LMS and Community: First Year Lessons Learned

LMS and Community: First Year Lessons Learned

It has been almost a year since CommPartners and Higher Logic began formally collaborating with the premise that learning in its many forms is a natural extension of community engagement. This concept is not new for most of us. I remember many conversations that took place at ASAE Annual Conferences and other meetings over the years about the virtues of social learning.  Everyone agreed that the notion of peer to peer, sharing of ideas should accompany and be integrated with knowledge shared by experts.  After all, when we think of the best learning experiences, it’s typically a conference with our community peers.  We value the sessions but a significant part of our reason for attending is the knowledge we receive from colleagues.  So why is online learning experiences so segmented?

While in theory this sounded like a wise idea, the execution of social learning was slow to take hold. There are likely many reasons for this, but the lack of an online platform that truly enabled Web based social experiences was not helping to forge the way.

Last year, Higher Logic and CommPartners’ teams got together to identify how we could make community driven learning a reality. We had certain ideas and it took quite an investment of time to identify how this could work. Our first success was the creation of Higher Logic’s Online Academy courses.  This training enables participants to sign up and participate in a self-paced training program (powered through Elevate LMS) within the community. Completion of courses is reported to Higher Logic’s activities area, giving the community member and the host organization, in this case Higher Logic, a more holistic report of engagement that was taking place.

After this initial success, our efforts turned towards helping associations realize the benefits of bridging their Learning Management System and community to offer their stakeholders an integrated experience. As the discussions evolved, one question became clear; why are we asking our participants to navigate to two separate and distinct areas of a website when both areas provide opportunities for learning?  Shouldn’t the synergy between these two components be together? So we went to work and came up with a fully integrated platform both visually and programmatically.

Key elements of Higher Logic’s community and CommPartners Elevate Learning Management System now work together, prioritizing the participant experience. Twelve months later we have many organizations that have embraced this integrated approach and we have certainly learned a lot. Here are four key lessons learned from bridging these two areas:

1. In many cases organizations still need a strong, independent learning presence. In these cases we have integrated the two platforms on a micro level. Examples include pulling in community participants that are enrolled in a course or webinar or reporting learning results to the activities area in the community.  These are steps that more subtly bring the two together.

2. It’s important to have staff from both your education and community teams involved. There are many variations of community driven learning that can take place. Getting initial buy-in will ensure a smooth process and better result.

3. Opportunities for social learning extend beyond typical webinars or training. A program such as a virtual conference hosted through the LMS has the power to be integrated with a conference community leveraging the engagement already in place.

4. Working together allows us to provide better guidance to our clients. It’s been extremely valuable for the Higher Logic and CommPartners teams to work closely together to bridge the knowledge gap and provide better ideas and insights to our clients.

We’re excited about continuing to bridge the gap between community and learning.  If you have an interest in integrating peer to peer idea sharing with traditional learning contact a representative from either Higher Logic or CommPartners to learn more.


Learning & Community: Together at Last

October 11th 1-2pm EDT









Experimentation as Strategy

Experimentation as Strategy

By Mary Byers, CAE, CSP

According to Forbes contributor Mike Maddock, “In order to make a product or service everything it can be, it needs to be repeatedly soft launched with both internal stakeholders and external customers. This means literally sending the idea—be it a product or a service—into a limited part of the marketplace with the full understanding that it will be modified (perhaps extensively) based on how customers and consumers react.”

But this isn’t how most associations approach innovation. Most I’ve worked with see innovation as a beginning and an end rather than an iterative process. A beginning and an end is more comfortable because we start and finish. We’re able to cross something off the list—and then we move on. It’s less comfortable to be “in process” with a fluctuating launch date (especially when reporting to a board of directors) and uncertainty about what the final product or service will look like.

Maddock’s iterative approach can be summed up in one word: experimentation. And it’s a strategy I’m suggesting for associations, albeit an uncomfortable one.

Certainty is much easier to sell, both internally and externally. But innovation can be anything but certain. Often, it’s a messy, chaotic process. And who likes that?

Though we may not like it, achievers and innovators have found a way to live with the messiness of experimenting. Even more so, they’ve adopted a willingness to experiment as a strategy for moving their associations forward. There’s a lot to be experimenting with these days in the association arena:

  • Hybrid dues models
  • Product pricing and packaging
  • Online learning
  • Face-to-face meeting innovations
  • Video vs. printed communications
  • Governance

Experimenting in the above areas is difficult because there’s so much at stake. But there’s even more at stake for associations that don’t experiment. Declining revenue, decreasing meeting attendance, and falling membership numbers are just the beginning. There’s also loss of influence and long-term sustainability to consider.

There are three things that making experimenting easier for associations:

  1. Do it regularly. A culture of continuous experimentation not only helps determine where you can gain momentum, it becomes an expectation. And when it is an expectation, it’s easier to get your board and staff to support you.
  2. Utilize soft launches. There’s a lot at stake with a big, splashy roll-out. Start with small, quiet experiments. The bigger the project, the more important this is.
  3. Make recalibration a habit. Moddock writes, “We’re only right when the market tells us so….The market will help us see and hear what we can do to be more right (and also help us eliminate all the things our customers—and potential customers—don’t like or don’t want).”

The willingness to experiment is both a habit and a mindset. It’s also a valuable strategy for associations in today’s rapidly changing landscape.

Mary Byers, CAE, CSP, shares additional strategy starters for busy association professionals in her new online learning series titled, Momentum: Strategy Starters for Today’s Association Professional at leadwiselearning.com. She is also the author of Race for Relevance: 5 Radical Changes for Associations.

Make a Leap on Behalf of Your Association

Make a Leap on Behalf of Your Association

By Mary Byers, CAE, CSP

I’m intrigued by the associations who are doing big things. It may be something internally to secure the health of the organization itself, something on behalf of members, or something for the greater good of the world. If you’re interested in making a leap on behalf of your organization, here’s how to do it:

Identify the leap. Mark Tomlinson, a retired association CEO, helped engineer four inter-related leaps on behalf of his former organization. Naming the leaps was the first step. Mark’s leaps were: redefining the community the association served, additional revenue, enhance product/service delivery mechanism and divestiture of capital assets. If you name it, you’re more likely to claim it.

Engage in a 90-day sprint. In short, a sprint requires you to set aside work so that you can focus on the most important work. I’ve written in depth about how to do this here. In all my years as a consultant, this is one of the most powerful concepts I’ve come across.

Aim for excellence. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, says, “Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great.” Set your sights high and don’t settle. Members are attracted to excellence.

Recalibrate as necessary. The quest for excellence often is mistaken as the quest for perfection. Our desire to do things “right” often keeps us from trying and discourages continuous enhancement. Starting with the expectation that you WILL recalibrate makes it acceptable to do so (versus seeing recalibration as an admission of failure). I love this quote from author Robert Barult: “…taking a step backward after taking a step forward is not a disaster, it’s more like a cha-cha.” Come to the party ready to dance and you’ll succeed.

Declare your association an inertia-free zone from now on. It’s harder to leap when you have to gather the energy to do so. If your culture is one that supports, encourages and celebrates leaping (vs. protecting the status quo), you’ll see more people and teams getting the running start they need to leap. I like what Wharton Business School professor Rita Gunther McGrath says, “…allowing an existing structure to remain in place for too long creates inertia and results in and organization that is maladapted to the opportunities it finds.” Inertia is an innovation-killer so do whatever you can to discourage it.

Try a triple jump. Once you’ve got the momentum necessary to leap, keep going. Movement in one area often makes it easier to create movement in another. When one leap is complete, ask, “Where can we get leverage and momentum on behalf of the organization now?” Attempting a triple jump is a natural inertia-buster and increases the overall return on investment for your association.

Mary Byers, CAE, CSP, shares additional strategy starters for busy association professionals in her new online learning series titled, Momentum: Strategy Starters for Today’s Association Professional at leadwiselearning.com. She is also the author of Race for Relevance: 5 Radical Changes for Associations.

Gaining Momentum with a 90-Day Sprint

Gaining Momentum with a 90-Day Sprint

By Mary Byers, CAE, CSP

Meetings. Deadlines. The day-to-day work of running your organization. All of these get in the way of doing new work on behalf of your association. But new work is often necessary to create leverage and momentum—especially when you’re stuck in a business-as-usual environment. A 90-day sprint may be just what you need to get ahead. This time period is long enough to accomplish something big, but short enough to create a sense of urgency (one of the advantages of the sprint concept). Here’s how to use a 90-day sprint:

Clearly identify the purpose of your sprint. Are you setting aside time to develop a plan or implement one? Will you do a deep dive into a challenge such as declining revenue or meeting participation? Do you want to complete 90 days of research, either about your members or how other associations have done what you want to do? The more clearly you define your work, the more likely you will complete it.

The National Association of Healthcare Quality wanted to demonstrate that it was keeping up with evolving trends in healthcare quality by articulating evolving competencies for advanced and master practitioners. According to NAHQ CEO, Stephanie Mercado, CAE, “The quality space is crowded and being first to market is key, so our goal was to bring a quality product to market fast.”

Assemble your team. Though 90-day sprints can be done solo, the larger the project, the more likely you’ll need others’ help. If your project requires more than just you working on it, get buy-in from the people and departments you need before you begin so that you don’t lose time after the clock starts ticking.

Assign work. Identify who is going to do what. Be clear about the end goal so that your team is doing work that supports your goal. Productivity expert Peter Drucker says, “There is nothing so useless as doing with great efficiency that which should not be done at all.” I agree.

Create a feedback loop. Use an online productivity tool such as Basecamp, Asana or Teamwork Projects to share information and track progress all in one place. Use preset meetings to troubleshoot, review work and determine next steps.

Set aside any non-necessary work and put your head down. It’s hard to ignore incoming e-mails and calls (but easier to do if you turn off e-mail notifications and silence your phone) but a powerful way to boost productivity. (My personal e-mail notification has been turned off since 2011, though I check it several times a day.) Work in blocks to allow you to concentrate and avoid the time loss of task switching. Start your day with work related to your sprint and only check your e-mail once or twice a day during your sprint. This is counter to how America works but essential to making gains and achieving big things.

Take stock. Where are you at the end of 90 days? Is there still work to be done? What’s next? All of these are valuable questions when you reach the end of your sprint. The answers will help determine your next steps.

NAHQ launched one competency area every 90 days, for 6 cycles. When the association reached the last topic, it republished the previous 5 competencies and the final competency into one book called HQ Essentials. According to Mercado, “We sent the book to all members for free as part of a larger strategy to improve our value proposition. Members immediately put it to work, developing models for staff structure, competency based job descriptions, etc. The result for NAHQ was demonstrated relevance for our members and the ability for NAHQ to use the HQ Essentials as a product development framework for the future.”

Celebrate. Be sure to take time to celebrate when your sprint is over. Doing so will make it more likely that you’ll be willing to do another…after you take a needed break, of course!

Mary Byers, CAE, CSP, shares additional strategy starters for busy association professionals in her new online learning series titled, Momentum: Strategy Starters for Today’s Association Professional at leadwiselearning.com. She is also the author of Race for Relevance: 5 Radical Changes for Associations.

Why Podcasting, Why Now?

Why Podcasting, Why Now?


Podcasts: Jumping Headfirst Without Fear

July 6th 1-2pm EDT



Guest post by Doug Sandler

Think about today’s society. When people want it, they want it now. Media on-demand is hot and now more than ever it makes sense to capitalize on audio on-demand. A sharp segment of the audio on demand market is turning to podcasting to get their message out. 67 million people tune into podcasts every month* and if you are a fan of podcasts, you understand why. As a listener, you get to select your podcasts with pinpoint accuracy, the subject matter, format and style you like best. Plus, you get to choose when you listen. Your commute can turn your car into your university on wheels, or your kitchen can become your classroom while you are cooking dinner. No matter where you are, your podcasts can follow you.

Podcasting for your Association

So why should you care? As an association, this means a podcast can be utilized multi-fold. First, it can be used to provide educational content to your membership, from right within your LMS. Spread your knowledge to your members and share best practices, industry updates and the latest news specific to your association. Additionally, podcasting is a way to reach a segment of your association that may not have the resources to make it to association gatherings. Many organizations do not have the budget to send all of their staff to conferences. With podcasting, through live recorded conference interviews, you have an opportunity to share conference content and bonus material, further engaging your membership. Furthermore, it is a great platform to diversify your learning portfolio.

Additionally, with podcasting you have an opportunity to create non-dues revenue through podcast sponsorship. Vendors and partners that regularly work with your association are looking for creative ways to reach your membership and podcasting is a premium place to meet your members and share their message. Any fees associated with podcast production can easily be offset by podcast sponsorship.

How to Get Started

Regarding production, getting set up to start a podcast is less complicated than you may think. Typically, entry to this space would consist of purchasing a high quality studio microphone, recording software and source to host your show. Like most associations, however, you might be short handed to handle the technical aspects of the show. There are many production companies for hire to handle all of the technical components of your show. The best advice would be to talk to a full service production company so your association can develop a strategy for not only producing and editing your show, but to help you best develop a marketing plan to get your show launched and out to your membership. “Done with you” or “done for you” versions of production are available and should be investigated to get your show off and running properly.

One thing is certain, podcasting is on its way up. Now is the time to set the fear aside, get wet, and take advantage of podcasting to reach a greater percentage of your membership and develop an additional revenue stream. You will be extremely satisfied with your results.


Doug Sandler is founder of TurnKeyPodcast.com, a full service podcast production company. He is also host of The Nice Guys on Business podcast, the #1 ranked business show on Overcast and was awarded iTunes coveted New and Noteworthy ranking when launched in 2015. His interview format show is heard in 165 countries and downloaded over 100,000 times every month.

*Source: Edison Research and Triton Digital, “The Infinite Dial 2017.”

Advance Your Associations Learning Presence and Profits

Advance Your Associations Learning Presence and Profits

During the past several years there has been much conversation and debate on how associations can continue to thrive in the face of increasing competition. The question is; with all of the outside “noise” influencing our stakeholders, how can these organizations cut through the clutter, and provide clear value?  The sharing of knowledge is a critical component. How can associations build a learning platform that will meaningfully engage members while also monetizing education efforts?

Here are four strategies that will help you increase your knowledge presence and bottom line:

  1. Create the right mix of content.

Each type of content has a role and each role has a specific type of marketability. Offering the right balance will enhance your engagement and provide each member with ongoing value that matches their preferred learning style. Working together, each type will help formulate a robust and engaging presence for learning.

Live Online & Onsite Events:  These are online courses, webinars and webcasts, virtual conferences, and in-person conferences. Think of these as the main pieces of furniture in a room. You need these pieces, but to properly decorate the room you need more.

Social Learning: Allow your members to connect with each other and share their personal knowledge. This can take place on live event forums, community integration, and other forms of idea sharing.

Formal Education: This includes SCORM courses, blended learning, learning paths and curriculum programs that provide your members with credits and ongoing credentialing.

Informal Learning: These are typically Podcasts, blogs, news feeds, and content libraries. These components allow participants to engage around a specific topic.

  1. Provide relevant learning experiences.

You have a substantial amount of information about your members and you should use that knowledge to your advantage in order to present relevant learning opportunities to each individual. Allow for searchable content based on interest and recommend learning based on their past interactions or role.  Relevancy is key and each learner is unique.

  1. Effective branding and layout will make a significant difference.

The visual impact your learning presence has is a factor to not be minimized. Your offerings should be easy to use, offer simple navigation, and capitalize on your brand. You do not want to clutter the environment. Present the right balance of content and design that will connect with your participants.

  1. Be creative and bold with your pricing.

Associations are considering new pricing strategies for their education offerings.  Differentiating your pricing structure can be key to attracting members. Subscription plans, couponing, and savings packs are emerging and allow associations to reach a broader member base, while ultimately increasing revenues.

It is important to leverage the special relationship you have with your community in planning your educational offerings. Use what you know to provide relevant and engaging programs and creative pricing strategies. Brand your platform to make it shine with just the right blend of content that incorporates just-in-time learning, community events and more sustainable training opportunities.


Start the Conversation