by Barry Kelly | July 01, 2016

There’s no question that associations see the value of online learning, but are they embracing it to its fullest potential? Yes and no. According to Association Learning + Technology 2016, an annual report by Tagoras that studies the trend, almost 90 percent of associations provide some type of technology-based learning. And 52.8 percent of groups that use technology for educational offerings report that doing so has increased the organization’s net revenue as a result.

Despite these encouraging numbers, most associations appear to approach the use of technology for learning in an ad-hoc, informal way. This underscores the huge opportunity. Associations should consider offering—or hiring a chief learning officer who can facilitate—a more holistic learning approach to technology-enhanced learning. A comprehensive and strategic learning initiative can have a real impact on members, drive conversion and engagement, and increase renewals, value and overall revenue.

Just as the term implies, holistic learning is more of an all-encompassing approach and its efforts should be extended across the entire member experience. Here are the key pillars of a holistic learning approach and examples of how they can be applied to association strategy.

1. Audience Development. Online learning experiences are often overlooked for new audience-development initiatives or membership acquisition. Using webinars, industry updates, free introductory skills courses or research presentations in exchange for user information, email addresses or other important registration data will help associations build highly-qualified new leads for its membership program. The nonprofit organization Lamaze International utilizes an evidence-based, online learning approach to generate new interest, offering one free class in order to engage new audience members.

2. Conversion. Once associations have a new membership lead, they can employ online learning experiences to encourage a visitor or registrant to move forward to the status of paid member. This can be done by adding a pay wall inside the learning experience that would require a visitor to purchase membership in order to continue; incorporating membership offers (such as one-time discounts) at critical points; or bundling learning offers with membership, like a pitch to buy an online course and a first-year membership for a special price.

3. Retention. Maintaining an engaged and educated member base is core to the mission of any association. Aside from the process of formal certifications, there’s a lot of room for more informal online learning or information delivery. Drip-education campaigns, industry expert webinars and how-to programs are just a few of the ways groups can offer useful resources and provide quality engagement to current members.

4. Increased Lifetime Value. While education programs can be a direct source of revenue for some organizations, a number of non-direct revenue-enhancement opportunities can be created as a byproduct of education offerings. Bundling online and offline training or learning is one of the most obvious; for example, a group could bundle the annual conference attendance fee plus supplemental online courses. Other tactics include bundling additional products, like books or reports, or adding instructor or one-on-one coach access. Both are effective in increasing revenue per order.

5. Sponsored Learning. One of the most overlooked areas of holistic programing is sponsored learning. Allowing advertisers to sponsor courses or webinars offers them the benefits of higher engagement. There is also a lot of deep data that can be collected from learning experiences.

Associations are well aligned to extend their learning strategies to a holistic model. In most cases, online learning or technology-enabled learning is already being delivered, core learning content is already being written and the key technology infrastructure is in place—all that’s needed is a platform or chief learning officer prepared to roll out a full suite of strategies. Those that do will no doubt unlock new sources of revenue, bolster the lifetime value of its members and optimize conversion.