How to Compete with FREE eLearning

Everyone loves free. Free coffee, free Wi-Fi, just about anything “free” is good, right? Not necessarily. And if your association has plans to sell your next online course or webinar, you might not be too excited to hear your competitor is offering a similar product for free. How can you possibly compete with free? Who is going to pay for your education products when someone else is giving it away? More people than you might think…Competing with Free Online Learning Courses

Everyday 10,465,000 people wait in line to pay Starbucks a minimum of $3 for their famous brewed coffee. Are these people crazy!? Don’t they know they can get FREE coffee in their hotel room, at their office, or a handful of convenience stores and fast-food restaurants? Sure they do. But they don’t want just any coffee; they want premium brewed coffee, made just for them. They are also paying for the experience. So, how can you apply the same principles used at Starbucks to your association’s online learning?

Step 1. Take your customer’s order. Don’t just produce an introductory level general education course, add it to your course catalog and expect members to swarm to it. Ask them what they want. Never assume you know what types of professional development and training your members want. Survey your members to determine their needs and strategize internally to access how you can best meet those needs. Many associations make the mistake of creating “one-size fits all” education products. The problem with very general offerings is that they offer little value to your members and chances are, similar content may already exist, perhaps it’s even available for free from another association or education provider. The most valuable content consists of specialized training that takes into account the member’s professional experience, continuing education requirements and personal goals.

Step 2. Make their lives better. The most valuable education products go beyond informing the learner, they enable the learner to better perform their job or even transform the learner – helping them to advance their skill-set. Required training, such as a professional certification course or continuing education, provides members with real value, value you can and should charge for. If you do not already offer continuing education or credentialing programs at your association, research possibilities for entering into this market. If you are a trade association or professional society, determine if an industry certification already exists. If so, can your association become an accredited provider of this training? If not, there is still an opportunity to CREATE a professional certificate program. You can learn more about how the Metal Treating Institute did just that, in this recorded webinar presented by Tom Morrison, CEO at MTI and Jack McGrath, President & Creative Director at Digitec Interactive.

Step 3. Give them a premium product. When differentiating your online education products from the “bargain basics,” it’s important to offer a premium experience for your members. Well-produced content has a much higher perceived value than poorly produced products. The design and aesthetics of the course can have a major impact on the overall learning experience. Start with strong subject matter, invest in sound instructional design and opt for professional photography, graphic design, and audio narration whenever possible. When it comes to online learning, the little details bring life to your content, encourage engagement, and increase member satisfaction.

Bonus tip! While it sounds simple, take the time to ensure title and body text placement is standardized across the course. Good eLearning should have a consistent design from screen-to-screen and not vary in font type, size or placement. Create a template before you begin and apply the style to each screen for a more polished, professional looking eLearning course.

As you can see, just because your competitor is offering free eLearning, it doesn’t mean you need to lower your price to remain competitive. Instead, focus on what adds value to your offering. Whenever possible, offer specialized training that goes beyond simply informing learners and invest in a well-designed course that provides learners with real value.

Have additional tips for competing with free eLearning providers? I’d love to hear them!

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Email is Cheap, but isn’t (Always) the Answer

Email Campaign AlternativesThis is a guest blog post by Meagan Rockett. She is the Director, Client Solutions with Greenfield Services Inc. Partnering with Professional and Trade Associations, Meagan consults and develops programs to move the needle in membership marketing & engagement, event marketing & sponsorship/exhibit sales. 

When it comes to appropriate marketing strategy for your association, processes can look different from one organization to the next – although, there is a ton of overlap in the methods used.

Many associations today are relying too heavily (in my opinion) on email to save the day.  Yes, it is relatively inexpensive.  Yes, it delivers your message to hundreds, or even thousands of contacts as soon as you hit send.

I don’t know about you – but if your inbox looks like mine, there is NO possible way to read each message that comes through.  Unless it is an email from a colleague, or perhaps a group that I have a vested interest in, likely your email will end up in my trash – unread.

Marketing is no longer about simply developing and deploying a targeted message (no matter the format).  It should cross-communicate with what your other departments are up to, and they should know well in advance of the information, so that they can share it as they deem appropriate as well.

Here are 5 ways to market your organization that are outside email campaigns:

    1. Hold meet & greets:  Have a prospective member list?  Are there many in your area? Or, perhaps you are traveling somewhere on business that has a heavy presence of members and non-members?  Host an event.  During this event, bring together engaged members, and prospective members, and give them a short presentation on what your organization has to offer.  Demonstrate the quality of education by providing them with a local speaker, or perhaps asking your members to say something.  Face-to-Face is often considered a last resort, but it can go a long way.
    2. Attend other events:  Are there like-minded organizations (corporate OR nonprofit) that have a vested interest in what your organization does?  Are they having events?  Paid or free, you should be identifying them and attending as many as you can.  Leave the planning and logistics to someone else, and use that time to network and develop relationships that can turn into paid memberships for you.
    3. Launch a blog:  Your association has a lot to say.  Most people (like me) will delete many emails from their inbox, as it gets too hectic to manage.  However, if you are also publishing your opinions, research, and information online through a blog, you may gain readers and prospects that have long forgotten you.  You are providing them with the format to be able to review at their leisure, and on their time, not yours.
    4. Don’t forget social!  I have said this a lot, but just because you have created an account does not mean you are on social media.  You have to be there, and sharing, tweeting, and posting to gain followers, attract interested parties, and develop new relationships.  And, just because the channel exists doesn’t mean you should be there – do your homework, and focus your time on the networks that will provide you with the highest, most long-term ROI.
    5. Ask for referrals.  Your members and committed stakeholders already know why you are so great, and what value you bring to the table.  Ask them for referrals to other colleagues who may not be aware.  Then, pick up the phone and call them.  Build a network with the network you already have.

Have you tried any of these strategies?  What were the outcomes?  What else have you been doing to change the way you communicate with your industry?


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Association eLearning: What You Need to Know

Online Education

This month Digitec Interactive is honored to be featured as a guest author on the Event Garde blog. Association eLearning: What You Need To Know by Sarah Lugo, features practical tips and tricks for getting started with online learning and shares the secret to giving members what they want. If you haven’t already, please check out our guest blog post and share your comments. We’d love to hear your tips for getting started with association eLearning.


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Simplify Your Learning: 5 Tips for Slimming Down

At some point, we’ve all been stuck in a meeting or class that seemed to drag on forever. You don’t want anyone to have that feeling while they’re taking your eLearning. If a course or lesson lasts too long, learners are likely to stop paying attention and start wondering, “How much is left?” So, here are 5 tips for keeping your online education focused and easy to digest.

keep eLearning simple

1. Use Less On-Screen Text
A lot of eLearning crams too much text on screen. Truthfully, most learners don’t read all of it, they scan. The best way to cut down on unnecessary text is to edit it down to the bare minimum. Ask yourself: How can I say the same thing in fewer words? Using the present tense instead of the future tense is one small, but significant way, to do this. “Next, you will click the button” is less direct than “Next, you click the button. ” It may not seem like much, but if you cut out those few extra words every time, the savings really add up. Bullet points are another popular method for reducing the word count. Anytime you are presenting a list of information, consider using bullet points with the key points instead of a paragraph of text .

2. Watch Content Density More Than Screen Numbers
You can have a high screen count on quick, user-friendly training your learners will enjoy. You can also have a low screen count on a maddeningly slow paced course that bores learners to death. Content density is the determining factor. Avoid over-dense eLearning. If each screen has only a few, focused elements, like some concise text with a supporting image, learners are less likely to feel overwhelmed. On the other hand, if every screen is covered, top to bottom with text , accompanied by long narration, the eLearning won’t be easy to digest, even if there are only a few screens. Although not visible on screen, audio contributes to content density, too.

3. Include Printable Resources
If you have a lot of information that absolutely has to be included, consider creating a supplementary printable resource, like a PDF. That way your learners have the option of saving it for later reference or printing the material without having to access the course again.

4. Split Content into Several Parts, if Appropriate
A one-hour online training course is a daunting prospect. Four fifteen minute modules aren’t quite as intimidating. Depending on the subject, you may be able to chunk your course into several short modules. Or, you could use a menu or topic selection screen that will allow learners to take one section at a time within the overall course.

5. Get Another Pair of Eyes on the Content
This doesn’t trim down the content per say, but it can tell you if you need to cut back. If possible, have someone who has never seen the online course give it a test drive. They’ll likely notice little things the production team didn’t, and can give you a fresh perspective on the pacing and complexity of the content. If they think it’s too slow or confusing, there’s a good chance that your members may as well.

It’s best to design slim eLearning from the start. This will help ensure that learners check out your eLearning, rather than mentally checking out. There are ways to get it down to size before it reaches your learners. Do you have any other tips for keeping your association’s online learning from getting too overwhelming? I’d love to hear your ideas for simplifying eLearning.

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Project Management on a Shoestring Budget

eLearning Project Management Budget

So, your association has decided to create a new online course. Yay! But whether you’re teaming with an experienced eLearning provider or have decided to go it alone, this may be the first time you’ve ever served as the project manager on an eLearning project. What do you need to know in order to ensure the best possible outcome for your course, and perhaps even more importantly, which tools can help you get the job done – on time and in budget?

In our experience partnering with nonprofits and associations, one of the concerns we hear most often is about managing eLearning projects without having project management (PM) training or the budget for dedicated software like Microsoft® Project. In a recent blog post, we addressed the question of training, so in this post, we’ll talk about creative ways to manage an eLearning project effectively with just a basic set of tools.

Organization and Workflow

You already know the importance of good organization and having a well-documented, step-by-step process with systems to aid organization. Hence why associations are called organizations J. You can use something as simple as a pencil and paper, or the drawing tools in Microsoft® Word, to design a system for organizing your online learning. For instance, you can draw a simple flowchart of boxes with arrows to show the hierarchy of your folder structure for storing project files, with the project folder at the top level and folders for the various modules on subsequent levels. Depending upon the complexity of your eLearning projects, you may want to organize your project with one or more sub-levels. Sketching with pencil and paper lets you try out different organization schemes to find the one that works best for your course.

Flowcharts are also a good way to visualize the workflow process you want to follow. For example, you can sketch out a flow diagram showing each deliverable, the number of reviews allowed, which stakeholders are involved at each round, and the method of collecting feedback. A great digital flowchart tool you could use is Trello.

Spreadsheets are also a good tool for organizing and can be used in lots of ways. If you’re just starting an eLearning initiative, you may not have all that many assets to keep track of, but it won’t take long before you build a substantial library of multimedia files. A spreadsheet will help you keep track of all your assets and organize them by category, type, file name, project, key words, permissions, and so forth. If your spreadsheet tool allows for more than one worksheet in a file, you can set up a worksheet for each asset category to help you manage a larger volume of files without having to scroll through an individual worksheet. Another time-saving feature is the ability to sort the data by columns, which is extremely useful when you’re searching the library for a particular type of asset.

Here are some other ways you can use spreadsheets to help you organize:

• Track the assets used for an individual project
• Maintain a library of voice over talent
• Create a shot list for a photo or video shoot

Project Schedule

Last time, we talked about the importance of having a project schedule to guide you from one milestone to the next during the course of the project.  Here again, a spreadsheet is a good tool to use for this, or even a table created in a word processor.  Starting with the first task in the project, you simply enter each task in a row, sequentially, with the start and end dates, the person or team responsible, percentage complete, and any dependencies. You can even color code and indent the task to create a hierarchy for each milestone group and use highlighting to call attention to critical dependencies.  As tasks are completed, just check them off or note the percentage complete as you go along.  What’s important is to keep the schedule up to date and to notify team members when changes have been made that affect them.


The project budget defines the project scope and is one of the three elements that constrain an eLearning project, along with time and quality. As the eLearning project manager, you’re likely responsible for keeping close track of the budget so you can be prepared to make adjustments when needed during the project.  You may not have the funds for sophisticated accounting software, but that’s okay. Again, you can use your trusty spreadsheet to do the job. It takes a little work and some knowledge of spreadsheet functionality to get the budget set up, but once you apply the built-in formulas, they do all of the math. Then it’s just a matter of making adjustments along the way to reflect what’s happening in the project.

Pencil and paper, word processing software, and spreadsheets are just a few of the basic tools you can use to manage eLearning projects effectively on a shoestring budget. What are your “shoestring” tools and how do you use them?  Let us hear from you.


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Free Webinar: How to Price Education Products

Pricing for education products is all over the map. But pricing is too essential to leave to guesswork. In this session, we look at why you should eschew “downside pricing” (e.g., cost-based approaches) and embrace “upside pricing” that looks at the value you deliver to the buyers. We’ll also explore how your education products can be placed on a “value ramp” that lets you create pricing flexibility to benefit your customers, spares you the anxiety of trying to find the one “right” price, protects you from both over- and under-pricing, and provides a healthy margin.

Celisa Steele and Jeff Cobb, co-founders of Tagoras, and Jack McGrath, president and creative director at Digitec Interactive, will present this session devoted to demystifying pricing.

Note: This session is designed specifically for trade and professional associations.

THIS EVENT HAS ALREADY TAKEN PLACE. We invite you to WATCH THE WEBINAR RECORDING of How to Price Education Products at Your Association.


Valuing Your Association's Membership Education Offerings



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What is Your Learning Promise?

Member Education Promise

Coming from the nonprofit sector, I’ve had it drilled into my head how important an organization’s mission and vision statements are. But what about it’s “learning promise”? Working in the eLearning industry got me thinking: With the growth in membership education offerings, I wonder how many of our partners have stopped to think about their association’s “learning promise”? How about you? Does your organization have a learning promise?

Think of your learning promise like a mission statement for your member’s education. If your goal is to ramp up the association’s educational offerings, then the first step is to determine the value your education offerings have to your members.

Here are the three steps you should take when drafting a learning promise:

Step 1. Who is important or what matters? (Cause)

First, think about the reason or cause your members utilize the education offerings. The cause is also known as “the why,” and will help you state your learning promise from the member’s perspective.  Why do members need certain information to stay relevant in their field? Why do members want to succeed? What material is important?

Step 2. What are you doing? (Action)

What action are you taking to help members reach their scholastic goals? Are programs or pathways in place?

Step 3. What change can you see? (Impact)

In this step you have an opportunity to show the statistical impact of your programs.  Gather the analytics and use this information to show non-members what they’re missing out on. Do members who participate in your courses earn higher salaries? Do they earn their certification faster? What impact are your courses making?

Here are some examples I came up with:

The Professional Association of Dive Instructors promises to teach safety and skills to educate and develop well informed scuba divers, resulting in 35% fewer scuba accidents each year!

The American Dental Society promises to advance the careers of its members through research, public programs, and online learning, making oral health education available to over 15,000 members anywhere and anytime.

Just a few reminders for your learning promise: keep it short, be sure it makes sense, is memorable and isn’t difficult to say. You want learners to understand what your organization provides. What would your learning promise be? Share your ideas in the comments section below!

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