Q&A: ASAE's New Chief Learning Officer

In her new job as chief learning officer for American Society of Association Executives, Rhonda M. Payne, CAE, will lead the development of all educational programming, including face-to-face events and online learning. With 20 years of experience in associations, higher education and nonprofits, Payne plans to use innovative technology and data to enhance ASAE’s educational offerings. She talked to Connect contributor Haley Shapley about defining her new position, the importance of technology and what it takes to captivate attendees. Tell us—what is a chief learning officer? The title started in the for-profit world back in the ’90s. The first was at GE—Jack Welch, the CEO, created and coined the phrase. It refers to the senior-most person in the company responsible for the learning and development of people. What will you be doing to revamp ASAE’s programming for meetings? My main goals will focus on how to enhance the programs we currently offer, looking at the data and taking an analytical and business approach, looking at how to best integrate technology into our programs and understand what we need to provide to our members to support their success. How can planners keep attendees engaged during education sessions? Adult learners like to bring their own expertise and apply it to the new topic they’re studying. It’s important to make space for that to happen, as well as for peer-to-peer exchange and application of new information. Avoid the infamous talking heads and one-directional information, instead moving toward interactivity, technology, multimedia, fun and gaming (these things play into attendees’ sense of competitiveness). And remember to keep things fresh. Even something that’s very good can work against you if you do it the same way all the time. Do meeting strategies differ depending on the age group? It’s a generalization, but younger generations are not only going to be comfortable with using technology, they’re going to expect it to be part of the experience. With all generations, the attention span is much shorter than anyone would like, so you have to shift gears a lot. From an educational standpoint, how important is staying current with technology? It’s absolutely critical. There’s no put-the-head-in-the-sand approach that will work because our society has embraced technology so completely that members in any generation are looking for their associations to be at the forefront. If you look at emerging generations, it’s come to be such an expectation that to not [stay current] will ultimately lead to an organization losing its relevance. There are a lot of enhancements technology can bring into the classroom, and a lot of access technology can offer to people who can’t get in the classroom. It’s about leveraging it all toward a greater good, not being afraid of it.