Make Learning Happen on the Best Terms for Our Future

Call this future shift by any term you prefer as long as you recognize that learning at every level is moving from prescribed standards of time-and- place-based instruction to a networked and deeply personalized response to needs, interests and outcomes.

The Aspen Institute proposes connected learning with the learner at the center of a vast network of learning resources. The Institute for the Future describes learning ecosystems with extreme learners taking advantage of learning flows.  KnowledgeWorks and other education allies want to transform public education through competency education with students advancing at their own rate of mastery via personalized education. This convergence of technological capabilities and societal priorities will change adult learning as much as it will pre-K through postsecondary education.  

This is not news to anyone active in learning strategy or public policy. We have been waiting on this change to unfold for at least a decade.  This is proving to be one of this century’s toughest change challenges.  

The Aspen Institute and KnowledgeWorks offer good assessments of the changes needed in  public education to get there.  What barriers and constraints are holding associations back from this future?  

  1. Dependence on annual and major conferences as a primary business model.  Plenty of associations still count on the conference to generate a significant share of annual revenues and member value.  Tradition combined with a reliable source of revenue is a powerful constraint on finding and monetizing a different member learning experience.
  2. Dearth of deep and useful content to create a learning ecosystem.  For all associations talk about acting as content curators, most are not very intentional about content development. They depend on what they can get from members and are reluctant to get what they can from outside collaborators and sources.  Too few have  defined the content they will be known for and put serious money into staying at the leading edge in their priority areas.
  3. Insufficient customer experience with self-directed and alternative ways of learning.   Too few people have the aptitude or time to direct their own learning. And no, digital natives are not any better at this. Too many people default to “just tell me the answer” when the challenges and issues they face today require critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving and continuous learning.     
  4. Clunky technology that promises more than it delivers.  Does the learning management system of our dreams exist yet? Will it ever?  I was amused this week when a prominent LMS vendor announced it can now offer a way to track “informal learning”.  Associations need platforms that support individual learning plans and offer learning portfolios that help members get and keep their jobs and their organizations succeed.  
  5. Limited accountability for learning outcomes in a profession or field.  Most associations see themselves as professional development providers rather than setting the standards for what their members should know. Even healthcare associations struggle to define and deliver minimum competencies throughout their ranks.  When the public is experiencing a wide and inexcusable variation in practice in any field, an association should step in and own this responsibility. That level of leadership would justify nonprofit status no lawmaker could deny.

What else should be on this list of barriers and constraints associations need to remove? Continuous, personalized and connected learning is not a future fantasy. We are close enough now to get there if we are serious about learning on the best terms for our future.