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How to Bring Great Learning to Life With Lowell Aplebaum

  • 5 Min Read

You know great learning experiences matter. Now it’s time to create them.


We know two things. One, learning could be a strategic driver for many associations in the coming years—yours included. Two, traditional methods of program delivery aren’t going to cut it. Learners are looking for unique, relevant experiences that are delivered in dynamic, easy-to-consume ways and lead to results. 

In the second part of our conversation with Lowell Aplebaum, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Vista Cova, we talked about how to bring engaging learning experiences to life. The topics we discussed included: 

  • tips for making personalized learning a success 
  • exploring the role of emerging tech 
  • investing in areas that will have the greatest impact 

Lowell wraps up by encouraging associations to tell more robust stories of success more often, giving members a glimpse of what experiences they have to offer and inspiring them to take part as a result. 

These learning journeys are going to need a more personalized approach, which sounds like it could be a lot of work for our association teams. How are we going to get there? 

There are two or three key pieces. The first is that organizations need to not try to be everything to everyone.

It’s really an ability for our leadership to be able to self-assess and ask, “What are the unique strengths we bring to the table? Where are we best at bringing forward knowledge, information, data and thought leadership that’s going to be distinct?”
Lowell Aplebaum, EdD, FASAE, CAE, CPF CEO, Vista Cova

Second, leadership and staff need to spend more time talking about audience prioritization. Who are the critical audiences we have today that we need to make sure that we continue to serve, as they are the base of our membership, community and revenue? How do we balance that with recognizing whom the audiences are that we need tomorrow, then trying experiments, pilots and different methods that could potentially interest them so that the experience they have is one that they want to come back for? 

This is really the place of interaction and greater technological advancement. It’s no longer sufficient to just do a mail merge, put someone’s name at the beginning of an email and say, “Okay, we customized.” There are many LMSs, AMSs and systems out there that allow us to better know our customers and members because of their transactions and feedback. If we prioritize setting up those systems and integrating the capabilities that they provide us into the methods and structures we utilize already, we’ll be able to provide better experiences in return. 

There’s definitely going to be a lot of innovation that will come out of that. How do emerging technologies like AI come into play? 

AI is a leap, and it’s a big one. It’s the next step in technological change. 

People have to be ready to update their knowledge and ability to get to a place of sufficiency, if not excellence, to be able to use the next thing that’s coming. It’s going to be the decision of each organization, based on what some of these new tools are, about how rapidly they shift the proficiency of their staff to a place where they’re able to utilize them. But there’ll come a tipping point where you don’t have a choice. If you want to function today by pager and not by cell-phone, you’re going to have a hard time doing it, right? We’ve been forced out of that technology, and the same things are going to happen with AI. 

When we think about the learning that organizations are providing, we need to ask what skill sets we need today and tomorrow. How do we start playing and experimenting so that it’s not foreign because we’ve started to make it a habit? 

Where do we start? How do we get better at it and not get left behind by ignoring the change? 

I have three little ones, and one of the things I like to ask is, “What did I experience that they’ll never understand?” How long I spend on the phone—they’ll never understand that concept because it’s not part of our world today. 

What if you ask yourself the same question? Ten years from now, what will those entering their professional livelihoods not understand because it’s no longer part of their world? How do we start to shape our organizations toward those things? 

What are a few final takeaways you’d like to leave people with? 

It’s not about how many things we do as organizations. It’s about how well we do the things we do. If the measure by which we’re able to track accomplishment and impact is by depth and not breadth, that should speak to the learning we try to curate and create. What are we offering that is an actual experience they want to come back for because they feel the difference it made for their career? We should care about the experience as much as we care about the rigor of the content. 

I would also say that from a place of investment, an organization should take a careful look at what is happening in the greater landscape and invest its resources in a place where its voice and impact are going to be more unique. What is it you can do at excellence? Have that be the conversation of leadership and try to have that not be a one-off. What do learning journeys look like? What does it look like to have a stepped and graduated experience? That way, it isn’t that I come to your organization when I’m new in my career and feel like my needs are being met, but when I get to the intermediate, advanced or executive levels, and you’re still only producing those introductory experiences, I’ll feel like I outgrew your organization. 

If you want me to be part of your organization for the span of my professional journey, then you need to be my partner for the span of my professional journey. And nowhere is that more essential than learning. 
Lowell Aplebaum, EdD, FASAE, CAE, CPF CEO, Vista Cova

The final thing I would say is that you need to be able to celebrate more stories of success when it comes to learning that go beyond the quantitative statistics of transaction, participation and revenue. You still need those—they’re important—but they’re not going to be able to tell a robust narrative of the experience that’s going to make others want to participate. It’s going to be the stories of impact that make people want to say, “Your organization is doing something important when it comes to thought leadership. I want to help contribute to that journey so that we’re building the future of what the profession should look like.” 

colleagues collaborating over a tablet in an office

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  1. Real Advice to Help You Advance Your Association

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