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.