Cultivating engagement: what do you want to learn?

One of the primary reasons people join professional associations is to learn something.  When was the last time one of the organizations you've joined tried to learn about what you'd like to learn?

When I think about my own learning, I divide it into two categories:  (1) things I need to learn, and (2) things I want to learn.  The things I need to learn are more critical to what I am trying to accomplish right now.  There is a greater sense of urgency to acquire that knowledge and put it to use.  Things I want to learn are longer-term interests and may relate to acquiring new insights or skills I envision using in the future.  It's the difference between need to know and nice to know.

I also have preferences for how I like to learn based on what I am trying to learn.  In addition to the obvious face-to-face workshops or e-learning options, some of the other different learning methods I value include:
  1. Talking informally with someone knowledgeable in the area and possibly receiving coaching
  2. Reading about the issue and reviewing case studies of how others have managed it
  3. Watching short "how to" video clips accompanied by written step-by-step explanations
  4. Participating in Google hangouts or Twitter chats discussing the issue
Having members coordinate or contribute to any of the four learning approaches above is a great way to get them involved in the work of the association, something we explored in my last post.  They could volunteer as a content resource/coach, coordinate a chat, curate a list of readings or case studies, or create a how to video.

Obviously there is a lot of potential information an organization could glean about my learning preferences.  In keeping with the "get in action" emphasis of this series of posts, I might suggest limiting the questions posed to asking:  In the next six months what do you most need or want to learn?  As a possible trigger, you could start off each of their responses with I need to learn how to _____."

I'd make this an open-ended question, but with space provided for no more than three responses.  After each of those three response areas, I'd then ask: how would you like to learn that? I'd make this question a simple "check all that apply" and list 4-6 different learning methods (drawn from the ones I've listed above).

Once this information is received from members (or prospects), an email or customized web page could be presented with the learning opportunities available that match their stated interests.  Doing this obviously requires some technological capability and/or staff time to generate the customized responses.

If that's not possible, you might instead pre-curate learning opportunities related to the 10 most learning needs individuals typically inquire about.  Pre-package that info in email and/or web formats and shift the "I need to learn how to" question to a check box for your pre-packaged topical areas.

The bottom line? The sooner an organization can help individuals learn something that is a priority for them, the more engaged these individuals become in utilizing association resources for their professional development.

P.S.  And let's get in the habit of asking people what they learned from each of our professional development offerings instead of just inquiring about how they liked or didn't like the experience, as well as posing the most under-utilized question of all: what would you like to learn next?  Asking this question also reflects a bit of a gamer mindset, conquering or mastering one challenge and moving on to the next one.

P.P.S.  Given that many individuals think about their professional development in terms of what they want to learn how to do, why doesn't more of our marketing use this same language instead of generic learning outcomes jargon?

This post is a part of a short series of daily posts on cultivating engagement.  Your comments, reactions, and refinements are encouraged. I am not a marketing, data or information analysis, or membership specialist. I am a generalist in the trenches, sharing what makes sense based on my experiences and observations of others’ efforts. I am a deep believer in trying a lot of stuff to learn what works.  These posts are in support of that commitment.