A new vision for association learning?

July 28, 2012

I spent the past couple of days working with a client’s leadership team on creating a new vision and strategy for learning in their organization. It was a gathering of key team leaders; what others might call committee chairs. These are the volunteers in the trenches, doing the work that results in the association’s various activities.

In working with this client for the past 18 months or so, we’ve been building towards presenting to the board this fall an over-arching vision and strategy for member learning that supports the organization’s established strategic framework. This gathering was just the latest step in the process.

It’s exciting to see this small, relatively young association embrace the future of learning in examining its own operating environment in context with today’s learning revolution. While these volunteer and staff leaders acknowledge the association’s limitations, they haven’t let those limitations inhibit their thinking. “Oh, we don’t have the resources to do that next year? Maybe we will in a few years.” They’re seeking to build a bold vision they can implement in small steps as resources become available.

What’s been exciting to me is that this association is developing a vision and strategy for learning that goes well beyond the traditional, somewhat narrow focus that learning in associations consists only of events like conferences and webinars. They aren’t trying to figure out how to shake up next year’s conference (although maybe they will); they’re thinking about learning in their organization as a “global” activity. Their vision embraces formal, informal, and “situational” learning; the last being what I call their focus on the learning that occurs as a member volunteer (anyone who’s served on a committee knows you get back more than you give). They acknowledge that the association can’t do it all, that there are other organizations doing a better job at some things. Instead of reinventing the wheel, they are planning to purposefully tell members about these other learning sources in addition to the opportunities to be found within the association.

This is the evolution of association learning. It’s not just about “butts in seats,” whether those seats are physical or virtual. It’s about taking an approach to learning that acknowledges most learning takes place outside the “classroom” environment. It embraces the idea that learners are increasingly taking charge of their own learning. And it recognizes that to remain relevant, associations need to widen their perspective to include non-traditional learning opportunities and to open spaces where members can create their own customized learning journeys.

What do you think? Do associations need to expand their vision of what member learning opportunities are? What would your vision of learning in associations look like?

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