When was the last time you took a step back and looked at the big picture of your educational strategy? It’s so easy to get laser-focused on the next webinar, the next meeting, the next seminar... and lose track of how your educational content can move your association forward. Following the three simple steps below can help you adopt that high-level perspective you may be missing.
To make a plan for where you're going, you need to know where you've been. Start by doing an inventory of all your content, regardless of the stage of development it's in, and build a spreadsheet with all of those resources. Take inventory of the courses and content that currently exist.
In addition, do you have an outline of a course you would like to develop someday? Drop it in the spreadsheet. Do you have content you’ve retired but may still be relevant? Drop it in the spreadsheet. Does your association have a magazine, a journal, or a YouTube channel? Drop it in the spreadsheet. Outlining all of your content in one place helps you see what you have, what’s missing, and what you might be able to repurpose.
Here’s a sample of what the first few rows of your inventory might look like:
Now that you have your inventory, add another tab (sheet) to your file. This is where you copy and paste (or create from scratch!) the learning outcomes you’ve created for content that already exists. You want to see what your learners can understand and do as a result of the education you provide.
Once you have the learning outcomes for current content outlined, start writing learning outcomes for the other artifacts you found during your inventory. For example, you have a white paper on a particular topic:
Your scope and sequence is also aspirational, so write learning outcomes for any content you may want to create in the future.
Here’s an example of some of the learning outcomes you might have on your scope and sequence:
Once you have documented your learning outcomes, and you’ve linked all the resources from your inventory, start thinking about your learner types and add them as columns across the top.
It's common to have learner types based on role type in the organization or career experience, among other differentiators. Go through your learning outcomes and mark an “X” in the column for each learner type that would benefit from that outcome.
You may find this exercise difficult at first, as you didn’t initially create the content with specific learner types in mind—but that’s to be expected. After you complete this activity, you’ll have a better sense of how to develop content for specific learners. As with all practices, your process will improve with time.
Next, add columns that capture the topics your content covers, and mark an “X” for each learning outcome that aligns with that topic. It’s common to find that you have a lot of content for some topics (e.g., COVID-19) and not enough content for others (e.g., DEI). Or, you may find you have too much on a certain topic that addresses more complex content, and not enough entry-level or introductory content.
Here’s what that might look like:
Now you will start to see gaps in your content. For instance, it's common for associations to include the development of relationships with people who are new to the field written into their strategic plan. Do you have content that addresses the specific learning needs of someone who has been in that career for five years or fewer? Have you created content for managers to help them supervise and develop people who are new to that career? Is your content trying to appeal to too many learners? Is content available for non-members to help them become familiar with your brand?
Look at 2-3 competitors in your space who are also creating content. Add tabs (sheets) to your spreadsheet for their learning outcomes based on the content you see on their site. Then, identify where your education content overlaps and where there are gaps. How can your association differentiate itself from the competition?
Review your organization’s strategic plan through the lens of your new scope and sequence. Where can your educational content move your association forward? For instance, it's common to see “Expand the reach of our organization” in a strategic plan. Which courses would be appropriate for non-members, students, or people in adjacent fields, and how can they be used as a recruitment tool? Add this as a column on your scope and sequence.
When it comes time to write your annual report, you’ll be ready to share with leadership all the ways you support the strategic goals of the association. If you don’t see a direct link between your content and your strategic plan, it may be time to have a conversation with leadership about the purpose of your educational content and its role within the organization.
Completing these three steps we have outlined above will give you:
Doing this work also lays the foundation for your next steps to:
All of these steps are reviewed in more detail during our Jump-Start Workshop, a service that Blue Sky eLearn offers for our association clients. During this two-hour conversation, we cover how to complete these three steps, as well us how to:
Here’s a testimonial from a client who recently completed a Jump-Start Workshop:
“The Society for Research on Nicotine & Tobacco (SRNT) was very pleased to participate in Blue Sky eLearn’s Jump-Start Workshop with Dr. Kristen Wall. With changes in the field of nicotine and tobacco research, as well as shifting member needs, staff knew we were due for a strategy reset but hadn’t yet focused on a starting point.
Based on her broad experience in adult learning and familiarity with the association world, Kristen was able to lead us through an examination of possible strategies and business models, as well as suggest ways to better organize our content.
We came out of this very personal, highly tailored workshop with a clearer understanding of, and agreement on, the goals and objectives for SRNT’s educational platform, and with a stronger focus on our unique value to members and to the field. We are working our way through the list of practical next steps Kristen provided, and I’m confident our strategy reset will bring a new level of success. She has helped SRNT to chart a new path forward.
Whether you’re in the planning stages, or have already launched your education and training program, I highly recommend Blue Sky eLearn’s Jump-Start Workshop.”
— Bruce Wheeler, Executive Director
About the Author
Dr. Kristen Wall, MA, EdD is the Director of Learning Strategy and Fractional Chief Learning Officer at Blue Sky eLearn. She started her career in education as a junior high teacher, then worked in higher education for 15 years working primarily with online adult learners. Her work focused on the professional development of faculty, providing learning opportunities for over 800 adjunct faculty teaching 2,600 courses per year. In 2018 she decided to leave higher education and started work as a consultant, ultimately landing full-time with Blue Sky eLearn and working as the Director of Learning Strategy. She consults with clients across the association space, working in diverse fields like medicine, health care quality, insurance, oil and gas, and state government.
Kristen completed both a master’s and doctorate in Adult Learning. Her areas of interest include effective assessment of learning and using qualitative research to understand how adults apply what they have learned. Outside of work, she enjoys hiking, travel, and reading detective novels.
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