The 2018 Learning Business Landscape

BY Jeff Cobb


It’s been five years since we last reached out to colleagues at organizations, learning technology companies, and consulting firms across the association sector to gather their perspectives on what challenges and opportunities learning businesses will encounter in the coming year.  So, we thought it was past time to find out how much as changed – or stayed the same – in the meantime.

We’ve once again contacted a range of folks – some of whom participated the last time, some who didn’t – and asked them the following:

  • What current or emerging trend do you feel will most impact organizations in the business of lifelong learning in 2018?
  • Why do you feel this is such an important trend, and what are some key ways that organizations could/should respond to and/or capitalize on it?

In the first part of what follows, I’ve done my best to weave all of the input into a cohesive narrative that covers five major themes:

Following this narrative, I provide the full input from each person who participated. As was the case the last time around, there is plenty of good insight here – all of which merits careful consideration if not action. I encourage you to share this and discuss it with colleagues at your organization.

Also, if you are interested, you can read the last round-up here.

And, we encourage you to check out our take on recent and emerging trends.

Last, but not least, many thanks to everyone who took the time to provide input.

Jeff


Leveraging Data for Growth and Impact

The widespread use of marketing and learning technologies means that a lot of data is being collected about learners and prospective learners. Many of the respondents focused on the growing role that this data will play – or, at least, should play – in helping organizations serve learners more effectively and grow their businesses.

“Hopefully, more associations will use data-driven strategies and technologies,” says Jennifer De Vries of BlueStreak Learning, “rather than strategies that are developed by opinions or trends.”

Kevin Stewart of NextThought suggests “the biggest area that will impact learning organizations over the next few years will be the management and analysis of data. Many organizations have vast amounts of data at their disposal related to their learners, but have barely scratched the surface in regard to mining its deep potential. The ability to manage the data and provide meaningful analysis will open the door to more effective marketing (recruiting of new learners), better learner engagement, learner retention, learner behavior prediction and many other important things.”

Tamer Ali of Community Brands argues that “we’re in an era where other industries are now increasingly empowered by analytics and data.  However, very few of the learning organizations I interact with are using data to empower their decisions. Tagoras data confirms this. We have to stop complaining and use the data to show our strengths, and take the “grey” out of our science- it brings predictability, less arbitrary judgment, and can prove impact.”

“By integrating data collected from multiple platforms,” says Jodi Ray of Blue Sky eLearn, “associations can make competent decisions on current and future learning deliverables, identify trends, and target content and offerings to specific individuals based on their activity.”

Additionally, says Tracy King of InspireEd, the corporations that many associations sell content to “are demanding training lead to measurable outcomes that affect business goals.” Data is the ticket to meeting that demand.

Jon Aleckson of Web Courseworks says that data is also the key to delivering on “subscription learning, curation, and even AI-driven recommendations as a way of differentiating from low-cost competitors.” Standards are big part of what will make the collection and management of meaningful learning data possible, and Aleckson notes that the “Department of Defense has recently given the Experience API (xAPI) a shot in the arm with guidance that DoD learning should ‘implement the xAPI specification to enable interoperable experience or performance-tracking capabilities, learning analytics, or data integration with multiple applications or systems.'”

Finally, Tobin Conley of Delcor, raises a data-related issue that many organizations need to tune into sooner rather than later: the European Union General Data Protection Regulation. “The EU GDPR,” says Conley, “poses some interesting challenges [and perhaps some possible opportunities] for anyone who may fall under the new rules—which is anyone with constituents in Europe. The issues involved are in some ways complex and the stakes potentially high, and our advice for our clients is to do everything they can to become aware of GDPR, start taking steps NOW to become compliant and to keep your eyes/ears open as the law grows closer to becoming a reality on May 25, 2018.”

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Competing Effectively and Delivering Value

The competitive challenges that learning businesses face continue to grow and become more complex, creating a stronger need than ever for organizations to clearly identify and communicate the learning value they offer.

Jack Coursen of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) says that the current trend most impacting his organization’s learning business is “disruption by for-profit competitors pushing CE ever closer to commoditization and challenging non-dues revenue growth.” Coursen notes that  “the details of how one confronts this trend will probably vary by association, but a good start is a brutally honest examination of your unique competitive advantage/s, refined by input from your members on what they truly value about both your offerings and the competition’s.”

LaTrease Garrison of the American Chemical Society argues that “organizations such as professional societies will need to rethink and/or increase their partnerships with universities and employers while demonstrating that they can and should be the provider of continuing education. Otherwise, universities may offer more continuing educations programs to address the need.”

Along similar lines, Tracy King says that “corporations and academic institutions are now partnering on developing education programming that will address the dire need to develop qualified candidates and invest in their career growth within the organization. Powerful partnerships show a shift in progress, collapsing once competitors into collaborators advancing an industry. Instead of watching these partnerships form, learning organizations must get in on them, bringing their unique value to the partnership equation.”

Jack McGrath of Digitec Interactive sees apprenticeship programs as a fertile area for working with industry partners to create new value. “This model can elevate the association value ramp,” says McGrath, “by offering their members access to a personalized, online apprenticeship system. This will attract new members who want to enroll in the program as well as industry partners, who will want access to these candidates.”

Julie Stelter of Walden Group notes that, “association competition is nothing new,” but that “learning companies continue to tap your [association’s] SMEs, to create courses for the learning company to sell directly to your industry. Moreover, many entrepreneurial SMEs are taking their own knowledge, building their own courses, and marketing to your potential learners.”

Jim Parker of Digitell suggests that part of competing effectively should include passing cost savings on to members and customers. “Associations need to re-evaluate the value of their educational content,” says Parker, “and understand that the costs to distribute their content have come down to almost nothing, and therefore this trend provides organizations the ability to engage industry professionals with their content for a fraction of the costs associated with physical media.”

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Meeting Evolving Learner Needs and Expectations

Arguably, learners have more power than ever, and their expectations for learning experiences – especially ones they have to pay for – continue to climb. At the same time the demands placed upon individual learners – by their environment, by their employers – are also changing and, in many cases, becoming more challenging.

Tadu Yimam of the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) notes that members of her organization are “overwhelmed with too much information, which can cause distraction and create competing priorities.” This is driving a demand for “shorter bursts of information” that can “create a new level of engagement anytime, anywhere.”

A key outcome of the continuous need and demand for learning, according to Tracy King, is that learners “cannot rely upon events for what they need to know to maintain their positions or seek advancement. They now require continuous learning. Lifelong learning organizations that do not respond to this demand will quickly become irrelevant. Professionals who are increasingly responsible to pay for their own continuing education opportunities are much less willing to invest their own money in info-based programming.”

LaTrease Garrison notes that part of what drives learner demands and expectations is that “employers and universities are beginning to realize that their employees and students will need diverse skills to be successful in the workplace.”

Rich Finstein of CommPartners says he sees “a trend towards organizations increasingly recognizing the specific education needs and interests of each learner and presenting them with individualized experiences, pathways, or curriculums. The experiences can consist of formal or informal learning, live programs, and peer to peer idea sharing. The key is treating the learner in a more holistic way.”

Jodi Ray notes that learners themselves are “expecting an Amazon-like experience. Learning needs to be easy to access (when and where they want it), easy to navigate to the right content, and easy to consume.”

Finally, Stephanie Owen of the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) argues that given what “members think they can get from a social channel conversation in the comfort of their own home, they won’t be willing to sacrifice time and money for face-to-face networking opportunities. We have been leveraging our own group and thread, but members themselves are constantly creating new groups, and it’s hard to keep up with them all.”

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Embracing Emerging Formats and Delivery Methods

From microlearning to virtual reality, organizations will continue to make headway with the range of new learning formats and methods that have emerged in recent years.

Ralph Gaillard of the Illinois CPA Society is bullish on virtual reality. He expects to see more organizations “incorporating virtual and augmented reality exercises into in-person learning experiences.”

Jennifer De Vries agrees that VR technology has gotten much easier to use. “It’s getting to the point where some early adopter associations may try this. I think this type of technology will grow in fields that require spacial or physical skills. Where there is value is having someone operate on a person or operate equipment in a low-risk environment before going into a high-risk situation.”

Tadu Yimam says there are several important trends and/or concepts that we try to incorporate in all our programming to: to ensure our members are engaged in lifelong learning activities. Examples of these trends include, immersive instruction, increased emphasis on microlearning, customized training to the individual’s knowledge gap, and competency-based education. Of the trends above, microlearning is likely going to play an even greater role in 2018.”

Amanda Batson of ADB Partners thinks that “one trend with far-reaching impact is the rampant expansion of smartphones for all things digital. In professional learning, many organizations still think, design, and develop for a larger screen as in a laptop or even a tablet. Yet the smartphone is the ubiquitous tech tool.

Tony Ellis of the National Association of College Stores says learning businesses “must rethink their content and learning strategies to fit into shorter, real-time, and accessible formats. Consequently, business models (including fee bearing and subsidized components) must be re-engineered to support the emerging strategies.”

Finally, Jim Parker of proclaims,“2018 is the year online events become mainstream!”

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Meeting the Capacity and Leadership Challenge

Finally, keeping up with an evolving learning landscape clearly has implications for leadership and capacity within organizations.

Jim Parker argues that real change occurs only once leadership embraces strategies like virtual events. “Once senior staff members are in place who are comfortable with these strategies, you will begin to see a big growth in this area.”

Tracy King suggests that success in the new learning landscape requires an investment in organizational capacity. “Organizations that embrace continuous learning,” she says, “must evolve how they fund, staff, and deliver continuing education programming.”

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Full Submissions (with Minor Editing)

Note: These are presented in no particular order.

Tobin Conley (Delcor)

Here’s something that I think may be a little out of the ordinary but I truly believe that it could have a considerable effect on a number of organizations. The EU GDPR poses some interesting challenges [and perhaps some possible opportunities] for anyone who may fall under the new rules—which is anyone with constituents in Europe. The issues involved are in some ways complex and the stakes potentially high, and our advice for our clients is to do everything they can to become aware of GDPR, start taking steps NOW to become compliant and to keep your eyes/ears open as the law grows closer to becoming a reality on May 25, 2018. I know that ASAE has created a community on its Collaborate platform and is likely working on a framework for associations to work towards ensuring their own compliance measures.

Of course there are a lot of other trends out there that will have an impact on associations and their learning programs, but I think that this is one that may be overlooked by many and is worth the attention it deserves.

Jack Coursen (ASHA)

There will be buzz about microlearning, extending learning, [insert buzz adjective] data, AI, predictive modeling, annual subscriptions, curation, and of course social learning, but organizations should do themselves a favor and not get caught in the same old cycle of (ephemeral) ‘flavors of the year’! (Okay, full disclosure: I’m intrigued by/exploring some of these things too,)

The current trend impacting our business is disruption by for-profit competitors pushing CE ever closer to commoditization and challenging non-dues revenue growth. The details of how one confront this trend will probably vary by association, but a good start is a brutally honest examination of your unique competitive advantage/s, refined by input from your members on what they truly value about both your offerings and the competition’s.

For-profits have several competitive advantages over associations. They are mostly immune from association politics, so can focus on profitable niches or pursue exclusive contracts with experts through royalties. They can move faster, both in adding staff or financial resources to support new operations and also in cutting staff or unprofitable product lines. They can cover multiple professions or industries in a single offering to broadly serve the needs of large organizational customers (e.g., providing a hospital with education spanning multiple professions). They can secure funding from other for-profit entities. Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but when a for-profit rapidly develops a new product that effectively mimics a new and innovative course series you’ve worked long and hard to develop, you won’t feel flattered. These advantages often let for-profits deliver a substantially similar end product more efficiently, which in turn allows them to undercut complacent association pricing. It’s daunting!

If for-profits have the same speakers, cover the same content, utilize equally effective learning strategies, offer the same technology, and can undercut your pricing, you have to take a brutally hard look in the mirror. Take real time to consider your unique competitive advantages. Brutal and – sometimes – undiplomatic honesty is essential. Challenge every idea you come up with. Couldn’t a competitor offer that speaker more money? Sure, they aren’t creating that sort of course series now, but couldn’t they just mimic what you are doing within a couple of months? They’ve got instructional designers on staff too, so not only are they just as capable of creating micro courses, but they can drop the idea faster if it isn’t profitable.

Once you have a few ideas that have gone through several rounds of skepticism, set them aside and talk with your members. Talk with the members who use the competition. What do they like most about what your competition offers? What do they not like about it? What do they like about your courses? What do they not like about them? Use a combination of thoughtfully crafted surveys followed later with small focus groups to capture the broad strokes, how pervasive perspectives are, and then the nuance. Now compare what your members have told you with what you thought your competitive advantages were.

Obviously, areas of overlaps are likely going to be unique to each association, but semi-intangible qualities like “trust” may make the list. You might find that your members still don’t entirely trust the quality of a competitor’s course, even when it’s by the same speaker and on the same topic. Whatever the areas of overlap are will be a good compass guide, but remember than even intangible qualities like trust aren’t something your competition can’t cultivate in time.

Tamer Ali (Community Brands)

Maybe it’s not as much as what I think will impact, but rather what should impact learning businesses – and that’s the use of real data. After all, we’re learning businesses.

We’re in an era where other industries are increasingly empowered by analytics and data. However, very few of the learning organizations I interact with are using data to empower their decisions. Tagoras data confirms this. Most of the review of data is still tied to compliance instead of using the data for marketing analytics to better understand usage of the Learning Platform. The data and trends coming from the LMS platform and coupled with possible use of data from Web Analytics reported from the LMS can help in many ways:

  • identify what’s working, what’s not- and how to divest from topics/subject matter that don’t bring in enrollments
  • trends in growth or interest – or declines – of topic or titles
  • ratios that indicate overall health of the education programs that we’ve standardized as benchmark metrics, such as:
    • rate of enrollments to logins: for those who come to the site, how many are enrolling into new courses and activities
    • completions to enrollments: for those signups into courses, what’s the completion rate and how is it changing over time/different topics/categories
    • launches to enrollments: how much does each item take to complete and how many visits into a course. This can reveal how people take your courses and possibly expose possible issues to improve or facilitate

Again, these are just a sample of some metrics. There are others that we like all healthy organizations to track and use to inform their plans.

We are somewhat dragged down by the grey science of our education industry. This leads to an unfair ranking of strategic value of education when we can’t elevate our initiatives within the organization’s major planning and business objectives. It sucks really, and many times major IT infrastructure maintenance and overhauls take precedence to education, which is confounding given the lifeblood that education can be- it’s really one of the only legitimate “products” that can be sold by an association. So we have to stop complaining and use the data to show our strengths, and take the “grey” out of our science. Doing this will bring predictability, less arbitrary judgment, and can prove impact.

This is something we can capitalize on now, with no hocus pocus, just the use of data that comes out of the LMS and tools like Google Analytics.

Kevin Stewart (NextThought)

I think that the biggest area that will impact learning organizations over the next few years will be the management and analysis of data. Many organizations have vast amounts of data at their disposal related to their learners, but have barely scratched the surface in regard to mining its deep potential. The ability to manage the data and provide meaningful analysis will open the door to more effective marketing (recruiting of new learners), better learner engagement, learner retention, learner behavior prediction and many other important things.

This trend is just beginning at universities, where there is extensive data around the activities, behaviors and outcomes of students. However, this data is spread throughout various departments and not effectively utilized. We are in the early stages of seeing a few leading universities search for ways to centralize and analyze the data to improve student recruitment and retention. (Note: This is a very expensive process at large universities and we are partnering with the University of Oklahoma in providing this sort of data management at the moment. I know of a few other universities that are just now getting into this like the University of Chicago and USC. This s a new endeavor, but no doubt there are other universities beginning to pursue this.) This data is expected to provide a means for the university to better predict student outcomes and provide early interventions to improve student success.

I am beginning to hear some talk on this topic in the association world related to member recruitment and retention. There is great potential in the realm of data management and analysis to impact learning organizations in the coming years.

Ralph Gaillard (Illinois CPA Society)

What current or emerging trend do you feel will most impact organizations in the business of lifelong learning in 2018? Incorporating virtual and augmented reality exercises into in-person learning experiences.

Why do you feel this is such an important trend, and what are some key ways that organizations could/should respond to and/or capitalize on it? The technology for offering VR and AR is here faster than I anticipated. Apple released ARkit for app developers in its latest iPhone. The way to capitalize is to experiment and learn from the experiment and continue experimenting.

Repeat the above until you gain mastery.

LaTrease Garrison (ACS)

What current or emerging trend do you feel will most impact organizations in the business of lifelong learning in 2018? Employers and universities are beginning to realize that their employees and students will need diverse skills to be successful in the workplace. These skills extend beyond the traditional degree or certifications/licenses and make the individual more employable and valuable to the global workforce.

Why do you feel this is such an important trend, and what are some key ways that organizations could/should respond to and/or capitalize on it? I see this as an important trend because this could potentially make universities and employers stronger competitors in the professional development and continuing education learning space. Organizations such as professional societies will need to rethink and/or increase their partnerships with universities and employers while demonstrating that they can and should be the provider of continuing education. Otherwise, universities may offer more continuing ed programs to address the need.

Julie Stelter (Walden Group)

Competition for industry-specific content to build eLearning courses continues to increase. An association’s best commodity, industry-knowledge, can be hijacked by another association, a learning company, or even one of your SMEs. Association competition is nothing new. Learning companies, though, continue to tap your SMEs, to create courses for the learning company to sell directly to your industry. Moreover, many entrepreneurial SMEs are taking their own knowledge, building their own courses, and marketing to your potential learners.

Associations cannot wait any longer. The demand for specialized knowledge is rising in every industry. Elearning companies want in on this marketplace. And SMEs do too. Couple this with an increasing supply of technology products, providing a direct route for experts to monetize their knowledge, this trend will only get stronger. Associations need to act and leverage their industry knowledge by strategizing from both a business and educational perspective. Association products and services must be in-demand, of high-quality, and strategically-priced. Simply, it must make business sense for the association and provide tangible value to the learner. Anything less than this will not compete in the current marketplace. Partnering with other educational entities such as technology companies, elearning companies, universities and tech schools, can be a mutually-beneficial option to explore.

Tadu Yimam (NACUBO)

At NACUBO, we are constantly challenged with ensuring that our members, chief business officers in higher education, maintain their knowledge and skills, stay up-to-date with changes in the political and regulatory environment, become acquainted with new or improved financial techniques, and improve the day-to-day student experience on campus.

To stay relevant there are several important trends and/or concepts that we try to incorporate in all our programming to ensure our members are engaged in lifelong learning activities. Examples of these trends include, immersive instruction, increased emphasis on micro-learning, customized training to the individual’s knowledge gap, and competency based education. Of the trends above, micro-learning is likely going to play an even greater role in 2018.

Our members are overwhelmed with too much information which can cause distraction and create competing priorities. With micro-learning organizations will be able to meet the needs of their learners by providing bite-sized pieces of information that are easy to digest, at a relatively low-cost. Materials can be repurposed and delivered in shorter bursts of information and create a new level of engagement anytime, anywhere.

Tracy King (InspirEd)

I see a few critical emerging trends: continuous learning, competency based learning, and powerful partnerships.

Disruptions in the workplace such as the pace of change, globalization requiring new skills, the contingent workforce introducing new challenges, and technology rapidly evolving how we do our jobs and even which jobs people now do — have resulted in a demand for 24/7 learning. Professionals cannot rely upon events for what they need to know to maintain their positions or seek advancement. They now require continuous learning. Lifelong learning organizations that do not respond to this demand will quickly become irrelevant.

Our professionals who are now continuously learning are no longer looking to us just for information. Knowledge-based learning does not meet the need for improved efficiency, effectiveness, and mastery. While competency-based learning itself is not a new concept, the emerging demand for it in workforce development is a significant trend. Corporations are demanding training lead to measurable outcomes that affect business goals. Professionals who are increasingly responsible to pay for their own continuing education opportunities are much less willing to invest their own money in info-based programming — they are seeking a transformation. They will, however, invest deeply in learning designed to facilitate the change they seek, assisting them in differentiating themselves in the workplace or advancing in their career. This means our programs must facilitate skill development and mastery.

Another critical emerging trend: powerful partnerships forming to specifically address pipeline issues, workforce development, and outcomes based credentialing. In recent months, a number of corporations and academic institutions are now partnering on developing education programming that will address the dire need to develop qualified candidates and invest in their career growth within the organization. While academic institutions will be working with their corporate partners on particular content aligned with their business goals, the program structures they develop and pipeline relationships they cultivate will be transferable to other industries — expanding their partnering capabilities.

Why do you feel this is such an important trend, and what are some key ways that organizations could/should respond to and/or capitalize on it?

Organizations who embrace continuous learning must evolve how they fund, staff, and deliver continuing education programming. They must make a critical shift away from the event-based model to learning pathways. This requires new lenses on how content priorities are identified and the realization that learning is a process, not a one-time event. These organizations will seek to shift how they organize staff around education development so that programming is coordinated among multiple touchpoints over time leveraging both in-person and digital learning opportunities. Only then can a learning organization be in the right place at the right time to meet the continuous learning needs of their target audience(s).

Organizations that embrace the transition from information-based programming to competency-based programming must make several key investments. They must invest in learning design – ensuring they have qualified instructional designers crafting learning experiences that facilitate change. They must invest in their subject experts — training and coaching them in best practices of delivering their content to achieve learning outcomes. They must invest in learning formats that support behavior change. And they must invest in measuring that the learning outcomes have been met. These organizations don’t just set a stack of paper in front of learners and say, “go make a paper airplane.” They lead the way, facilitating the transformation they know their learners require to succeed.

Workforce development and continuing education are no longer owned by silo’d organizations. Professionals see an ecology of options from corporate training, to college continuing ed certificate programs, to Udemy, association programs, publications, and direct-to-expert master class options. It’s evolved into a confusing array of choices which have become increasingly commoditized to win participants. Powerful partnerships show a shift in progress, collapsing once competitors into collaborators advancing an industry. Instead of watching these partnerships form, learning organizations must get in on them, bringing their unique value to the partnership equation.

Jodi Ray (Blue Sky eLearn)

Learners are expecting an Amazon-like experience. Learning needs to be easy to access (when and where they want it), easy to navigate to the right content and easy to consume. To drive revenue and engagement, the learners need to be continuously exposed to content important to them. Then the learning experience must deliver engaging learning products that fit their learning style and time limitations. This could be a short 10 minute video related to a specific job related activity they need to do or it could be a live webinar where they can ask the SME questions, or it could be a course they can work through on their own schedule to study for an exam, earn CE or certification. Personalized options and the ability to collaborate with peers set the learner up for success.

Delivering the Amazon-like experience is important because expectations have been set, whether they realize it or not. If you don’t deliver, they will tune you out, they will get frustrated, they will seek out peers outside your organization and ultimately seek out learning elsewhere.

To capitalize on the personalized and engaging learning experience, organizations need a holistic strategy and a solid digital ecosystem of best in breed technologies that are working together. This includes community, member database, marketing automation, eCommerce, LMS reporting/data, and virtual events. By integrating data collected from multiple platforms, associations can make competent decisions on current and future learning deliverables, identify trends, and target content and offerings to specific individuals based on their activity.

Jack McGrath (Digitec Interactive)

There are two trends creating a perfect storm for organizations: automation and the workforce skill gap problem.

As organizations move towards more automation, displaced workers need to be upskilled or reskilled on a continual basis. The second trend happening concurrently is a growing shortage of skilled labor. According to a Pew Research study, over the next 19 years, 10,000 baby boomers will reach retirement age every day. The sad irony is that as automation is displacing more and more workers, organizations cannot find.

The opportunity for associations is to offer apprenticeship programs, which the association can deliver to both small and large industry partners. This model can elevate the association value ramp by offering their members access to a personalized, online apprenticeship system. This will attract new members who want to enroll in the program as well as industry partners, who will want access to these candidates.

Rich Finstein (CommPartners)

I see a trend towards organizations increasingly recognizing the specific education needs and interests of each learner and presenting them with individualized experiences, pathways or curriculums. The experiences can consist of formal or informal learning, live programs and peer to peer idea sharing. The key is treating the learner in a more holistic way and providing them opportunities that enrich and complement each other.

I see this as important because our learners will gravitate towards organizations where they have the most relevant and engaging experiences. It is important to bring together traditional leader led live and on demand education with conversations and sharing through a community. Tight integration of an LMS within an ecosystem of applications, wrapped around the individual learner, will help ensure a more positive and meaningful user experience.

Amanda Batson (ADB Partners)

Several trends will impact the business of lifelong learning in 2018. However, one trend with far-reaching impact is the rampant expansion of smartphones for all things digital. In professional learning, many organizations still think, design, and develop for a larger screen as in a laptop or even a tablet. Yet the smartphone is the ubiquitous tech tool.

The omnipresence and global use of smartphones make this an important trend. Organizations must begin sooner rather than later designing, developing, offering lifelong learning via smartphones. These small screen options will be the snack-size portions explored in recent years, reminder apps especially for use in the workplace, or other segmented experiences that support and extend professional learning.

Stephanie Owen (NWFA)

When I think specifically about the wood flooring industry, I think of social learning. So much is happening via Facebook and Instagram chat groups. I often think our group is unique because hands-on experience is needed and will never been replaced with online learning. The impact of these channels will affect our other networking and learning opportunities. What members think they can get from a social channel conversation in the comfort of their own home, they won’t be willing to sacrifice time and money for face-to-face networking opportunities. We have been leveraging our own group and thread but members themselves are constantly creating new groups and it’s hard to keep up with them all.

We have been leveraging our own group and thread but members themselves are constantly creating new groups and it’s hard to keep up with them all. We may be able to use this as a flipped classroom approach by providing some pre-event engagement before landing on a hands-on experience at an event.

Tony Ellis (NACS)

What current or emerging trend do you feel will most impact organizations in the business of lifelong learning in 2018? Incorporating virtual and augmented reality exercises into in-person learning experiences.Redefining engagement models, content and learning strategies, and related business models. (I know, I’m cheating by combining several things!)

Why do you feel this is such an important trend, and what are some key ways that organizations could/should respond to and/or capitalize on it? As individuals continue to seek out short video tutorials as a primary source of job aid (personal and professional) and peer support via social networking and other mobile-enabled mechanisms, associations and other adult learning providers must rethink their content and learning strategies to fit into shorter, real-time, and accessible formats. Consequently, business models (including fee bearing and subsidized components) must be re-engineered to support the emerging strategies.

Jim Parker (Digitell)

At Digitell, we believe that the online learning trend (Live and On-demand) that has been growing in the higher education space over the past several years (In 2019, 50% of all classes delivered by Universities will be available online) is going to greatly impact associations in 2018. In fact, many of the organizations offering live online learning opportunities are already experiencing a disruption in their existing business models, as more and more of them experience fantastic growth in online participation. The industry is starting to realize that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

The world is filled with people who are interested in what these organizations are offering, and live online events represent an enormous opportunity for organizations to engage these professionals and grow their brand as well as their revenues and membership.
Feeding this trend will be a wave of professionals that prefer to learn online (today, 34% of learners who receive college degrees online are under the age of 25, a 9% increase from 2012).

Associations need to re-evaluate the value of their educational content and understand that the costs to distribute their content have come down to almost nothing, and therefore this trend provides organizations the ability to engage industry professionals with their content for a fraction of the costs associated with physical media.

For associations looking to get in the game, they should begin by creating a content strategy on how to best leverage their educational content to meet the needs of their organization and its members. Once a strategy is in place, they should capture their educational content at their conferences in a professional high-quality format. Throughout the year, the organization should engage their professionals by delivering this content in a variety of different formats and product offerings. Once your program has been in place for an extended length of time, you will want to review your strategies and make the proper adjustments until you find a successful model. In the end, organizations are going to discover that there is an entirely new and exciting segment of professionals who want to engage with them through these online events.

For the associations that are in the game, the ROI of these endeavors is proving to be exponentially greater than most other revenue-generating and marketing efforts. Once senior staff members are in place who are comfortable with these strategies, you will begin to see a big growth in this area. Digitell is already experiencing the beginnings of this movement taking place and that is why I believe that 2018 will be greatly influenced by a shift to engaging more people through online content delivery. When an association can invest $28,000 to Live Stream a 3-day event and their total online revenues exceed $1.2 million, it won’t take long before other organizations get in the game. 2018 is the year online events become main stream.

Jennifer De Vries (BlueStreak Learning)

I have done more Strategy and LMS Requirements writing work this past year. I think that associations are starting to learn from the mistakes of those who went before them. They are willing to make a small investment to get the strategy and LMS right. Hopefully, more associations will use data-driven strategies and technologies, rather than strategies that are developed by opinions or trends.

I’m also hearing more associations ask for and see the value of professional Instructional Design.

From an eLearning industry perspective, I did a bunch of work with virtual reality-based training in the 90s. I went to the Guild’s conference on this topic in July and played with the latest technologies. I know you’ve tried some of them too. It’s getting to the point where some early adopter associations may try this. I think this type of technology will grow in fields that require spacial or physical skills. The technology still makes me a bit nauseous (literally) and I think they need to work out the bugs. I also see too many examples that are like using second life as a classroom. There’s little value in that. Where there is value is having someone operate on a person, or operate equipment in a low risk environment before going into a high risk situation. There can be some value in communication skills, but I think that’s more of a stretch.

Jon Aleckson (Web Courseworks)

What current or emerging trend do you feel will most impact organizations in the business of lifelong learning in 2018?

The Department of Defense has recently given the Experience API (xAPI) a shot in the arm with guidance that DoD learning should “implement the xAPI specification to enable interoperable experience or performance-tracking capabilities, learning analytics, or data integration with multiple applications or systems.”  DoD investment will expand the toolset available to lifelong learning businesses. Accreditors will follow the DoD’s lead and xAPI as a tool to analyze the aggregate educational value of CME activities. Forward-looking content providers will do the same. In 2018, we expect to see organizations using both SCORM and xAPI within the same learning activity for different purposes: SCORM for tracking completion on an individual level, and xAPI for deeper analysis and visualization of learning activity in the aggregate.

Why do you feel this is such an important trend, and what are some key ways that organizations could/should respond to and/or capitalize on it?

There is strong interest among providers in subscription learning, curation, and even AI-driven recommendations as a way of differentiating from low-cost competitors. These models require strong personalized recommendations, and those personalized recommendations require data. That data should help us correlate learner demographics with the learning they engage with most. Learner demographics should include factors that are unique to the lifelong learning market, such as the learner credentials, certifications, specialties, and sub-specialties. We also need data to find other, underrated ways of correlation points that might help us predictively model learner engagement. Experience API promises to give us this level of big data.

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