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Learning to measure the value of next-generation learning

I sat in on two Idea Labs in the "Next Generation Learning" track this morning at ASAE's 2012 Great Ideas Conference, and in each one, a comment from the audience near the end of the session captured the challenges associations face in adopting new methods for professional development.

In the first session, "Next Generation Learning: Five-Minute Forecasts of the Future of Learning," five presenters each shared one emerging or evolving form of professional development practices. At the end, the audience was polled for which form it thought associations are most likely to adopt, and "bite-size education"—learning that is broken into shorter, more manageable and brain-friendly chunks—came out on top, compared to open-source education, changes in face-to-face programming, or hybrid events. When asked why, one audience member said she thinks bite-size education is most likely because it poses the least risk.

In the following session, "Next Generation Learning: Informal & Social Learning," professional host and moderator Glenn Thayer led participants in discussions on how to engage members in learning from each other. He shared Marcia Conner's definition of social learning as "participating with others to make sense of new ideas." (Kudos to the leaders of both of these sessions, by the way, as they both embraced that philosophy, with far more two-way group discussion than one-way presentation.)

Participants shared examples of online platforms for event attendees to connect pre- and post-conference, networking events that allow attendees to learn from each other, and learning sessions that embrace open-ended conversations. At the end of the session, one participant asked if anyone else in the group was measuring the return on investment of these social-learning features, specifically, in their conference evaluations, but no one said yes.

These comments made it clear that the nefarious "we've always done it that way" attitude remains a road block on the path to the future of association learning. Like any change from the norm, new forms of learning, and particularly the shift of an association's role from source of knowledge to facilitator of connections, will cause a sense of risk. But "just because it's the new wave" is never quite enough to overcome that risk.

Rather, solid metrics that show the positive outcomes of these new formats are essential. If you expand networking time at an event, are you asking attendees in post-conference surveys if they learned something valuable in conversations with fellow attendees during that time? If you build an online group for attendees to connect in advance of an event, are you asking them if those connections enhanced the value of attending?

As with any form of experimentation with new products or services, measuring the value of new learning formats can help combat the inevitable uncertainty that will arise. I'm curious if your association is measuring the ROI of new learning formats it has tried? If so, please share.

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Comments

Joe - Other commitments kept me from making it to Great Ideas this year, otherwise, I would definitely have been at this session. One question: were any example given of associations (or other organizations, for that matter), having success with "bite-size education."

Okay - a second question - any discussion of the business model for it?

Jeff

Thanks Jeff. The business model question definitely came up, particularly as it relates to continuing-education credits, which are often granted in units of hours. Shawn Boynes, CAE, at APIC-The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, is the panelist who spoke briefly about bite-size education, and he mentioned clustering as a strategy to address the problem. For instance, at APIC, they have "poster" presentations in which members present 15-minute abstracts of their studies and take 5 minutes of questions; they bunch three of these together (perhaps all related to a particular topic) and qualify attendance as one CE hour. Another example is the Ignite event, which hosts a series of the five-minute presentations.

The definition of bite-size could vary, of course. One audience member from a healthcare-related association mentioned that one of their member hospitals discontinued full-day in-service trainings for nurses and now instead offers one-hour, more narrowly focused training sessions on a more frequent basis, and the nurses have responded well because the one-hour sessions are much easier to fit into their schedules than full-day trainings. That seems like a model that associations could follow, particularly trade associations that provide educational programming designed to be delivered in-house by member companies/institutions.

Jeff - Joe summarized it nicely, especially as it relates to abstract presentations(thanks Joe)! As mentioned during my presentation, not all content lends itself to being broken into smaller digestible "chunks". In some instances, not offering CE would be appropriate but may be a harder sell depending on the audience. A goal with my organization is to expand abstract presentations beyond the annual conference, integrate them more throughout the body of the conference, and try it with webinar presentations.

As far as the business model is concerned, I haven't found any but one thought is to seek sponsorship of these types of offerings.

I'd be interested in chatting with you further to brainstorm about how best to track associations that may be doing this or will be doing more of this in the near future.

Shawn

Thanks for the great comments. I was one of the presenters in the "Next Generation Learning: Five-Minute Forecasts of the Future of Learning" session and I can confirm that ACTE has successfully implemented "bite-size education" into most of our face-to-face programs. Examples of learning formats we have used include PechaKucha, "Shark Tank" (which was the format for the Great Ideas session), speed learning roundtables, and a few others. We'll never go back!

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