ASTD

American Society of Training and Development

The Fifth Key for Successful Association Education: Marketing and Promotion.

Associations can be successful by concentrating on their core mission. Their marketing approach should draw attention to the mission using a focused brand image. But just because the overall marketing approach contributes to the success of the association do not expect that same approach to work as well for the association’s education program or courses. When I discuss education within the context of an association I go back to my first key to building a successful education program - the commitment and support from the association’s leadership toward supporting and promoting the education program. Needless to say, the association’s education program should support the mission. However, while providing mission support education programs are still bound to their own set of traditional guidelines and business rules. My experience tells me that everyone knows what good education looks like – just ask them. Everyone has gone to school and attended classes at some point in their life. And everyone has an opinion on which teachers or instructors they liked or didn’t like, and why they feel that way. I call this the education expectations of the association’s leaders and members. Key two is critical in focusing in on the education expectations of the members through needs assessment.

For associations the fifth key is to promote the mission through education while identifying the related issues and developing education content that is offered to the membership meeting their expectations. The leaders of the association education must commit to including a separate promotion and advertising campaign of their education programs and courses not only to the general membership but also to targeted, special interest groups. I do not know of any association that would try to hold an annual conference or convention and not provide a directed promotion and advertising campaign to support that effort. Within most annual conferences you find sub-groups, those looking for information that addresses their interest.

There are those that believe that by simply marketing the association brand, they are also promoting their education courses. I do not hold that belief. What I have observed working closely with numerous associations over the years: poor promotion and advertising generally results in poor results based upon industry standard measurements of successful. Education programs and courses frequently succeed or fail based upon the success of the promotion campaigns of individual courses or specialized education programs such as certificate programs. You can have the world’s most advanced cutting edge courses taught by the most knowledgeable subject matter experts (SME), and delivered in the most appropriate formats at the right price - but if your target audience doesn’t know about event – it will fail. Associations that rely primarily on their reputation and branding for the association alone will incur poor results for their education efforts. When it comes to education adequate promotion and advertisement of the courses, related products, and services is essential for success.

The Fifth Key to Successful Education Programs and Courses: Marketing and Promotion.

Photo on Flickr by Mikko Luntiala

Note that I use two action words here, marketing and promotion. If the education program is intended for internal organizational use then be sure that your marketing plan is related to the needs assessment of your staff and indirectly to your clients. If the organization has fewer than 50 staff, internal promotion can be simple. Usually internal promotion can be successful on the organizations website, internal newsletter, email blast or a notice taped next to the coffee or soda machine.

If the program or course is intended for external use then be sure that your education marketing plan is included as part of your overall organization plan. Many organizations believe that by simply marketing their organization brand, that they are also promoting their courses. Education programs and courses succeed or fail based upon the success of the promotion campaigns of individual or collective courses or specialized education programs. You can have the world’s most advanced cutting edge course that is taught by the most knowledgeable subject matter expert (SME), which is delivered in the most appropriate format, and offered at the right price - but if your target audience doesn’t know about it – it will fail. Those organizations that rely on their reputation and organizational marketing alone will likely fail in their education efforts. When it comes to education, adequate promotion and advertisement of your courses or education products is essential. Budget accordingly with separate line items for promotion and advertising of education courses within the overall marketing budget.

“What Content?”- An opportunity for firms, use the fourth key to unlock the secrets of a quality education program.

Firms that are serious about professional development can use the fourth key as a framework for ensuring that their staff receives quality professional education. Firms are in a unique position in that they often are the source of knowledge; they have the subject matter experts (SME). This positions the firm as the leader and potential source of content. They are an excellent source to develop project based courses built from lessons learned from their own projects. At a minimum, these studies can be used in mentoring programs and establishing a firm culture of learning.

Let me begin with small firms, I define this as any firm with under 25 staff. Smaller firms should collaborate; work with other similar firms or even some client firms. When it comes to professional development your firm will benefit more if you cooperate with other firms on mutual interest topics. Remember, there is strength in numbers. Individuals from small firms usually rely on trade and professional association meetings, workshops, and conferences for much of their education. This is a great source for broad based professional education and includes the added benefit of networking. But for a more focused approach of obtaining education that is also related to addressing your business needs consider setting up some type of education “collective”. As a collective you increase the number of eyes that are scanning for that reliable source of new continuing education content and materials that is right for your business. The source of the education content may now be internal from anyone within the collective, or external as is common, or a blend of both.

It should be noted that all successful continuing education programs develop a systematic approach to identify, obtain and monitor the quality of the education material, how it is processed, designed, developed and delivered. A consistent approach to how the content follows a process flow enables the firm to establish and maintain checks and balances. As a firm grows in size, more effort should be placed on establishing a work flow process that monitors these elements.

There are a multitude of education formats and delivery models from which a firm can choose. According to ASTD, in 2010 for the first time in history the number of online education courses had passed the number of traditional classroom style courses. So ask, which model is best for the firm and the clients that they are trying to serve? (Yes, include your clients s some of your internal education activities).

“What Content?”- Associations struggle with the fourth key of a quality education program.

For most small associations the answer is usually “yes.” For many mid-sized associations the answer is “yes, most of the time.” For large associations the answer is, “well, it depends.” The question asked, “Does your association struggle with the fourth key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program?”

The fourth key to developing a quality education program is for the association to develop a systematic approach that will identify the appropriate subject matter content and support a consistent work flow process. Most small associations and many mid-sized associations have great difficulty finding appropriate content for their programs on a continual basis. These associations can be found relying on the same few subject matter experts to provide content and delivery, over and over again. Even well stocked wells have been known to go dry.

Regardless of their size associations still need to establish a reliable, wide based source of new content and materials that will position the association as a supplier of vetted, industry related quality continuing education courses. The source of the education content may be internal, external or a blend of both. Successful continuing education programs develop a systematic approach to identifying, obtaining and monitoring the quality of the education material, how it is processed, designed, developed and delivered. Most associations simply do not have enough resources to do all of these things themselves. However, even for the small associations an appropriate check and balance system can be established using limited resources with involvement of members and stakeholders.

There are a multitude of education formats and delivery models from which an association can choose. Which one is best for the association and their members and stakeholder? Developing clear course learning objectives, when done at the beginning of the process and when done properly will guide the association in selecting the appropriate subject matter experts (SME), the best course design, the appropriate content structure, and the most effective delivery method for a course. If there are any special requirements such as CEU’s, ILU’s, license or certification standards that need to be met then it is critical to insure that a system of safeguards is in place. An established system can be as simple as a check list or as complex as a sophisticated computer metrics.

The third key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program

Photo by Brooklyn Museum on Flickr

The third key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program include planning and performance projection. We will assume by now that you have the commitment and support of senior management. Now based upon your needs assessments and analysis it is time to develop measurable short and long-term educational goals with performance projections of key education results. The short term goals should be between one to three years. Creating, changing or adjusting education programs often take at least 2 – 3 years before you begin to see the major results programmatically or financially. Individual courses may take 6 - 18 months but entire curriculum or certificate programs need time to grow. You should have built in a continuing needs assessment process and a system that will provide you with the flexibility to make course adjustments. The better your needs assessment processes the few adjustments you should need to make – maybe.

In today’s Internet and technology environment, 3 years can be a lifetime for some products or service media’s. That stated you should still plan long term of at least 3 -5 years. Expect that the social, economic, political and education environments will change during this time period. Plan on those changes and plan on the possibility that you may have to adjust your goals. Review of long term education goals should take place both prior to and during senior management’s annual strategic planning sessions. It is important that the education program projections also tie into the overall business strategy.

Depending upon the magnitude of the education program long term plans, you should consider some to be as long as a 10 – 20 year program. The larger the audience that you are trying to affect the longer the program will take to design, plan and implement. The medical, accounting and architects set out to change the education structure for their entire professions. It took more than 20 years, and the professions are still adjusting. Higher education and government have used distant learning models for decades and even pioneered the early models of the internet in the 1980’s for education. But even these early users have to adjust to the current models of knowledge exchange via the worldwide web. Today they need a vision that looks out 10 -20 years.

“Where’s the data?” – The second key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program

Photo by Dennis Crowley via Flickr

The question I always heard from superiors and peers, “Where’s the data?” I believe that the seeds for needs assessment should be planted with the establishment of the strategic goals. Early on the organization should develop a systematic approach for identifying and analyzing the educational needs that relate to the overall strategic plan. Planning and analysis are simultaneous and should be ongoing.

As defined by Wikipedia, Needs assessment is a process for determining and addressing needs, or "gaps" between current conditions and desired conditions, often used for improvement in individuals, education/training, organizations, or communities. The need can be a desire to improve current performance or to correct a deficiency.

For education and training assessments there are a growing variety of models to from which to choose. Select a model or a blend of models which most closely match your goals, operations, personnel and budget. Methods and techniques for gathering information can vary from formal focus groups, to telephone or mail surveys, to online surveys such as survey monkey. The intent should be to gather timely information to enable those in the organization to make smart decisions based upon relevant and appropriate information.

If the program is intended for internal use of the organization’s staff education then it is important to match the model to the organization’s culture, operational structure, and short and long-term education and professional development needs. The content could relate to technical, conceptual, and/or personnel related needs. It is important to focus on the details of professional staffs’ participation in the needs assessment process. Determine how the needs for the educational program and products/services are identified, how the programs are developed and designed to address those needs.

If the education program is intended for external use, the assessment should relate to the business needs, support the organizations need for delivering training; ensure training delivery design relates to customer’s needs; verifies effective performance; and provides guidance into the evaluation process.

Associations - First key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program

First you must look at the mission statement of the association. If education is intended to be part of the mission of the association then it should be included in the mission statement. Assuming that education is part of your association'€™s mission then the first key to unlocking the secrets of building a quality education program is to gain commitment and support internally, starting at the top.

To achieve any level of excellence your association will need more than just senior level support, it also needs senior management'€™s involvement. Senior management must be involved with the creation of the association'€™s educational direction and the education department's ongoing performance. Most important, this includes the development of a strategic process that ties education into the overall business plan of the association. The education program will not work effectively or efficiently if it is just an afterthought or an add-on program. To avoid this common mistake it is important that the head of the education department participates as an equal on the associations'€™ steering or operations committee or council. This would mean the head of the education department would be a Chief Learning Officer (CLO), Vice President, or Senior Director depending upon the size and makeup of the association. Only by participating at the highest decision making level will education play an appropriate key role in the overall business operations of the association.

Like any business - and I believe an association is a business - to achieve a high level of providing quality education, the association must think strategically. This means that there is a long term commitment and a investment of time to achieving goals. There needs to be a commitment to hiring and maintaining the right staff and involving representative member volunteers, those trained and dedicated to achieving the long and short term education goals. And the leadership must find that delicate balance between education as a member benefit and a revenue source. Education is not free which even must must learn to understand. There must be a commitment to investing of dollars, but this needs to be done strategically and smartly. The most successful education programs are those that are integrated within the working foundation of the entire association.

Association leadership involvement summary includes:
• Senior association leaders set direction and seek future educational opportunities.
• Leadership addresses performance expectations and long-term commitment.
• Leadership is involved in the education program’s overall performance.
• Leadership takes into account the educational needs and expectations of all key personnel.

Demonstration of these elements the first steps to building a successful program.

Commitment - A key to unlocking the secrets to establishing a quality education program

The first key to unlocking the secrets of building a quality education program within your organization is to gain commitment and support internally. It must start at the top of the organization. But in order for your education program to achieve excellence it will need more than just senior level support. For the program to be truly outstanding it needs senior management’s involvement in creating and sustaining the organization’s educational direction, performance, and focus. This includes the development of a strategic process that ties education into the overall business plan of the organization. The education program will not work effectively or efficiently if it is just an afterthought or an add-on program. Like any business, to achieve quality you need to think strategically which includes a long term investment of time, involvement of people and investing of dollars. To be successful the education program must be integrated within the working foundation of the organization. In order for the strategic process to be maintained and succeed there must be a buy-in, a commitment at all levels of the organization. This means there are no lasting quick fixes.

Leadership Involvement summary includes:
1. Senior leaders set direction and seek future educational opportunities.
2. Leadership addresses performance expectations and long-term commitment.
3. Leadership is involved in the education program’s overall performance.
4. Leadership takes into account the educational needs and expectations of all key personnel.

Demonstration of these elements by the senior management and you are taking your first steps to building a successful program.

Is a Virtual Tour Knowledge or Education?

Photo by Igloo Studios

Recently I was involved with a team that produced a virtual tour. The primary goal of the free virtual tour was intended to give a international audience a chance to gain knowledge by exploring the space. The depth of knowledge gained directly correlated to the participants involvement of freely selecting from varies features such as embedded videos, audio podcasts and information on building materials and products used throughout the space.
Assuming that knowledge becomes education at the point where the participant actually applies that what they learned, there is at one point in the tour a Google sketch-up feature embedded in the program that can actually be used. But what if, as most do, the participant looks at the feature but does not act. Would the knowledge still be education?
The tour can take between 1 – 1.5 hours depending on how many interactive features the participant selects. A final feature includes a quiz based upon the basic elements of the tour. The quiz follows the guidelines outlined in the standards of the International Learning Unit. It meets the organization’s credential requirement, other professional organizations education requirements, and even most state licensing board’s MCE requirements. Only by paying and successfully completing the quiz will “education” credits be awarded? Is that really the only difference between knowledge and education – fees? You be the judge - take the virtual tour, yourself. Stop before the quiz. Is it knowledge or education?

Web Site Production & Management

Expedition 21 Media, Inc. values quality lifelong education and learning, especially for professional development. Our staff is experienced in course development, course delivery, and new online technologies for educational communities, credential and certification management, and assessment systems.

Pages