What Three Fringe Learning Formats Might Offer Associations

Three alternative learning formats, though yet to be widely adopted by associations, may offer the potential to boost your educational product portfolio.

As the association industry continues to mull the possibilities of cornering the education market, a new whitepaper from Tagoras takes a look at three “fringe” education formats.

While none of these methods currently has more than a 10-percent adoption rate among associations, they could offer benefits to membership organizations.

Here’s a look at these alternative formats and some of their potential advantages:

Flipping, defined in the report as “a learning strategy that offers preparatory or foundational content outside of the classroom and uses class time for active learning,” is currently provided by about 5 percent of associations. Ten percent of associations reported they plan to offer it in the next 12 months.

Flipped learning is intended to progress past the standard classroom lecture format to include more participatory activities “where learners are engaged and involved in creating new knowledge,” according to the report.

The value in flipped learning for associations seems to lie in its uniqueness. For example, flipped content is something new and different associations can market as part of their current educational product portfolio to help raise its value. It also offers members a novel way of learning.

A potential downside of the flipped model is the out-of-class commitment it requires of learners to complete pre-work or foundational content. There’s also the time and money it takes instructors to develop that out-of-class material.

When making the decision to offer flipped content, the report authors suggested asking

  • How many learners you would reach?
  • How much updating will the content need? Is it evergreen?
  • How relevant and timely is the content?

MOOCs, or massive open online courses, are currently used by about 7 percent of associations and only about 5 percent plan to use them over the next 12 months. Recently popularized by Silicon Valley tech giants such as Coursera and Udacity, this learning format usually consists of a free online course with a large number of participants and often features video content, discussion boards, peer-to-peer evaluations, and downloadable reading material.

How could MOOCs be of value to associations? As the name suggests, these courses can market the name and brand of an organization far and wide. “They can help establish you as an authority in your field and recruit new members, perhaps even bringing new individuals into the profession or industry you serve,” the report noted. On the flip-side, greater exposure opens organizations up to negative feedback if problems arise.

Another potential drawback of MOOCs is their generality. Because these courses need to appeal to such a wide audience, they often focus on broad and basic content over more specific and specialized content. But, depending on the target audience, that may not be a downside.

According to the Tagoras report, MOOC success relies on clear expectations from the beginning. “The key to success with a MOOC is having a clear understanding upfront of why you’re offering it, what you hope to achieve, and how you will measure success,” the report authors noted.

Microcredentials, or credentials that focus on specific skills as opposed to a broad body of knowledge, are probably the least “fringe” of the three learning formats if you consider their current rate of adoption: about 10 percent of associations offer microcredentials now, and another 10 percent plan to provide them in the coming year.

Microcredentials could be useful to organizations that don’t have the resources to invest in a traditional credential. They allow learners a self-directed learning experience in which they can choose the number or type of credentials they want to complete.

The American Alliance of Museums began a foray into digital credentialing last year. AAM’s Center for the Future of Museums designed and offered a strategic forecasting course that focused on bite-size learning, Mark Athitakis reported in Associations Now. The course was divided into four levels, each with up to six assignments, and participants could receive badges for completed assignments.

Jonathan E. Finkelstein, founder and CEO of Credly, a company that develops digital badging platforms, told Athitakis that this type of learning format also has the potential to strengthen associations’ communities by making their members’ accomplishments more visible.

“What we’re really looking at here is a new form of lifelong credit,” he said. “The core questions are, would somebody be pleased to receive this acknowledgement? Does it have value to them? Would most of the people who earned it want to let others know that they earned it?”

Has your association offered any of these learning formats? Let us know in the comments.


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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