How Associations Can Use Data and Technology Meet the Needs of Today’s (and Tomorrow’s) Workforce


Logically, we live in the most technologically advanced era in human history. And you’ve probably read or heard a lot about the pace of this advancement being faster than ever. For example, this article provides a quite detailed exploration of technological advancement.

But we’re not here to talk about the pace of tech evolution. Rather, how that has implications for associations. This quickly advancing age means lifelong learning becomes a career imperative. Things taught in school can be obsolete in a matter of just a few years.

Workers can’t stay in school their entire lives, nor can they feasibly return to college every few years to upgrade their knowledge and skill set. At this point, a light bulb should be going off for association executives.

Consider this: A recent report found 51 percent of members joined associations for benefits like networking and continuing education. In the report two years prior, that figure was only 42 percent. Meanwhile, the number of members saying they joined out of a sense of professional responsibility dropped five percentage points between 2016 and 2018. In other words, more people are joining associations with education in mind.

Furthermore, in a report commissioned by the Executive MBA Council and the International Consortium for Executive Education, more than a quarter of those surveyed found certifications and digital badges to be a useful substitute for a degree. That report, “Understanding the Implications of the Digital Generation on Business Education,” also found these digital offerings of greater interest to those not seeking MBAs or other graduate-level education. This interest in non-traditional education presents an enormous opportunity for associations.

Associations can – and should – step in to provide a valuable alternative for traditional education in order to keep today’s (and especially tomorrow’s) workers at the top of their fields and industries. However, it’s also important that associations understand this rapid pace of tech advancement has an impact on that very education and learning itself.

More than ever, learning is taking place outside a classroom. The tech-fueled evolution has ushered in advanced learning platforms, including online courses and interactive classes. It’s not enough to simply offer traditional programs. Fortunately, it so happens this technology can be used to develop and create the education programs your members want and need. Making the learner central in your vision for education will help both members and the organization. How is this done?

The first thing the association needs to understand is today’s learners. They want to learn on their time, at their pace and in their comfort zone. That means exploring a variety of formats, such as virtual events, live events, live online events and webinars, flipped classrooms, podcasts and microlearning.

Technology makes these easy to accomplish, and using your own member data can help you determine which to offer.

Using Tech and Data to Fuel Your Education Offerings

Thanks to technology, associations are awash with data about their members. This can be invaluable to understand the needs the members have for education. A common problem, though, is that much of this data is siloed. Separate databases can keep you from gaining a holistic view of your membership. If you have a separate working AMS and LMS, the critical initial step to a data-driven education program is integrating the two.

With integrated information and synchronized data, you can mine this information to determine what members are interested in. Data points such as professional background and purchase history can work together to provide personalized learning options for members and personalized marketing opportunities for associations.

For example, as members enroll or complete online courses, the integrated system transfers those course completions and certification details to the member’s overall profile. Your AMS now has readily available data about the learning opportunities that member is interested in. You have greater visibility of your membership, and with predictive analytics can anticipate the needs and expectations of members over time.
Today’s learners want personalized opportunities, and all the data you have about members can provide a view of what they’re buying and not buying, which formats are working and those that aren’t going over well, allowing you the agility to meet needs before reaching member disengagement.

With data-driven information on what learners need, tech-advanced formats can deliver it. Online, especially cloud-based, platforms offer real-time, anytime access to the association’s library of resources and information. And, the association can always keep track of which materials are being accessed – a perpetual data cycle that feeds itself.

The association can offer on-demand recordings from conferences and webinars almost immediately, giving access to members who couldn’t attend in-person. Notifications of newly available courses or offerings can be sent to the specific members who might be interested, based on what your AMS knows about them.

One well-known organization recently overhauled its education offerings, and provides an example of the benefits it can deliver. Toastmasters, which has been around since 1924, teaches public speaking and leadership skills. Looking to upgrade its education program, Toastmasters launched an online-based platform with customized options for members. The organization listened to its members and responded with a program that meets the needs of today’s learners.

It really isn’t rocket science. In fact, it’s data science, and it’s really not that difficult once you take the steps to ensure your association is generating the data about members and compiling it in a seamless, useful system.

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