What Associations Can Learn from K-12

Before the long holiday weekend, we had the pleasure of perusing a new infographic from KnowledgeWorks.  Brought to our attention by Jeff Cobb, author of 10 Ways to Be a Better Learner, the infographic displays one company’s view of the “Future of Learning.”  Click here to see the infographic, or click the image below.


A Glimpse Into the Future of Learning Infographic
Copyright: KnowledgeWorks.org

The infographic points “the way toward a diverse learning ecosystem”—a more personalized and more connected system.  Katherine Prince, Senior Director of Strategic Foresight for KnowledgeWorks, reflected on the potential for applying these radical changes to “a wide variety of digitally-mediated or place-based learning experiences.”  Therefore, although KnowledgeWorks focuses on K-12 education, their strategic vision outlined in the infographic has applications for professional associations as well.  And for associations– these “futuristic” online education opportunities are available now.

Associations are primarily responsible for the education of adults. So, what are strategies that they can use to provide “futuristic” professional development and training for their members? How does KnowledgeWorks’ forecast for diverse and connected learning apply to adult education today?  The future is here in online adult education.

Below, we look at four ways associations are meeting the forecast put forth by KnowledgeWorks.

Here’s a sneak peek:

Use the links below to jump to any section.

  1. Learning through variety
  2. Multi-tiered learning
  3. Career readiness for success
  4. Meaningful data
  5. Conclusion

Forecast #1

Learning happens through a “variety of digital networks, platforms, and content resources.”

Numerous learning management systems (LMS) and communication tools are available for associations to use in creating a variety of educational opportunities for their members or employees.  Limits on location and time are no longer preventing people from developing professionally.  In-person communication still holds value, but it is not the only available means of sharing information.  Online trainings can be self-paced, instructor-directed, or a mixture of the two strategies.

Communication software originally designed to simplify and streamline virtual meetings has aided in this transformation for online adult education.  Useful tools such as GoToMeeting have made audio-visual sharing of information easy for professionals.  Similarly, LMS providers can create virtual discussion forums, meeting spaces, and other means of fostering communication.  These collaborative tools allow trainers and learners to brainstorm, plan, and share important information easily.

In terms of learning through a variety of content resources, one of the most exciting trends reaching online adult education is gamification.  It is the transforming of products or services so that they take on engaging properties of game playing in order to teach a concept or process to the learner more successfully.  This is a particular passion of our company, Web Courseworks, and we have been privileged to work with enthusiastic clients interested in creating educational games.

Games can target K-12 learners, such as the highly successful Mission: Health obesity prevention game we helped the Children’s Hospital of WI (CHW) create.   Game-based learning can also target adults.  As one example, our company worked with the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) to produce a competitive trivia-based simulation that encouraged adult online learning for a particular product.  Learners were invested and excited to participate in the game– check out this interview by Personify TV to hear more about our companies’ collaboration!

Forecast #2

Learning can be organized by communities as well by individuals.

KnowledgeWorks predicted that multiple tiers of learning would occur—and we see this happening with professional communities and self-organized associations today!  While many associations offer a central place to complete courses and trainings for their members or employees, learning can also occur externally.

An innovative example of a self-organizing professional community is the Edcamp Foundation.  Their vision is to promote “organic, participant-driven professional development for K-12 educators worldwide.”  While there is a central association that provides local groups with an overarching educational goal, it is really through the power of grass-roots networking that Edcamp finds success.   After basic structure is laid out for Edcamp attendees, participants are given the reins to lead sessions themselves and teach their peers about innovative methods and content ideas.  Edcamp even went virtual this summer with Edcamp Home, connecting over two hundred K-12 professionals and helping them share knowledge over the Internet.

Given the success of association-focused meetings such as the 2013 ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition, it seems promising that perhaps more and more businesses could apply the strategies of Edcamp to their own local communities.  In fact, up-and-coming “community marketplace” organizations, such as Skillshare, are already attempting to achieve this grassroots approach to professional development.  These companies aim to channel “crowdkarma” and help communities of people come together to enrich their professional and personal lives.

Forecast #3

“Continuous career readiness” is emphasized for succeeding in the workplace.

The infographic shows that K-12 institutions will, in the future, value preparing students for success beyond school.  Secondary education institutions already strive to ready their graduating students for success in the workplace.  However, learning is a lifelong endeavor.  As such, it is also in the interest of associations to provide regular opportunities for members and employees to further their understanding and skills needed in the workplace.

This goal can be accomplished through professional development opportunities, such as those provided directly by an association to its members.  Additionally, association managers can encourage their own employees to expand their professional knowledge through other means as well.

Free online resources like Khan Academy have expanded their target K-12 audience to include a broader base of how-to tutorials applicable for adults.  For example, their collection of videos on Economics and Finance could be useful to everyone!  Other resources, such as Coursera, Udacity, and WeejeeLearning  provide more a formal coursework structure (though still very self-directed), as well as educational games.   While some of these MOOCs may cost a small fee—usually under $50—many are free to the public.  These provide fantastic opportunities for professional development, as can be seen in this blog post from this summer by one of our project managers!

Forecast #4

Data is analyzed and used to “provide insight” for improving learning.

Data is generated. Data is gathered. Data is stored. Data is… sometimes ignored?

This process may sound familiar to any manager or company that has attempted to assemble and use data in a meaningful way.  Often, the sheer amount can bog us down.  Sometimes, data is created but for no particular purpose rather than to simply have it.  We’ve all been there!

The promise of insightful data is a tempting one for businesses—a promise that many businesses are already going after.  Secure connections provide smoother communication between the training software, LMS, the association’s website, eCommerce, and many other places where data is generated or stored.  This sharing of data provides streamlined, meaningful opportunities for companies to examine user and achievement data.  Reports can easily be assembled and sent to managers, trainers, corporate headquarters, national associations, and so on.  Most importantly, the data can be used to modify existing training offerings or create completely new strategies.


As we asked in Part 1 of our look into the future of online adult education, we are fascinated by the ideas put forth by KnowledgeWorks and their implications for associations.  While the four aspects above show the future is happening now for professional learning opportunities, there are still many areas for improvement and innovation.  We look forward to learning about new ways that managers of eLearning and other industries/businesses are accomplishing these challenges.

How does your business embody one of KnowledgeWorks’ futuristic learning methods today?  Which change would you most like to continue seeing develop in your professional community?

Managing eLearning is written by the Blog team at Web Courseworks which includes Jon Aleckson and Meri Tunison.  Ideas and concepts are originated and final copy reviewed by Jon Aleckson.