How to engage association members with online learning Caroline Lawless Published on September 24, 2015 Engaged members are one of your association’s most valuable assets. Most associations understand that engagement is essential for member retention. Disinterested members are less likely to renew once subscription time comes around again. But engaged members can also help your association to grow, most obviously through word-of-mouth and personal recommendations. Associations can be less aware of online learning as a powerful tool that can boost member engagement from that critical first day of sign-up. Try these simple but effective tips to ensure your online training programs are engaging members all year round. Engaged members are active members, aware of your association’s investment in their professional development. But without a good reason to stay in touch, it can be difficult to find a reason to stay top of your members’ minds. Online learning transmits one of the clearest signals of your interest in member development. It provides a real value add to learners and gives your association a valid reason to stay in regular contact throughout the cycle. Because members are usually at their most engaged in the early days of membership, that makes it the ideal time to start educating them about the catalog of learning and training offerings they won’t want to miss. Day 1: Engage members from the day they join Engagement must begin with membership. It’s a lot more difficult to win back the lost attention and interest of association members than to create and maintain it from the beginning. On the day they join your association, members have made a psychological investment and are ready to be impressed by the value of your learning and training offerings. But that process shouldn’t start with sign-up. You will need to have already established a clear program for how and when to introduce members to their new continuing professional development options. If you have invested in a learning management system, you are already a few steps ahead. A good LMS will include a suite of tools you can use to keep learners engaged for the lifetime of their membership. Start by integrating online learning into your onboarding and induction processes. Include information about learning and training programs in introductory documents and communications. Create consistency between offline materials, your association website and learning management system. By branding your LMS and having it tightly integrated with your Association Management System (AMS), you help members to experience it as an extension of your association that they can easily access whenever they want. Day 2: Reach out to members across channels It isn’t enough to present members with URLS for your website and learning management system and expect them to use them. Give them a good reason to visit. Informing members about the full range of relevant online and training programs provides a great reason to reach out at first and check in later. By making new members aware of all your online channels, you make it easier for them to stay on top of deadlines and due dates. Some associations avoid using social media to engage members as they fear they won’t have sufficient content to keep communication consistent. But the nature and structure of online training provides a great reason for regularly communicating helpful information that has real value for learners. Day 3: Share engaging learning and training resources Members look to associations for thought leadership. One simple way to communicate value in the early stages of membership is to share access to a library of resources that are updated regularly. Instead of sending files, which can be risky, time-consuming and impractical, upload resources to a shared location, like your LMS. By storing resources in a shared location, you encourage new members to visit your website, activate their credentials and introduce themselves to your range of industry expertise. You also create a library of valuable resources you can use to engage members throughout the year. Excellent searching capabilities and the ability to browse by different categories, such as topics and certification programs, will make it easy for members to quickly find the content of most interest to them. Day 5: Enroll new members early When members enroll in an online learning or training program, they are more likely to engage with your association for the lifetime of their membership. Once you have made new members aware of your website and learning management system, email them a link to a catalog where they can browse relevant courses. Start dates and deadlines create a natural sense of urgency that you can reference to drive action and engagement in those crucial first months of membership. Schedule course start dates throughout the year. A regular calendar gives your courses the best chance of engaging new members and reminding lapsing members of the tangible value your association provides when the time comes to renew. Day 7: Engaging content engages association members Keeping learners engaged is a lot easier if your learning and training content is itself engaging. Courses in themselves won’t engage members. Clear and informative content is essential to retaining the interest of your audiences. Course content should be tailored to member segments in your association. Engaging content also needs to be interactive and available in a range of media types, including visual and video, to suit different styles of learners. You might want to consider using an authoring tool like Adobe Captivate, Articulate Storyline, Elucidat or iSpringPro to build some interactive content which can be imported to your LMS in SCORM or Tin Can format. Day 10: Create a collaborative learning community One of the most successful methods for engaging learners is to help them to communicate and collaborate with each other. Collaborative learning is truly engaged. Members are more likely to value their continuing professional development and online learning if they can see their peers also value it. Members frequently mention community when asked about what they value most from their association. Open up your online and social profiles to facilitate learner discussion. Forums can help circulate expertise through your association by allowing members to answer each others’ questions and share their real-life experiences and war stories. Day 30: Measure the engagement of your online learning Even if you have done an amazing job engaging new members, you will still need to make a consistent effort to engage them throughout the year. A good place to start is by measuring the engagement rates of recent courses and training programs. Assess enrollment and completion rates as a ratio of total membership. Send a survey after the completion of course components and tweak your offerings accordingly. At an individual level, retarget courses to members yet to complete them. You can use the reporting features in your LMS to single out members most in need of re-engagement and most in risk of lapsing. Day 45: Engage association advocates Take note of your biggest fans and incentivize them to share their experiences. Look out for bloggers, thought leaders and influencers in your community who can be incentivized to share their positive experiences online. Advocates might deserve free membership, depending on how many new sign-ups they refer, or consider awarding a prize or gift voucher for the most popular contributor to your forum each month. Always offer an incentive to your most passionate advocates and influencers so they remember you appreciate their engagement. Day 60: Re-engage members Use the findings from learning and training reports to develop a re-engagement strategy for members most likely to lapse. If a member has enrolled in a course but not completed it, reach out and learn why. Provide members with alternative ways of completing courses if your current structure isn’t convenient. Repurpose course content for mobile for members who find desktop learning inconvenient, for example. When designing learning and training programs, build in communications to coincide with key dates such as deadlines and assessments. Keeping members informed also gives you a reason to drive them to engage with your website and learning management system so your association stays top of mind. Day 90: Get inspired by other associations Inspiration from industry peers will help you to stay up-to-date with the latest ways to engage your members. The ASAE has a great range of resources in which experts from a huge range of associations share ideas about how to keep members actively involved after sign up. Maintain a folder of ideas and tips to implement when the time comes to reassess your association offerings. Day 180: Transform individual courses into designations Learning paths provide a great opportunity to structure courses so that they encourage members to stay with and renew membership. Instead of viewing continuing professional development credits as individual units, structure complementary courses into learning paths, designations or formal certification programmes that will give your members some longer term goals to work towards as part of their continuing professional development. Day 330: Structure courses strategically Support the good work you have done throughout the year with an extra push a month before membership comes up for renewal. This is the time to communicate news about updated offerings and their relevance to changes in your industry. Use learnings from reports about member behavior to create targeted and personalized messages most likely to entice your most valuable member segments at the point of renewal. Engaged members are ambassadors for your association who are more likely to stay with you for the long haul. Investment in online learning is a win-win that creates more effective members who are passionately engaged with their association. Learn more about how LearnUpon can engage your association members. Schedule a demo with one of our account managers.