Associations offer plenty of benefits to members, including networking opportunities, professional development and training. But if these opportunities aren’t equitable, a large sector of an association’s membership base will be held back from reaching their full potential. Inequity can even cause members to leave an association altogether.

So, what does equity mean when it comes to training and development for professional associations? Equity means that all educational opportunities provided by the association are fair, inclusive and accessible to all. It requires training leaders to meet learners where they are to ensure they have access to the personalized training and resources they need to succeed.

Consider the following best practices for creating and delivering equitable association training:

  1. Address members’ specific barriers to participation.
  2. Train leaders on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) best practices.
  3. Use your learning management system (LMS) effectively.
  4. Incorporate live virtual training sessions.
  5. Use multiple instructional and training delivery methods.
  6. Ensure that all course materials are accessible.

Keep in mind the difference between equality and equity. Equality means giving everyone the same opportunities or learning resources. Equity means acknowledging the fact that each individual comes from a different background and circumstances. Each participant should be given personalized training to help them reach their desired learning outcome.

With this in mind, let’s dive in.

1. Address your members’ specific barriers to participation.

Since equity is all about identifying individual learners’ roadblocks or needs and providing customized solutions, speak with members one-on-one to understand their circumstances.

You can do this by creating member needs surveys to inquire about members’ unique learning needs and any accommodations they may require. Develop two types of surveys:

  • Pre-training survey: Ask participants whether they will require specific accommodations throughout your training session. Also, ask them about their learning preferences and any specific topics they’re interested in learning about.
  • Post-training survey: Ask if the experience met, didn’t meet or exceeded participants’ expectations. Request feedback on how you can improve the training in the future. Consider requesting anonymous feedback from participants so that they feel comfortable to share their thoughts freely, which can provide you with more valuable and honest insights.

Use participant feedback to shape your professional development courses into more equitable experiences.

2. Train your leaders on DEI best practices.

To host an equitable educational experience, your association’s leaders or professional training specialists should come from an informed mindset and take an inclusive approach. It’s worth it to train your organization’s leaders on DEI best practices.

Armed with DEI best practices, leaders will be able to foster an equitable environment from the top down. The DEI training should focus on:

Effective DEI training can help turn your association leaders and staff members into effective allies.

3. Use your LMS effectively.

Your association’s LMS is not only one of your most important tools for delivering your association’s training sessions, but also for making them more equitable. With an LMS in place, all members can use the platform to access educational resources whenever and wherever they need them.

Here are a few ways you can use your LMS to help foster equity:

  • Deliver on-demand content. Offer a variety of on-demand training sessions or other pre-recorded educational content for members to access whenever their busy schedules allow. This ensures that members who may have missed live training sessions can still access the content and complete the lessons they need to achieve certifications.
  • Offer a library of resources. Keep your LMS stocked with resources such as academic articles, news reports, podcasts, YouTube videos, quizzes and other supplemental training materials that members can reference at any time.
  • Provide resources in multiple languages. This ensures your training materials appeal to a more diverse audience and don’t leave anyone out because of a language barrier.

Use your member surveys to determine whether members feel like your LMS is adequately serving their learning needs. You can also ask members if there are any resources or learning materials that they would add to your content library.

4. Incorporate live virtual training sessions.

Associations have plenty of experience conducting virtual events, such as hosting online chapter meetings or virtual conferences. So, why not take your live training sessions to the virtual realm as well?

Virtual training can be more inclusive for members who:

  • Don’t live close by.
  • Have transportation restrictions.
  • Have long- or short-term physical limitations.

Allow participants to keep their cameras off if desired. Also, ensure everyone gets the chance to speak by breaking participants into small group discussions. You can also have your facilitator remain on the video chat after each session has ended to answer any remaining questions.

Remember that it’s important to make your virtual sessions accessible to as many participants as possible. It’s a good idea to include sign language or closed captions when possible throughout online sessions.

5. Offer multiple instructional and training delivery methods.

Not all of your members prefer to learn in the exact same way, so your association training sessions should be adjusted to accommodate different learning preferences by offering training in a variety of formats.

Participants may also have learning disabilities, such as ADHD or dyslexia, that make it more challenging to participate in a traditional classroom environment. That’s why it’s helpful to offer learners the option to move through content at their own pace using the materials in your LMS.

6. Ensure all course materials are accessible.

Maintaining a high level of accessibility with your training materials is a crucial step toward offering equitable access to professional development. Accessibility means that your course materials are usable and understandable by everyone, no matter their age, background or ability.

When creating learning content, ensure that:

  • Images and graphics have alternative text.
  • Videos have captions or transcripts.
  • Printed materials have braille alternatives.
  • Course materials can be browsed and viewed using assistive technology.
  • Learning content can be viewed in large-text formats.

Incorporate any accessibility accommodations based on participants’ responses to your pre-training survey. This ensures that you aren’t taking a one-size-fits-all approach to accessibility, but a strategy that takes members’ unique needs into account.

Above all, when it comes to making your training sessions more equitable, stay flexible: Develop a two-way communication street with members to ensure they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts on how you can improve your approach. This will ensure you’re providing equal benefits to all members, boosting their satisfaction.