A Model of Sustainability for Professional Organizations: Using a Learning Management System to Offer Continuing Education

By Sparrow, Gregory S. | Adult Learning, May 2017 | Go to article overview

A Model of Sustainability for Professional Organizations: Using a Learning Management System to Offer Continuing Education


Sparrow, Gregory S., Adult Learning


Abstract: Professional membership organizations have long maintained their exposure and revenue stream through a variety of traditional avenues, most notably memberships, sponsored conferences, and professional journals. The synergy of this three-tiered model has depended on a certain enhanced status derived from membership benefits and proprietary information that can be marketed separately to non-members. Given the recent threats to this model due to the advent of the Internet, I present an example of an organization--International Association for the Study of Dream (IASD)--which has harnessed its annual conference assets to create an online continuing education program with the help of a learning management system, Moodle. I chose this organization not only because I have been involved in this project but also because I believe IASD is one of the first membership organizations to successfully create this fourth tier of outreach and revenue generation.

Keywords: online education, continuing education, learning management systems, Moodle, professional organizations.

********** Current Threats to Membership, Conferences, and Publications

The first traditional tier of a profession organization is its membership. International Association for the Study of Dream (IASD) enjoys a membership that currently fluctuates between 650 and 700 individuals, all of whom have joined in the absence of active recruitment efforts. The organization currently derives 21% of its annual revenue from membership fees. However, the aura of exclusivity conferred by membership is progressively undermined by the growing access to information and benefits once reserved for members. Like-minded researchers can easily find each other via web searches, stay in touch through email, and use videoconferencing software to facilitate active collaboration. For better or worse, information and connectivity are increasingly free and immediately available.

The Internet also threatens the cohesion of an organization's membership. For instance, IASD's membership is heavily represented by residents of the U.S. West Coast, where it was founded 30 years ago. However, IASD's current membership now extends to more than 30 countries. This Internet-driven movement toward a global membership raises the question of how organizations can maintain a sense of cohesion among its supporters.

The second traditional tier of a professional organization is its sponsored conference(s). IASD's annual international conference currently generates about 55% of its income. It usually co-sponsors two to three regional conferences each year, as well, but these smaller events increase the coffers only minimally, if at all.

Sponsored conferences face various threats, including increasing hotel and hosting expenses, increasing fuel and travel costs, and reduced travel support from universities (Backmon, Kiel, & Malone, 1999; Griffin, Malone, & Cooper, 2005). In addition, IASD has found, as other organizations seem to have discovered, the annual conference must be held in member-saturated venues on a regular basis to keep attendance high enough to meet annual budgetary objectives. Indeed, Griffin et al. (2005) found proximity is the most important variable in determining conference attendance. Holding conferences at the geographical epicenter of an organization's membership may become increasingly necessary, but it will nonetheless limit the extent to which conferences can effectively serve a geographically dispersed membership.

The third traditional tier of a professional organization is its journal, which is often a membership benefit but available by subscription to non-members. IASD's peer-reviewed, American Psychological Association (APA)-published journal, Dreaming, contributes 16% of IASD's annual income, but traditional print journals compete with an increasing number of open-access journals, which offer authors wider and more immediate exposure to the research community. …

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