Your member Experts should lead online courses
I often get inquiries from national associations looking to move their face to face workshops online. The first myth I often need to dispel is the concept that an expert instructor is no longer needed; the second is the notion that online courses carry higher profit margins. Research shows distance education as effective as face to face education; but most of that research included distance education courses taught by an instructor. What is left when you eliminate the instructor? A lot of reading. If you plan to create sophisticated interactive learning activities, like games or simulations, plan to make a significant investment in development. Amortize curriculum development costs over 3 years.
It is true, in the corporate space (where expert instructors are in short supply), a 90 minute self-paced page turner can often be the answer for a specific eLearning initiative. However, I have found that many associations try to copy this model for their distance education courses even though they have much more extensive learning material that warrants a different approach. Ironically, associations are masters at presenting live webinars. All association education directors have to do is combine that live webinar instructor with longer running asynchronous material and call it a 3- 6 week distance education course—college style. Then you have truly replaced the live workshop!
This higher education model generally incorporates a blended approach of both live virtual instruction and asynchronous online course components. The expert instructor should be available once a week to respond to discussion posts. This approach creates a more student-centered environment that fosters engagement compared to the corporate page-turner. When it comes to teaching advanced courses, interactive eLearning technology serves as a great foundation, but it is the instructor that gives the course unique purpose. This approach also helps put butts in the virtual seats since association members generally want to learn from experts in their field.
One of the great benefits of this new online blended approach for both higher education and association learning initiatives is the way a course can be tailored to learners’ unique needs. Offering a combination of lecture, reading, discussion, interactivities, etc. enables each student to approach the material according to their own learning style or learning style preference. The online component of the blended approach opens up enrollment to a wider group of learners because of the decreased need for face-to-face learning and at the same time does not diminish the opportunity for students to engage with their instructor compared to face-to-face sessions. In many cases, learners are more willing to engage with instructors in an online format than they are in a classroom or workshop. Studies on online learning have found that instructor presence in online learning is a significant predictor of student affective learning, cognition and motivation.
As higher education institutions have professors, associations have members that can effectively facilitate courses specific to their expertise. In making the transition to online learning, some aspects of association’s traditional face-to-face training cannot be translated effectively without the presence of an instructor. In moving a live workshop online, it is key to have an expert involved in the new format to be available to facilitate discussion, answer questions, provide additional resources to learners, etc. The combination of “star” member experts, well-designed learning objects and a structured, formal course does nothing but attract enrollment. This model works for associations. Webinar delivered Instructor experts should be a standard course component in association eLearning initiatives.
 Baker, C. The Impact of Instructor Immediacy and Presence for Online Student Affective Learning, Cognition, and Motivation. The Journal of Educators Online, Volume 7, Number 1, January 2010. <http://www.thejeo.com/Archives/Volume7Number1/BakerPaper.pdf>.