For many associations, the mere thought of creating an online learning environment for members has them running for the hills. So, why all the drama? What’s so scary about creating a simple online learning course? Well, like anything else, it requires additional time, resources and an attention to both current and future technological trends.

But, when done right, offering an online learning benefit to your members is one of the single most valuable perks you can provide. And, in a time when technology has changed the world as we know it, and our perception of “convenience” means we expect to access information in less than seconds, online learning isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s an absolute must.

Start With the Technology

To get things rolling, think about what your “Super Members” or highly engaged members want. Would they prefer to attend live webinars that enable them to ask presenters questions on the spot, but also requires them to show up at a specific time? Or would they prefer to watch an on-demand course on their own time, at their own leisure? For many associations, the answer is somewhere in the middle, i.e., a blend of live and on-demand delivery, to satisfy a diverse database of members.

If you don’t know, ask. Survey your members. Talk to them one-on-one. Get to know them. Remember, building an online learning program from the ground up is a worthwhile investment in time and resources that can yield great return, so take your time and get it right.

Once you feel confident you understand your members, you’re ready to research the varying technologies offered within the market. This stage can certainly feel overwhelming, but the trick is to think long-term and big picture.

Don’t box your association into a platform that only offers live webinar delivery tools, without any on-demand functionality, just because of the price tag. Find a learning management system (LMS) that is all-inclusive. In taking this path, you can start small, with plans to build out your offerings as your members become more engaged, and your board and staff become more comfortable.

Content and Continuing Education

Next up, and perhaps the biggest leap of all (that does send many into flight mode): For what content or topics will you design online courses? Just like the first step, this step requires knowing who your members are and what they’re looking for. And, keep in mind, the answer to this question may vary depending on career level, meaning different content will register with different generations.

Think about what types of material a recent grad who is trying to land a job is looking for. Similarly, what content would a mid-level manager who is hoping to take the next step in his or her career seek? And, how can you provide this content to them in a format that aligns with their technology comfort level?

If your plan is to seek continuing education credit approval through your state or association credentialing body, start there. Look at what the requirements are for content to enable you to offer credits, and build out your library around that. But, remember it’s equally important to tie in accrediting body requirements with generational content and technological preferences.

And by the way, don’t forget that your association can become its own credentialing body. If you are able to develop courses that will certify your members in a specific subject area, then consider offering a certificate along with those courses, that they can hang on their wall and post to their LinkedIn profile.

Subject Matter Experts vs. Exceptional Presenters

Now that you’ve decided on the content, your hunt for a presenter begins. Keep in mind being a subject matter expert doesn’t always equal a great presenter, especially when it comes to online presentations. Presenting for an online session requires an extra layer of confidence in any presenter, because there’s very little instant gratification or validation, like audience smiles or eye contact. Virtual presenting can sometimes feel as though you’re spending an hour of your time talking to a wall, with absolutely no confirmation that your audience is listening, rather than browsing their Twitter feed.

The trick is to find subject matter experts that understand this, and relish in meeting this challenge. They have to, at all costs, avoid a one-way lecture. Online lectures that are one-sided are the quickest way to lose member engagement. There are too many fun bells and whistles available that can break down the virtual barriers between presenter and  audience. Tactics like polling the audience after each section or incorporating a chat window so the audience can form an online community around the topic are two great examples. Other options include playing YouTube videos, or even allowing the audience to ask your presenters questions live over the phone lines.

Whatever you use, just remember that your presenter and the technology have to be equipped to go that extra mile to cultivate a lively, interactive session if you want your audience to stick around.

Launching Your Online Courses

It’s time to start marketing your offerings! Tune into part two of this blog next week to learn some basic marketing and online program launch tips!

Also, don’t forget to register for our upcoming webinar Epic eLearning: Creating Captivating Online Courses to hear industry thought leader Tom Morrison dig deeper into this very topic!