A major issue in the news lately is the “skills-gap” problem. A recent U.S. News article by Joyce Russell reported that despite a relatively high unemployment rate in the U.S., 80% of manufacturers are unable to find the right talent to fill open positions.

For years, associations have played a critical role in addressing the skills gap problem by providing professional and continuing education for their members. In the past, highly-specialized, industry education was provided through association annual meetings and educational sessions. But due to increased travel costs, many associations are seeing lower attendance at their annual meetings. To add to this problem, many younger workers are either not renewing their membership or not joining associations at the same rate as their boomer counterparts. As a result, these workers are not receiving the critical education needed to help fill these gaps and associations are seeing a decline in annual revenue.

Since education is a major component of their charter, many associations are turning to eLearning to address these problems. With increased internet bandwidth and advances in technology, quality online learning is now possible. In fact, according to a Department of Labor study focused on adult learners, “enrollment in courses delivered entirely online increased by nearly 250 percent in the three years from 2002 to 2005.” This trend indicates a growing preference for this style of learning.  For an association, e-Learning can provide a valuable member benefit, a new revenue source, and a way to attract new members with a product they need and want.

If you’ve decided to provide eLearning for your members, the next step is to choose a course to offer as a pilot. As with other types of instruction, developing an eLearning course comes with a price tag, so you’ll want to make sure your investment pays off. There are three questions to ask when choosing a course to deliver as eLearning that will improve your odds of success:

1.    Is there a market for the course? This might seem like a basic question, but it’s very important to make sure there is a market for any product before you start development. For eLearning, ask yourself:

•    How many potential learners would take this course?  Of your association members and potential members, how large is the possible market? If there is a relatively large market for the course, the odds are higher you will recoup your initial investment more quickly to begin earning revenue on the course. Is this course currently available to your members in a different format, such as classroom instruction? If so, how popular is it? This could help you estimate the number of learners who might take the course.  

•    Is this a required course?  If learners need to take this course, as part of a required certification or for continuing education, then offering it online may be ideal, providing more flexibility for your members. If you intend to market the course outside your association membership, you may also attract non-members.  By offering both member and non-member pricing, you can help make the value proposition for a potential new member.

•    How much competition is there? If a similar course is already available online, make sure that you can create a competitive advantage for your eLearning offering. Does your association offer the only certification for this type of instruction? This can provide a very compelling value proposition.

2.    What would be a competitive price for the course? This can be difficult to assess. If you already provide a classroom version of this course, how much do you charge for it? If you charge $250 for a classroom course, you may be able to charge more for an online version, because learners would save money by not having to incur travel costs or lose time from work. Learners may be willing to pay for the flexibility of taking the course at their convenience.

Association eLearning ROI Calculator

3.    What is the potential return on investment (ROI)? There is a simple calculation that can help you assess the potential return-on-investment (ROI) for developing an eLearning course.  Take a look at the size of the potential market, as estimated in question 1.  If you estimated that 500 learners might take the course in the first year, then you simply multiply this number by the price you arrived at in question 2.  If, for example, you believe a competitive price for the course would be $300, then the estimated revenue for the first year would be $300 multiplied by 500, which would be $150,000.

When calculating your ROI, don’t forget to subtract the costs to create the eLearning. The exact cost depends on a lot of variables, including the number of instructional hours, amount of interactivity and media, etc.  We’ll discuss the various level of eLearning in a future post.  But the benefit of eLearning is that, traditionally, after the initial development costs, the recurring costs are low, resulting in higher revenues for the association.

ELearning can be a great way for associations to generate non-dues revenue, attract new members, and continue to address the skills-gap issues facing industry today.  And by carefully considering these three questions before you start an eLearning initiative, you can help assure that your association will reap the benefits financially from your eLearning course production efforts.

If you’d like to see if eLearning would be the right fit for one of your courses, download Digitec’s free ROI calculator for association eLearning. This tool will let you see the potential return over a three year period. Simply download this free tool and gain instant access to your customizable Association eLearning ROI calculator. You’re welcome! ;)

Want to know more about filling the skills gap and offering member continuing education, check out our resources page. 

Ready to start offering members access to courses online? Check out our LMS for associations.

Ready to find out what Digitec can do for you?