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An In-Depth Look at 2017 Learnies Winner: National Wood Flooring Association

In 2017, Learnapalooza, the first-ever conference focused solely on association member education and training programs, took place in Washington D.C. The first of its kind, this event brought together the association community’s best experts to examine trends, discuss topics, and share tips on everything from content to pricing and LMS selection.

With the launch of Learnapalooza, came the first annual Learnies awards brought together associations, professional societies, and nonprofits’ best learning tools and success stories as part of 2017 Learnapalooza. Association TRENDS was blown away by the entries received. Organizations are pioneering brand-new ways of learning and transforming the world along the way. National Wood Flooring Association was one of our Learnies winners. We took a deeper look at their educational achievement and created a case study based on their challenge, their action, and their amazing results.

Name of organization: National Wood Flooring Association

Challenge: A decline in skilled tradespeople in the wood flooring industry

Like many trade associations in the United States, the NWFA has seen a significant decline in skilled tradespeople during the past few decades.  As more high schools have shifted their focus to encouraging students to attend college, many vocational technical training programs have been eliminated from high school curriculums.  The result has been a severe shortage of qualified professionals in the skilled trades.

Throughout its 30-plus year history, the NWFA’s mission has been to train and educate wood flooring professionals. Traditionally, this has been accomplished through face-to-face hands-on skills training. As training evolved over time, along with the learning styles and preferences of younger generations, the NWFA worked to develop ways to impact more individuals who might not otherwise attend hands-on training events. To help address this issue, the NWFA launched NWFA University in July 2016.

Action: Creating online learning

An internal evaluation of NWFA’s training platform found that attendance at hands-on training programs was good, but predominately middle-aged trainees; very few young people were participating. Staff brainstormed and determined that online learning was a possible means to attract younger participants.

They researched adult learning habits, including the psychology of adult learning. They analyzed how adult learning differs from traditional learning methods, understanding the impact of adult attention spans, and overcoming obstacles for adults continuing their professional development, like time away from family, cost, etc.

After gaining input and approval from its board, NWFA staff reached out to the members to gain an understanding of training obstacles and how they could be addressed. They learned, particularly from contractors, that when times are bad, they don’t have the money for training, and when times are good, they don’t have the time for training. Once again, online learning seemed like a convenient and affordable alternative.

Additionally, staff evaluated on-line learning initiatives implemented by other organizations. There were very few online learning platforms that were launched successfully within the flooring industry and none had been launched specifically for the wood flooring industry.

Initially, NWFA reached out to other flooring-related organizations to possibly share platforms, vendors, etc. Because no other wood flooring association had an online platform, the decision was made to share resources to evaluate platforms, vendors, etc. Initial RFPs addressed the needs of the entire group (all flooring categories), and of the NWFA as an individual entity. NWFA sent RFPs to 25 potential vendors.

After narrowing the RFPs to five potential vendors, demos were scheduled and presented to all the flooring associations collaboratively.

Upon careful research, NWFA determined that one platform was the best solution for a group initiative, while a different platform was the best solution for NWFA as an independent organization. When several of the participating associations were not ready to move forward, NWFA decided to proceed as an independent entity.

For course content, NWFA turned to what it already possessed: outlines from its successful hands-on training programs. Each different training event had to be dissected and reorganized into 10-20-minute learning modules. Since most hands-on training events typically lasted a week, this process was tedious; however, all content experts were internal NWFA staff members, which was a significant advantage over other organizations that outsourced content development.

NWFA organized learning paths that included four to eight modules. Upon completing one learning path, the member earns a digital badge that contains metadata and allows the recipient to include the badge on digital profiles (Facebook, LinkedIn, websites, e-mails, etc.).  The metadata is a quick way for a consumer to verify a recipient’s professional credentials.

They then organized digital badges into four career paths: installation; sand and finish; sales; and inspection. Each career path contains a variety of digital badges. These digital badges, combined with hands-on testing, lead to professional certifications.

After beta testing all courses on a variety of platforms, the NWFA University launched on July 1, 2016.

Because cost was identified as a major obstacle during the research phase,  NWFAU was priced at just $100 per company, per year.  Any number of employees of the company could engage with NWFAU for that same $100, making it very affordable.

Outcome: Participation exceeded expectations to the point of the program becoming a major source of non-dues revenue

Since the launch of NWFA University on July 1, 2016, more than 22,000 courses have been completed, averaging about 44 courses per day.  In addition, more than 9,000 badges have been earned, adding to a total of nearly 1,500 certified professionals.

From a cost standpoint, since NWFAU is a not-for-profit, it was budgeted to be a break-even service. The level of engagement, however, has exceeded expectations, and now is a consistent source of non-dues revenue.

Most importantly, more than three-fourths of those engaging with NWFA University are new users who have never participated in NWFA training. This tells us that NWFA is definitely reaching a new audience they were not reaching through traditional face-to-face learning.

Congratulations again to National Wood Flooring Association for their amazing work and awesome success!

Do you have a success story, innovative education program, or best use of multi-purpose learning content you’d like to share? Registration is open for the 2018 Learnies. Enter today and show us what you’ve got. We can’t wait to hear about it!

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