In May, GuideStar, one of the best resources around for data about the nonprofit sector, asked its audience "Have you ever participated in on-line learning offered by a nonprofit?" More than half (53 percent), said they had not, while 44 percent said they had. Cost effectiveness and convenience were cited among the other reasons that the respondents chose to participate in e-learning. You can read more findings from the report on the GuideStar Web site.
While the GuideStar survey focuses on use of online learning by individuals, a report released by Isoph and N-TEN concentrates on organizational use of e-learning. (Disclaimer: I was responsible conducting this survey and generating the related report. JTC). Some of the main findings from the 2006 Nonprofit and Association E-learning Survey, released in a report earlier this year, are as follows:
CONTINUED GROWTH GENERALLY AND IN MAJOR SEGMENTS
Responses from 2004 through 2006 indicate a general upward trend in online learning adoption across all nonprofit organizations and particularly among organizations that identify themselves as 501(c)(3) nonprofits, membership associations, or educational institutions. (Note: Respondents may choose one or all of these categories in indicating the type of organization with which they are affiliated.) From 2004 to 2006, the percentage of all survey respondents indicating current usage of online learning grew from 40 to 53 percent. Among 501(c)(3) organizations, the percentage grew from 36 to 51 percent; among membership associations, from 40 to 55 percent; and among educational institutions, from 49 to 58 percent. Among other segments tracked in the survey, management and technical services organizations show a decline in usage after a growth spurt last year, but nonetheless show overall growth in usage from 33 to 45 percent between 2004 and 2006.
GREATER RESOURCE ALLOCATION FOR EDUCATION
Slightly more than 56 percent of survey respondents indicated their organization’s general budget for training and education will increase in the coming year—nearly a 12 percent jump over 2005. Approximately 4 percent of respondents indicated an increase in spending specific to e-learning in the coming year.
FOCUS ON PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT, AFFILIATE TRAINING, REVENUE
In 2004, when asked about the purpose of e-learning in their organizations, nearly 70 percent of respondents indicated that online learning would be used for staff training. That percentage has trended downward, reaching 56 percent in 2006. At the same time, the number of respondents indicating that online learning would be used for professional development for clients or members has risen from 52 to approximately 68 percent, and those indicating that online learning would be used for affiliate or chapter training has risen from 34 to 41 percent. With respect to financial goals, an increasing percentage of respondents indicate that e-learning must be self-sustaining and profitable. In 2004, 21 percent of respondents indicated this requirement. By 2006, the number had grown to approximately 32 percent. At the same time, the percentage of respondents indicating that e-learning must save their organizations money declined from approximately 46 percent to 38 percent.
It is important to note that the trends with respect to purpose and financial goals are probably not unrelated. Organizations that focus on training clients and members tend to be more concerned with revenue generation, while those focused on training staff tend to be focused on cost savings. The significant rise in participation by membership organizations—which tend to focus on providing revenue-generating education and training for members—in the survey since 2004 has most likely contributed to the changes in percentages in these areas.
POTENTIAL GROWTH IN FACILITATED, BLENDED FORMATS
While use or planned use of the most popular e-learning format, self-paced e-learning, continued to grow in 2006, survey responses also indicate rising interest in asynchronous facilitated, live facilitated, and blended (a combination of classroom and online formats) e-learning approaches. The number of respondents indicating they are using or plan to use asynchronous facilitated or live facilitated online learning rose approximately 7 percent and 6 percent, respectively, from 2005. Those indicating they are using or planning to use a blended learning approach rose approximately 17 percent. It is worth noting, however, that among organizations that have an active online learning program in place, the percentage of respondents indicating use of facilitated asynchronous and live formats actually declined while those reporting usage of blended approaches rose only 2 percent.
GROWTH IN IMPORTANCE OF LEARNING MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS
Based on what appeared to be a growing awareness of learning management systems (LMS) as well as a general increase in plans to adopt an LMS, we suggested in our 2005 survey report that the importance of learning management systems as a part of nonprofit e-learning initiatives might be on the rise. Responses to the 2006 survey support this suggestion. The percentage of respondents indicating usage of an LMS more than doubled from 2005, and the percentage of respondents indicating that they do not know what an LMS is dropped by nearly 20 percent. Additionally, the number of respondents who indicated that integration between an LMS and other popular types of nonprofit-oriented software would be either highly or somewhat valuable rose from approximately 53 to 67 percent.
POTENTIAL GROWTH AMONG SMALLER AND LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS
We indicated in 2005 that large organizations continued to be the ones most likely to use e-learning. While that continues to be true, 2006 survey responses indicate a rise in online learning usage of approximately 17 percent among organizations with budgets from $500,000 to $2 million. Additionally, among respondents that identified their organization’s geographical focus as local, the percentage using e-learning also jumped 17 percent. It is too early to tell if these trends will hold, but it may be that the increasing ease of implementation and decreasing costs associated with e-learning are opening the doors to adoption by a broader group of organizations.