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Yesterday I wrote about the large number of conferences and convenings competing for the attention of those interested in postsecondary learning innovation.

Almost all of these events have a professional organization behind them. In today’s lingo, they are powered by an association, consortium, or company.

These professional organizations do much more than put on annual, subject-specific, and regional conferences.

A partial list of the functions of higher ed professional organizations - at least in the space of learning innovation and educational technology that I know best - would include:

  • Put on conferences and events.
  • Organize and sponsor non-residential ongoing professional development opportunities, such as webinars.
  • Run leadership development conferences and academies.
  • Publish and edit peer-reviewed journals and books. (Although maybe less so outside of the traditional disciplinary based associations).
  • Create web (and sometimes) print publications.
  • Participate in social media.
  • Create and give out awards.
  • Partner with foundations to run grant-funded initiatives.
  • Collect data.
  • Create / disseminate original research.
  • Lobby for the interests of their members at the federal and state levels.
  • Provide opportunities for companies to reach postsecondary decision makers through event sponsorships and vendor halls.
  • Offer consulting services and data to member organizations.

What else?

What are some other functions of academic professional associations?

How do professional associations organized around a certain topic - say learning innovation - differ from professional associations organized around a particular academic discipline?  (Such as my old professional organization, the Population Association of America - PAA). 

The more I think about these groups, consortiums, associations, and companies - the more I realize how little I know about this world.

My sense is that most professional organizations are non-profits. Is that right? Do we have examples of professional associations that are run by for-profit companies?

From what I can tell, it seems as if sponsoring conferences is the major way that professional associations are able to pay the bills. Is that correct?

This past year we have witnessed a couple professional associations closing down. These include the New Media Consortium (NMC) and the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE). Is anyone paying attention to what other professional associations may be at risk?

Do we have an association of higher ed associations? Or even an association of learning innovation associations?

Where in academia would scholarship of professional associations sit? In departments of education? In schools of business?

How would you help someone new to the world of higher ed - or even to the world of learning innovation and educational technology - understand the ecosystem of professional associations?

How do you make sense of the world of higher ed professional associations?

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