Perhaps your association is taking a retrospective view of your operations over the past 18-24 months. The goal is to discover what went well, what failed to meet expectations, and what you can change to better serve members moving forward.
When conducting this retrospective analysis, you may notice recurring themes pop up. For example, maybe a specific type of outreach, such as virtual webinars, had a consistently higher engagement rate than originally expected. That’s great! However, you may also notice not-so-great recurring themes— roadblocks that your association struggled to overcome during the past two years.
These roadblocks are just as valuable to take note of as the successes. Keeping these in mind will help you develop a plan to overcome your association’s greatest challenges and more effectively engage members over the next 12-18 months. That’s the purpose of this guide— to provide solutions to some of the most common roadblocks that associations face.
In this guide, we’ll cover the following three common challenges faced by learning businesses:
If you’ve encountered any of these challenges, recognize that you’re not alone! With a few adjustments to your learning tech, business strategy, and team composition, you can set your association’s learning programming up for ongoing success.
Let’s get started.
Challenge: Decreasing Learner Engagement
If you observed decreasing learner engagement throughout 2021 and possibly into early 2022, it’s understandable if you feel alarmed.
If engagement is low, that may mean that you’re doing a sub-par job at providing learning experiences that members want to engage with. Members tend to join associations for two reasons: to access professional development opportunities and network with communities of like-minded individuals. This can be accomplished through a variety of means, from virtual networking events to your online member directory, but your e-learning resources are one of the most valuable of these engagement, networking, and development tools.
So, if your members are not completing the courses you’re providing, that means you’re likely failing to align with what’s most valuable to those learners, or at the very least the way that you’re presenting the information is poor or confusing in some way.
Additionally, it can be expensive to create and administer eLearning programming. So, if members aren’t taking courses, you’re likely losing funds.
With so many eLearning and professional development opportunities available on the market— through associations, employers, and even private companies such as LinkedIn and Udemy— it’s not surprising if you’ve seen a decrease in engagement. Your members have more options to learn than ever before, and they may not be turning to your association every time they’re seeking professional development.
Solution: Invest in an LMS that is designed to drive engagement.
Low learner engagement is one clear sign that it’s time to invest in a new learning management system (LMS). There are multiple ways that your LMS could be hampering learner engagement— including making it difficult for learners to complete courses and failing to inform learners about new opportunities that may interest them.
Consider investing in an LMS with features specifically designed to increase learner engagement. This includes tools such as:
- Course recommendations based on a learner’s past history in the LMS.
- Automated reporting that allows you to understand the popularity of courses and what your learners may be seeking in future opportunities.
- Course authoring tools that allow you to create courses based on what learners are seeking, without having to hire an external development team.
Purchasing a new LMS isn’t a decision to take lightly. It’s crucial that you invest in a solution that can serve your association for years to come, growing as your learning business does. Do your research during the selection process, carefully writing an LMS request for proposal (RFP).
You’ll share this document with LMS software vendors, inviting them to send back a proposal that outlines how their solution can be used to meet your business goals. In the RFP, include an entire section about LMS features where you can outline the new learner engagement tactics you want to utilize and the features you’re seeking to bring those tactics to life.
Challenge: Low Non-Dues Revenue
Member dues generally aren’t enough to cover all of your association’s baseline operations, let alone empower your organization to go above and beyond to impress and retain members. A steady stream of additional non-dues revenue is essential for your association to thrive year over year.
You’d think that your association’s learning business would be a natural driver for non-dues revenue— after all, businesses inherently exist to generate revenue. However, for many associations, their learning programming may only break even or operate at a loss.
That’s because many associations don’t charge for eLearning courses and other educational opportunities, instead looping those benefits into the initial cost of membership. At the same time, the costs of providing these opportunities add up quickly. Not only are you paying fees for the LMS that administers the courses, but you may also be paying for the expertise of subject matter experts, eLearning consultants, course authoring partners, and for staff to manage the programming.
Solution: Reconsider your eLearning pricing practices.
There are a number of ways to monetize your eLearning programming and increase non-dues revenue. Web Courseworks’ comprehensive guide to eLearning pricing models breaks down multiple strategies to consider:
- Membership Model: Members pay a recurring subscription fee to access all of your eLearning content throughout the year. This model provides a regular, recurring stream of revenue for your association.
- Members-Only Model: Members and non-members are both able to purchase access to eLearning courses. Members are given special discounts and value-add opportunities (such as first-look registration), while non-members pay at a higher price point.
- Pay-Per-Course Model: Members purchase courses as they choose. This type of a-la-carte pricing is best used for high-value courses that are more expensive to host (and therefore may present too much value to be included in membership fees).
Get creative with your eLearning pricing strategy, noting that these models can be combined to create the ideal solution for your association. Also, remember that pricing doesn’t need to only include learners— consider how you can monetize learning through sponsorships as well. For example, sell sponsorship ads for your virtual conferences and events and within your LMS.
Challenge: High Administrative Burden
Administering a learning business can be a significant responsibility for your team, including but not limited to tasks such as:
- Creating and executing a strategy for your learning business.
- Navigating your LMS.
- Authoring eLearning content.
- Marketing courses.
- Analyzing data and making business decisions.
- Assisting members with navigating your LMS.
And, that’s before we consider that your learning business is only one aspect of your association’s overall operations. Even if your learning business is well-managed, it can be stressful and eat up your association’s human resources quickly.
Solution: Partner with an eLearning consultant.
One of the best ways to not only reduce the administrative burden on your team, but also improve your learning business overall, is to partner with an eLearning consultant.
eLearning consultants provide advice and guidance to help your association run a successful learning business. According to Web Courseworks’ guide to eLearning consultants, this can include services such as:
- Learning business strategy creation. A consulting partner can evaluate your learning business goals and map out a plan to help you reach them.
- LMS search and selection. A consultant can help you choose an LMS that meets your nonprofit’s needs and integrates with your other existing solutions, including your association management system, membership software, marketing software, eCommerce software, and other tools.
- Content development strategy creation. They can help you evaluate which content types will best engage your audience and help you author new courses accordingly.
- LMS administration. This includes keeping your LMS running smoothly and answering questions to support inquiries from members.
- Virtual and hybrid event planning. A consultant can help you create virtual or hybrid events or convert in-person events to virtual and hybrid formats.
Choose your consulting partner carefully; ideally, you’ll want to choose a consultant with whom you can partner for years to come as your learning business grows.
As you reevaluate your learning business’s operations from the past 18-24 months, you’ll likely notice a few opportunities for improvement. Luckily, whether you’re confronted with decreased learner engagement, low non-dues revenue, or high administrative burden, there are clear strategies to overcome these challenges!
Consider upgrading your LMS, adjusting your eLearning pricing, and partnering with a consultant as you move forward. Not only will these strategies help you overcome pervasive challenges, but they’ll also create a foundation for ongoing learning business growth. Good luck!
About the Author
Amber Winter is the Director of Sales & Marketing at Web Courseworks. She’s committed to helping association executives realize the potential of their education programs and turn them into high performing revenue generators. Amber was named one of Madison, Wisconsin’s 40 under 40 and the number 1 LMS salesperson by Talented Learning.