History tells us that trade guilds were rather powerful in Europe from the eleventh to the sixteenth century. These were associations of craftsmen and merchants formed to promote the economic interests of their members and provide protection and mutual aid. The fact is relevant because people with similar skills and interests were coming together for the mutual benefit even in the incipient days of business.

Today, guilds are no longer in use, but there’s a rise in Professional Associations (PAs) that “aggregate the thoughts and ideas of the members and provide them with a sense of belonging and a voice. The PA provides a platform to collect and collate the thoughts and ideas of the individuals who constitute the profession. That way, the profession can establish a common viewpoint and an agreed-upon stance regarding specific issues of practice and policy. This creates a model unique to the profession that in turn results in certain expectations from the government, policymakers, and other stakeholders regarding that profession.”

What PAs do in terms of learning

Corporate L&D professionals know that there is a whole bounty of informal learning opportunities outside the organization’s LMS. Professional Associations are especially good at orchestrating and operating continuous learning in their fields, and there is a lot that we can learn from them.

In addition to the major conferences they hold every year, associations offer a diverse portfolio of courses, seminars, webinars, e-learning, certificate programs, and certifications that help people grow professionally, gain visibility and make connections in their community.

Since participation in any of these is voluntary, PAs have become very efficient in promoting them and showcasing the benefits of enrolling and staying with a program until the final certification is awarded.

Here are a few things Professional Associations are doing to ensure their educational offer stays relevant.

  • Focusing on market needs

    Professionals looking to improve their skills and CVs are generally mindful of what will help achieve their career goals. As a result, PAs continuously keep an eye on the market to see the trends and cultivate various channels to learn about emerging needs before they become obvious to all.

    There’s also a constant effort to use the collected data to make informed predictions about what the learners in a certain profession will need in the near future.

    To keep getting people to participate, PAs need to demonstrate the “what’s in it for me” before the learning events even start and make a direct connection between market demands and the courses, seminars, and workshops they are offering.

    Corporate L&D professionals should also employ the valuable data that modern learning tools gather and predict the learning needs of the organizations before they become visible learning gaps.


    Read more: Building a data-driven training strategy in 5 steps


  • Having multiple touchpoints

    When PAs develop their learning strategy, they start with identifying the priorities for the foreseeable future and how the learning portfolio will impact these.

    One of the painful truths everyone connected to learning knows is that much is forgotten immediately after the course is over. Information retention and behavioral change require practice and multiple follow-ups. As a result, PAs use strategy in identifying opportunities for the coming year and plan how the programs will unfold, from the early stages of promotion to the application period once they are completed.


    Read more: The first two principles of learning reinforcement in the workplace


    Generating outcomes and opportunities for repeating a certain behavior leads to new practices. This is why these programs are designed as pathways with a before, during, and after — all equally important for success. The “after” touchpoints can take the form of microlearning, short webinars, coaching sessions, troubleshooting conversations or community check-ins.

    What L&D can learn from this is to think ahead and plan training in a way that guarantees it doesn’t simply stay in the classroom or LMS.


    Read more: The other 5 principles of learning reinforcement


  • Having measurable goals

    If you are an L&D professional, you’re probably thinking “we already have these!” and you are right to do so. However, in a corporate setting, these measurements and KPIs usually have to do with the learning program, not the learners or the learning eco-system.

    Learning specialists are inclined to demonstrate the positive results of their work, not how it helped the participants.

    If we run an analysis on the learning portfolios put forward by PAs we see a more holistic approach to continuous education, one that looks at the different courses as part of the bigger picture. They usually connect with and complement each other, leaving the impression of a well-thought-out, strategic approach.

    Employing this strategic lens, corporate L&D should see what courses and resources could be aligned to help economize resources and achieve a better outcome for the organization.


    Read more: 4 Tips for adjusting your L&D program to prepare C-suite executives for strategic moves


Closing thoughts

Professional Associations are a long way from the guilds of Medieval times. However, they hold true to the genuine desire to help their cohort and keep it relevant and prosperous. Since this is achieved mainly by learning agility in the dynamic modern world, the continuous education model they present is very effective and has some valuable lessons for corporate learning practitioners.

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