Report Looks at What Customers Want From Professional Development

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"[Organizations] that take the time to assess their current education programs and look for ways to engage younger members will benefit in the long run."

That came from a survey conducted earlier this year by non-profit technology firm Abila of 1,000 association members in the United States. The report, about aligning education strategy with your customers, explored topics across three age segments—Millennials, Generation Xers and Boomers.

Here are eight action items from the newly released Abila report:

Look at all-inclusive models. Just like a vacation, seeing an "all-inclusive" label can be very appealing. But there's a disconnect. While the survey found that most members want education and training to be all-inclusive in the dues, only about one-third of organizations take this approach. The rest prefer the pay-as-you-go model. But this has very little appeal, especially to Millennials. (This is a little counter-intuitive if you think about pay-per-drink strategies being associated with younger people.)

Choose your content wisely—look at your data. The biggest driver for professional training across all age groups is content—67% for boomers, 61% for Gen Xers and 53% for Millennials. Almost half of the people cited "practical skills" as the most important content for them. Case studies, hands-on learning and leadership/management skills were next.

Test time of day. Convenience was the next most important factor for signing up for professional training, and within that, time of day, even over location. (It doesn't list a best time of day though.) Gen Xers value time of day almost twice as much as boomers do. Speaker/instructor was very low—perhaps people assume you're getting a good one.

Stick with an hour. The data show that people pay the most attention during one-hour seminars and courses—and that these types of courses best meet the everyday needs. Sessions that are 45 minutes also scored well as did one day. (See below.)

At the SIPA Annual Conference, June 5-7 in Washington, D.C., two sessions will cover professional learning:

  • E-Learning Platforms - Which is Right for You? with Chelsea Brookes, associate eLearning product manager, HCPro, and Megan Hall, senior manager of events & digital products, Diversified Communications
  • How We Attract 18,000 People and Millions of Dollars to Our Seminars Year after Year, with Lynn Freer, president, Spidell Publishing Inc.

Look at putting on one-day events, especially if you have a local following (like Spidell does). SIPA hosted three popular one-day events between April 2016 and February 2017 on conferences and training programs, sales and marketing strategies, and retention and onboarding. They proved to be excellent additions to SIPA program offerings and very well-attended. Almost 60% of the people surveyed by Abila preferred the in-person course/seminar they took vs. the multi-day conference (47%).

Engage generations in different ways. Tailored programs and targeted content by generation can have a truly beneficial effect on your education programs. Understanding the various needs of your customers, depending upon where they are in their career journeys, can pay huge dividends. For example, Millennials value a "learning by doing" approach. And while two-thirds surveyed seek professional development and training to stay current with best practices and the latest innovations, millennials rank learning a new skill as the number one priority.

Include those takeaways. Most members want access to documents they can read and review. While we live in a digital world with digital natives, real documents that can be easily referenced later greatly appeal across all generations.

Be practical and pragmatic. Generally speaking, members want one thing from their education experience – practical, pragmatic information they can start using today. Focus on courses that offer very practical tips with detailed information on how to implement.

The report concludes that now's a good time to make adjustments to your learning strategy—including your current programs, your pricing models, and your technology platforms. "There is a hunger for good, quality education programs," explained Amanda Myers, Abila's director of member strategy and the co-author of the study, in a news release.

The report can be accessed here

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…