How Unbundled Learning Is Reshaping Associations: A Trends Discussion
Modern professional associations exist to establish standards of knowledge and excellence and to develop learning pathways that permit members to acquire, develop, and perfect that knowledge and achieve that excellence.
Although associations have long embraced depth-based learning pathways, where learners devote long periods of time to acquire comprehensive professional knowledge, current trends are moving toward unbundled learning pathways that are more spread out, self-paced, and easy to digest.
Unbundling at its most basic core is the breaking down of something big into smaller and smaller units. In education, we can think of degree programs as the most obvious possible bundle to unpack. You could start with the traditional, four-year, full-time degree program and proceed to part-time degree programs; from part-time degree programs would unbundle down into boot camps; boot camps become certificates, and so on and so on into smaller and smaller units.
This is not just a lofty goal. This is happening today, all around us, and we’ve seen it in our very own BenchPrep platform.
In fact, the average number of days it takes users to complete 100% of a course has decreased over time. In 2015, learners averaged 23.4 days to complete a course, while in 2019 learners averaged a mere 8.6 days. That 63% drop indicates that courses have become smaller and more granular, or unbundled, over time.
This unbundling is rapidly overhauling the education and corporate learning space. If trends continue, we’ll see even smaller units of content going forward.
There are two specific trends driving the world towards unbundled education: consumer demands and an increasingly complex world.
Today's consumers—in this case, modern learners—don't have the patience for long-term commitments. They don’t want to sign up for multi-year professional programs (they hardly want to watch a video longer than 12 minutes). They want shorter commitments with quicker gratification, and—this is important—more immediate ROI. To respond to this new behavior, associations will have to provide smaller units so the learner can earn their achievement, feel the sense of gratification, get some results, and move on.
Increasing levels of complexity in the world around us drive the second trend. In this world, which features many degrees of nuance compounded by the constant possibility of rapid change, one’s linear depth of knowledge starts to matter less and less. Because profound, paradigm-shifting change is possible for any industry at any moment, professional learning programs with long-term commitments can come with a significant opportunity cost.
When you marry this growing complexity with the changing consumer behavior described above, you create a world where everyone would be much better off with unbundled learning interactions rather than one mega, long-term learning interaction. Yes, there are some situations where depth matters, but for 90% of lifelong learning, unbundled learning experiences are where it’s going to be.
If you’re witnessing these trends among your learners or within your industry, what you're seeing is the rapid unbundling of education already taking hold.
The Advantages of the Unbundling for Associations
For education in general and associations in particular, unbundling is the way of the future. It's flexible, ripe for personalization, and it's agile.
So how do you transition to unbundled learning?
You want to start with the competency framework. What is the goal for the learner? What is she trying to achieve? Does she want another diploma or certificate to put on the wall, or does she want to acquire the skills and experience that will help her advance in her chosen profession?
The goals for your association must change as well. You can no longer focus on attracting as many learners as possible to your official certification program. Instead, you must focus on a new goal: competency.
Learners want to know, “How do I achieve competency in this?” As an association, you must identify whatever a learner needs to know to be competent in a skill. Then you need to unbundle that package of knowledge into different tracks.
Associations must empower learners with the ability to study and consume content in parallel or sequential modes. To pull this off, you will have to map the kind of content your association provides down to the atomic level and then figure out how to offer that content to learners in a way that moves the needle for them.
This may sound like a big undertaking, but there is great news: associations are already well positioned to make the transition to unbundled learning. Given your focus on a specific profession, as an association, you have a tremendous understanding of the knowledge and skills your members need to succeed in their profession. Map out the competencies and skills your members need to perform their job activities at the highest level, then use that analysis as the foundation for your transition to unbundled learning in the new digital world order.
Working Toward Real-World Outcomes
This new education mode must serve a goal because the last thing you want is to develop a learning program no one cares about. Education is a means to an end. There must be a real-world outcome because real-world outcomes are what the labor marketplace value.
When an association or any learning body thinks of unbundling, they have to think of the real-world outcome for members. What's in it for the member? If that course-delivered competency does not move the needle on getting someone a new job or earning a promotion or switching careers, the delivery platform doesn't matter.
We hope this discussion has been helpful. If you’d like to see more thought leadership from BenchPrep co-founder and CEO Ashish Rangnekar, we invite you to check out the content below.
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