Enhance your online education strategy in 90 days

Webinar Poll Questions

Webinar Poll Questions

It’s no surprise to discover that most associations are guided by a strategic plan carefully crafted by key leaders and stakeholders. This plan often does not drill down, however, into the specifics of education strategy (and the chances it extends to digital learning are equally shaky). This is despite the prominence of professional development in both the organization’s mission statement and annual budget projections.

On Feb. 28, I had the opportunity to deliver a Wit and Wisdom webinar for my friends at CommPartners. During this session, I shared a more intentional approach to meeting the unique needs of association constituents. We discussed simple, but effective tactics for evaluating and developing relevant content, effectively marketing programs, and leveraging innovative instructional strategies to pique member interest.

At right, you’ll find the results to two different poll questions on the topic of education strategy. The first queried participants about “a separate strategic education plan.” Those answering “yes” have a strategic education blueprint separate from the organization’s comprehensive strategic plan. The second question asked participants about “a separate online education strategy.” Not surprisingly, the breakdown of responses was similar.

Should you be interested, the webinar is available on-demand. Likewise, the worksheets and presentation slides are also available for download. I’ve also curated the stream of participant comments shared in this program’s chat feature. Organized by topic, following are the lightly edited participant insights I think you’ll find invaluable:

Identifying relevant content

  • We use an advisory committee of member experts to help identify topics and speakers.
  • I do an annual education survey via email. The subject line reads “15 second education survey” and I ask for their top three education topics. Our response rate is overwhelming.

Effectively marketing programs

  • I gather emails for all education attendees and do a lot of contact via email.
  • We have done a member email swap with other associations for one-time use to advertise. We don’t do it consistently, but strategically.
  • We offer team discounts for groups of five or more.
  • We ask attendees for referrals (e.g., names, emails and phone numbers) for those in their company or other peers who might be interested in the course they just completed.
  • We actively engage our speakers and have them leverage their relationships in trade magazines to announce their presence on a webcast.
  • We offer snippet previews of past webinars. We also select older recordings that have broad appeal and offer them as a free benefit to show the target audience what we offer.
  • We have the luxury of on-air talent for our radio webcasts, so we aim to get one popular on-air personality per webcast to address the topic in a five minute promotional video.
  • Find the stars in your industry and try to feature them in a way that’s easy for them, good content and easily promoted.
  • Marketing and education departments should work hand-in-hand because the marketing department is the one responsible for getting the event or education offerings out there. The main goal should be the bottom line.


  • Our association has to compete with companies in our industry that offer free CE. This makes it more difficult to offer quality at low rates.
  • It’s hard to beat free. Try stressing that the CE you offer is a true *investment*, where free CE might lack quality.
  • Try to ensure your program is a lot more robust than what your competitors offer for free.
  • We had to stop trying to compete with others and simply offer the best education out there in our industry. People return to our programs because of the background and expertise of the instructors/speakers, as well as the ability to interact with the other attendees. Interaction matters.
  • We don’t address the “free” aspect because it puts us on the defensive. Offer a quality product and those that are looking for “real” professional development from quality speakers are your target audience.
  • Make your program more interactive, and provide tools and resources your competitors cannot provide with free CE programs.
  • A quality product is the key. There are members willing to pay for quality. It’s also important to know who’s doing the speaking or the teaching.
  • Both collaboration and communication are necessary to ensure you’re not competing with other departments within your own association in promoting events.

Innovative instructional strategies

  • Providing a constant stream of content outside of the webcasts helps.
  • We encourage live tweeting during our conferences, and are evaluating the live tweeting during our education courses. However, social learning is difficult to explain up the chain.
  • Our association offers live tweeting, but it is still not completely catching on. We are engaging content experts to do the tweeting.
  • We’re exploring gamification, such as offering “badges.”
  • We do promote live tweeting during our live annual meeting; however, not many members participate yet.

Economies of scale

  • One association I’m aware of gets the top people to do live webinars in one room over the course of a day, such as at their annual meetings where the speakers are already onsite. This is a great way to capitalize on having people accessible and to record the webinars for later delivery.
  • We actually do webcasts with multiple people live in a studio at once. And taking advantage of travel schedules is paramount to maintaining a shoestring budget.

So, my question to you is this: Does your organization have a separate strategic education plan? What about a separate online education strategy? How have these documents elevated the quality and sophistication of your programs, built the reputation of your meetings department and/or improved your organization’s bottom line? Likewise, how did you convince your organization’s leadership (staff and board) to expend more resources/time on creating these documents?

2 Responses to “Enhance your online education strategy in 90 days”

  1. April 1, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    Thank you for sharing this, Aaron. I’d like to know for those of us responsible for continuing education within our associations, who’s responsible for drafting the separate education strategy? I think we know the answer. So then why don’t we? I admit we have an annual department plan that is linked to our comprehensive strategic plan but have not looked beyond that. Hmmm!! Need to ponder this some more.

  2. April 2, 2013 at 5:34 am


    It’s my pleasure!

    And thanks for asking the question, “Who’s responsible?” I fervently believe this is a responsibility held by the education department, senior management team and board of directors, as the knowledge and expertise of each of these tribes is necessary to build an innovative, trend-right, member-centric strategic education plan with sufficient organization risk. To the extent possible, key stakeholders (e.g., a vendor or a supplier representative) should also be included in the process.

    I don’t often see this, though. Following are two reasons why:

    1. The education function is taken for granted. It’s currently making money, so no additional time/attention is given to making it better (despite the fact that margins are slipping and/or the sophistication of the events is not improving). This is the typical status quo scenario.

    2. The education team is caught up in the cyclic nature of its events (particularly those they’ve inherited), swiftly moving from one to the next putting out fires and meeting an array of impending deadlines – carving out little time to think strategically about goals and objectives.

    We all know how this ends, though, and it’s not pretty. With the number and quality of meetings being offered today, we have to make the time if we intend to keep our members, vendors, sponsors and speakers happy.

    Finally, I think you mention another very salient issue. Having a strategic education plan is only the first step. Using it to guide and support daily operations and decision-making is equally important.

    If I can be of any further assistance as you consider how writing and consistently applying a strategic education plan could benefit your organization, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m happy to help.



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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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