Strategy

Developing a Compelling Strategy for Your Education Business

A Sneak Peek at an Upcoming Webinar with Tagoras on March 26, 1 pm Eastern –

webinarIn just two weeks, Web Courseworks will join Tagoras for a webinar on Developing a Compelling Strategy for Your Education Business. I have a strong interest in joining Tagoras for this webinar because of how impactful an education business strategy can be on the entire lifecycle of educational products. From securing funding from the board, to meeting sales projections and maintaining the program, a compelling strategy can lay the groundwork for success at every stage. Web Courseworks’ VP of Sales, Elizabeth Miller, will be sharing her insights on the topic during the webinar from her years of experience in educational technology and specifically her work with associations.

In anticipation of the webinar, I interviewed Celisa Steele, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Publications at Tagoras, on a few education business strategy topics that have us excited. The interview begins below:

  1. Tell us about the context – on what type of organizations have you done research? Give us a view of the continuum of organizations that have a strategy and those that do not.

tagoras_2 Strategy has become a recurrent theme for us—pretty much any time we conduct research, we ask about strategy. At the core of our 2014 Association Learning + Technology report is an online survey of 200 associations. Of those associations that use technology for learning, under a quarter (23.4 percent) have a formal, documented strategy for how technology will be used to enable or enhance learning. Similarly, in the online survey behind our 2014 Association Virtual Events report, only a third of respondents have a formal, documented strategy for virtual events, and only an eighth organizations responding to the survey cited in our 2014 “Social Learning: Trends in the Association Space” white paper have a formal, documented strategy that addresses the use of social technologies for learning.

Now, these are just numbers—unless you buy in to the fact that strategy is essential, that it’s the driving force that allows organizations to make, in a coherent, intentional manner, the myriad decisions that go into managing and growing an education business.

I buy in to that importance.

  1. Does the size of the organization or education department affect the commitment to planning and strategy? Is lack of resources a factor? Does the typical skill set of education people create barriers?

Often organizations struggle with strategy because the people involved (those in education and in other areas of the organization—this isn’t limited to education folks) don’t know how to lead a process that arrives at a strategy, often because they’ve had a bad experience in the past—I’m thinking of the oxymoronic “strategic planning” efforts that can bog down in months of meetings and binderfuls of documentation but don’t really get at the heart of what a strategy can do for an organization.

Good strategies are usually deceptively simple and terribly enlightening—they can inform our decisions and instruct our actions.

  1. Who should be responsible for education strategy? Should marketing lead the effort to develop a strategy?

Education should be responsible for education strategy. Certainly marketing (and the C-suite and technology and all relevant stakeholders) should be involved, but this is an education strategy after all, and education needs to drive it.

That said, the education strategy must be informed by the association’s overarching organizational strategy.

  1. How should education groups in the association space define success? Revenue, member engagement, member benefits, performance improvement?

The answer to this question depends. It depends on the strategy of the education group defining success.

If the organization’s education strategy focuses on its products as means to improving the industry or profession the association serves, then the success metrics need to plumb performance improvement of the people working in that industry or profession.

If the organization’s education strategy targets, in part, people who might enter a particular industry or profession, then looking at membership growth may be an appropriate metric.

Metrics are just one example of where having a strategy helps you make decisions—if you know what end you’re after, you’re going to be able to weed out the metrics that don’t tell you anything about that goal and focus on the ones that do tell you that you’re moving the right dial, in the right direction.

  1. As an exercise, is there value to organizations in visioning and defining where they want to be – what their metrics of success are going to be – and then working backward from there?

There is absolutely value in picturing the desired future state and then working back from that to what has to happen now to turn that vision of the future into reality. Arguably that focus on the future is the only way to create strategy.

If you’re looking at the past or even the present and projecting forward, you might get some interesting benchmarking data and see some areas for improvement. But you remain tied to the way things have been or are. That limits possibilities and prevents the kind of brilliant strategic swerves that can put an organization on a whole new path.

  1. The first sentence of the webinar description mentions “strategic thinking and agility.” Those two things – strategy and agility – might be viewed as oppositional. How do we find the balance between agility and strategy in the education space

Ballet dancers need strength and flexibility. Poems and songs need pattern and variation. Organizations need strategy and agility. In all those cases, the two components sound like they’re at odds. But they’re really counterbalances, complementary parts working together.

Strategy provides a framework for making decisions—it’s the dancer’s strength, the poem’s patterned form. Agility is about the speed and grace with which you can make decisions—it’s the dancer’s flexibility and the song’s variety.

  1. Technology platforms and quality drive up the expense line. At what point are technology platforms a good investment for education groups?

The not very satisfying answer is that it depends—on the strategy, again, and on how the technology platform can (or can’t) support the strategy.

I will say, though, that, in the data we collected for the 2014 Association Learning + Technology report, having a strategy for how technology is used to deliver or enhance learning noticeably increases the likelihood that organizations make use of a learning management systems (69.7 percent versus 44.3 percent of organizations without a strategy), a learning content management system (29.0 percent versus 11.7 percent), and a learning community platform (38.7 percent versus 13.5 percent).

Why? My guess is that the organizations that have a strategy have an easier case to make when it comes to justifying expenses. If an LMS clearly serves a strategic purpose then it’s not an expense—it’s part of the cost of successfully delivering on the strategy.

Thank you to Celisa for her valuable insights. You’ll hear more from her during the webinar and can always learn more at http://www.tagoras.com/.

For more on the topic of education business planning, check out this resources:

 

Developing a Compelling Strategy

for Your Education Business

March 26, 2015 | 10 AM PT / 1 PM ET

Given the times we live in, strategic thinking and agility are essential for any business, but Tagoras research has shown repeatedly that most organizations do not have a strategy for their education business. In this session, we discuss the fundamentals of developing a compelling strategy and provide you with a brief but effective process that you can put to work immediately for your organization.Celisa Steele and Jeff Cobb, co-founders of Tagoras, will present this session, sponsored by Web Courseworks. Elizabeth Miller, Vice President of Sales at Web Courseworks, will also share from her years of experience.

Sign up for the free Webinar.

All registrants will receive access to a recording of the Webinar. The live session may be applied for 1 credit toward a CAE application or renewal professional development requirements.

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