eLearning for Professional Associations—Attracting and Engaging Members

Many professional associations and their members have a bad impression of eLearning. Often, the term connotes boring regulatory requirements or “checking a box” to collect CPD credits. But what if eLearning could go beyond mandated courses, providing busy professionals with engaging training that addresses their pain points? This post is all about how to create eLearning that can attract and retain members.

Good Content Doesn’t Equal a Good Course

Often what’s missing from continuing professional development is effective learning design. A course on cybersecurity or jurisprudence might include critical information that can protect your members, but if it is not designed with principles of adult learning in mind it may not get through to them. Here are some ways that learning design can take good content and make it into a good course.

Cognitive load

When you are planning a course, it can be tempting to include everything. But putting more information in front of learners doesn’t necessarily mean they will learn more. In fact, there is often an inverse relationship between the amount of content and the amount of learning. That’s because of a concept known as cognitive overload. Our brains can only absorb so much information at one time. If we try to cram in too much content at once, we may remember things that are less important. It is critical to go through a process of carefully mapping your content. This involves prioritizing what will be included and organizing it in a logical and manageable way to maximize learning transfer.

Content Strategy

There is no one best practice when it comes to a modality for your content. Some information might be best delivered by video, some by text. Some content will lend itself well to storytelling or case studies, while others will be well-suited to an interaction. Different learner groups will have different needs based on their experience and the learning context. Your organization will also have different parameters based on budget, delivery platform, or regulatory requirements. All of these factors must be taken into account when determining an overall approach.

Active learning

Interactivity greatly improves learning and retention. An activity that allows learners to apply key concepts to recognizable scenarios and practice new skills in a safe environment can make a course both fun and effective.

“Gamification” is a buzz word in training and education, but be cautious—it is not something that can simply be added to a course to improve engagement. The mechanic of the game—the task that the learner must complete—must be aligned with the course objectives for it to improve learning. An activity that is fun and engaging can actually be detrimental to learning if its most memorable components are not related to the desired outcomes.

Accessibility and Inclusion

You may have policies or legislated requirements to comply with accessibility standards. Ensuring that your training is accessible to people with different disabilities and learning needs makes your course more inclusive to everyone in your target audience.

From screen reader accessibility to colour contrast to closed captioning, there are many components to plan for, develop, and test. We strongly recommend engaging professionals to ensure that accessibility requirements are met and exceeded so that there are no barriers to learning.

Plain language, inclusive language, and diverse representation are all also factors to consider.


Assessment can serve multiple purposes. It can provide learners with confidence in their own learning, or help them identify issues to work on. It can ensure that learners have absorbed the content to satisfy regulatory requirements or protect them from liability. And it can help you see the return on your investment. Whether ungraded knowledge checks or defensible exams, assessment questions must be carefully designed to be a valid measure of learning. We strongly recommend engaging a professional instructional designer or psychometrician to help write assessment questions, particularly if passing or failing will have outcomes for the learner.

A doctor using a mobile phone

Innovative Solutions

Sometimes, a traditional course isn’t feasible or doesn’t meet the learners’ needs. Thinking outside the box can often provide better value to your members.


From the COVID 19 pandemic to the rise of AI, if there’s one thing we’ve all learned in the last few years it’s how rapidly and dramatically things can develop and change. How can your organization respond quickly to the new and unforeseen concerns that are impacting your profession?

Microlearning—infographics, bulletins, or courses that take less than five minutes to read or complete—can address topical issues just in time. Can professional services be offered remotely? Can ChatGPT be used for that professional task? How does that new hearing decision affect your profession? A brief online module on your learning management system or even delivered to members via email can address pressing concerns, relieve pressures on your office staff, and protect members.

Microlearning is also a great solution for refreshing members’ knowledge on an important topic a few years after their degree or a few months after a CPD course. A particular ethical or technical issue may not come up often in regular practice, so learners may not have had the chance to apply their learning. A brief module can help keep the knowledge fresh in their minds for whenever they do need it.

Apps and Job Aids

In many fields, memorizing information in advance or out of context is not practical or necessary. Instead, your members may need to have instructions or guidelines for certain tasks at their fingertips when they have a client or patient in front of them. Solutions that meet practical needs in the moment, such as an app, brief instructional video, or task template, are often more useful. Providing your members with a library of ongoing resources that they can return to as needed can give them great value for their membership fee.

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How Do I Know What My Members Need?

Good education begins with good research—into both the content and your learners. You’ll want to consider things like:

  • What are our members’ goals?
  • What are their challenges and pain points in their professional lives?
  • When, where, and how do they access information and training

This information can be collected through learner surveys, needs assessment workshops with subject matter experts or other stakeholders, and industry research. Once you have data, you can tailor your educational offerings, ensuring that they meet learners’ needs in both the content and the format.

Your members will have ideas about what training they need most, but they are also busy professionals. They may also not know all of the industry trends or legislative changes that could impact their practice. Don’t rely on learner surveys alone to identify training. When you offer learning solutions for problems that they haven’t foreseen yet, you offer tremendous value to your members.

An empty auditorium

Do I Need a Learning Management System?

You may want to invest in a learning management system to host and manage this content, but you don’t necessarily need one. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Do we need to track progress and completion?
  • Will we charge for the content?
  • Will any of the content or courses have prerequisites?

There are hundreds of LMSs on the market, with a wide range of features and price points. Onlea specializes in helping organizations find the right LMS for them based on extensive consultation and our experience in the industry—get in touch if you would like to learn more about this service. We are LMS agnostic, so you can rest assured that you will get unbiased advice on the right solution for you.

Will eLearning Help Avoid Membership Churn?

Offering well-designed eLearning that addresses members’ pain points can have tangible results. Outcomes like fewer complaints from the public or an increase in profits are all quantifiable returns for professional membership.

But beyond specific outcomes, when you offer well-researched and high-quality education to your members, you build their trust. When your solution takes into account your members’ day-to-day challenges, you assure them that your organization is empathetic and supportive and part of their community of practice. These efforts are what will keep your members returning year after year.

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Jennifer Delisle

LX Labs by Onlea

LX Labs helps organizations and individuals build vital knowledge pathways for their students, teams and customers through learning experience design, strategy and research (LXD).