You’ve made the case. Now it’s time to make a plan that works for your organizational culture and your learning objectives.

Your organization’s plan for online learning will depend on its nature, its governance, its mission, its structure and its own internal culture.

The “what” of your online learning program will depend on the “who” and the “why”.

Pondering a couple questions will help you figure out how to make a plan that’s grounded in reality and inspired by little pieces of dream and desire.

Who Are You? Who-who? Who-who?

For the purposes of discussion, I’m talking about nonprofits in the abstract and making certain assumptions.

Chances are good your organization has some of the following features:

  • It has a social mission or purpose
  • It is a formally constituted organization with a board, an executive, management and paid staff – or it is a voluntary association with a flat structure and no formal hierarchies
  • It has a membership or group of supporters who pay dues or donate to join
  • It is a community of interest, whose members volunteer their time to bring the mission to life
  • It has formal, nonformal or informal learning goals

It could be one of the following kinds of organizations:

  • A volunteer group
  • A community nonprofit that delivers services to its surrounding neighbourhoods
  • A nongovernmental organization (NGO) with an advocacy program at the local, regional, national or international level
  • A public institution mandated by a level of government to deliver a service or program
  • A trade union organization – a national body or a local of that union
  • A confederation, coalition or network of the above, with paid or unpaid representatives

And it has some combination of physical office space, virtual offices or networks connecting staff in diverse locations. In other words, it works both face to face and virtually.

Your learning objectives will be shaped by these factors as well as the degree to which your organization is commitment to member engagement.

Where to start? Start by asking why.

Start with why

In a sense, all organizations are “social mission” organizations. They all have a purpose. They exist for one thing or another. Successful organizations today have a clear purpose and an inspiring way of living up to that purpose.

All organizations can benefit from asking themselves why they do what they do. Asking ourselves why is one of the best things we can do when we first set out to build an online learning program.

Start with why, but don’t stop there. There are 4 more great questions to ask yourself next as you set out to define your plan.

The 5 Things to Ponder, Starting With Why:
  1. Why do you want an online learning program?
  2. What are your goals?
  3. What problems are you trying to solve?
  4. What do people want to learn?
  5. How do they want to learn it?

See if any of this resonates:

Why do you want an online learning program?
  • Because you have a lot to share with the world, a lot to teach the world. For years, you have run an ongoing education program for your volunteers, for your members, for your staff – and for the general public. You use your website and social media to educate people and raise awareness, but you’ve been thinking about creating a more ambitious online education program.
  • You know that your members are engaged online and you want to meet them there. You know they are consuming more and more digital content that amounts to nonformal online learning material, and you (rightly) figure you might as well be an important source of learning and information for them.
  • An educational program deepens your connection with your members and positions you as a go-to source for the information they need and the learning they want. This is about long-term relationships!
  • Organizations with the most useful information, successfully presented for maximum engagement, win. J
What are our goals?

Your goals will depend on the work of your organization, and the nature and needs of your members or learners:

  • You might have pedagogical goals that require more standardized measurement of achievement; your courses and classes might be accredited with partnering diploma or degree-granting institutions. Or they might be nonformal goals, like deepening understanding and equipping members to strengthen the organization or achieve certain goals.
  • You might have social goals to make learning fun and engaging. Creating community and boosting member engagement might be more valuable than formal learning results for your organization.
  • You understand that embracing digital capacity and fostering digital literacy and empowerment amongst your people will help “future proof” the organization against ongoing technological change. So your organizational goals might include nurturing a culture of learning that embraces digital to engage those throughout (and outside) the organization, and to build skills and capacity within.
What problems are we trying to solve by creating an online learning program?

You have figured out why you want an online learning program integrated into your digital strategy. You have described your pedagogical, social and organizational goals.

Enough about you. It’s time to focus on your people and hear from them.

  • In marketing speak, you need to find out what their “pain points” are. These will break down into two areas: pain around the process of learning, and pain around the substance of learning.
  • Process pain: Your members want to learn but can’t attend regularly scheduled classes. They are in remote locations that can’t be brought together except technologically. The public has pain too: it needs to know more about what you do, or the issues you work on, so you need to figure out how to reach them in a streamlined way.
  • Substance pain: What educational content do your people need? What are the learning or information gaps in their way? You need to research and survey your members to figure out what they want to learn about.
What do people want to learn about?

Find out what your members want to learn. It might be study on an issue. It might be training for a role or responsibility.

  • Organizations have different education and training needs. A union might have to help its members learn about how to become better stewards. An NGO might want to deepen their members’ knowledge of environmental policy. A community group might want to raise awareness about healthy diets for low-income families.
  • People want to learn about solutions, and practical applications of knowledge. They want to go deeper into a subject or theme.
  • They want to advance their own knowledge, yes, but they also want to benefit their community or their workplace with their learnings. They want it to be a social learning environment.
How do they want to learn it?

All sorts of ways. “People” learn face-to-face and online, they learn in analog ways and digital ways. But the generations coming up are digital natives[i], and they are learning in new ways. They expect a more digital, connected and mobile learning environment.

  • Learners want to learn at their own pace, in their own place, or on the go.
  • They want to feel part of something and feel connected to community and to other learners.
  • They want to access educational materials and resources on their home computer, their laptop, their tablet and even their smartphone.
  • They want to engage in online networking to talk about their learning, share with fellow students and discover new ideas and new ways of playing, learning and working.

Organizations cannot underestimate the implications of these new ways: if you want to sustain your organization, if you want to engage, connect and grow with your members, you will build a flexible and dynamic online learning program.

This might be the heart of your pitch to your organization’s leadership on why investing in online learning is a wise idea.


So we know who we are. We know why we are doing this. Now we’re in a better condition to define our learning objectives – and from there, design our plan.

Your learning objectives flow from your goals. We create learning objectives for each learning material we create, from one-off slideshows to webinars to classes to courses.

For each initiative, we know:

  • Why it exists
  • The problems it wants to solve
  • It’s what people want to learn
  • How they want to learn, presenting the material in ways they want to engage with

Making your plan

Learning objectives in hand, we now make our plan. Our plan sets out what we want to do, who’s going to do it, by when, with budget attached and a mandate to make it all happen.

Organizations can create an effective online learning program, using tools that are both free and purchased, quickly and easily. Your digital education program can be delivered formally, for assessment and certification, or nonformally where your main goals might be to educate your members and interested members of the public, and to build community as you go.

Read more about specific tools for online and digital learning.