Published On: June 5, 2019By
How can associations build a successful learning portal? Learn from this podcast with the DirectEmployers Association and independent learning tech analyst, John Leh!


How can membership organizations strengthen their market position and drive additional revenue streams by offering professional education?

That was the goal when the DirectEmployers Association (DE) envisioned its new learning portal, DE Academy. But what does it take to move from concept to reality?

Join me as I talk with DE Executive Director, Candee Chambers and VP of Membership Engagement, Jen Bernhardt about how they’ve created a modern learning portal that will grow with their organization’s needs.



  • Don’t fast-forward through the analysis phase. If you don’t fully understand your audience’s learning needs, preferences and behaviors, your program is at risk.
  • Remember that information is not instruction. Develop a content strategy that honors the difference.
  • Choose technology wisely. Think about how to start small, adapt to changing requirements and scale over time.



Tell us about the DirectEmployers Association. What’s your mission?

CANDEE:  We’re a nonprofit 501C6 HR consortium with over 900 member companies. About 97% of these member organizations are government contractors that must meet Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) requirements.

We want DirectEmployers Association to be the go-to solution for contractors who need OFCCP compliance and talent acquisition information, resources and support.

That’s why we just launched DE Academy, a learning portal that provides digital access to our expertise, on-demand.

So for those who are not familiar with OFCCP, what is that?

CANDEE:  Here’s the Reader’s Digest version. Basically, all organizations with federal government contracts of a certain dollar volume must follow regulations managed by OFCCP.

Also, depending on the size of the contract, there are affirmative action standards for hiring protected veterans and individuals with disabilities.

So we assist members with some of their staffing obligations, like job distribution and listing jobs with state workforce agencies. We also provide outreach resources and help them understand their compliance obligations.

Got it. So could you tell me more about your member companies?

CANDEE:  Government contractors are diverse. For example, they can be defense companies involved with building jets, rockets or military equipment. Or utilities that power federal government buildings. Or organizations that touch agencies like Homeland Security, Cybersecurity or the NSA.

It sounds like your member companies could have many thousands of learners that interact with your Academy, right?

JEN:  Potentially, yes.

And what prompted the idea of the DE Academy learning portal?

JEN:  Well, as recognized experts, both Candee and John Fox, our external legal counsel, are always in demand. So about 18 months ago, we began talking about how we could make all their expertise more broadly available, in a convenient form where members and non-members alike could find it and use it on their time.

That’s easier said than done. How have you made all that content available in digital form?

JEN:  It’s important to understand the difference between information and instruction. We have information in spades. We have webinars, and one-sheets and live presentations that members can attend around the country.

But to move from information to a learning experience, we had to take a step back and analyze things from a learner’s perspective. It’s essential to meet our learners where they’re at.

Great point. How did you do that?

JEN:  That’s where our consultant Carla Downing came in. She’s Air Force veteran with a doctorate in instructional design. She’s worked in academia and in the corporate world, and she has been incredibly helpful guiding us along this path.

What did you learn from Carla?

JEN:  When considering the scope, it’s tempting to leap forward so you can get to the pretty things. But Carla encouraged us to focus 70-80% of our time in upfront analysis and preparation. So by the time design and development started, we were ready to roll instructional design methodologies into our courses and other content.

Nice. The instructional designer in me is doing backflips…

JEN:  Yes! Carla says that 1 or 2 hours of front-end analysis can save up to 8 hours of development and design on the back-end. And after building DE Academy with her, I believe it.

So, what kind of things did you consider in that analysis phase?

JEN:  We started with analyzing the market. What’s already being offered? What are the price points? Who are the vendors? Who’s actually delivering the training? Then we identified gaps.

Next, we profiled potential learners and mapped our existing content to their needs.

Very strategic…

JEN:  So the challenge was really fun. We had to break-down things like affirmative action planning into an easy-to-consume 100-level course for an entry-level professional like a recruiter. But then we also need to offer more advanced content.

How did that process work?

JEN:  We would start by defining objectives and then compile information that supports those objectives. That literally required me to sit down with our experts and record detailed discussions with them.

Then we captured those notes in transcripts, so we could piece together various elements into a flow that is easier for learners to consume. Once we had all the components and the outline, we could start building-out the courses in tools like Storyline or Captivate.

Mmm hmm…

JEN:  Well, you can probably tell we’re very, very careful to be sure that everything is correct. The compliance marketplace has so much incorrect information. But our reputation is on the line, so won’t do it unless it’s right.

How do you manage that content quality aspect?

JEN:  Well, there’s a detailed back-end in the design and development process. I’m sure most of your listeners are familiar with the ADDIE instructional systems design model. Well, we add an extra evaluation stage before we launch.

So for us, the model is ADDEIE. In other words, we’ll ask one of our subject matter experts to review the course and make comments. We may go through that cycle two or three more times.

That’s great. So what is the final product?

JEN:  We offer courses, lessons and ebooks in a variety of formats. For example, we use Storyline to create courses in SCORM format for our learning management system.

Also, we offer punch lists in PDF format. That’s where we create a matrix that deconstructs a regulation for professionals with different levels of experience.

In addition, we offer traditional elearning courses that look like a PowerPoint deck with voiceovers and assessments and those types of things.

As we grow, we’ll include webinars that branch into in-person training sessions that members can schedule directly within DE Academy.


JEN:  We want to be at the forefront of how learners prefer to consume content. We know it can be difficult for busy professionals to find large chunks of time. And we want to break it down in various ways, so our members have choices.

Sounds great. On the systems side, you mentioned Storyline and Captivate. What other systems are you using for this learning portal?

JEN:  TopClass LMS is the learning management system we chose for DE Academy. WBT Systems makes TopClass, and they’ve been wonderful.

We’ve integrated TopClass with Higher Logic – the platform for our members-only community, DE Connect. So we offer Single Sign-On from Higher Logic into DE Academy. Having only one user name and password is key because ease of access is critical to the success of DE Academy.

Makes sense…

JEN:  And another benefit of TopClass is its ability to offer a second entry point for non-members…

Ah, yes!

JEN:  When we were sourcing LMSs, we considered launching two completely separate systems – one for members and another for non-members. But financially and logistically, that just wasn’t feasible.

Fortunately, TopClass lets non-members register directly in the LMS. And if one of those companies or individuals become members, it’s an easy transition into the member side of things.

That’s really slick…

JEN:  Plus we hooked Higher Logic to Salesforce, which feeds our member contact information into the DE Connect community platform. Make sense?

You bet. That’s a great ecosystem! So when non-members register they can see content built just for them?

JEN:  Yep, correct. For members of DirectEmployers Association, we include a handful of content with their membership. We’ve repackaged, repurposed and rebranded members-only DE Connect content and relocated it to DE Academy. Plus, we develop and curate additional content that is available at a lower price point for members than non-members.

Excellent. Multi-level pricing is a great idea…

JEN:  Yes. We want this lower price point to be an incentive for non-members to join. Plus, because we’re working with recognized subject matter experts, we need an appropriate price point and marketing model for this content.

What about bulk purchases? Can non-members purchase content for a whole team, or only as individuals?

JEN:  Right now it’s one by one, but we’ve considered that scenario. We’re also considering pre-built learning paths. In other words, if three courses naturally fit together, they can be purchased individually or as a bundle.

There are a lot of options. TopClass is even flexible enough to let us create different groups with different levels of access, and assign a manager to that group.

So let’s say one of our members is at a small utility company that doesn’t have an LMS. But with DE Academy, their employees can purchase courses that an administrator at the utility can manage directly in TopClass. That means we don’t have to do it for them.

That’s helpful.

JEN:  The possibilities are endless with that system, which is why we went with it. You can start very simple out-of-the-box. That’s where we are right now. But our goal is to scale as we grow and expand our product base to accommodate various needs. TopClass has that capability.

Here’s another scenario. What about large organizations with their own LMS? Do you want their employees to come to DE Academy, or would you give them your content?

JEN:  Access is paramount. We’re not going to hold our content hostage. If a member wants to purchase a one-year license, pull out x-number of courses and then plug them into their LMS, great. We’re open to anything and everything that will help people learn…




How to Drive Online Learning at Scale: Corporate Market Strategies for Associations

Selling online learning content to individuals is challenging enough. But selling that same content in bulk through corporate customers or partners can be even more demanding.  The business models are fundamentally different.  Plus, business-to-business relationships require specialized content management functionality.

What does it take to succeed?

Join John Leh, CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning, as he hosts a live virtual panel with experts who have developed and managed profitable B2B online education programs:

  • William Hold, Chief Development Officer, The National Alliance for Insurance Education and Research
  • Linda Bowers, CTO, WBT Systems

In this dynamic one-hour roundtable, you’ll learn how to:

  • Build a viable business model for bulk sales
  • Develop effective pricing and marketing strategies
  • Compare tradeoffs of selling through sales reps versus online channels
  • Delegate content administration, reporting and user provisioning
  • Integrate core learning systems with CRM platforms and other operational applications
  • Achieve internal buy-in, drive project momentum and maintain organizational alignment

All live webinar attendees will receive 1 credit toward a Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential application or renewal.


Need Proven LMS Selection Guidance?

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About the Author: John Leh

John Leh is Founder, CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning and the Talented Learning Center. John is a fiercely independent consultant, blogger, podcaster, speaker and educator who helps organizations select and implement learning technology strategies, primarily for extended enterprise applications. His advice is based upon more than 25+years of learning-tech industry experience, serving as a trusted LMS selection and sales adviser to hundreds of learning organizations with a total technology spend of more than $100+ million and growing. John would love to connect with you on Twitter or on LinkedIn.
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