Four Critical Changes Shaping the Future of Association Learning

Associations need to be as strategic about how learning occurs as they are about what should be learned. In recent scanning, Signature i identified four critical changes associations should be considering now if they want to be a learning provider of choice: collaborative learning, learning technologies, outcomes-based learning and unbounded learning.

Collaborative learning.  Associations can maximize member engagement and be the leaders and innovators in collaborative learning. People need to learn the way they work. Organizational learning and team performance is critical to both professional and institutional success. Collaborative learning also can incorporate multidisciplinary and inter-professional learning—a growing priority for all professions.

Some popular forms of collaborative learning include: communities of practice, case studies, problem-based learning, action learning, and cohort-based learning. Associations will have to re-educate content experts to facilitate learning with different modes of delivery, learning styles and preferences. We can leverage our learning technologies including social media platforms to engage members in knowledge creation.

Learning technologies. After a decade of trial and error, the majority of associations are still discovering which technologies best support learning for their members. Online learning is becoming commonplace and well accepted in schools, corporations and associations.  Associations are successfully building on blended learning to get the best of both face-to-face and online learning experiences.

Associations are using learning technologies to make learning practical and accessible to members when and where they need it. The focus is on offering on-demand knowledge and resources.  To keep up with the rate of change, more associations will be turning to rapid instructional design to improve their cycle times for developing timely education.

Outcomes-based learning.  Associations are feeling pressure from members, regulators, sponsors and consumers to demonstrate learning outcomes. More professions are requiring continuing education and even some demonstration of continuing competence. There is a new outcomes-based ANSI/ASTM standard for certificate programs. Signature i sees growing evidence that outcomes-based learning will be the standard for judging whether an association is a learning provider of choice for members, customers and stakeholders.

Pioneering associations are experimenting with online assessments and personal portfolios that help members identify and track their professional development and individual learning needs. These online platforms connect members to information on appropriate educational opportunities and on-demand e-learning. Personal assessments and learning portfolios can create a continuing connection between associations and their members.

Unbounded learning. Associations need to think beyond traditional boundaries about what education is and where learning takes place.  They need to see knowledge in everything and connect members to these learning opportunities. Successful associations are taking a strategic and systematic approach to a continuum of learning that includes preparatory education, competence, professional development, advanced practice and research.

Associations tend to create and deliver knowledge within their channels of departments and components. Members don’t know your organizational chart and don’t care. They want easy access to usable “chunks” and a quick hyperlink for more in-depth discovery and learning processes. In a truly integrated digital environment, they can and should come through any door or window to the answers they seek.

Members are not just seeking the facts and best practices of formal or explicit knowledge. They want access to tacit knowledge, interpretation and judgment. The programs that excel best at conveying this tacit knowledge are two-way and interactive. Associations need to facilitate this dialogue and offer mentoring and knowledge exchange that can be formal or informal, arranged or spontaneous, and for experts, novices and peers.

Never discount the value of informal learning even if your association cannot control, program or profit from it. A great deal of informal learning happens in places you don’t typically think of as your education program. Stop fretting that people value the learning in the hallways at your conference more than they do the plenary or breakout sessions; just find better ways to support this learning activity. And one of the most valuable learning opportunities you provide is leadership development through volunteer experiences. If you want leaders for the profession, you need to create better leaders for your association.