Reflections for Association Learning Leaders

I’ve been working closely with several nonprofit and other associations over the past two years and have been thinking about association challenges and opportunities as we move through 2022.  I’m sharing what I have been learning and pondering in case it helps you as you think about your work. 

1. A learning strategy is more important than ever.

Associations were at various stages of building out a learning strategy when the pandemic hit. Suddenly the content focus shifted to survival, and it became hard to be intentional about how various modes of learning were deployed to move the needle on what mattered before.
The pandemic forced a deeper appreciation for asynchronous learning, online learning, and tools/jobaids to support learning. It has also reminded us how much we need each other to learn and create social change. 2022 is a great year to integrate approaches into a learning strategy that moves the needle on what matters.

2. Good curriculum is the foundation for all learning programs.

I am regularly asked to zhuzh up PowerPoints to make them more learningful. I start by backing up the truck to create an intentional curriculum that centers what people need to know and practice. I am leading seven curriculum development projects this spring, each effort starting with a review of what already exists. My conclusion: there is a whole lot of information dump out there, and sadly that doesn’t lead to learning.
Good curriculum is the cornerstone of an effective learning program. It contains all of the lessons, activities, tools, and jobaids you need to deploy in every different way across your program. It is the cornerstone of your financial and membership strategy too!

3. Investing in the capacity of trainers in your state or region makes your job – and the job of nonprofits in your state – easier and more impactful.

Good curriculum is design. Let’s talk about delivery. Teaching is a professional skill. It is the specialized application of knowledge, skills and attributes designed to help individuals do things differently.

Fortunately we have many strong trainers and facilitators in our sector. We need more. I spent last year observing too many webinars led by consultants with a false sense of confidence in their training ability. Imagine the power of doubling the number of effective teachers advancing your learning strategy. 

4. We talk about the role of data and research in social sector solutions. We also have to stay on top of adult learning research as we offer learning solutions.

Learning styles aren’t a thing. Direct instruction is important in learning. Worked examples help novices gain skills. Experts leave out roughly 70% of needed knowledge. Our brains can only handle two channels of information at a time, a rule violated in many PowerPoint presentations. Equity workshops and webinars have very little impact on equity. Evaluations are best when they avoid Likert scales and create baselines for comparison.
It is hard to keep up with all of the adult learning “research to practice” interpreters out there. I make it my business to try, and I still have a stack of articles and books on my coffee table! Our 2022 reflection on curriculum and strategy invites us to dive deeper into adult learning research to maximize our influence over the busy people who attend our programs.

5. We are most effective when we shift our focus to where the work happens.   

Many associations have a strategy based on synchronous learning events: workshops, webinars, and conferences. We exist, however, is to help people in how they do their jobs. I’ve been deepening my study of performance-based instruction over the past year, practicing how to move performance support (of which learning is a part) closer to the work flow. As one expert in the field wrote, “knowledge and skills alone can’t fix a problem.”
The simple question “What do people need to do as a result of this workshop/webinar/whatever?” invites a whole range of new possibilities for our learning programs: performance supports, tools, accountability networks, reflection gatherings, technical assistance, job aids, etc. I have seen two shifts in focus with this approach: work on the front end to create tools/supports means you offer fewer workshops and webinars; and a focus on building capacity within organizations and communities to hold the work.  

Published by Nancy

I work at the intersection of learning, nonprofits, and leadership. I am a teacher, instructional designer, and nonprofit person who has worn every hat possible. I regular write, speak, and consult on learning strategy, design, and leadership.

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