Ask the Expert: How to Engage Members in Online Learning

By Janet Davidson

COVID-19 has changed how we work with, educate, and engage members, and some of those changes will be long-lasting, creating pain points for associations that may be struggling with canceled courses and events, as well as navigating the current online-only environment.

With everything moving online, how do you keep members engaged?

Ideas to Keep Members Engaged and Learn More About Them in the Process

Member engagement is essential for the growth of any organization or nonprofit. Engaged members keep renewing, and they can increase membership via word of mouth; the better your program, the more excited your members stay, and that excitement can be contagious!

  • Develop a mission awareness week. Send emails, post on social media, invite people to participate in a challenge, invite sponsors and advertisers to participate and offer prizes, host an event and invite local media – spread your message everywhere and make your members proud.
  • Create a discount program. 
  • Work with your sponsors and advertisers to offer special discounts or other benefits, like free shipping. Make them happy with increased revenue, and do something your members will appreciate, too.
  • Don’t just depend on email. Use snail mail as well.
  • Set up a feedback/survey system.
  • Send personal messages for occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, membership anniversaries, or even “remember when you attended this event.”
  • Add a job center on your website.
  • Form partnerships with like-minded companies.
  • Retarget your members.
  • Sync your member list to Facebook and LinkedIn and serve them ads; these ads are usually less expensive than other ad types.
  • Set up a weekly touchpoint. This can mean an email, a survey, a flash sale, or a social media post that promotes some sort of interaction with your organization.
  • Utilize Facebook Live, Instagram Live, and/or YouTube to develop a podcast, a branded quote of the day, or focus of the week.
  • Set up a member referral program.
  • Start social networking groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Maintaining an Engaging Experience with Online Learning

When making the transition from face-to-face to online learning, the most helpful thing you can do is a lot of initial planning before you ever put pen to paper, err, fingers to a keyboard rather. Ideally, you want to have the whole course planned, prepared, and created before it is offered to ensure consistency and to maximize learner experience.

Here are some tips to make your online learning come to life:

  • Re-evaluate your current structure – it may not work for online learning.
  • Gather your content in advance. This can include videos, websites, articles, textbooks, anecdotes, etc. You will build your lessons around these resources. 
  • Plan your assessment strategies and rubrics.
  • Determine the tone of your course before writing any content.
  • Write a lesson plan.
  • When writing your lessons, don’t use bullet points. They don’t work well with online learning because they require an oral explanation.
  • Avoid redundancy. 

Think about what you do in the classroom to make a topic interactive and engaging – discussions, active participation, group/partner assignments, etc. Just because you’re moving the course online doesn’t mean you must give these things up. Use a learning management system (LMS) and explore third-party tools and social media to increase gamification and enthusiasm. 

Also think about the visual appeal. Do you feel energized looking at the lesson? Why or why not? Are there sections of content you or your learners gloss over? Adding additional headings, images, callout boxes, and colors require minimal effort but can significantly increase the amount of time learners spend on a particular page.

And, finally, online courses should never be set in stone – there’s always room for improvement. Once you’ve run the course once or twice, tweak it to enhance the learning experience for the next cohort. Use questions that learners ask to help identify what you should modify/clarify to create an exciting and engaging learning experience. Take it a step further and use the analytics from your LMS platform to engage with your members according to their interests and areas for professional growth. You can identify new committee members, volunteers, and potential donors based on your insights.

Janet Davidson is vice president of business development at enSYNC Corporation. enSYNC offers software solutions for mission support to member associations. She started her career in the non-profit sector and is widely recognized as an expert in tech that supports the growth and profitability of organizations.

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