Learning joins the trend watch

August 8, 2011

Strategy is an important element in association management. Whether your mantra is “strategic planning is dead!” or “long live strategic planning,” there is no doubt that in today’s world we need to be strategic about where we’re going and what we choose to do.

In one session I attended at an ASAE annual meeting, “Future Trends: State-of-the-Art Environmental Scanning in Associations,” content leaders Jim Dalton and Alan Balkema highlighted new research on trends and environmental scanning, including 50 trends identified in the book Designing Your Future: Key Trends, Challenges, and Choices Facing Association and Nonprofit Leaders. The research included how (and if) associations are engaging in environmental scanning. Dalton distinguished two context types associations might use: the general environment – scanning the entire universe using categories known to be major change areas – and the task environment, which is a focus on the immediate conditions faced by members by demographics and market segments. ASAE, for example, used a STEEP model (Social, Technology, Economic, Environmental, Political) for its general environmental scanning.

Dalton offered two critical questions to consider about each of 50 trends on the list:

(1)    Will the trend have significant bearing on your members?

(2)    If so, how and why will this trend have an effect on your members?

In answering these questions, Dalton says, you convert a trend from the general environment into a strategic issue in your members’ task environment.

I was excited to see a number of these trends relating directly to learning, because in similar trend lists identified over the years, learning issues have been more inferred rather than being the focus of trends themselves. The rise of these trends demonstrates the increasing importance of learning to association management.

So what are these learning-focused trends? They fall into four of the five STEEP categories and are listed below (one in the fifth category can be inferred). Think about them using the two questions above, and you just may identify some strategic learning issues to which your organization should be paying attention. Note: emphasis placed is mine.

Social: A growing segment of the world’s population fully expects part of its education to be delivered online.


    –  More people use web and communication technologies to consume media, learn, work, and play.

    –  Savvy individuals will be better-educated because they have used online personalized resources to learn in ways that suit them best.

    –  Employers and managers will reap benefits from the increased use of social media in recruitment, hiring, efficiency, and training.

    –  Businesses and government agencies increasingly use blogs, Google Docs, Facebook, and LinkedIn to publish and collect information.

    –  Professions will become hyper-specialized, creating knowledge gaps and communications issues between specialties and subspecialties.


    –  Businesses and organizations cut back or shorten events and activities to conserve resources due to continued economic uncertainty.

    –  Free online event promotion tools create more free events, which compels unique, interesting content to move customers to pay for events.

    –  The incoming potential workforce does not meet employers’ expectations for their education level and experience.

Environmental: the only trend category with no direct link to learning, although its role can be inferred in this one: Eco-literacy and ethical consumption become entrenched in the marketplace as business responds to the shift in societal values.


    –  Governments fund training to try to reduce welfare costs, cut or prevent unemployment, and speed the economic recovery.

Considering these 11 trends (out of 50) and identifying how they impact your members could open new possibilities for association learning opportunities. What connections do you see between these trends from ASAE’s research and the work you do every day? What possibilities do you see for your association?

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