Five Ways to Enhance Your Association’s Learning Program

A focus on experience-driven learning opportunities will help members stay on their professional development path.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on the importance of professional development. At a time when many are looking for new jobs, hiring managers say they’re more likely to hire someone who’s worked on their professional development.

How can you support members who are looking to your association for help on this front now? Give them an online learning program that’s personalized and focused on engagement, because higher engagement means better learning.

“An outdated learning program is one that only delivers information,” says Bucky Dodd, chief learning innovation officer at the University of Central Oklahoma, which publishes a toolkit for associations about learning environments. “The learning enterprise of an association moving forward is going to have to be experience-driven.”

Use these five strategies to enhance your association learning program.

Diversify Your Offerings

A series of standard lectures won’t engage members as much as a variety of formats will. So if you offer a webinar, for example, offer poll questions during the presentation, provide a video to check out before the webinar, and send a follow-up email with a link to an article that has more information.

“Associations need to be looking at how to create an experience for members using a variety of different techniques,” Dodd says.

Employ Gamification Techniques

When you’re playing a game, earning small rewards along the way—such as unlocking new characters or leveling up—helps you stay motivated to complete the final objective. Your members may welcome this feature in a learning environment: Eighty-nine percent of workers surveyed last year by a digital learning platform provider said they’d be more productive if their work were gamified.

Gamified learning management systems have built-in points systems, badges to earn, and leaderboards for friendly competition between members. For a simpler strategy, you can send prizes such as discounts or gift cards when a member has completed a section of your learning program.

Promote Interaction Between Members

You want members to connect with your lessons, but they’ll benefit greatly from connecting with each other as well—research has shown that social interaction can have a positive effect on learning and engagement. At the end of sessions, encourage members to head to the forums on your website or LMS to share questions and comments; speakers or moderators can start a discussion thread to get the ball rolling.

Speakers can also apply the “fishbowl” method of instruction, where the instructor and a small, rotating group of members lead a discussion while other members listen. You can do this virtually on a videoconferencing platform by designating each speaker as a cohost.

Offer Flexibility

Online learners respond to a personalized learning experience, and part of that is letting people learn at their own pace. Set up an on-demand content library that members can access at any time so they don’t have to rely on an instructor’s schedule to improve their skills.

In a quality learning program, “You see a path, but you don’t feel constrained to that path,” Dodd says. Dodd recommends a mix of formal instruction and on-demand content, as beginners will benefit from guided lessons, while those more familiar with the subject matter will work well with a hands-off content library that they can access as needed.

Adaptive learning goes even deeper on personalization. This form of instruction uses computer algorithms to deliver customized resources and activities based on user behavior.

Prioritize Accessibility

Your learning program is not complete until every single member of your association can use it. Make your content accessible by adding closed captions to videos, using live transcription during presentations, asking speakers to describe visual elements during webinars, providing content in multiple formats, and stressing readability when designing resources.

Additionally, follow the Universal Design for Learning framework, which is a set of guidelines that helps educators ensure that all learners can access and participate in learning opportunities. These tactics will not only aid members of the disabilities community, they’ll also give your association a boost: For example, captioning videos makes that content more searchable for search engines.

“Universal design is really about helping everyone learn,” Dodd says. “It’s aligned with what associations are all about, and that’s access and equity in their fields.”

(marchmeena29/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Michael Hickey

By Michael Hickey

Michael Hickey is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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