponsorship front.”

And then there’s fear of the unknown. Will virtual events cause a decline in attendance at an association’s traditional event? Tagoras doesn’t think so.

Is it possible to learn as much remotely as it is sitting in a room with colleagues, listening first hand to an expert? Data seem to swing both ways, but nevertheless, convenience sometimes wins.

(An editorial sidebar: Multitasking and distraction are justifiable concerns. But attendees will likely check email, text and tweet regardless of where they are. Just my two cents.)

LearnwithMouseTake a look at the stats Tagoras compiled about its survey. It seems virtual equals value.

  • While 58 percent of those who haven’t undertaken a virtual event cite technology concerns as a perceived barrier, 90 percent of respondents who have held a virtual event describe themselves as very or somewhat satisfied with the ease of use of the technology.
  • Some 58 percent of those who haven’t held a virtual event cite concerns about costs, but 74 percent of those who have held a virtual event describe themselves as very or somewhat satisfied with the cost of the technology. And 60 percent characterize themselves as very or somewhat satisfied with the revenue generated by the virtual event.
  • Some 46 percent of those who haven’t held a virtual event cite concerns about attendance, but 76 percent of those who have held a virtual event describe themselves as very or somewhat satisfied with attendance.

“We are still in the early days of virtual events as a trend, but the use of this format across a diverse range of organizations — and its continued use by most who have tried it — suggests that virtual events will become a mainstay of association education and events going forward,” Cobb and Steele said.

So what do you think? Does your association offer a virtual event? Tell us about it.

07
Oct
14

Don’t let your speakers get schooled by a 4 year old

preschool_blocksMy oldest niece began preschool this fall in North Carolina. As you might expect of any proud uncle, I check-in with my sister frequently for updates on the latest developments in class. What have they discussed? Where have they gone? Is she making friends? Is she a confirmed genius yet? What’s her teacher like? Any funny stories I should know about (secretly hoping that there are)?

Apparently, she’s the golden child. The only trouble she’s committed since the start of the school year is actually attributable to her mother. You see, my sister’s a bit of a diva. She sends my niece to school in perfectly coordinating accessories. This sometimes includes sandals that don’t actually comply with the school’s closed-toed shoe policy, which has apparently been instituted to keep the clumsy children from hurting themselves during recess.

So, I know what you’re thinking: How big a problem could this really be? As a kid, I often remember getting only one opportunity to correct undesirable behavior – or else. My sister, on the other hand, thinks there are exceptions for cute shoes. Needless to say, there’s been more than one reminder sent home. Add to that my niece’s fondness for dresses and you can just imagine what getting ready in the morning must look like in that household.

But I digress. As a learning professional, I’m also curious about what my niece is learning. Lately, it’s all about the show and tell. And why wouldn’t it? Getting kids up in front of their classmates at a young age is a terrific way to build their confidence for future speeches and group presentations. And to ensure their success, simply ask them to talk about things they love – their family, their toys, their summer vacations and the like.

This isn’t so dissimilar from how I often begin learning labs and workshops of my own. Introducing simple attendee primers (e.g., What is your favorite fall tradition or pastime?) during sessions I facilitate encourages low-risk introductions among participants, breaks the ice and ultimately sets the tone for deeper, more meaningful conversation about the topic at hand.

Recently, my niece was asked to bring something in to her class for red show and tell day. Ultimately, she settled on a red stuffed animal named Clifford. You may be familiar with him. Leading up to the big day, my sister asked my niece what she was planning to say about Clifford. And, believe it or not, my niece had prepared a speech – one she had come up with all on her own and would repeat time and time again with little variation.

Of course, you can only imagine how disappointed I was to learn there was no video evidence of this very first class “speech.” My sister did, however, take a follow-on video of my niece giving a similar presentation about her stuffed animal, Foxy. While the quality of the video wasn’t share-worthy, I’d like to provide here a transcription of what she said.

What-Does-The-Fox-Say2Hello, ladies and gentlemen.
This is Foxy, my fox.
He likes to play with me and I like to snuggle.
Thank you ladies and gentlemen.
Bye!

At first blush, I bet you’re wondering where she came up with that ingenious opening and closing. I do, too. I promise I’ve not been coaching her. My friends think she’s itching to go on the road with me. But let’s dig beyond the cute rhetoric for the implications this speech has on our own association speakers.

  1. Do you know what your speakers are going to say before they say it? You wouldn’t put my niece, however smart, in front of your board of directors without a trial run. Why would you allow your speakers to “educate” your attendees without first understanding their qualifications and, more importantly, what they intend to say.
  2. Do you coach speakers beforehand to ensure accurate/engaging content? Whether this is one-on-one, in a small group setting or via webinar, industry speakers often don’t have training in professional development. They’re content experts. So gather and share your best PowerPoint slide recommendations and hands-on exercises for optimal outcomes.
  3. Do you take good care of your speakers to ensure they have an enjoyable experience before, during and after your program? Pre-program, clear and succinct communication is key. Let the who, what, where, when and why guide you. During the program, think creature comforts such as water at the podium and/or a nice room amenity.
  4. Do you provide your speakers with feedback in a meaningful and positive way? We often collect it. But when it comes to compiling it and summarizing it into something useful, we usually fall short. Take the time to organize session feedback and compare it to the overall conference evaluations. Share this information with your speakers and elaborate wherever possible with suggestions for future improvements.
  5. Do you encourage speakers to go off script to assess and meet the needs of your audience? Most anyone can get up in front of a group of people and deliver a scripted presentation. But it’s the more seasoned and experienced content leader who can dump the script to meet the learners where they are, even if this means a little improv.

I believe we’re at a crossroads. The content our associations offer must be topnotch if we intend to compete with the countless other continuing education providers that are fast on our heels. There are just too many learning and networking opportunities available today for ours to miss the mark and remain sustainable. Our speakers and their messages are simply too important to leave to chance.

It’s up to all of us – staff members, volunteer leaders and consultants – to institute best practices when it comes to the development of our education content. “We’re too busy” and “we’re just planners” are not valid excuses. We must utilize tried and true instructional design strategies, as well as lessons learned from both neuroscience and biology, to create experiences that promote knowledge acquisition, retrieval and, ultimately, learning.

What are you committed to doing differently this month?

23
Sep
14

The benefits of educating about benefits

surveyAs a follow up to my Aug. 19 post about associations offering voluntary benefits to their members, I thought it would be wise think about benefits for association employees.

I’ll mention it again: With extensive media coverage of the Affordable Care Act, benefits are on everyone’s mind. In fact, just the other day while I was grocery shopping, two women were discussing their benefits while they compared the price of cheese.

It’s true that larger organizations can generally provide better – and more comprehensive – health care benefits. But according to a rather surprising Unum survey conducted recently, most employees don’t know or understand the benefits they have.

And employers are at fault, the study found. Surveying 1,521 working adults, it revealed that employee satisfaction with their workplaces and benefits is at its lowest since 2008.

Conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Unum, an insurance provider, only 49 percent of workers indicated their places of employment are good places to work, while only 47 percent ranked their benefits as good.

But here’s the kicker: The research also showed that employees don’t feel they’re getting adequate information about their benefits. In the survey, only 33 percent of employees rated the benefits education they received as excellent or very good – a drop from 2012 and a reversal to the upward trend in ratings since 2009.

So why does this matter? Associations generally operate with small staffs, so it’s important that your employees are happy, and the survey found a correlation between good benefits education and employee happiness. In other words, an informed employee is a productive employee.

In addition, according to the survey, 79 percent of workers who reviewed benefits in the past year and rated their education as excellent or very good also rate their employer as excellent or very good – compared to only 30 percent of those who said the education they received was fair or poor.

“This research underscores the value of an effective benefits education plan because when an employee understands their benefits, they tend to value them more and in turn may then value their employers more for providing access to them,” said Bill Dalicandro, vice president of the consumer solutions group at Unum.

educationBottom line: Employers need to do a better job educating their staffs about benefits. But how?

It doesn’t matter how large or small your organization is, chances are, a dedicated staff person handles human resources. That person should be responsible for providing such an education.

How? Rapid Learning Institute shared some tips in a recent blog post. It suggests offering materials for various learning types: printed materials and videos for visual learners; podcasts and audio conferences for auditory learners; and interactive online tools or worksheets for tactile learners.

The most common way to educate continues to be printed materials, the institute said, but emails, social media and internal messaging systems also work well.

Or consider hosting educational benefit sessions throughout the year. Have a little-known perk? A tax tip? Communicate with your employees on a regular basis.

17
Jun
14

MOOCs: A myth for the masses? Not so much

MOOC infographic

An infographic by Online-PhD-Programs.org summarizing MOOCs.

Massive Open Online Courses – or MOOCs – seem to be all the rage. And why not, when learning is just a click away?

MOOCs are online classes that are available to anyone with a computer and/or Internet access. Some MOOCs are free, but others aren’t. It’s a bit confusing as MOOCs are still trying to find their place among social media, 24-7 access to news and a society that thrives on convenience.

It seems higher education has embraced MOOCs as a way to foster global education, but what about other industries?

According to Online-PhD-Programs.org, 4.7 million people participate in MOOCs through Coursera. But only 8 to 10 percent of those enrolled actually complete the class. So is it worth it?

It’s a constant source of debate, which may explain why associations have been reluctant to enter the MOOC market.

Tagoras recently released a whitepaper on fringe trends, and MOOCs were included in the report. “Fringe” refers to the fact that based on Tagoras’ research, only 10 percent of participants have adopted burgeoning trends.

“MOOCs aren’t just disrupting how training is delivered; they are changing how companies interact with their employees and others on a much grander scale,” said Bryant Nielsen, founder of corporate training firm Your Training Edge.

Throughout the last few weeks, Nielsen has written about 13 megatrends of MOOCs. Perhaps most relevant to associations is lifelong learning.

“One of the biggest impacts MOOCs have had is to make education available to people of all ages,” Nielsen said. “As a result, lifelong learning has become one of the biggest trends in recent years: In their spare time, people who once might have flipped on the television are now booting up their computers to learn and accessing learning resources on their mobile devices whenever they have a few minutes of downtime. Companies can capitalize on this lifelong learning trend both by offering engaging courses to the public and by recognizing their employees’ independent learning endeavors.”

But how does an association know if a MOOC is a right fit?

The key is to decide what it wants to accomplish, Tagoras says.

online-educationThe massive nature of MOOCs makes them incredible marketing tools. A MOOC can establish an association as an expert in a topic or field, while also turning curious learners into members. But a word of caution: As with anything new, there’s risk. Associations are often leery about giving away their content for free, but that’s the name of the game when it comes to MOOCs.

The key to creating successful MOOCs, according to Tagoras, is to make content general – to appeal to the masses. While it’s a good idea to showcase your best experts, a MOOC may not be the best option for a specific professional development topic.

In addition, MOOCs probably aren’t going to generate revenue, at least not at first. So it’s best to think of a MOOC as a long-term investment. Rather than making money, an association can build upon a brand while creating ambassadors, who will eventually help recruit members.

Finally, associations need to remember that completion of a MOOC isn’t a sign of its success, Tagoras says. Instead, associations should focus on the takeaways participants get from a MOOC and on the importance of educating the masses.

“While only 6.6 percent of respondents offer MOOCs and only 4.6 percent more plan to begin offering MOOCs in the next year, according to the survey behind our 2014 Association Learning + Technology report, we’re excited about the massive models enabled by MOOCs and expect more associations to embrace it in the coming years, as they realize the ready-built audience of their profession or industry could benefit from a MOOC offering,” Tagoras says.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to MOOCs. You’ll continue to hear about them as more people embrace online learning, and as such, I’ll be doing a couple follow-up posts.

So if your organization offers a MOOC, please contact me. Or if you’re an expert on the subject, please reach out. Have you ever participated in a MOOC? Tell us about it.

06
May
14

Back to basics: Education programs

photoI recently facilitated two sessions on meeting planning and professional development for the Michigan Society of Association Executive’s (MSAE) Academy of Association Management. It’s again a reminder of the important intersection and relationship between learning and logistics, particularly as it relates to association education programs.

The course content primarily focuses on two chapters of Professional Practices in Association Management, Second Edition: Chapter 26 on education programs and Chapter 32 on meeting planning and management. Additional insights were gleaned from The Meetings Report jointly published by Event Garde and MSAE.

Following introductions and an outline of the day’s learning outcomes, I shared four big ideas that represent the importance of education to our organizations:

  1. Meetings represent a significant and increasing proportion of association revenue.
  2. Significant percentages of association memberships attend annual meetings or trade shows.
  3. Members believe the most important function of an association is to provide training and professional development.
  4. Six of the top seven reasons identified by association leaders as the reason people join are related to meetings. (Note: The final reason is related to advocacy.)

For a long time, planners have been tasked with coordinating chicken and chairs. Perhaps this is an oversimplification of their role as logistics managers; however, it’s clear that for many they’ve had little to no experience in instructional design, speaker coaching and content development. And most aren’t afforded a seat at the executive leadership table.

I firmly believe that moving forward our meetings personnel must have skillsets in both logistics and learning if they’re to find and cultivate successful association careers. As members become more sophisticated and their options to learn and to network become more bountiful, the status quo is no longer enough to capture their interest or to motivate their purchases.

So it’s time to get back to basics.

Carousel_at_Hyde_ParkAccording to Ralph J. Nappi, CAE and Deborah B. Vieder, “The very purpose of an association—enabling people to achieve common goals, meet common needs, and solve problems—is realized by sharing information, networking, or joining together for a common good. In many associations, education programs help achieve these goals.”

So, what truly is the purpose of education? It seems like a simple enough question. But if you’re not currently asking it each and every time you plan a program—whether new, recurring or inherited—you’re doing both yourself and your organization a tremendous disservice. Our Academy participants—across both sessions—shared with us these thoughts during an initial carousel activity:

  • Advocacy
  • Apply new skills and best practices
  • Better serve clients/members
  • Better understand complex issues
  • Career advancement/professional growth
  • Create a stronger workforce
  • Deliver content
  • Diversity/adaptability
  • Efficiency (i.e., cost savings)
  • Elevate the profession
  • Expand the field
  • Gain experience
  • Hear about developing trends
  • Improve ROI
  • Increase awareness/income
  • Knowledge acquisition/retention
  • Learn about the latest information shaping business/profession
  • Learn things you didn’t know you needed to know
  • Make connections/networking
  • Motivation
  • Personal growth
  • Prepare for certification
  • Problem-solving
  • Provide a ready resource for the continuous learning necessary to keep pace with today’s rapid rate of change
  • Resource acquisition
  • Stimulate innovation
  • Workplace transference

Next, we asked the question: What types of education programs do associations offer? At first blush, this question seems elementary: learning and networking or face-to-face and distance. But when we really dig into the available options, the list grows exponentially. This is especially important when finding the “right” fit for our next generation of learners.

  • Accreditation
  • Annual conferences
  • Board/committee meetings
  • Case studies/reports
  • Certification
  • Communities of practice
  • Competency-based
  • Demos
  • Expositions
  • Face-to-face
  • Facilitated
  • Focus groups
  • Fundraisers
  • Institutes
  • Internships
  • Interviews
  • Knowledge-based learning
  • Networking events
  • Mentoring
  • Online learning/training
  • Peer-to-peer
  • Printed resources/materials (e.g., publications)
  • Regional meetings
  • Research-driven
  • Retreats
  • Roundtable discussions
  • Seminars
  • Social networking sites
  • Surveys/evaluations
  • Symposia
  • Team-building
  • Tradeshows
  • Virtual (e.g., webinar, on-demand)
  • Websites
  • Workshops

Finally, we don’t operate in a vacuum. We must constantly survey the environment to evaluate our competition (specifically as it relates to providers of continuing education our members find relevant, innovative and cost effective). Following is a preliminary list of other education opportunities that likely exist for your association members:

  • Business groups/counsels
  • Certificates/certifications
  • Chambers
  • Clubs/chapters
  • Community colleges
  • Computer-based studies
  • Consultants
  • Corporate training
  • Exhibitors
  • Extension programs
  • For-profit groups
  • Free information online
  • Government agencies
  • Home-study courses
  • In-house training
  • Internet
  • Law firms
  • Leadership centers
  • Magazines
  • Members
  • Networking
  • Non-profit groups
  • On-the-job (e.g., individual unit, corporate office)
  • Other associations (e.g., international, national, state, regional, local)
  • Personal networks
  • Publications
  • Sponsors
  • Suppliers/vendors
  • Topical conferences (e.g., TED Talks)
  • Universities
  • Webinars
  • Wikipedia
  • YouTube

The key takeaways here are relatively straightforward:

  1. Define goals and objectives for each and every program your department offers – and develop unique learning and networking experiences that meets those goals.
  2. Identify program types and formats your members find appealing and valuable; support your speakers and facilitators both in the planning and the delivery of these programs.
  3. Analyze your competition; summarize and effectively promote both how your programs differ and the innate value proposition they offer participants.

In the meantime, tell us what you would add to this conversation.

22
Apr
14

Life goes on…and so does learning

AlbertEinstein-001As some of you may know, in addition to my role with Event Garde, I work for Michigan State University’s central communications office. I love working with students. They’re brilliant. They’re ambitious. They’re overachievers. And some of them are old, well, older.

I’m amazed by the nontraditional students I encounter on campus. Some are undergrads and some are grad students. And others are lifelong learners. MSU, like many universities around the country, offers lifelong learning credits. In fact, I took my first graduate class as a lifelong learner because it was so much cheaper.

Lifelong learning seems to be on the upswing as curious minds look for answers. But sometimes, universities don’t fit the bill, which is where associations should step in.

“With the short- and long-term value of traditional degrees increasingly in question, the number of people looking for alternatives will grow,” said Jeff Cobb, co-founder of the consulting firm Tagoras. “As a result, certification programs, assessment-based certificate programs, digital badging and competency-based education are likely to be areas of significant growth for continuing education and professional development providers.”

Why? Globalization.

Even mom-and-pop businesses are dabbling in international business. It’s safe to say that in today’s global economy, employers require skills that go beyond a degree. They want trend-savvy employees, so professional development is a must.

Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele

Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele, co-founders of Tagoras

And so, Cobb said, associations should beef up their education staffs. Cobb recommends hiring in-house subject matter experts to address increasingly complicated global issues. Their specialized industry knowledge and stakeholder connections are invaluable to creating lifelong learning materials. Remember this as your association competes with cheap, easy-to-find educational resources a la the web.

That said, associations should capitalize on technology, not shy away from it. For example, if an association offers online certification, it can easily incorporate a YouTube video or podcast. Crowdsourcing is also key. Associations should provide a platform to allow their members to share virtual resources.

At the same time, technology provides incredible tools to measure the effectiveness of your association’s lifelong learning opportunities.

“A variety of tools – from web and social media analytics to e-mail statistics to low-cost feedback systems like iPerceptions – can be used to extend and strengthen traditional, less agile market research methods,” Cobb said. “Organizations need to get more adept at using these tools, testing new ideas quickly and moving to full implementation with decisiveness.”

Tagoras has produced a list of tips for associations that want to compete in a global market for continuing education and professional development.

Simply put: Learning doesn’t stop after high school or college. And your association can easily meet the demand.

So now I’m wondering, where do Massive Open Online Courses fit into this equation? If you know of an expert on MOOCs, or if your association uses MOOCs, please contact me. I’d like to write about this in the near future.




meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, hot yoga, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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