Is continuing education a new opportunity for your association?
Even if you’ve offered continuing education to your members for decades, you may be thinking about starting a new program, expanding one you already administer, or changing the focus of your efforts toward evolving skills training. Education can be both a benefit to members and an important non-dues revenue stream for your association.
As you begin, you’ll need to define your goals for new or revamped continuing education programs. Ask yourself what the new program should accomplish. Your members might need to learn new skills or higher-level skills in their current jobs. As technology and markets continue to adapt, members might want continuing education to help them pivot to new responsibilities. They might want specific training so they can offer specialized skills to their employers. As member companies hire younger workers, they may want a program to bridge the gap between formal education and the skills necessary for success on the job.
You’ll want to ask if the new program helps the association meet its strategic goals. You also want to consider if the program fills a gap in the existing curriculum. Ask if this program would attract a new segment of your target audience. Then ask if it would attract a new segment if you offered it in a different way.
Whatever industry you serve, be sure to connect continuing education to solving member challenges, and don’t be shy about asking for member input. Use networking opportunities to ask them what they need. The information may be anecdotal, but it can indicate areas where continuing education is needed. If you need more specific information, launch a formal member survey, conduct focus groups, or host “listening” events.
Once you decide what topics are of interest, you’ll need to examine your budget, time constraints, and technology limitations before you decide on delivery models. The size of the program does not necessarily guarantee success. Your program can be modest but also highly effective. And large certification or credentialing programs are always under review and revision to ensure they are consistently meeting expectations.
When you’re ready to design your next program, here are 3 types of delivery models to choose from:
Instructor-Led Live Classroom Training
This model, also known as a “traditional classroom,” is conducted in person and an instructor facilitates the sessions in real time. Interactions between the instructor and learners can be lively and engagement high in these sessions. If skills assessments are required, live sessions allow hands-on evaluations, as well as more detailed determinations than virtual assessments. A live classroom, however, can be one of the most expensive models because of the cost of the instructor, room rentals, food and beverage, lodging, and travel to the site. Associations often mitigate these expenses by holding sessions in conjunction with a conference or annual meeting.
In this model, the instructor facilitates the live session via a video conferencing platform. It’s known as a synchronous delivery method because everyone is attending at the same time. The interaction between the instructor and learners can be similar to an in-person session with the use of chats, surveys, and Q&A. One advantage is that learners can attend from anywhere they have internet access, eliminating the costs of traveling to a specific site.
Virtual sessions can attract an audience from almost anywhere. Associations with successful in-person sessions have seen numbers increase dramatically when they offer courses virtually. Virtual classes can attract a new segment of your membership because you’re offering it in a new format.
Learners in virtual classes are sometimes distracted by work or other elements of their physical locations. Instructors learn to modify their in-person delivery to optimize their virtual presentations. It is sometimes difficult for instructors to detect cues that might indicate students don’t understand something or need more explanation, but as instructors become more comfortable with virtual delivery, they will develop techniques to better assess student learning.
Webinars are familiar to most association executives as live presentations. When they are initially presented, they are scheduled for a certain time and attendees are invited to join at that time. In this way, the instructor and students share a virtual classroom. After the initial presentation, however, the recorded webinar can be available on demand. Many associations make their libraries of webinars available to members as part of their membership or for a small fee.
Self-Paced Online Course
Learners in this model work at their own pace to master the materials. When they are ready, they take an assessment. If they pass, they move forward. If not, some associations allow them to review the materials and re-test. Other associations include more stringent requirements for credit on self-paced courses to make sure the learner has interacted with the materials. Motivated learners can move through the materials as slowly or quickly as they choose. Some learners don’t stay on track and can let the course lapse. Some of the largest self-paced courses have high numbers of learners who did not finish.
Continuing Education as an Opportunity
Many companies, in fact, entire industries, need high-quality education for their employees. They could turn to colleges and universities or for-profit companies to deliver that instruction, but because associations are trusted sources of industry information, they are perfectly positioned to provide the continuing education their members need.
Technology solutions can make the delivery and administration of continuing education programs easier than ever before. Learning management systems and certification and credentialing software can be added to an existing AMS or CRM to give an association a foundation on which to build a new program.
It’s never too late to start or reimagine an existing program. The best delivery method for your association will rely on meeting your strategic goals.
Emma is the Marketing Manager at Rhythm. When she's not thinking about all things content-related, you can find her traveling or shooting 35 mm film.