ASAE Conference

On August 6-9, 2011, I will be attending the ASAE conference in St. Louis, MO.  ASAE is a membership organization of more than 22,000 association executives and industry partners representing more than 11,000 organizations.  The 2011 conference will “offer you focused learning sessions, thought-provoking speakers, a solutions-filled expo hall, and plenty of networking opportunities to advance your association and your career.”

On Tuesday, August 9th, I will be speaking at 10:45 – 12:00pm:  “Increasing Membership with Online Games.” This learning session will teach you how to use online games to boost membership and provide you with 10 game mechanics that succeed.  There will also be a group portion where your teammates and you develop a type of game for an association.  The winning team wins “Simulations and Serious Games” by Clark Aldrich.  Web Courseworks will also have a booth set up in the Exhibitor Hall throughout the weekend, so come see us.

Challenges Facing New eLearning Initiatives

With the upcoming conference and learning session, I’ve been thinking about how associations could promote a more “business approach” to managing educational product offerings, including the: planning, directing, designing, implementing, evaluating, and researching of highly interactive online learning products.

Associations are often structured in a vertical fashion, which puts the education department in charge of a product rollout.  This initiative should be treated as a new business or new product development project.  It is not easy to define how to create an entrepreneurial environment within association departments.  However, the best place to start is having an open discussion about some of the challenges I see, and present an approach published by eLearning consultant, Jeff Cobb.

Here are just a few challenges Association education departments face when developing a new eLearning initiative.

1.  Educational personnel are asked to think like business people.  Your education staff may be great at developing professional development programs but lack the skills to develop and launch a new product line.

2.  Lack of collaboration and buy-in.  Organizations aren’t looking at how to build enthusiasm around the release of a product (or segments of that product).  There is a gap between educational copy writing and marketing lingo.  Departments need to work together to create the most buzz around a product before it is delivered to members.

3.  When it comes to financial analysis, education people tend to basically look at one pricing strategy: scanning the competitive marketplace.  They take this scan and price based on that, instead of looking at other pricing strategies such as cost plus and perceived value.

4.  The product releases or title development aren’t being tied with the key topics that are promoted at conferences.

Basic Success Factors

Jeff Cobb will be attending and presenting at the ASAE conference on Monday, “Social Learning:  A Workshop on How to Build Community-Driven Education.”  This learning session includes Rich Finstein from CommPartners and Jeff Hurt from Velvet Chainsaw Consulting and will help attendees build an action plan for integrating key social learning tactics to use in their organization.

In his white paper “Selling E-learning to Members: Basic Success Factors,” Jeff Cobb outlines five strategic principles to guide e-learning programs.  If you follow these five strategic principles, you can build an e-learning business model that will provide a positive revenue flow, sooner rather than later.

1.  Know your market – During the early stages of research, you should gather as many examples as possible of what other organizations are doing.  This allows you to make informed judgments based on business benchmarking. It’s also useful to create an eight-year financial pro forma.  Pro forma models, used by businesses for entrepreneurial endeavors, show the anticipated results of a product line, with particular emphasis on projected net revenues and expenses

2.  Don’t devalue learning – Once an association has acknowledged that its e-learning program is worth paying for, it has to decide exactly how much to charge.  There are many models to choose from: subscription-based pricing, for example, or setting prices according to the size of the user’s organization.  “Keep in mind,” says Cobb, “the learning associations offer is typically the most valuable asset they have.”

3.  Go for critical mass – It’s important for executives developing an e-learning business model to look beyond today’s hot-button issues, which can come and go. Instead, they should focus on perennial industry issues to help support a sustainable business plan

4.  Choose a business model first, not a technology – A business plan or blueprint is vital when you are selecting a technology partner.  Jeff Cobb cautions executives to make sure the technologies they implement serve the plan, rather than giving nonessential functionalities more weight than they deserve:  “[Don’t] get obsessed with software features unless they serve a strategic purpose.”

5.  Prepare to sell – “Of course you should have a marketing plan for your association’s e-learning initiatives.  But on an everyday, tactical level, it’s most important to encourage a sales culture among the association’s staff.  Actively train everyone on your staff to speak knowledgeably about your e-learning offerings and to convey your value proposition clearly.”