Archive for the 'Learning' Category

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.

25
Mar
14

Association e-learning: what you need to know

Sarah Lugo

Sarah Lugo, digital marketing coordinator for Digitec Interactive

This month’s guest blog post is by Sarah Lugo, digital marketing coordinator for Digitec Interactive. Follow her on Twitter.

 

Associations are beginning to grow their education departments by bringing member education online. Why? Selling courses and certifications online provides a new revenue source for the association while adding more value for members. At the same time, members who can’t attend a conference or workshop benefit from the convenience of on-demand content. But it’s difficult for many associations to determine the types of offerings they should provide online.

Want to get off to a good start with your association’s online education products? Here are my suggestions for best-in-class member education:

Give members what they need and want
. Will an eight-hour course be something members will utilize or do they prefer shorter “mini modules?” The education members want online will likely differ from what they want at a conference. Analyzing the online education products your competitors provide can also help you determine what already exists and what your audience wants. The best way to determine what your members need and want is to ask. Survey your members and gauge their interest in potential topics and formats. While you’re at it, ask members what they’d be willing to pay for these offerings. For tips on surveying members and valuing your education products, check out Digitec Interactive and Tagoras’ recent webinar.

Keep it fresh. The shelf life of an online course is not indefinite. Keep your content fresh by re-purposing and updating content routinely to ensure it’s both relevant and timely. Pre-plan your content’s maintenance schedule and decide how you’ll determine when the content has “expired.” One suggestion is to look at the data from your Google Analytics account and the association’s learning management system (LMS) to determine which courses are least popular among members. The trick is to refresh the course or webinar before traffic has died down completely. If the content has become so outdated that members have quit purchasing it entirely, consider whether the topic is still relevant to your members.

Invest in marketing. Most associations do an excellent job of marketing their annual meeting, but few know how, or even attempt, to effectively market their online offerings. Developing and delivering education is an investment like any other initiative. Don’t sell yourself short by assuming, “If we build it they will come.” Getting members involved early on (i.e. surveying) is also helpful in obtaining buy in. Keep members abreast of your plans to offer online education and begin marketing your offerings well before they launch. Once you’ve launched your first course, continue to roll out additional offerings and utilize features within your LMS to “up sell” members on related courses. You can read more about marketing your education products on the Association eLearning Blog.

e-Learning Concept. Computer KeyboardEducation is at the core of professional and trade associations, and technology-enabled learning is quickly gaining popularity with membership organizations. Associations are uniquely suited to provide members with specialized professional development and continuing education, so if you haven’t already, it’s time to get started with association e-learning and begin bridging the skills gap for your members. There is value in offering online education, and with these tips you’re sure to get off to the right start at your associations.

25
Feb
14

That’s so…2013

Each month, we’re asking editors and content producers to share with us what they’re writing about, upcoming trends and other behind-the-scenes must-haves for the association industry.

Julie Shoop

Julie Shoop, editor of Associations Now.

If you’d like to contribute, please contact Kristen Parker, digital content manager for Event Garde LLC, at Kristen@eventgarde.com.

This week’s guest blog post includes excerpts from “What’s Out, What’s In: Association Edition,” by Julie Shoop, editor of Associations Now.

Rebranding

Out: Aging brands
In: New names, fresh logos

Globalization, digital technology, shifting markets, regulatory change—with so many disruptions in the business environment, it’s no wonder that a slew of associations remade their brands and aimed to broaden their reach in 2013. Cases in point: Lobbyists became government relations professionals; recording merchandisers became Music Biz. Associations in the fashion, mobile, supply chain, marketing and recycling industries hopped on the rebranding bandwagon as well. We’ll be watching for who’s up next in 2014.

Conferences

Out: Lavish meetings and events
In: Slim federal conference and travel budgets

There’s a new reality for associations serving industries that interact heavily with the federal workforce: Government meeting attendance isn’t what it used to be. The wave of scrutiny that started in 2012 with revelations about a lavish General Services Administration conference in Las Vegas grew higher this year as reports of excessive spending on meetings by the IRS and Department of Veterans Affairs came to light. With slimmer conference and travel budgets now written into law, association events will continue to take a hit. Associations will need to drive home the value of face-to-face meetings to government agencies that will be footing the bill with fewer dollars and congressional watchdogs looking over their shoulders.

Workplace Culture

Out: Constant collaboration
In: Time and space for solitude

This was the year when a “whole world of secret introverts” was exposed, and being quiet was suddenly cool. Thanks largely to Susan Cain, author of the bestselling “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” momentum is building for greater understanding of different personalities and work styles to leverage every staffer’s strengths in pursuit of business goals. It was an eye-opening message for associations, where collaboration is king. Remember the buzz around open workspaces to promote teamwork? Now, not so much.

Volunteers

Out: Long-term commitments
In: Micro-volunteering

Plenty of dedicated association volunteers share their time and talents in abundance year in and year out—but that’s probably a small group of your hard-core enthusiasts. Micro-volunteering is emerging as a smart way to expand your volunteer pool and build engagement among your less connected members. Got people who can’t commit to helping plan your annual meeting, but can spend a few hours being a conference greeter? This is for them.
Editor’s note: See a related blog post for more on this.

Advocacy

Out: Bemoaning congressional gridlock (was this ever in?)
In: Putting pressure on Washington

The government shutdown in October highlighted the power of associations to show policymakers the consequences of their actions—or inaction. From air traffic controllers to businesses to Head Start and Meals on Wheels, nonprofits sent volunteers, activists and cold, hard data to D.C. about the effects of the shutdown. Their collective message: This hurts everyone. Fix it.

Learning

Out: Expert-driven education
In: Peer-to-peer learning

With competition heating up from for-profit providers offering free or low-cost alternatives to association education programs, pressure to innovate in association learning mounted in 2013. While we don’t expect to see the traditional keynote address fall by the wayside anytime soon, associations are experimenting with decentralized learning formats where peers interact in smaller groups and more casual settings. Is a “learning village” right for you? Or if you need to beef up your online offerings, digital credentialing may be the ticket. You might be surprised at how motivating a digital badge can be.

18
Feb
14

The certification conundrum

Book questionTo certify or not to certify. That seems to be the debate among association professionals.

CAE. APR. They’re just letters, right? Sort of.

When listed after someone’s name, they add credibility. And on a resume, those letter combinations pique employers’ interests since it means candidates strive for professional development. Whether it’s for prestige, a salary bump or a resume builder, people from all industries seek out certification programs.

So it’s a safe bet that just about every industry has them. But the question is, should your association offer certification programs?

Such programs can be costly and sometimes there are legal loopholes, said Mickie Rops, principal consultant for Mickie Rops Consulting, LLC. It’s tempting to jump on the certification bandwagon but first, it’s important to conduct research. And lots of it.

The three reasons most associations cite for starting certification programs are to generate revenue, to increase attendance at events and to one-up (or at least match) their competitors, Rops said.

Increasing revenue is a good goal to have, but it takes time. And too often, associations measure success with dollars. But money should never be the motivating factor.

In addition, while boosting attendance may seem tempting, the best way to increase interest is to improve curriculum. If your association needs a certification program to draw attendees, chances are, better content would do the trick.

Finally, while it’s human nature to compare, associations often wear blinders when doing it. For example, your association may think its program is better – and it might be. But the key is to determine the market demand.

How? Research: What’s already out there? How can your certification program complement – not compete with – existing programs? Remember, Rops said, just because your competitor does it, doesn’t mean you should.

Ask your members what they want. But rather than simply asking if they would be interested in a certification program, explain to them the specifics of the program – goals, eligibility criteria, testing requirements, etc. – and provide a timeline. This will help to avoid the inflated “yes” answer.

Mickie Rops

Mickie Rops, principal consultant for Mickie Rops Consulting LLC

“The key is to agree to step back and strategically consider what you are trying to accomplish and determine if certification is the most effective strategy for accomplishing it,” Rops said. “Yes, this may delay progress for a month or two, but it may very well save your association a costly mistake or help develop a certification program that’s much stronger for it.”

But where does an association start? The first step is to determine goals, and this might be a good project for a board of directors. Possible goals could include protecting health and safety, enhancing career mobility and opportunities for individuals or providing performance standards. Once you determine goals, make sure they align with your association’s mission.

Next, an association should weigh opportunities vs. obstacles, Rops said. Certification programs can provide improved visibility for the field/industry, but they can also create a rift between certified and non-certified members, and with partnering organizations. Your organization needs to decide if that’s a risk it’s willing to take.

And finally, associations should examine whether offering certification programs is truly feasible. Things to consider: Do you have enough staff to support such a program? Do you have enough funds? (Research alone usually costs $100,000 plus, Rops said.)

I’d like to open this up for further conversation. If your organization offers certification programs, what was the impetus for starting them? How do you measure the success of such programs?

11
Feb
14

Goodbye e-learning

TechStockPhotoAs a former journalist, I love data. And trend data are even better.

So when I came across “Association Learning + Technology 2014,” a recent report by Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele, founders of consulting firm Tagoras, imagine my delight!

Young or old, technology has redefined the way we learn and work. As 8-to-5 days at the office have slowly turned into 24-hour social media networking from the car and virtual meetings during the kids’ soccer practices, social media has filled in the gaps.

“The world of continuing education and professional development has changed dramatically in the past few years,” Cobb and Steele said.  “To meet member needs and stay out in front of the competition, you need to arm yourself with real data targeted to help you grow your programs.”

The 52-page Tagoras report provides such data, which were collected based upon a survey of 200 trade and professional associations. “Association Learning + Technology 2014” is designed to help association leaders strategize for a new learning landscape, while meeting their members’ needs for convenient and quick access to information.

There’s a goldmine of information in the report, which you can get for free if you subscribe to Tagoras’ free e-newsletter.

I’m sure the trends and data provided in the report will provide future blog fodder. But for starters, Cobb and Steele have abandoned the term e-learning and instead use the term technology-enabled or technology-enhanced learning.

Nearly all survey respondents – 88.7 percent – indicated they use some form of technology-enabled learning. The most popular form of such learning, according to the report: webinar.

As for social media, 33 percent of respondents reported using YouTube for learning programs, followed closely by Twitter (32 percent). Facebook was next, followed by LinkedIn. Nearly 37 percent of those surveyed indicated they have a mobile learning platform, and live streaming – rather than virtual conferences – seems to be an upcoming trend.

Another key takeaway: The majority of all respondents report technology has increased their revenue from educational offerings, but less than a quarter have a strategy in place to launch new learning platforms.

Cobb and Steel found organizations that consider themselves to be very successful:

  • Report increased net revenue from their education offerings as a result of their use of technology for learning.
  • Have a formal, documented strategy for their use of technology for learning.
  • Have formal, documented product development and pricing processes that cover their technology-enabled and technology-enhanced learning.
  • Offer facilitated online courses, gamified learning, virtual conferences and at least some mobile learning.
  • Use a learning content management system (LCMS).
  • Offer a formal credential (e.g., a certification or license), regardless of whether the credential is their own.

As the association industry transitions into technology-enabled learning, other trends will emerge, the report said. There will be:

  • Growth in implementation of learning platforms and their integration with other key systems, like association management systems.
  • A continued focus on professional instructional design to help ensure educational products are effective.
  • The slowly growing use of social media for learning and increased dabbling in emerging products, like microcredentials and massive courses.
  • An increase in competition that will, in turn, drive experimentation as associations look at how best to deliver more value.
  • The professionalization of the education function overall, as the adoption and integration of sophisticated technologies increase the demand for savvy, experienced leaders in the continuing education and professional development business.
Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele

Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele

“We want to see more associations develop and use a strategy to guide their use of technology for learning,” Cobb and Steele said. “Gut-level governance can work, but more consistent approaches empower staff all over the org chart.”

While all this may seem overwhelming, “Associations Learning + Technology 2014” is an incredible measurement tool for associations, regardless of size and budget. As associations plan educational programs, sessions and conferences, it’s becoming increasingly important that technology take center stage.

But it’s O.K. to start small. Maybe the answer is a hybrid conference – in-person and live stream. Or maybe it’s establishing a professional group on LinkedIn. Or perhaps smaller associations can establish a YouTube channel and provide “tips of the day.” (By the way, this is a great project for interns, who love to create videos and are social-media savvy.)

The point is: Don’t be afraid to taste technology. And don’t leave your clients and members hungry or with a bitter aftertaste in a world full of ripe and delicious technological treats.

So, tell us, are you embracing technology-enabled learning? How do you incorporate technology into your matrix of educational opportunities?

29
Oct
13

Straight from an intern’s mouth

Editor’s Note: This week’s guest post is from Samantha Moore, meetings and membership coordinator for the American Bakers Association in Washington, D.C.  Before working full time for the association, Moore was an intern. What can associations offer interns? She explains.

Samantha Moore

Samantha Moore, meetings and membership coordinator for the American Bakers Association.

ABA Logo“You should submit something,” said Karin Soyster Fitzgerald, my mentor and former boss, referring to an email from the American Society of Associations Executives encouraging members to comment on internship programs.  She isn’t even my supervisor anymore and I still take orders!

This subject is near and dear to my heart because without my internship, I would not be the meeting planner I am today. I hope that my story provides guidance for other young meeting professionals and persuades other meeting planners to implement stellar internship programs in their own associations.

I graduated from Penn State, majoring in hotel, restaurant and institutional management.  I wanted to be a wedding planner, but I fell in love with the meetings and convention industry after taking an introduction to meeting planning class that was based on a CMP prep textbook from PCMA.

But I had no idea how to break into that position right out of college. Many of my classmates went directly to hotels to be conference service managers but I knew that I wanted to be on the other side. So that’s where my internship at the American Bakers Association came in and where the magic started!

I interned with the ABA three separate times. I worked directly with both the meetings and membership departments. Some of my daily tasks included:

  • Membership record projects and outreach
  • RFP processes
  • Contract negotiation
  • Registration
  • Meeting materials (badges and other fun necessities)
  • Invoicing and monthly financial reconciliations.

Most of the time, someone reviewed my projects once I finished or they were already completed (contracts). But the experience of working on those projects is what an internship is really all about.

In my opinion, an internship is the most important item to have on a resume. Internships reflect drive, resourcefulness and professionalism. They teach valuable skills, such as collating/alphabetizing, Xerox machine mastering, document merging, coffee making and life skills. But more importantly, internships teach responsibility, professional workplace etiquettes, business ethics and last, but certainly not least, they provide a step toward the ultimate goal of a fulltime job that is successful and enjoyable.

As a 1½-year-old planner I have many responsibilities that are solely my own and I work directly with my supervisor on all other meeting logistics. I am responsible for our sponsorship program, registration process, evening events for ABA committee meetings and special events and many other day-to-day operations.

More recently, I coordinated the scheduling and supervision of more than 100 volunteers during ABA’s largest tradeshow, International Baking Industry Exposition, and was a key contact for the education program consisting of 75 sessions throughout four days. This was an amazing experience, not to mention all of the great baked goods! Because of my history with the association, they knew I could take on such responsibility, and for that I am extremely thankful.

Thanks to my internship, I’ve been able to apply almost two additional years of knowledge and experience to my current position. When I was asked to become a fulltime employee, ABA was undergoing a change in management. I was tasked with supporting the brief gap of management at the ripe age of 22.

The wealth of historical knowledge not only sustained me during that time but also enabled me to work alongside my new supervisor. This sense of empowerment and trust taught me critical thinking and showed that I could stand on my own.

To sum it all up:  Students/young professionals and associations need to get together! Associations benefit from creative and fresh perspectives from interns and interns grow into people who are well rounded and prepared for the road ahead.

What I adore about our industry is that it is versatile and flexible. What could be better than an internship in an association where the student is exposed to all daily functions of a modern company? And what can be better than quality and cheap (not free) labor?

Associations are flexible and vast enough to give interns a tailored and stable environment in which they can flourish and network for their future.  And interns: You never know when a small opportunity like a temporary internship can turn into a successful relationship and fulfill a young professional’s dream.

01
Oct
13

Leveraging strategy to amplify education initiatives

Aerial of downtown Detroit Riverfront Photo Credit: Vito Palmissano

Aerial of downtown Detroit Riverfront
Photo Credit: Vito Palmissano

On Oct. 3, I’ll have the opportunity to speak at the seventh annual NACEDA (National Alliance of Community Economic Development Associations) Summit. Hosted by the Greektown Casino-Hotel in Detroit, the theme is “What’s Working?” Considering the NACEDA Summit is taking a road trip for the first time in seven years, it’s only appropriate the group decided to convene in the Motor City.

Despite bad press, Detroit offers countless examples of what’s working. For starters, meetings are not only safe and thriving, a transformation is happening here more rapidly than at any other time in history. Likewise, Detroit is not the ‘black eye’ of America and Motown magic continues to attract business. Case in point, the “Super Bowl of Conferences” will be held here in 2015.

Generally, I think visitors are surprised by everything the city has to offer. And if you doubt me, just ask my friend Jeanette Pierce of D:hive. I recently had the good fortune to tour several Detroit sites with her as a committee chair for the aforementioned event. Not only is she the city’s most unabashed advocate, but she’s an absolute wealth of information about Detroit and its many points of interest.

So, as a self-proclaimed “meetings coach” and Michigan native, I’m pleased to have been invited by Brian McGrain of CEDAM (Community Economic Development Association of Michigan) to submit a presentation proposal for this year’s summit. My session will illuminate current best practices in training and conference session planning and has come to be titled, “Leveraging Strategy to Amplify Education Initiatives.”

Although I’m a firm supporter of developing sessions unique to conference objectives and attendee needs, I often raise this theme of “intentionality.” In an article I wrote in June 2002 for Associations Now, I encouraged readers to take a break from the daily firefighting we’ve come to expect and instead approach tasks with more reflection, strategy and collaboration.

In the spirit of this advice, take a moment to consider participation in your current suite of professional development programs. What’s inhibiting attendance? We’re likely all feeling the pressures of time, competition, money and technology. But when specifically asked during a recent NACEDA prep session, leaders added travel, opportunity costs, value proposition and marketing to their list of challenges.

I consider my own work with the Michigan Association of REALTORS earlier this year. During a similar powwow with the best and the brightest minds, local association leaders added certification, continuing education credits, programming for disparate experience levels, personal/professional motivation and regulations – all of which resonated with this group, as well.

So it’s clearly time to start thinking differently about education, including what it means to meet the unique needs of our professional development consumers (as dwindling attendance and revenue is likely not an alternative we’re willing to accept). While distance learning is one possible solution, it’s not the only solution. The Meetings Report reminds us to diversify revenue, reward difference, value context, maximize opportunities and prioritize learning.

To prioritize learning means to:

  1. Develop and apply an intentional education strategy;
  2. Experiment with more creative instructional strategies that align with adult learning theory; and
  3. Deliberately explore the intersection that exists between logistics and learning.

I think we can all agree that the days of talking head, instructor-led sessions are waning. To remain relevant, organizations must elevate the quality and sophistication of their programs, build the reputation of their signature events and improve their bottom lines. This session will answer the simple question: How can we do that?

In the meantime, I’m curious to know: What’s inhibiting attendance at your organization’s events? When it comes to training/conference session planning, what needs improvement? How much adult learning theory informs your meetings/events? Share your thoughts in the comments and I’ll hope to see you Thursday.

24
Sep
13

To pay or not to pay?

Intern name tag

Photo courtesy of myjoboption.com.

Not that long ago, interns were known as the coffee getters, copy makers and phone answerers. In other words, the grunt workers. Or office gophers, perhaps.

Thankfully, those days are gone (for the most part).

Now, interns are treated as valuable members of the team, often attending meetings, working on projects and managing social media accounts. They bring a fresh perspective to the workplace and employers welcome their enthusiasm.

But the question of whether to pay interns continues to perplex employers. It’s not a question of free labor, but rather regulation. Are you required to pay your interns? And, if not, should you anyway?

These days, it seems that to find a job after college, students must engage in at least one internship during their academic careers. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that most employers expect it.

And it seems that paying interns is the way to go.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the results of its College 2013 Student Survey showed that 63.1 percent of paid interns received at least one job offer, whereas only 37 percent of unpaid interns did.  That’s not much better than the survey’s results for those with no internship—35.2 percent received at least one job offer.

But it’s complicated for nonprofits, which are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which mandates for-profit companies pay their interns at least minimum wage.

Since the ruling in the Black Swan case, there’s been a lot of buzz about what constitutes work and what doesn’t. In June, a federal judge ruled that unpaid interns at Fox Searchlight Pictures violated the FLSA by not paying interns during the production of the 2010 movie “Black Swan.” The judge ruled the interns performed the same work duties for which others were paid, and that the internships didn’t provide an educational environment, but instead benefitted the studio.

While the film industry is notorious for not paying interns, the decision could turn other industries on their heads.  Now, employers are asking: Will unpaid internships soon be history?

Black Swan movie

An artistic rendering of the movie, “Black Swan.” Photo courtesy of wallpapersus.com.

There’s a fine line when it comes to unpaid vs. paid internships, so in 2010 the U.S. Department of Labor released a fact sheet to determine under which circumstances a company could use unpaid interns. According to the department, there are six criteria that must be met to justify unpaid interns:

1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;

2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;

3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;

4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;

5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and

6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

It’s not easy to navigate the mumbo jumbo of labor laws.  But if you’re thinking of starting an internship program, and if you’re debating about whether to pay your interns, Prima Civitas, a nonprofit economic and community development collaborative, offers a good resource. Prima Civitas’ Employer Internship Toolkit outlines what a successful internship program might look like and what an intern might do.

Next week, I’ll talk with Cheryl Ronk, president of Michigan Society of Association Executives, about the association’s successful internship program. I’ll also be doing some research to find other examples of successful programs, so I look forward to reporting back to you in a couple weeks.

But in the meantime, tell me: Does your association or organization use interns? If so, how? And do you pay them?




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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