Membership

With So Many MOOCs How Can Associations and Non-Profit’s Compete?

Laptop Computer photo from Flickr Commons

Massive open online courses or MOOCs are challenging and disrupting the traditional models of higher education and the practices of corporate learning and development.
In a recent article, Here Come the MOOCs, by Frank Kalman (Chief Learning Officer, January 2014) Mr. Kalman writes about the impact of MOOCs and the influence they are having on corporate learning. I will add, if the corporate world has to adjust to MOOCs, so too will professional and trade associations and non-profit organizations.

Two years ago, when I was working for a global engineering and design firm I wrote the blog Free Learning and Development Resources – 7 Tips. The blog included the names and websites for several of the same open online courses providers that Mr. Kalman discusses in his 2014 article. My purpose for writing the blog was to introduce to the firms’ staff, some free educational resources, beyond those that the firm offered internally. In the U.S. and Canada, most of the firm’s staff had historically relied upon internal training or professional and trade associations for their professional development training. Considering the increasing volume of MOOCs, a tight economy, the ease of mobile learning, and the increasing competition of industry specific online education providers – where does that now leave professional and trade associations and non-profits who offer education?

The root and strength of associations and non-profits has been their networking opportunities and the ability to share ideas related to common interest and issues. We know that social networking is radically changing the professional networking landscape. Still, these organizations are usually viewed by their members, and in some case the general public, as a reliable source of information that supports the betterment of the industry or mission of those involved. Professional and trade associations and non-profit organizations need to focus on their mission, their niche. Does the mission include the education and development of their members or the public? If the answer is yes to either or both of these audiences then the next step is to consider what knowledge they need to impart or information they want to share, that best serves their organizations interest. The mission focus of the association and non-profit organization is one of the major advantages they have over MOOCs. It can also align them closer with segments of the corporate world than the MOOCs. If monitored closely, the focus provides them with a competitive edge with early insight to practice changes, key issues and trends of a specific industry. Beyond specific issues and industry needs, associations and non-profit organizations can more logically tailor their business courses such as leadership, marketing, project management, accounting and legal practices to the specific needs of their membership. They should also have intimate knowledge of what and when certifications and, or continuing education license requirements are due. Depending upon available resources, technical capabilities, and finances, they should be able to adapt quickly with the most effective delivery format for their membership and interest groups.

A Situational Approach to Mentoring in an Association

Associations must rely on their members and volunteers if they are to build and maintain any form of a mentoring program. Often an association's approach is to establish a committee and support their efforts by assigning a junior staff as a liaison. A better organized approach that some associations use is to assign a manager or director level staff to actively support the committee or mentor program advisory team. Then they build a traditional approach of pairing mentors and mentees is the typical format.

The foundation to situational mentoring is built upon the management concept of situational leadership, developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. A successful mentoring program requires that a mentor is able to share, convey, teach and/or impart their knowledge or skills to the mentee. The core of the Blanchard model, Situational Leadership II, highlights four primary leadership delivery styles: directive, coaching, supportive, and delegating. Like any good leader, the mentor is likely to be most effective in one or two delivery styles and less so in the others. A practical strength of situational leadership is that it also takes into consideration the development level of the subordinate, or in this case the mentee. Using a four step sliding scale the mentee is rated on competence and commitment.

To build a situational mentoring program I recommend assigning a manager at the operationally level with a director involved in a supportive and strategic level. Using a social networking format structure think in terms of pairing the best or most knowledgeable mentor at the right time and in the right situation when the mentee has the most need or desire to learn. This is not an easy assignment but it is critical to the program’s success. A manager is likely to have the required technical, conceptual and personal skills that will be necessary to correctly match mentors with mentees at the appropriate times and under the right situations. While it is important to get input, recommendations and involvement from the committee or advisory council, the operations and scheduling process should the managers responsibility and not be left up to the volunteers. Remember, the win – win of situational mentoring comes when the mentor uses his or her most effective delivery style matched correctly to the level of development of the mentee at the time of need.

The director may occasionally be required to support the manager’s scheduling should a situation need a specific infusion or a change of players. Politics is a reality in associations and can become very sensitive when relying on the use of volunteers. The director is generally in a better position to handle those particular situations. The director will generally have more senior level contacts among the volunteers so they should also be involved in the continual recruitment of skilled and positioned mentors.

We welcome those of you who participate in or manage a mentoring program as part of your association to share your experiences. Simply send a your rely message and share your story.

Continuing Professional Education Audit Options for Associations

Certificates: A growing trend

There is a variety of approaches to providing continuing professional education quality assurance (QA) or compliance audits of association’s members. Regardless of whether the intend is to meet internal association education requirements, state mandatory continuing education (MCE) licenses related requirements, or continuing education requirements to maintain a specific skill certification. Below I will outline three approaches to conducting such audits or reviews from the auditing organizations perspective.
1. Professional Member Solely Responsible

The simplest approach for an association is to place full responsibly of compliance on the individual member. The member is responsible for everything relate to compliance. The member’s responsibilities would start from taking and completing the appropriate coursework and obtaining proof of passing the course requirements successfully at an acceptable level and in a timely manner. The responsibility of maintaining accurate records and reporting results to meet related requirements also becomes the full responsibility of the individual. Like taxes, there is generally a compliance time period that all records need to be maintained.

In this model the association only requests documentation from the individual member under extreme situations. Examples may include, but not be limited to a complaint or charge of fraud or incompetence by a client or customer. Another example, the individual member might be charged with a related legal violation or a professional ethics violation. Request of the individuals related continuing professional education documentation may be a required part of their defense. In this model a special review panel should be appointed to review and verify the documentation.

2. Blended Responsibility Model
Another approach would still require that the member be responsible for maintaining all continuing professional education documentation related to their meeting the association’s and/or certification requirements.
This model requires commitment and dedicated resources on the part of the association as they take a more systematic approach. This model requires that a small percentage of the members be audited on a regular pre-determined basis (5 - 20%). The association needs to commit at least a part-time dedicated reviewer that will be responsible to review and verify the documentation. A special audit/review task group should be appointed to establish guidelines and a review process policy. They should also act as a final decision making body for all disputed audits outside of a legal system. The established review process needs to be published and made available to all participants.

3. Association Commitment Model

An extensive association commitment approach should include a blended approach to records maintenance. While the responsibly of compliance falls on the member, course content and delivery should be a role that the association is at least involved with supporting and monitoring. The record keeping in this model becomes a shared approach.

Through an automated system it would be possible to offer a full menu of services. This could includes a selection of courses from pre-approved course content providers or listed options of alternate externally approved methods of obtaining the appropriate skills and knowledge. An automated records system can be monitored by the association. Records for members would include appropriate completed coursework that is maintained and monitored during the compliance time period. This approach also allows the association to provide and ongoing audit and review process towards a 100% compliance rate.

Similar to the Blended Responsibility Model an audit/review standing committee should be appointed to establish guidelines and a review process policy. They should also act as a final decision making body for all disputed audits outside of a legal system.

Depending upon the size of the association and the number of members involved, this model would require full time staff dedicated as reviewers responsible to review and verify the documentation. And depending upon the commitment of using an automated system, the service could be either in-house or contracted out. Appropriate staff to support either effort would be required.

Is it Knowledge or Education? And does it matter?

For many associations this has become a real quandary. At first glance it should be easy to distinguish. Just ask what kind of service is your association trying to provide to your members? Look at the mission statement of the association. Then look at the association’s strategic business goals and these should help clarify, define, and provide direction. This is easy, right?

Yet with the continuing changes involving self-paced learning, eLearning, and social media, this issue has become more complex, not less. So let me first try to establish a framework for knowledge and education as defined by Wikipedia.

"Knowledge is a familiarity with someone or something, which can include facts, information, descriptions, or skills acquired through experience or education. It can refer to the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. It can be implicit (as with practical skill or expertise) or explicit (as with the theoretical understanding of a subject); it can be more or less formal or systematic."

"Education in its general sense is a form of learning in which the knowledge, skills, and habits of a group of people are transferred from one generation to the next through teaching, training, or research. Education frequently takes place under the guidance of others. Any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts may be considered educational."

My observation has been that there are two very different directions that an association can take when establishing a learning strategy, and faced with the decision between offering knowledge sharing opportunities and delivering education to their members.

Model one for an association; offer the most up-to-date information and research data to their members so that the members can be more knowledgeable and competitive in their profession or industry. This could be open source information that encourages the membership to stay current and use the association as a first source and/or reliable source. The emphasis here is on the benefit to the member. Simultaneously, the association should be providing free information to the public and related industry. Through free and/or inexpensive (to members) use of a webcast, podcast, course, workshop, conference, convention, online open forum, etc… the association should promote the values of the association and the professional services that the association's membership base represent. This model works best when the membership does not have any form of mandatory requirement to maintain their knowledge standards.

Model two for an association; deliver education to their members so that their members can be the knowledge leaders in their industry or profession. This approach generally provides additional benefits for the members, usually when the courses, webcasts, workshops, conferences, conventions, online forums, etc., meet the association’s professional standards or credential requirements. It may even meet another related professional organization'€™s credential maintenance requirements, or more likely a state licensing board'€™s mandatory continuing education (MCE) requirement. The downside to the association'€™s members, as much as the member may expect and want it, education is not free. Someone has to pay for the development and the delivery of the education. In one form or another, these expenses are passed on to the members and even more so to the non-member and stakeholders. Strict standards are set for knowledge to be qualified as education.

For an association the difference between knowledge and education comes down to several key questions:
1. What is the mission of the association?
2. What are the association’s strategic business goals?
3. If the association wants to provide education, how will the association cover their development and delivery expenses?

“What Content?”- Associations struggle with the fourth key of a quality education program.

For most small associations the answer is usually “yes.” For many mid-sized associations the answer is “yes, most of the time.” For large associations the answer is, “well, it depends.” The question asked, “Does your association struggle with the fourth key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program?”

The fourth key to developing a quality education program is for the association to develop a systematic approach that will identify the appropriate subject matter content and support a consistent work flow process. Most small associations and many mid-sized associations have great difficulty finding appropriate content for their programs on a continual basis. These associations can be found relying on the same few subject matter experts to provide content and delivery, over and over again. Even well stocked wells have been known to go dry.

Regardless of their size associations still need to establish a reliable, wide based source of new content and materials that will position the association as a supplier of vetted, industry related quality continuing education courses. The source of the education content may be internal, external or a blend of both. Successful continuing education programs develop a systematic approach to identifying, obtaining and monitoring the quality of the education material, how it is processed, designed, developed and delivered. Most associations simply do not have enough resources to do all of these things themselves. However, even for the small associations an appropriate check and balance system can be established using limited resources with involvement of members and stakeholders.

There are a multitude of education formats and delivery models from which an association can choose. Which one is best for the association and their members and stakeholder? Developing clear course learning objectives, when done at the beginning of the process and when done properly will guide the association in selecting the appropriate subject matter experts (SME), the best course design, the appropriate content structure, and the most effective delivery method for a course. If there are any special requirements such as CEU’s, ILU’s, license or certification standards that need to be met then it is critical to insure that a system of safeguards is in place. An established system can be as simple as a check list or as complex as a sophisticated computer metrics.

For Associations – The third key to unlocking the secrets of quality education

For associations, the third key to developing a quality education program is planning and performance projection. For many associations, education for their members and the profession is part of the mission statement. If it is not part of the mission statement then it is critical that senior management is committed and supportive. And of course, after analyzing the results of your needs assessments, it is time to develop measurable short and long-term educational goals.

The short term goals will likely focus on courses, workshops, webinars, conferences and other content related offerings. These can be one hour, 3 days, 6 weeks or 12 months in duration. However, these offerings should all be directly interrelated to short term, overall program goals of between one to three years. Creating, changing or adjusting education programs often take at least 2 – 3 years before you begin to see the major results programmatically or financially. Individual courses may change or be adjusted quickly but entire curriculum or certificate programs need time to grow. You should have built in a continuing needs assessment process and a system that will provide you with the flexibility to make course adjustments.

You should plan long term of at least 3 -5 years for your core programs. Expect that technology; social, economic, political and education environments will change during this time period. In today’s environment the probability is that you will have to adjust your goals. Review of long term education goals should be a continual process. It is critical for both the association and the membership that education analysis occur during senior management’s annual strategic planning sessions and that the education program projections tie into the overall association mission statement and business operational plan.

The third key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program

Photo by Brooklyn Museum on Flickr

The third key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program include planning and performance projection. We will assume by now that you have the commitment and support of senior management. Now based upon your needs assessments and analysis it is time to develop measurable short and long-term educational goals with performance projections of key education results. The short term goals should be between one to three years. Creating, changing or adjusting education programs often take at least 2 – 3 years before you begin to see the major results programmatically or financially. Individual courses may take 6 - 18 months but entire curriculum or certificate programs need time to grow. You should have built in a continuing needs assessment process and a system that will provide you with the flexibility to make course adjustments. The better your needs assessment processes the few adjustments you should need to make – maybe.

In today’s Internet and technology environment, 3 years can be a lifetime for some products or service media’s. That stated you should still plan long term of at least 3 -5 years. Expect that the social, economic, political and education environments will change during this time period. Plan on those changes and plan on the possibility that you may have to adjust your goals. Review of long term education goals should take place both prior to and during senior management’s annual strategic planning sessions. It is important that the education program projections also tie into the overall business strategy.

Depending upon the magnitude of the education program long term plans, you should consider some to be as long as a 10 – 20 year program. The larger the audience that you are trying to affect the longer the program will take to design, plan and implement. The medical, accounting and architects set out to change the education structure for their entire professions. It took more than 20 years, and the professions are still adjusting. Higher education and government have used distant learning models for decades and even pioneered the early models of the internet in the 1980’s for education. But even these early users have to adjust to the current models of knowledge exchange via the worldwide web. Today they need a vision that looks out 10 -20 years.

“Where’s the data?” – The second key to unlocking the secrets of quality association education

“Where’s the data?” – The second key to unlocking the secrets of quality association education

Professional associations are generally structured in an idyllic position to gather “state of the industry” data. If anything, the greatest problem that professional associations should face is possible information overload. The best possible scenario would be for the education and research to be under the leadership of the same department. For an association education leader it is critical to sort through key trend setting data that focus on the strategic goals. The association should annually identify, review and analyzing the industries educational needs that relate to the overall strategic plan.

If needs assessment is a process for determining and addressing needs or "gaps" then professional associations are well suited to play the role of leaders and use this information for improvement of its members and stakeholders through education and training. The individual members that make up professional association - are the industry experts. This unique opportunity allows for the association to identify the needs early, as issues start to become important or profession gap needs to be filled. This also means that the association has an opportunity and advantage and should be among the early leaders to provide the education that addresses trends and fills any missing gaps. Effective utilization of the member “experts” provides a pool that the association can draw from to help design and deliver the education based upon ongoing needs assessment.

A difficulty of many associations is trying to selectively limit the number of times each month the association reaches out to its membership soliciting feedback through opinion polls. For education and training assessments there are a growing variety of models to from which to choose. The education leader of the association needs to work closely with other department heads to be sure that whatever information is collected, that it be analyzed for trends. Trend setting information can then be converted to education programs or courses and then delivered in the most effective delivery format.

Methods and techniques for gathering information can vary from formal member focus groups, to telephone or mail surveys, to online surveys such as survey monkey. The intent should be to gather timely information to enable those in the association to make smart decisions based upon relevant and appropriate information. Select a model or a blend of models which most closely match your association goals, operations, personnel and budget.

Associations - First key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program

First you must look at the mission statement of the association. If education is intended to be part of the mission of the association then it should be included in the mission statement. Assuming that education is part of your association'€™s mission then the first key to unlocking the secrets of building a quality education program is to gain commitment and support internally, starting at the top.

To achieve any level of excellence your association will need more than just senior level support, it also needs senior management'€™s involvement. Senior management must be involved with the creation of the association'€™s educational direction and the education department's ongoing performance. Most important, this includes the development of a strategic process that ties education into the overall business plan of the association. The education program will not work effectively or efficiently if it is just an afterthought or an add-on program. To avoid this common mistake it is important that the head of the education department participates as an equal on the associations'€™ steering or operations committee or council. This would mean the head of the education department would be a Chief Learning Officer (CLO), Vice President, or Senior Director depending upon the size and makeup of the association. Only by participating at the highest decision making level will education play an appropriate key role in the overall business operations of the association.

Like any business - and I believe an association is a business - to achieve a high level of providing quality education, the association must think strategically. This means that there is a long term commitment and a investment of time to achieving goals. There needs to be a commitment to hiring and maintaining the right staff and involving representative member volunteers, those trained and dedicated to achieving the long and short term education goals. And the leadership must find that delicate balance between education as a member benefit and a revenue source. Education is not free which even must must learn to understand. There must be a commitment to investing of dollars, but this needs to be done strategically and smartly. The most successful education programs are those that are integrated within the working foundation of the entire association.

Association leadership involvement summary includes:
• Senior association leaders set direction and seek future educational opportunities.
• Leadership addresses performance expectations and long-term commitment.
• Leadership is involved in the education program’s overall performance.
• Leadership takes into account the educational needs and expectations of all key personnel.

Demonstration of these elements the first steps to building a successful program.