How’d we get here? Preventing an education team crisis

Revolved Chair

I had a particularly amazing yoga practice last week. It’s hard to explain exactly what makes a yoga practice amazing (especially if you’ve never tried it before). I happened to be running a bit later than usual, so I found myself “stuck” with a spot in the front row. As someone who’s a bit out of shape these days (okay, a lot out of shape), this certainly could not be the source of my excitement.

Near the end of class, at a student’s request, our instructor took some time to break down two fairly challenging poses: head stand and hand stand. Generally, I assume these poses are too advanced for me and I simply “take a knee.” For some unexplained reason, though, I granted myself the freedom to play that day – highly unusual considering both my experience and comfort level.

And while my attempts were certainly valiant, neither pose was particularly pretty or well-executed. (Though, for the record, I was more successful at head stand than I was at hand stand.) While it wasn’t a bad end to the class, I credit two specific moments during the previous 75 minutes as the highlights of my practice and the primary reasons I even attempted these difficult asanas.

I practice hot yoga at The Funky Buddha Yoga Hothouse. In power vinyasa yoga, movement is synchronized with breath. To be sure, breath becomes one of the most important aspects of class. As you to move from one pose to the next, it’s synced with an inhale or an exhale. And we’re not talking baby breaths. We’re talking Darth Vader, so-the-whole-room-can-hear-you breaths.

On this occasion, the energy in the room was extraordinary. Often, breath is lost (becomes less audible) because students either focus too much on what they’re doing “wrong” or their minds have wandered onto things outside of the studio (e.g., “What’s for dinner?”). That day, breath was loud and consistent and inspiring. The instructor didn’t even have to remind us to breathe. It was as if we were one lung.

This was the first moment in class that I felt like something was different, unusual and exciting. The second moment came during a revolved chair. With the quality of breath in place, movement became inextricably linked to our breathing. I likely took this pose further than I ever had before. Every breath pushed me further, if only by tiny movements, for my fullest expression of the pose.

Since that class, I’ve been thinking about the number of organizations this year taking a good, hard look at their education strategies (or lack thereof). Although different for each association, following are some of the more common issues my colleagues and clients have wrestled with in the last six months:

  • The number and delivery method of annual programs (e.g., What’s the right mix of face-to-face and virtual learning experiences?).
  • The quality of member learning experiences (e.g., What instructional strategies would best support adult learning and how do we encourage our speakers to utilize these techniques?).
  • The core competencies/domains of members (e.g., What are the current job tasks performed, knowledge needed and skills required? Are we planning education to meet these needs?)
  • The financial implications of a changing economy (e.g., How can we better demonstrate return on learning to our attendees?)
  • The expertise of professional development staff (e.g., How does our staff stay abreast of trends and best practices within this functional area?)

I can tell you firsthand that many organizations take for granted their education departments. Although a core function of the organization (as defined by the association’s mission), little strategy is actually employed to guide and direct the team or to appropriately deploy available resources. Rather, we do what we’ve always done or what’s easiest or what causes the least number of ripples. Generally, this means doing more with less.

Instead, we should have a clearly defined education strategy (developed in collaboration by all key stakeholders) to which we make minor adjustments each year based on the needs of our members, the competencies of our staff, the initiatives of our organization, the challenges of our industries and the refinements within the professional development field.

Until organizations develop and remain focused on a shared vision that’s consistent with the learning needs of their members, and are motivated to make those tiny course corrections throughout the normal course of business, I predict that a number of education teams will find themselves in crisis mode within the next two to three years.

Crises will materialize in terms of:

  • Lackluster attendance;
  • Desolate trade shows;
  • Diminishing sponsorships; and
  • Meager revenue streams.

So, my question to you is this: How’d we get here? Or, better yet, how do we get out of this predicament? Does your organization have a defined education strategy? What does it cover? Does it regularly make minor adjustments to this strategy (and the strategy of other functional areas) to remain fresh, current and relevant? If not, how does the organization (and membership) suffer? What’s the alternative and how do we achieve it?

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meet aaron

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

meet kristen

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

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