Let’s be honest. Creating and maintaining noteworthy online learning programs is challenging. Many associations struggle with finding the right balance between live webinars and on-demand learning, while others struggle with launching any type of e-learning in the first place.

In a time when we’re all watching the most elite and talented athletes in the world fight their hardest to overcome the challenges that come with competing in the Olympics, it got me thinking: What are the key characteristics that truly separate an online learning course from the rest, making it gold medal worthy?

Here are four ideas that floated to the top:

Know Your Sport

Just like any Olympic athlete who spends his or her days analyzing a course or researching the competition, you have to study your surroundings. Take the time to understand technological trends and enhancements, what your competitors are up to, and most importantly, what your members care about. Here are three tips for keeping up with what’s happening in the association online learning industry:

  1. Subscribe to industry blogs like Tagoras, Associations Now, and Forward Together
  2. If you don’t already have a Twitter account, create one and follow hashtag #assnchat
  3. Download research studies like Abila’s Member Engagement Study to hear directly from members

Practice Makes Perfect

Athlete who’re truly dedicated to mastering their craft know every competition is also a learning experience. The same can be said for every step your organization takes as you aim to better your online learning offerings.

Remember, your first time delivering a live webinar may not be perfect, but it’s an opportunity to learn and improve for your next one. Similarly, if your association has been delivering online learning for years and is seeing a slump in numbers, stop and pay attention to what you could be doing better.

There’s No “I” in Team

Sure, not every Olympic sport is a team competition, but that doesn’t mean those athletes aren’t part of something bigger than themselves, with a support system that gets them ready for the world stage.

For associations, there are two critical team elements for you to take advantage of. The first is, of course, your staff. No matter how big or small your association, lean on one another to deliver your member benefits like online learning.

The second element is to work with vendors that offer a services component to help you expand your support system even further.

When we watch athletes like Michael Phelps, or Aly Raisman who are both considered veterans in their sports, but are still as incredible as ever you can’t help but think about the effort they’ve both put in to last as long as they have.

Stay Limber

For online learning programs, all of the elements already mentioned, like understanding your sport, perfecting your craft, and being team-oriented, are, of course, key to long-lasting success. But, perhaps the most important characteristic is agility.

Whether you’re starting from scratch, or refreshing offerings that have been around for 10 years, ensure you set your association up to be flexible and scalable. If we’ve learned anything about technology and members in the past few years, it’s that they are both evolving. Keep that evolution in mind as you plan for the short-term, and the future.