Extension Engine

4 Stages of Scaling Nonprofit Program Learning

Great ideas are one thing, executing on them successfully is quite another. Your nonprofit exists to make positive changes in the world through the application of great ideas. That may include a need for online learning as a necessary support for your program. However, finding an efficient and scalable way to deliver learning can be problematic. 

Current approaches to program learning

To fulfill (and sustain) your mission, you need a way to disseminate the essence and purpose of your program to various groups. We call this type of training “program learning” because the target is program delivery. Scale is important, as is making the learning attractive and engaging. 

The ways you currently deliver learning likely involve one or more of the following approaches — and often in this order: 

Personal, high-touch approach

Pros: Face-to-face training scores high in learning experience. It is effective and encourages relationship. It allows you to see how people react so you can test ideas, flex and change things that don’t work, and get immediate feedback. It’s especially useful in the early stages of your program development. 

Cons: This approach is not scalable; the limits of time and space and resources mean only so much training delivery. There are also no data and analytics, both to improve your program at scale, and show as evidence to show donors. 

Website development

Pros: Provides dramatically increased opportunities for scale. You can organize and post all your materials and publish them in an easily-accessible place where people can get to the information they need. The reach is potentially unlimited.

Cons: It is, by its very nature, all DIY. The content is static; it sits there like a magazine on a table and requires complete initiative on the part of the user. There may or may not even be a clear pathway for drilling down into the material (depending on the skill of your web designer). Users must be completely self-motivated to read the content, watch the videos, and study the PDFs. You can’t measure whether or not users are actually learning because there are still no data and analytics. 

Learning management systems (LMS)

Pros: Learning management systems (LMS) bring organization to the static content on your website. They provide pathways through the content and additional functionality like gamification (e.g. quizzes, points, badges, competitions), and this also provides some data and analytics. 

Cons: Over time, the LMS becomes a barrier to growth. It is not branded to you and therefore has a more generic feel. Requiring a separate sign-in makes it feel clunky to use. While there are hundreds from which to choose, the functionality is limited — some fall short of your needs and others that have far more complexity than you require. And as you scale, licensing fees will build up, making an LMS solution eventually quite costly.

These three approaches have been par for the course over the last few decades. Each has its usefulness and advantages, but none is transformative. 

Digital transformation and Custom Learning Experiences

Often, nonprofits get stuck at the website or LMS stage, because they don’t know what comes next. While the stages listed above are essential for gathering insight, data, and feedback to improve your learning program, they are not fully transformative or scalable.

The digital transformation of learning is about taking everything that works well from your in-person or website-based experience and creating a digital learning experience that reflects your mission, your goals, your desired outcomes, and your brand. It is the process of rethinking and reworking how you do your learning program at a fundamental level by leveraging modern digital approaches.  

This is called a Custom Learning Experience — an online learning experience that is designed and built specifically for your organization.

Combine all that is best about the other learning approaches and develop a system that is transformative: built on what is special about you, customized to reach your specific goals, and targeted to get your defined outcomes. This results in an experience that is:

  • Personal to your program 
  • Fully flexible to meet your needs
  • Branded to your mission, outreach and organization
  • Focused on exactly what you need to deliver

You get exactly what you need, wrapped with analytics, reporting, and feedback which will improve your program and show donors exactly how you are getting the message out. 

The possibilities are close to unbounded. 

Keep learning

You can't upload a PDF and call it online learning. Just like you can't film a play and call it a movie. True online learning that empowers and motivates your supporters requires a shift. It's time to fundamentally rethink your learning program. 

So, how do you scale online learning? This white paper explores the stages of online learning for nonprofits: The Challenge of Scaling Learning as Part of a Nonprofit Program.

[WHITE PAPER COVER] The Challenge of Scaling Learning as Part of a Nonprofit Program



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