Asking the right survey questions—and adapting your strategies as needed—can help associations learn a thing or two about their professional development tools.
Professional development may be a key reason that many people join associations—so when it’s not working, membership itself can be threatened.
That’s why measurement is important. But what’s the best way to track success?
Jack Coursen, director of professional development at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), says his organization has focused on survey questions to guide its strategy. The results have helped the organization improve its offerings—and how it surveys learners—over time.
“Our being intentional about how we’re using surveys has been really, really important,” he says.
Here are just some of the strategies Coursen and his team have learned from analyzing feedback from ASHA’s professional development offerings:
Use an open-ended format to ask attendees what they learned. As a part of understanding what people have learned, ASHA uses a single open-ended reflection question at the end of the course, as opposed to a quiz-style multiple-choice approach. It’s not a survey question meant to determine the success of the course, but it helps put users in the mindset of critical thinking—and it effectively offers a way to help learners reinforce their own development, Coursen says. “The open-ended reflection requires people to actually think about what they experienced and identify the most salient takeaways that they had, thinking about how they could actually apply it in work,” he says. “Maybe they can’t read it again, but they’re thinking about it. And then the act of them writing the material down, too, will reinforce whatever they thought.”
Tie your optional survey questions to a required response. Another benefit of asking a required, open-ended question at the end of the course is that it tees up attendees to answer optional survey questions placed next to required questions—which significantly improves the response rate to the optional questions. “It was actually kind of a revolutionary experiment,” Coursen says. “Many years ago, we actually started doing this, because the response rate for those questions is astronomically high.”
Don’t be afraid to change up the questions. Coursen says that ASHA learned its tactics around open-ended questions through a willingness to experiment. “Sometimes we won’t change them at all; sometimes we only change them once a year,” Coursen says. “But we try to reassess periodically whether or not we feel like we’re getting the data that is really useful to us—and also challenging ourselves to say, ‘Are we acting upon the data?’” Periodically testing new strategies creates opportunities to build stronger approaches over time.
Dig into the data. While ASHA doesn’t pull from more granular activity data, the organization does rely on purchase and completion data, which tie back into its association management system (AMS) and analytics tools. “It is not in service of learning, but because we’re a learning business, it’s very much in service of business—which for us is like an overall satisfaction score,” Coursen says. For data points that don’t tie into automated systems such as an AMS, the results are pulled often and analyzed to try to gather broader lessons. He also notes that large online courses—such as one the association recently held on gender diversity—often provide opportunities to get more granular with feedback. “Looking at the specific feedback for that particular course among the live attendees was really powerful in terms of getting a sense of its effectiveness at exposing people to new ways of thinking,” he says.
While this approach may not work for everyone, Coursen notes that the spirit of gathering data and responding to it for both your educational and business needs could benefit associations far and wide.
“I think it is going to depend on your overarching business strategy,” he says. “You may have measures that are really in service of—and whether or not it’s supporting achievement of—those larger business strategies.”
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