Risk in online learning

So, you’ve decided to embrace online learning at your association. You know what a source of non-dues revenue this can be, and you know how popular eLearning has become in the association space. Well, not to be a Debbie Downer, but the board is going to have some questions. Have you anticipated the risk in online learning? Do you know how to overcome the challenges that come with implementing such an initiative? Pour yourself a cup of coffee, and let’s talk.

Risk 1: Being under staffed and ill prepared for implementation and delivery

How many people are in your education department? Will you have enough people to help with course creation, managing your LMS, marketing your courses? Not being prepared for the amount of work that goes into creating a successful online learning initiative could kill the program before it even starts. You’ll need to determine how many departments need to be involved and who needs to be trained. Creating the internal infrastructure to support online learning is a critical first step.

Risk 2: What if we build it and no one comes?

Before you run out and purchase a shiny new LMS with all the bells and whistles, have you considered the demand for online education at your association? You‘ll need to consider the size of your audience, the commonalities among that audience (will they require the same courses), growth within the occupation your association serves (a growing occupation offers more potential members and non-members to consume your educational offerings), and licensure/certification requirements (if members and non-members must maintain certifications and licenses then you have a built in audience with a need for your courses). Additionally, is professional parity an issue? In other words, do members need to keep up with the Joneses professionally? For example, a marketer is often considered only as good as his or her credentials and someone who is a member of a marketing association has an advantage over a marketer that isn’t in terms of professional credibility. You should also determine if your association caters to members and nonmembers within a profession that encourages professional and personal enrichment. For example, development directors and fund raisers often desire additional information and best practices for putting on fundraisers and seeking endowments for their nonprofits.

Risk 3: Not marketing your courses effectively

Market research is critically important to marketing your courses effectively. You must know who your audience is, what they need, what they want, what messaging resonates with them, and their reason for choosing online education. This allows you to create positioning and messaging strategies that work. Will you use email? Will you offer incentives? Will you run promotions? What about social media? Will you engage members and potential members on Twitter? What about content marketing? Will you write blogs and create infographics that add value for your members? Make sure you’ve taken the time to plan your marketing strategy. Sit down with the board and create a strategic plan to determine your goals and a marketing plan to make those goals happen.

Risk 4: Bad course design

You repurposed an old PowerPoint presentation. It has tons of text on the slides because there was a lot of information to cover. Your subject matter experts say the information is accurate and educational. Yet, members and nonmembers aren’t coming back to take more courses. This is probably because your courses just don’t appeal to learners. Maybe its aesthetics or presentation style, maybe the information is boring and tedious to get through. Maybe the learner simply can’t retain the information as presented. In truth, creating effective courses is half art, half learning science. An instructional designer knows how to present information in bite sized pieces that are easy for the learner to understand and engage with. If you don’t have an instructional designer on your team, consider hiring one or seeking additional information on course design best practices from reputable sources such as this blog, or Articulate’s website. You might also want to invest in a solid piece of course design software such as Storyline, or make sure your LMS provider offers you a course design tool.


No risk, no reward they say, and in this case it’s true. Online learning can change the game at your association. No longer must you suffer declining numbers and live events with poor attendance. You can achieve success with eLearning creating a stream of non-dues revenue. You can reach a wider audience than ever before, and you can change the course of a young professional’s life by creating courses that fill the skills gap left upon graduating from college and entering the professional arena. You can reduce costs associated with training and career development. You can also make an environmental impact because eLearning is ecofriendly. Yes, starting an online learning initiative at your association is risky. There are costs involved and you’re going to need to prove that ROI to the board. But, you can do it! If you carefully anticipate and address the risks of online learning and plan for success, you can achieve a successful outcome and reap the rewards of board member accolades and satisfied learners.

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