Your Association’s Future Profit Center in Learning

Associations searching for a growing source of nondues revenue might want to reconsider learning, as the future context could make learning as critical to their bottom line as it has always been to achieving mission.  

While major conferences with exhibits have a long history as a major revenue source, many associations have struggled to drive profitability through other education efforts.  Professions and industries subject to credentialing, licensing and standards did find these requirements help make education a somewhat more reliable and sustainable revenue stream.

The potential profitability of learning could change as associations evaluate the potential implications that may flow from these drivers of change identified by the ASAE ForesightWorks research and decide how they can seize new opportunities:

  • Higher Ed 3.0. Traditional educational models are under tremendous pressure as changes in work, technology, and student expectations demand both new curricula and new modes of instruction. If higher ed cannot transform quickly enough, associations could offer alternatives to how students receive postsecondary instruction. The “average” university or community college student today is an adult learner, many of whom already receive some education and upskilling through association-sponsored training or continuing education programs.
  • Microlearning. These adult learners may prefer small, specific bursts of information tied to immediate job demands, available at a time of their choosing. New media forms will enable modules that are small, timely, and focused. If this microlearning is also tied to microcredentials, this could be exactly the solutions-oriented learning many busy adults need to get jobs and advance in their careers.
  • Virtualized meetings. Virtual and augmented reality could enhance and accelerate the learning at face-to-face meetings and enable more effective learning to occur completely in a shared digital experience. While simulations and other forms of experiential learning can require serious investment and new delivery capabilities, major employers are already investing in these richer learning environments that replicate real world working conditions. Some associations may find they could eliminate the need for member companies to build their own internal solutions.
  • Automating work. The impacts of automation on work and workers will vary substantially by industry, occupation, and even workplace—but they could transform most kinds of work and affect workers at every level including senior management. Associations that can deliver timely, levelheaded, and actionable information and strategies will meet a real need to know and adapt.
  • Human machine cooperation. Before many jobs are lost to automation, we may experience a transition phase where entire work processes become machine-oriented and humans learn to complement automation’s role. With the anticipated rate of change, few members will be secure in their jobs and businesses without significant upskilling to work alongside new technologies.
  • More human humans. Automation will steadily increase the relative value of certain human qualities in work, including social skills and creativity. In the age of artificial intelligence, humans will remain relevant not by knowing but by thinking, listening, relating, and collaborating at the highest level. This change signals the need for truly effective executive and leadership programs.

Employer surveys, public policy debates, competitive analyses all point to the same challenge—a growing mismatch between what people know and the talent the future requires—and suggest the potential solution is better, more effective and accessible education and training. Too often they assume that schools and universities are the right solution. What they overlook is the role associations could play in workforce development, continuing and lifelong learning..

Associations that see themselves as the right solution and organize their resources and influence around this promising opportunity will find learning is quite profitable and quite powerful in achieving their mission.