Many of my posts focus on disruptions in the association space. What can I say, disruption is interesting. Countless other bloggers, webinars and conference sessions have also wrestled with the challenges caused by the new environment in which we operate, an environment shaped by technological innovation.

EducationWe’re not the only ones figuring out how to both embrace and adapt to what technology has thrown at us. Newspapers, book stores and other industries continue to evolve in response to changes in their markets. Not only is higher education dealing with the impact of a sputtering economy, but the growth of MOOCs – massive open online courses – is causing some consternation in the lower echelons.

Jeff Cobb says, “Clearly, when it comes to refreshing, retooling, and acquiring entirely new skills, associations are an invaluable – and generally undervalued – part of our education system.”

Yet, how many associations watch, learn from and are inspired by educational innovations like these?


MOOCs are receiving mixed reviews. A MOOC is only as good as its instructor. I took a UPenn poetry course from Coursera last fall that was taught by a fabulous professor. The course provided a mix of experiences for me:

  • Reading poems and commentary
  • Listening to audio recordings
  • Watching videos of the professor and his teaching assistants discussing poems
  • Participating in live webcasts, discussion forums and social media
  • Taking quizzes and writing essays and peer evaluations

How does this range of learning modes compare to your courses?

MOOCs are meeting the job market’s demand for new skills. People who have been laid off or who are entering the job market can now take free high-quality university-level courses to develop new skills. There’s even an AP computer science course for high school students.


Associations can no longer claim to be the first and last stop for professional development because the competition is here. Let’s take, as an example, ASAE and the association market. Vendors (like Avectra) and consultants provide free webinars and educational content. Self-organized groups and for-profit companies host conferences, for example, EventCamp and Digital Now.

Many for-profit educational membership sites are thriving too, like CopyBlogger’s Authority for content marketers, Veterinary Information Network and the forthcoming BlueLine for police officers.


Many of the education providers hired by your competition are “independent, entrepreneurial subject matter experts, or eSMEs,” a term I learned from Jeff Cobb. He says, “If you represent a traditional provider of continuing education and professional development, the time to come to terms with (the rise of the eSME) is now.”

Cobb advises associations to decide if they want to become a distribution platform for eSMEs and, if so, to figure out what they need to do to achieve that, otherwise your competitors will snap them up. Make a better offer – help them with their goals so they’ll help you with yours. Don’t think you’re doing them a favor; it might actually be the reverse.

Mobile technology

As more and more people access the Web using phones and tablets, education is going mobile. According to a PBS survey, 74 Percent of teachers now use tablets in their lessons. A new app, Top Hat, transforms students’ phones into classroom engagement tools.

In a post by Jeff Hurt about education and learning trends, he wrote of the rise of “bite-sized learning in small chunks that leads to specific implementation of outcomes.” Makes sense to me: when I was studying for the CAE, I would have loved a quiz or flashcard app for my phone.

How can you meet your members’ needs for “learning snacks?”

Individualized learning

We live in a customized world. The weekly email from our supermarket knows which sale items to feature based on our past purchases. Websites display advertisements about a vacation destination we’ve been Googling.

Education is no different. We enter a classroom (virtual or not) with different levels of knowledge and we learn at different speeds. Why must education be one-size fits all? Increasingly, it isn’t.

Voxy, an online language-learning platform, offers “personalized lessons which adapt based on your level, interests and goals.” Leo’s Pad brings adaptive game play to early childhood education. InBloom is “making personalized learning a reality” for students by integrating and streamlining schools’ technology resources.

What individualized learning options do you provide?

Flipped classroom

MOOCs, like Khan Academy, are based on the flipped classroom model, which high school teacher Lance Bledsoe explains in this video for the parents of his math students. In a flipped classroom, students watch instructional videos (or lectures) as their homework; classroom time is reserved for asking questions and discussing and solving problems. As Jeff Hurt says in a post about how the brain learns: “Talking trumps listening.” 

What percentage of your webinars, online courses and in-person educational sessions rely on the old-fashioned (and less effective) lecture method? Is it time to flip it around?

Even this shallow dip into educational innovations shows the possibilities for enhancing the effectiveness and success of your professional development programs.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who needs to find time for another MOOC.