A Research Review

“…we abandoned the term e-learning entirely.”

Wow! Bold words grace the second paragraph of the latest research done by Tagoras founders Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele.  In their freshly published (and free to download!) research, Association Learning & Technology 2014, Cobb and Steele analyze how 200 associations report using technology to “enable and enhance learning.”

Click here to find out more about the founders of Tagoras.

Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele, founders of Tagoras and authors of Association Learning + Technology

The authors certainly waste no time in dispensing of e-learning as a term, which may perplex many in the educational technology industry.  However, after reading the report on their research, it is clear that Cobb and Steele subscribe to a broader vision of learning, one that may be enhanced or delivered by technology but that ultimately relies on one other thing to be successful: strategy.

Yep, e-learning is out (at least, for now from the Tagoras vernacular).  What’s in? Technology-enabled learning. Technology-enhanced learning.  Notice that learning remains prominent. Technology remains prominent.  However, these terms are meant to highlight the strategy rather than the technology tools themselves.  In other words, particular tools are indispensable for enabling and enhancing learning, and a wide variety of options exist for associations to employ in educating their members.  While these tools are key, however, they must be planned and used in meaningful and productive ways for associations to successfully educate their members. This means strategy.

Markers of Success

A solid strategy leads associations to success in terms of education. The research shows a “steady increase” in associations’ use of technology for learning.  Are all associations experiencing the same amount of success in this area? If not, why not?  Cobb and Steele use their research to illuminate the importance of strategy in helping associations become “more focused,” “more professional,” and “more significant.”

Eighty percent of associations responded that they were very satisfied (24.7 percent) or somewhat satisfied (55.3 percent) with the overall performance of their current learning initiatives with technology.  That’s excellent news, right?  And in fact, it is, until we look closer at the areas of dissatisfaction identified in the research.

  1. Cost – The financial investment needed to create the materials.
  2. Time – The investment by staff needed to create the materials.
  3. Revenue – The profits/return netted by these associations from offering the materials.


All three areas above hovered around 50 percent for the number of respondents reporting levels of satisfaction.  Considering the importance of these areas for any association, it is surprising that the number of respondents feeling satisfied overall is a good thirty percent higher.

Certainly costs, time, and revenue are key components of any corporate strategy.  Education is not excluded from this aspect.  Cobb and Steele determined several markers of success from their research that can assist associations in improving their satisfaction with these three areas.  And, no surprise here—all these markers come back to building a strategy.

To achieve success, and thus to increase satisfaction in terms of revenue, costs, and time, Cobb and Steele’s research emphasizes several steps. Here’s our take on the top 3 ways to proactively increase your association’s chances of success and levels of satisfaction.[1]


“Have a formal, documented strategy for their use of technology for learning.”

Image credit to www.ascendantservices.com.While this one is a no-brainer considering our previously stated admiration for developing said strategy, let’s examine the research behind this a little closer.

As the report notes, associations know that education is a source of revenue—it is a part of doing business.  By providing information and services to their members, associations can make money and grow in order to improve those offerings.  Education is a key part of that corporate plan for most associations. Just slightly over 88 percent of respondents reported that their organizations “currently offer technology-enabled or technology-enhanced learning.”  And, 10.6 percent plan to begin doing so in the next year.  These associations hope to generate revenue from these offerings.

Currently, just over half of the associations in this report increased their organization’s net revenue due to education efforts.  However, nearly 70 percent of associations who reported having a strategy for technology and learning also reported increased net revenues from that strategy.  In comparison, only 45 percent of associations without a strategy reported increased revenues.

For example, part of such a strategy may be to ensure a quality product.  Over 63 percent of organizations with a strategy use professional instructional designers, compared to 33.3 percent of those without a strategy.  While admittedly hiring these professionals is easier for larger associations to budget for, it is possible (and necessary) for any strategy to include building and delivering quality to members.

Ultimately, this saves on cost, revenue, and time by being proactive rather than reactive.  Documenting that strategy makes improvements easier to note and implement, as well as identifying areas of success that need to be continued.


“Offer facilitated online courses, gamified learning, virtual conferences, and at least some mobile learning—in general, be more innovative and forward-thinking.”

Variety is the spice of life.  No technology tool should be used simply for the sake of using it, however.  Part of having success is to strategize which types of tools are going to be most useful to your association’s educational goals—but also being open to trying new tools that could prove to be more effective and engaging.

There are numerous studies and ideas circulating on how to build these opportunities, so they do not need to be addressed in detail here.  However, a couple of findings in Cobb and Steele’s research are important to note:

  • Webinars and webcasts are offered by about 80 percent of the responding associations. The only other content delivery tools to command a majority of use are “self-paced online courses, tutorials, and presentations” coming in at 65.5 percent.  Clearly, these particular options are very popular and arguably perhaps the easiest to implement in general.
  • Mobile content is supported by almost 37 percent of associations in this study.  In the 2010 study by Tagoras, the research showed a mere 9 percent. As Cobb and Steele excitedly note for 2014: “Add in those planning to offer a mobile version in the next 12 months, and we’re on track for a majority of associations to make m-learning part of their offerings in the future.”
  • Of the four emerging types of learning specifically asked about by Cobb and Steele (MOOCs, flipped classes, gamified learning, and microcredentials), none have yet to reach above a 10 percent rate of adoption. Though still “fringe” offerings, the authors are optimistic that these will continue as trends that often may come naturally for associations’ strategies.

Using tools such as these to enhance and enable your association’s educational offerings will help generate engagement for your members, thus leading to improved satisfaction levels by members.  Satisfied members are more likely to continue to learn, thus potentially increasing your association’s revenue from education. Additionally, trying new approaches can open up new and more effective possibilities that were not possible previously.  Assessing the costs and uses of all tools will also improve the budgeting for these efforts, both in monetary value and time value.


“Use a learning content management system (LCMS).”

“While Webinars are often seen as a relatively easy, low-risk way to enter the technology-based learning market, implementation of an LMS is usually a sign that an organization has made the decision to invest significantly in technology to support its learning— presumably because it sees the potential for a positive return on that investment.” (Cobb & Steele, p. 14, 2013).

A key part to developing a strategy is to determine how to deliver and track your educational products for your members—and nearly 70 percent of companies with a technology-enhanced learning strategy use a Learning Management System (LMS), and just under 30 percent use a learning content management system (CMS or LCMS) either in tandem with an LMS or separately.  Without a strategy, that percentage significantly drops to 44 percent of associations that use such a platform.

The report accurately points out that the use of an LMS may be closely related to the budgeting capacity of the responding associations.  Though, it is likely that if an association currently could not afford an LMS, part of their strategy could easily include that as a future, viable goal for supporting their “overall learning initiative.” In the meantime, other means of delivering and managing content are available, though may be lacking the powerful data analysis capabilities of an LMS or LCMS.

Improving your management of content, data, and credentials for your members’ education will lead to more effective ways of determining areas of success and needs for improvement.  Your product offerings will benefit from this as well, which will more likely translate to higher revenue and better allocation of costs and time.

[1] Ideas discussed in this post are based on the blog team’s reading of the Tagoras report.  Quotes are taken directly from the report, though their application is paraphrased and adapted from the original recommendations, to emphasize what the blog team feels is important for e-Learning (technology enabled learning) management. Percentages with decimals have been rounded to the nearest whole number where appropriate.

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.