Associations Need to Lead Change with Education Programs

The Association Role in the New Education Paradigm”, a recently published whitepaper, outlines the potential for Associations to lead a much needed change in the current education industry. The authors of this whitepaper make a compelling case for associations to step in and bridge the growing education-to-employment gap by offering alternative, affordable, industry specific education programs for professional development and credentialing. But they ask - are associations ready to lead this change? We explore some of the key takeaways from the whitepaper in this blog, but we highly recommend that all associations should also read the whitepaper, which is available online.


 Why the need for change?


“We know there’s a skills gap for young workers that colleges and universities seem unable, and employers seem unwilling, to bridge.”

association education programs can bridge the skills gap for young professionalsThe whitepaper does an excellent job of detailing the crisis in the current education industry, which sees many young professionals unable to secure jobs in in the industry related to their field of study, due to a growing gap between the outcomes of a traditional academic education and the skills and competencies that employers require. At the same time, many people are increasingly finding themselves unable to finance the higher education qualifications required for many employment opportunities. Often this is because of the rigid structure of these programs, which is not supportive of non-traditional students who may need to work part-time, or have other responsibilities.


The Association Advantage for Employers

“Associations create educational programming designed to fill needs unmet by more traditional educational institutions and foster social connections and professional opportunity through networking.”

The whitepaper outlines the unique position that associations are in, perfectly poised to uncover, evaluate and respond to the educational needs of both employers and professionals in their respective industries.

“Associations represent both employers who are continually frustrated by the lack of talent they routinely encounter and workers who are concerned about the real impact the Fourth Industrial Revolution is about to have on their skill sets and livelihoods.”

Association education programs WBT SystemsThe fact that associations are already a part of the world that they serve gives them a significant advantage over traditional education institutions. Awareness of current issues affecting their industry, advocacy for their members and their professions, and their trusted relationships with employers gives associations an authoritative edge over academic institutions, when it comes to educating prospective employees. Associations can build timely professional development programs that address the specific competencies required by employers, in a much faster time frame than it takes to restructure a broader academic curriculum. Because association education programs are based on industry standards, the learning outcomes are consistent and it is easy for employers to recognize the validity of skills and competencies achieved.


Attracting New Members with Association Education Programs

“We have a tremendous opportunity to both diversify and expand our revenue streams while also providing a critical service to the next generation of workers (and members).”

The authors of the whitepaper cite Georgetown University noting “Industry-based certifications address several problems that postsecondary credentials currently face: relevance, accountability, consistency, and portability.” These characteristics, combined with accessibility and affordability, makes association education programs more attractive to young professionals than traditional full-time certificate or degree programs.

Mentoring Millennials for Leadership and Association GrowthWorking so closely with employers enables associations to create programs that focus exclusively on the precise skills [graduates] need to be immediately employable”, which makes the content of these programs more relevant to graduates and professionals looking to upskill. To address the different skills and competencies required by employers, often associations provide a more diverse offering of formal and informal learning experiences through conferences, mentoring, webinars, blended learning, online courses and networking. This diversity offers flexibility in pricing, pre-requisite knowledge and scheduling, which is more affordable, flexible, and supportive of the non-traditional learner, but also opens opportunities for the association to generate revenue from education programs and attract new learners to increase its membership.

Interviewed about the whitepaper in Associations Now magazine, one of the authors, Alcorn says, "The kind of member loyalty that you have always said you wanted to create? I don’t know of any better loyalty than 'They helped me get a job, keep a job, and get a better job'."


Are Associations Ready to Lead?

“Association professional development programs blend knowledge acquisition with practical experience in a socially supportive environment.”

Associations have all the tools to lead the change, but are they ready? The whitepaper notes that associations must be willing to review their strategy to put as much emphasis on education as they do on membership, in order to truly establish themselves as an alternative.

Reflective Learning with a Mentor via your LMSThe whitepaper makes several recommendations to help associations review their strategy and ready themselves to become a leading voice in changing the way we provide continuing education, professional development, and certification to professional learners. Key among these recommendations is that associations must be willing to consider alternative delivery methods and new technologies.

While noting that association education programs already have experience in more holistic, blended learning environments which include online learning and social learning alongside more traditional delivery methods, the whitepaper cautions that associations need to be strategic when deciding which new technologies will best help them to deliver the right content in the right setting, in order to best meet the strategic goals of their education and certification programs.

The authors note that associations are very skilled at providing education through conferences, meetings and events, and that many associations offer a variety of online learning experiences. However, they highlight the need “to keep up with the rapidly evolving expectations of a more sophisticated educational consumer”, by being willing to invest in technologies, such as learning management systems, which will support a variety of different delivery models for education programs. Associations should also be aware of new initiatives and technologies which may help them to increase participation and engagement in education programs in the future.

Digital Badges on the Learner Profile in TopClass LMSOne new technological initiative for education highlighted in the whitepaper as having both relevance and significant potential for associations that are trying to lead the change is digital badges. Digital Badges were created specifically to enable learners to demonstrate the achievement of specific competencies to meet licensing and employer requirements. Badges allow achieved skills and competencies to be recognized and displayed on resumes and professional online profiles, and enable easy verification of the issuing authority and validity of the badge credentials for employers.

Another key recommendation is that associations that are not currently offering a certification program should consider if this will provide value for the learners in their industry. The whitepaper notes that digital badges can also be used for micro-credentialing as part of certification programs to offer associations more ways to provide validated, respected qualifications that are valued by both the employer and professional learner. In exploring the demand for a certification program, associations are also advised to consider the requirements for entering the certification program, to make it as inclusive to learners who may not be able to access traditional post-secondary education.


Why Emphasize Technology for Association Education Programs?

The whitepaper is very compelling in its argument for associations to lead the change in education and certification for professional development. But why do the authors emphasize the importance of investing in technology for association education programs? From our own experience of working with associations over the years, we know there are several ways in which technology that has been specifically designed for associations can help to build the education programs of the future. For example, an association learning management system can:

  • Attract and engage learners
    With comprehensive, searchable content catalogs to enable learners to easily find the courses of interest to them, the ability to deliver more interactive content online, and engaging social learning features such as discussion forums and digital badges an Association LMS helps to attract and engage learners to the association. Check out this case study to learn more.


  • Generate Revenue from Education Content and Events
    A good association LMS will have an in-built eCommerce engine, or the ability to integrate with eCommerce facilities in the association management system. This allows the association to facilitate the sale of both online and offline content, conference and event registration, to provide attractive special pricing for discounts and bundled content offers, or facilitate tiered pricing for members and non-members. This helps the association to reach a wider audience online and generate incremental revenue from education. Read The 5 E's of Non-Dues Revenue from eLearning for some tips.


  • Manage Complex Continuing Education and Certification
    A good association LMS, enables you to easily design programs to assess the relevant knowledge, skills and competencies of your learners more efficiently, and to simplify the management of every aspect of certification from the registration period, through assessment, to tracking multiple types of continuing education credits, to the printing of certificates and notification of credential renewal requirements. Learn about managing credits for learners.


  • Offer a Better Experience for Learners and Administrators
    An Association LMS should seamlessly sync information with the Association Management System, website, community platform, eCommerce, webinar and other systems to provide an inclusive, consistent, and personalized experience for learners, while easing the administrative burden, saving time and money for your association. Read this association success story to see how the right technology makes a big difference to your success.


If you would like to explore how educational technologies can help your association lead the change in professional development and certification, contact us. We will be happy to share our experience and answer your questions.



"The Association Role in the New Education Paradigm" By Shelly Alcorn, CAE, Principal, Alcorn Associates Management Consulting, and Elizabeth Weaver Engel, M.A., CAE, CEO & Chief Strategist, Spark Consulting LLC. With Polly Siobhan Karpowicz, MBA, CAE, and Tracy Petrillo, EdD, CAE

How Associations Can Lead on Education, article in Associations Now Magazine by Mark Athitakis, September 12, 2016.

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