Study: How Can You Make Professional Development More Meaningful for Members?

A new report from the nonprofit technology company Abila notes that people are always looking for great educational resources—though the growth of outside offerings means they may not rely only on yours. The company says your association might want to work on its education strategy.

Getting people excited about learning within your industry is clearly a valuable long-term goal for associations—but the challenge, of course, is to get your members to buy into your specific solution.

A new report from nonprofit technology firm Abila makes the case for finding those opportunities and maximizing them when they appear—especially at a time when competition is on the rise.

“There’s a growing amount of free and low-cost continuing education options, validating why associations—now more than ever—need a strategic education plan, technology to support the strategy, and content that’s engaging and relevant to members and nonmembers alike,” Abila’s Member Professional Development Study 2017 states. “Otherwise, organizations could quite possibly see a significant decrease in a crucial revenue channel.”

The report highlights an array of challenges that can trip associations up, including the fight to reach younger audiences (who mostly rely on employers for educational resources), the complexities of technology (which is often not an area of expertise for associations), and the fact that there are more sources out there than ever.

But Abila says that the differentiator is often quality content. The report notes that more than half of all those surveyed among three different age groups—millennials, Gen Xers, and boomers—valued high-quality content above all else when it comes to professional development. (Millennials, it should be noted, also have a strong interest in convenience, with 29 percent describing it as a key driver for choosing educational content.)

Of course, quality content is in the eye of the beholder—so it’s good to choose content that’s on point with consumer needs. The report notes that practical skills were most important for learners (48 percent), followed by case studies or real-world examples (36 percent), and hands-on education (30 percent).

Whatever the case, this content likely won’t come from a single place if the reader is a member of yours. Abila’s study found that 60 percent of members used educational resources from the organization, but just 16 percent of those only used association content. More than a quarter used five different sources for education. (Interestingly, those who don’t use association resources often only use a single source for their professional development.)

“What’s not clear is whether those using the association to which they belong as a source for professional development feel the need to look elsewhere because they aren’t satisfied or are just more likely to be lifelong learners,” the report adds.

Ultimately, the report makes the case that now’s a good time to make adjustments to your learning strategy—including your current programs, your pricing models, and your technology platforms.

“There is a hunger for good, quality education programs from members,” explained Amanda Myers, Abila’s director of member strategy and the coauthor of the study, in a news release. “Associations that take the time to assess their current education programs and look for ways to engage younger members will benefit in the long run.”

The study can be downloaded from the Abila website.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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