Associations offer more than education opportunities.
They provide industry research, membership, certification and standards, networking and advocacy.
And all of these services have been monetized in order to provide additional services for their members. Yet, today, many of these services have become commoditized. Others produce these products, often at higher quality, with value-adds, at lower costs or even free. So what will associations monetize in the future?
Education And Content Commoditized
Education and networking are two key functions of associations as identified in the 2010 Association Forum white paper “The Purpose Of Associations.” And in the past, people were willing to pay for education and networking (often at conferences and meetings.)
According to ASAE’s research for The Decision To Learn, people rate professional development and education, second only to access to up-to-date information, as the most important role their association plays in their industry profession.
From the lens of many association members, education and learning opportunities, and their costs are their primary focus. They also want access to cutting edge industry-specific information and expect to receive it for free or extremely low costs.
Yet as the Association Forum report identifies, association education and learning opportunities as well as cutting edge information face increased competition.
The past ten years have not been kind to association’s model of monetization of informing and educating its customers. Content and learning opportunities have become more open. Industry resources are readily available, often free, from universities, industry vendors and consultants, and media conglomerates.
Information Delivery (Lectures, Panels, Training) Seeing Increased Stress
Recently, the delivery of course-specific information from instructors and experts is seeing increased pressure. MOOCs, online courses, video-learning, mobile learning, thought leadership via blogs, webinars and online conferences make traditional education and cutting edge content easily accessible.
Bosses are placing increased focus on the ROI of education programs in order to drive business outcomes. As author Rita Smith says, “The only reason learning organizations exist is to drive business outcomes.”
Ultimately, education and learning opportunities are valued to the extent to which they visibly and convincingly contribute to improved performance says the authors of The Field Guide Of The 6 Ds.
When education and learning opportunities consume resources (time, money and time away from the office) but fail to demonstrably improve performance, they are seen as wasteful and expendable say the authors.
Author, educator and researcher George Siemens writes about the same bewilderment for higher education. His insights also apply to associations:
If presentations, education or information delivery are becoming more free and open… If something can be duplicated with only limited additional expense, it cannot serve as a value point… (paraphrased for associations.)
And with more low-cost and free options available, why spend top dollar on association cutting edge information, seminars, workshops, online education and conferences?
Monetizing Learning Experiences, Knowledge Gaps, Core Competencies And Assessment
I believe that associations will have to focus on monetizing unique learning experiences instead of just delivery of information. Traditional conference formats like lectures and panels are no longer unique enough. Nor do they guarantee ROI for driving business outcomes and productivity.
In the future, associations will be forced to focus on the learning design of their education offerings in order to compete against a variety of resources. This means associations will have to transition to focusing on what attendees will do during the education session, instead of just sit and listen, so attendees can increase their learning ROI through retention and application.
I also believe, as does Siemens when discussing universities, that the competition for the future will be on personalized learning. Associations will move into finding ways to monetize assessment and the process of filling learner knowledge gaps. Not certification assessment per se, but assessment that identifies knowledge gaps that focus on improving business outcomes.
Creating personalized and adaptive learning processes that account for a personal pathway to acquiring, understanding and applying new knowledge may be a source of economic value in the future. Associations will turn to identifying core competencies and assessment methods (not smile sheet evaluations) to create these personalized pathways.
And these personalized learning opportunities have to be unique experiences and not just one-way delivery of information to be successful.
Hat tips to Siemens for inspiring this post as he asks the same question about what universities will monetize in the future.
What will serve as a catalyst that will help associations move away from content and education to learning design and personalized learning? What do associations need first in order to be successful with developing learning experiences and personal pathways?