HR thought leader Josh Bersin shares how associations can keep up with changing trends in content consumption and format preferences, enabling new and innovative learning experiences.
When now-legendary TED Talks first made their way online in 2006, presentations varied in length, with some exceeding 20 minutes. Today, more than 15 years later, talks are strictly limited to 18 minutes, and TED officials often advise presenters to speak for just 3, 5, or 9 minutes.
This change reflects overall trends in educational content consumption and format preferences, which currently demand a shift toward microlearning — an educational approach centered on bite-sized units. This learning model is undoubtedly applicable in a world where, according to HR and Learning Analyst Josh Bersin, the average employee can dedicate just 24 minutes a week to formal learning.
“In the early days of online learning, purists believed that short-form content wasn’t instructionally sound,” said Bersin, who is president and founder of the research and advisory firm The Josh Bersin Company. “Now we know that’s not true.”
Neurological research confirms that learners better retain information through access to short, engaging content that they can consume at their own pace versus an onslaught of complex information in one setting.
“One of the things I've learned through the courses we've developed [at The Josh Bersin Academy] is that the most successful ones are simpler than you’d think they would need to be,” Bersin said. “Subject matter experts tend to know so much about a topic that they dive into depth that people don't necessarily need.”
As wellsprings of post-secondary education in the U.S., associations provide members with essential education and training benefits. Keeping up with changing member expectations and trends in the learning market is therefore imperative, impacting new member acquisition, existing member retention, and non-dues revenue streams.
Enable Seamless, Personalized Learning
“Great education/training is highly relevant, aligned with the issues people are facing at work, interesting, and easy to consume,” Bersin said. “It’s also branded so there’s authority behind it.”
A strong brand — like the ones associations have cultivated for years as pillars of their industries — can help educational content stand out among numerous competitors. “That’s important, because today you can go on YouTube and find educational videos from self-proclaimed experts on almost any topic,” Bersin said.
In this content-saturated environment, it’s no longer sufficient for associations to rely solely on annual events and online discussion forums as educational venues. Instead, leaders must cater their offerings around how, when, and where today’s members want to learn.
To do so, associations should center their strategies on innovative engagement platforms that provide customized, searchable, and on-demand access to educational content. The best platforms supplement association-led training with digestible microlearning strategies and community-based learning experiences.
They also employ AI-powered content delivery systems designed to simplify the user experience, identify unmet needs, and boost personalization.
“With sophisticated learning experience platforms, a member will log in, and the system will recommend content based on who they are,” Bersin said. He added that AI can also take the form of chatbots, or messaging software that simulates natural language to answer questions, automate processes, and resolve issues.
The best part? Associations can use the data they collect from AI-powered learning and engagement platforms to derive powerful insights about members’ needs and interests, in turn fueling ongoing improvements.
A Holistic Approach
One trend associations can adopt from the corporate world is the shift away from instructor-based learning and toward what Bersin calls capability academies. Much more than content libraries, these spaces bring people together to advance business or industry-related capabilities at scale.
“In every domain of business, work and life, you learn things by doing them — not by taking a course,” he said. “Yes, the course teaches you enough to be a little bit better at the thing you're trying to do. But then once you start doing it, you make mistakes, you get feedback, and then you’re like, ‘OK, now I understand how to do this.’ Capability academics replicate that experience in a more structured way.”
Through the right technology, associations can create similar spaces for members to learn, contribute, and advance industry knowledge. Bersin likened the ideal experience to grade school, where students pull their desks together to interact with educational materials and follow up in-class teachings with homework.
“Self-study or instructor-led learning is great, but what about projects, temporary assignments, mentors, and coaches? In school, that's why students do projects,” he said. “That’s why they have homework assignments. All of the stuff we did in school was pretty smart when you think about it — it was developed with a lot of experience.”