corporate training departments Most associations have provided some degree of member education as part of their mission. For members, continuing education is a valuable benefit for their professional development. And for associations, educational offerings can be a valuable source of non-dues revenue. But with the growth of new learning technologies and with members facing more and more change and a need for continual learning, associations are missing out on an even bigger opportunity. To grow this opportunity, associations can learn from corporate training departments.

Having worked with both associations and Fortune 500 training organizations, I’ve found a few ideas that associations can borrow to strengthen their educational strategy. With stronger educational components, we believe that associations can become the learning centers of the future, providing a vibrant learning community for industry, while augmenting traditional post-secondary educational offerings and better servicing the employees and industry alike.

1. Corporate universities. Organizations like Yum! Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, etc.), Disney, Genentech/Roche, McDonalds, and many other highly successful organizations see their employees as resources. To maximize these resources, companies have created corporate universities to develop their employees and grow their organizations. Since colleges and universities are not providing all the skills needed for their workforce, corporate universities have grown up around identifying gaps in their new hires and developing standard training paths for these employees. In addition, a corporate university can develop custom learning that is adapted to their industries.

However, corporate universities are expensive, and associations can provide an alternative. Instead of a manufacturer creating a corporate university, the association should be providing the education. This way, corporations can have a shared resource, where workforce learning can be provided across an industry. Certainly, corporations may opt to provide their own highly specialized training, but why can’t associations become the go-to resource for educating the broad workforce, letting corporations focus on their business.

2. Instructional models. When it comes to designing learning, associations often look to their volunteer subject matter experts (SMEs) to provide webinars, workshops, etc. The issue is that while these SMEs may be technically adept, they may not know the best way to create learning. The ADDIE model is a standard and proven instructional design approach used across corporate training department. This process includes 5 steps to designing learning:

Analysis: determine the target audience, desired learning outcomes, and skill or knowledge gaps that the learning should address.
Design: create very specific learning objectives to measure achievement of these outcomes, determining the best approach to delivering the training (tutorial, simulations, job aids, etc.)
Develop: produce the learning program, using SMEs to vet the content and the approach.
Implement: roll out a pilot of the training, capturing data to identify whether or not the learners have gained mastery and achieved the outcomes identified during the Analysis phase.
Evaluate: based on the pilot, assess what changes need to be made to the learning content to better address the training need, then revise the training, as needed, and review the content every year for necessary updates.

This process is time-consuming, but designed to create an effective learning experience. There are too many ‘webinar’ style learning offerings that are not being measured or designed, based on a specific need. Corporations have learned to look for the metrics. So, associations need to follow an instructional design process to assure their industry partners that they are capable education leaders.

3. Learning repositories. Corporate training departments are good at leveraging resources. By designing learning objects that have the ability to be shared across courses, or across audiences, you can maximize the benefit and expense of designing learning programs.

4. Learning from others. According to American Council on Education, 90% of what we learn, we learn from each other. Associations know this very well. Annual meetings are a great opportunity for members to connect and learn from one another, through seminars and breakout sessions. Corporate training departments have carried this further, by implementing coaching and communities of practice (CoP). Likewise, associations can leverage their membership to create virtual and ongoing communities of practice. By creating groups within your association management system or learning management system, like-minded people can come together on a more continual basis, rather than only at annual meetings. These social and business relationship building opportunities will create stronger loyalty to your association, while providing continual learning between members.

5. Also, look to your instructors. If you have an online course, consider assigning these SMEs as coaches for their learners. In addition to being available for questions, consider encouraging scheduled “check-ins” with their learners, live webinars around topics, and discussion posting. This communal learning environment will begin to grow a vibrant community that will attract new members and perhaps industry partners to your “” educational offerings.

Corporations are beginning to overshadow associations in their ability to prepare workforce learners for new careers and advancements. I strongly believe that with the right tools and approach, any association can take back the title in their industry.

Has your association developed a “member university?” If so, I’d love to hear about your programs and any successes or lessons learned you’ve experienced.

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