Action Research Cycle 3 – Business Model and Plan

Actions Taken and Data Gathered

I performed extensive research on instructional design, e-learning & adult learning. I also got strong feedback from the SB CEO that the overall Business Model Strategy for making this successful is the most critical aspect of this overall effort. I have begun benchmarking other associations to see what is successful and one of the things I keep hearing is that technology does not replace great content or subject matter experts who make sense of it all.

Spoke to ANA, SHRM, WeSpire, Tralliant, EnVision TV, ISSP and USGBC. They are all at various stages of integrating e-learning platforms into their association offerings and pricing them. Models vary on whether companies or individuals pay for access to library. Concluded that USGBC has nice model and will follow through on outputs. Have engaged two software and e-learning experts to discuss options and they have stated that we need to come up with $100k to $500k as start up costs.  As I go through the numbers, at this time, it does not pencil out until we can build an audience.  I am in favor or working with USGBC and their content experts so that we can get up some prototypes.

SHRM 2 SHRM 3 ANA Overarching PrinciplesANA Marketing FrameworkScreen Shot 2016-05-18 at 12.24.08 AMScreen Shot 2016-05-18 at 12.23.48 AMI

I performed extensive research on what to do with sustainability content, instructional design, E-Learning& adult learning. I also got strong feedback from the SB CEO that the overall Business Model Strategy for making this successful is the most critical aspect of this overall effort.

I thought it was important to talk to the staff person at SB that attempted to previously build an E-Learning platform. Ben Pawsey is currently the Director of Client Services at Thread, a sustainable apparel company and previously Ben was an Executive Producer at Sustainable Brands. The CEO provided his strategy and I have modified it reflects the current scenario, challenges, and opportunities.

6.1 Previous Business Model Done By Sustainable Brands and My Commentary

Sustainability is one of the most pressing issues of our time – every corporation is moving fast to become more sustainable and socially conscious. And, those corporations that aren’t yet embracing sustainability will soon have to. [1]

Currently, Sustainable Brands has a wealth of information on every aspect of sustainability. Every day, clients are clamoring for more and more information, data and support to help drive sustainability efforts and sustainability advocates inside organizations are also growing in importance. Today some of the largest growing areas are the use of video, multi-media presentations, and gaming.

To be the leading advocate and information source in the field of sustainability, and to capture the revenue opportunities in this growing market, Sustainable Brands needs to become the “go-to” aggregators/curators of content and the place where brands and individuals can learn, transform their careers, and drive change. Specifically, we see two new digital services being the centerpieces of Sustainable Brands growing influence in the marketplace.

  1. Phase 1: Become the leading information aggregators and content curators
  2. Phase 2: Become the learning center for sustainable knowledge and action

This subject of this thesis does not address as much of what was previously described in Phase 1. However, it is assumed that in order to become a premier learning center, one need to aggregate, organize and curate the content in a way that paying members can get to it.

  1. Define a revenue-generating model for the Sustainable Brands
  2. Integrate SBU revenue stream with other SB services to create a better, overall SB value proposition for corporate and individual members
  3. Show a clear business plan to justify SBU as a revenue stream.

SB needs to build traffic for the website and turn it into a revenue generator for the business. With the digital platform and news feeds, SB clearly has a funnel strategy to build up traffic to the free editorial content (articles/blogs/columns) and over the next decade should attempt to convert a certain % of traffic to paid access for richer content (Training/ Videos/Research Papers/Webinars/Audio). The more straightforward part is producing the content as SB regularly captures it from the many conference events and communications with the membership. SB also has a great network of well-known speakers that deliver cutting edge content who could also bring their networks to watch and ideally pay to watch.

For a web platform, one key is to be constantly refreshing the content and/or curating it in creative ways so that the audience keeps wanting to come back and see what’s new. This can be somewhat automated or highly time-consuming for staff so in the short term they automated it as much as possible to save costs.

One challenge they had was figuring out how to prioritize and organize the content they had as the variety expanded over time. They have not possessed the specific expertise from the E-Learning and LMS fields nor have they been able to dedicate the staff time and resources to the large task associated with curation. They have a broad audience with different goals to achieve by consuming the content, yet the content covers a huge subject area and served in the video, audio, slideshow, webinar, and other formats.

A major barrier to date has been finding the capital to build a robust web platform to serve the content, sort the content, search the content and securely process payments from around the world. In every prior vendor conversation, they found that they might need 6 figures of investment over 2 years to build and sustain the technology side. Especially when you start processing payments you need to think about security and consistency in quality of service, which can be a black hole for budgets.

They dipped their toe in by running a Webinar series called the SB Bootcamp where they asked members to pay for paid access and they could find sponsorship. This was financially successful but required a lot of marketing bandwidth to keep the live attendance high enough for sponsors and speakers. Their live events tickets had higher revenue goals for both so for the time being, they decided to change models even though the margin was clearly higher for E-Learning and ultimately it is much more scalable. They also struggled because they were worried about losing eLearning traffic to a pay wall. This might, in fact, cannibalize other event ticket sales as SB saw a decent conversion rate in that traffic and the business, as a whole was highly reliant on their events to date.

They researched many other platforms and models to see which best matched their goals. They actively visited the following three kinds of systems:

  1. Freemium: It seemed like the best way to go but required extra staff time to manage which content was free and which was paid access only. There’s also more of a technical challenge to having multiple levels of access.
  2. They also considered putting everything behind a pay wall but granting membership 2 weeks for a free trial option. The downside was that if everything was behind a registration wall they’d lose traffic as those who were lightly using the existing library as a resource may be deterred.
  3. The third way was to have a platform that would automatically allow users to access a certain number of pages of content before putting up a registration/payment wall, but this is more technically advanced.

Put more simply, the balance they were looking for was between; where to drop the paywall (in front of everything, nothing or some); editorial time to curate, manage and refresh content; and technical complexity of the platform and the associated staff time and expense.

Ben left the company before the final plan was implemented but agreed that any plan would likely need significant upfront investment and overhead if it were to succeed. I was peripherally involved as an SB Advisory Board member that saw the clear advantages of having a world-class E-Learning system for sustainability professionals that is scalable. I have always been a systems person and genuinely believe that if we are going to be successful in our aim to protect the earth, air, water and human beings that we need broad-based impactful education with practical tools and ways to make organizations like SB sustainable with positive revenue impacts. I have taken the Business Model Strategy he created and changed relevant parts but is seriously missing some of the financials that would add weight to this plan for it to be a viable long-term Business Plan.

6.2 Sustainable Brands General Business Challenge

SB has stated it wishes to grow from its present annual revenues to include digital offerings. However, Sustainable Brands has aspirations to grow but to date has been unable to dedicate key resources to this effort. The question is how do we make this happen?

6.2.1 Market Summary

Market Potential: Sustainable Brands can transform its business by adding:

  1. A paid subscription library service to individuals at $199 per year or purchases of individual courses at anywhere between $49/$99/$149/$199 to $999 for course packs within a particular library.
  2. An enhanced membership service that would include subscription seats for up to 100 employees per corporate member as a value-add on top of membership. Additional seats could be priced accordingly.
  3. An “Added Value” delivery and associated consulting service where Sustainable Brands partners with select experts to create custom training programs and reports for corporations and a different costing model for universities and think tanks.

If Sustainable Brands can deliver these services, it is realistic to see capturing a large piece of the potential market, which is estimated at over $107 billion dollars.[2]

Clearly, these opportunities will blend together and integrate with existing Sustainable Brands regular Corporate Memberships and Event Attendance. The opportunity is not realized by simply adding up all the numbers, but most importantly providing value-added service offerings to corporate members. Pursuing this market will expand Sustainable Brands’ growing relevance, attract the best talent, attract investment, and provide a market for expanded services that drive meaningful sustainable transformation for Sustainable Brands and its clients. To do this, SB needs to:

  1. Continue to grow and carefully track general SB library site traffic and usage
  2. Grow events (licensing) and event attendance (attendees)
  3. Diversify its service offering and create a scalable and more predictable, recurring revenue model with strong margins
  4. Create an ongoing clear value for individuals and corporations to pay
  5. Expand its positioning as an aggregator and curator of Sustainable content
  6. Develop long-term program and content partnerships with service specialists

6.2.2 Growth across SB Revenue Streams

Organic growth of existing Sustainable Brands revenue streams will positively impact growth of the digital library and added value services as follows:

  1. Corporate Members
    1. Today: 65 members at $15k Avg. = $975K
    2. Just growing to: 100 Members at $35k – 55k (50/50) = $4.5M
    3. (Companies, universities, media organizations, foundations, government/civic – newly expanded target list)
    4. I have not been asked to consider SB’s business model for events, licensing and other organic growth. It is important to consider these income streams and more importantly how these activities can funnel individuals and corporate members into SBU.
  2. Events
    1. Today: $X.CM – Not Known
    2. Grow to: $X.0M
  3. Licensing
    1. Today: $ $X00k   – Not Known
    2. Grow to: $1M
  4. Total Potential Organic Growth
    1. $10.5M from all three existing services

6.2.3 International Considerations

  1. Each global public SB site promotes Users and membership
    1. Link and content (video) section driving / promotion to Library and Corp. Membership
  2. Revenue sharing is essential – 10% of very library member from that country or a member that is “assigned” regionally due to conference attendance should go back to the local Chapter.
  3. Once signed up for either Library Partner or Member, that international person goes to the same central site as the USA people via a subdomain.
  4. Library site has a link back to each local SB site and the international component ensures translation and as such broader distribution.

6.2.4 Current Client Model

  1. Currently, there are four membership levels: Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum
  2. Most memberships (80%) are in the “Silver” range with the other 20% spread between Gold and Bronze.
  3. There is one Platinum member to date.
  4. Membership “value” is driven primarily by conference attendance and all have stated that they would like to see an E-Learning Platform and Digital Library that is useful
  5. There is no understood “value” to the sequence / depth of relationship with SB – from “Subscriber” to “Member”

6.3 Sustainable Brands University (SBU) and Digital Library – Work Plan and Goal

SB will create a new digital subscription service by monetizing the SB library. SB will curate, organize and manage content prioritize first on the Marketing and Brand Positioning vertical. As part of this, SB will also launch an “Added Value” service offered to corporate and library members where add-on projects can be customized using Sustainable Brands select partners.

6.3.1 Mandates

To launch this new revenue stream, the business must:

  1. Fit within and enhance delivery of the SB mission
  2. Be operated by and delivered to clients by a limited SB staff – # TBD
  3. Support, integrate with and enhance existing SB services
  4. Aggregate and organize SB content into a simple, usable, scalable structure
  5. Cost less than $500k to launch
  6. Ongoing annual operating costs, including 2 salaries, of $225k
  7. Be able to get to Beta in the USA within 120 days
  8. Select an international “beta” market within 120 days
  9. Launch at scale at SB Detroit in June 2017

6.3.2 Working Assumptions

  1. The individual matters
    1. Employee engagement is crucial
      1. Want to be enablers and know their company is sustainable
      2. Bring sustainability and how it fits into their career path into their day-to-day job
  • Bring sustainable practices into their personal lifestyle
  1. Need a new “account” structure – Clear simple naming convention (SBU) and value proposition for:
    1. Individuals
    2. Corporations
  2. Focus on Marketing and Brand Positioning Vertical and E-Learning Solution First
    1. Monetize the courses to start – create a simple and valuable content play
  3. Need a structured method to organize content
    1. Clear POV on what makes it “SB Content” and thus worth charging for.
  4. New main NAV on and international SB sites
    1. This may be required to drive traffic to and from SBU
  5. Help international partners create local relevance, subscribers, users and members
    1. Revenue sharing with our international partners is a must
    2. Select International Market for the first beta
    3. Minimize the overhead and responsibility for local groups – make central management of membership and digital services a benefit, not a threat.
  6. Use via handheld device
    1. We must use a toolset that allows for easy mobile access and signs up
  7. Technology
    1. Simple solution outside the current SB web structure
  8. Search
    1. Need a robust search function to deliver on the aggregation benefit with clear taxonomy, etc.

6.4 Benchmarking: Business Model Learning From Other Entities

KoAnn, the SB CEO sees the development of a Business Model as the highest priority and, most importantly to find other models that work that we can emulate. The models for learning platforms vary so widely from subscriptions for webinars that pay $99 per course or per year, models where you buy or license seats based on number of members or employees and ala- carte models like the schools in the clouds,

I spent a fair amount of time conducting online research and talking to various stakeholders about who is continuously creating content and designing courses and how can they are being compensated. For example, Autodesk and C2C Training offer classes for free – 6 weeks with 40 hours and a certificate at the end. They typically offer them to students and professionals. They use Normal HTML pages and the courses are organized with ordinary web content management systems.

Autodesk uses Drupal that is open source content management software and then install it on their server. In this way, they do not have to pay per user or for subscriptions. They use other systems to manage quizzes and other unique features.

C2C Training Limited uses Docebo, which is another content management system where they just pay once an install. They do not charge students and their online presence is quite small where you may only find a few hours’ worth of free content.

Part of the expenses and sensitivity arises with Experts or Content Generators. They are looking for Co-Branded workshops on the back of event where a financially fair agreement is put in place for both parties. Once this event happens, both parties can leverage this and sell it online. Part of the business model needs to carefully examine how third parties can play roles and benefit? An idea may be to first hold face to face training and gather the member participation and then put a yearlong track online.

I began benchmarking other associations to see what is successful and one of the things I keep hearing is that technology does not replace great content or subject matter experts who make sense of it all.

I spoke to ANA, SHRM, IIL, ISSP, GoKart, Tripos Software, WeSpire, Traliant and finally USGBC. They are all at various stages of integrating E-Learning platforms into their association offerings and pricing them. Models vary on whether companies or individuals pay for access to the library.

6.5 American National Advertising Association (ANA)[3]

The ANA (Association of National Advertisers) provides leadership that advances marketing excellence and shapes the future of the industry. Founded in 1910, ANA’s membership includes nearly 1,000 companies with 15,000 brands that collectively spend or support more than $300 billion in marketing and advertising annually. The ANA also includes the Business Marketing Association (BMA) and the Brand Activation Association (BAA), which operate as divisions of the ANA, and the Advertising Educational Foundation, which is an ANA subsidiary. The ANA makes a difference through advancing the interests of marketers and promotes and protects the well-being of the marketing community.

CEO, Bob Liodice says that ANA’s mission is to provide leadership that advances marketing excellence and shapes the future of our industry. We make a difference by advancing members’ brands through content that drives marketing excellence and moving the marketplace forward through industry leadership. We are committed to delivering superior products and resources to help our members’ brands grow and thrive. I invite you to learn more about how the ANA makes a difference to members.

ANA started 105 years ago and started to protect their rights in marketing and advertising. They formed a group in D.C. mostly for lobbying. Have engaged two software and E-Learning experts to discuss options and they have stated that we need to come up with $100k to $500k as start-up costs.  As I go through the numbers, at this time, it does not pencil out until we can build an audience.

I spoke at length with the ANA Training about their business model and was surprised to discover that they have yet to invest heavily in the digital space but have invested very heavily in training. My own assessment is that they have invested so heavily in their infrastructure and partnerships that they are hesitant to shift the model. I do believe that they will have to at some point or give away a lot of their training dollars to other organizations. Events – 200 every year with everything from 15 to 200 member to 2500 people – Masters in Marketing

Figure 12: ANA – Insights

(Source:, 2016)

Their Learning Professional told me about their Marketing Knowledge Center – various resources and tools and best practices. Their online library has approximately 8000 pieces of content where they push info there on a daily basis. All of their training today is on-site team training. They work with a member and match them with an instructor. They strongly believe in face to face. They do some webinars but have a lot of training that go to 5 days long to many members who buy 1 day per month all year. Today, these are Open Enrollment Seminars where the participants sit in a classroom with 20 to 30 people from Brands learning different topics. They believe that the people want the hands-on and interactive experience.

They have prestigious membership base and have elevated the type of organizations to become members. Most of their participants are client-side marketers from the Brands. They do not allow consultants because they do not allow selling. They see themselves as the association that is marketing resources to marketers. They are not about networks. Their Knowledge Center exists for helping marketers increase skillets.

They have over 10,000 brands with 800 corporate memberships. One annual fee is calculated based off of their media spend. Minimum dues can range from 7 or 8K per year per member to just under $4M for a major Brand.

They charge 6K for half-day sessions and 12K for full day sessions if they are a member. Their training is capped at 30 people. They charge 9K for half day and 18K for a full day for Open Enrollment for non-members.

For their online presence, they have lots of 1-hour webinars available, which are frequently taped from their seminars. When offering data and or webinars for companies today they will run on any LMS that supports SCORM and almost every company already has this. For large companies, they find that the marketing professionals still want to use outsourced LMS so they do not have to deal with internal Information Technology (IT), Learning Development Teams and HR, etc.

6.6 International Institute for Learning (IIL)

IIL offers a wide range of training to help professionals around the world prepare for world renowned professional credentials in Agile, Leadership, Project Management, Business Analysis, ITIL®, Lean Six Sigma, Microsoft® Project, and other key areas. They offer flexible learning methods that are available according to their client schedules. In addition to the online training, they offer additional support from an expert coach who touts just-in-time and just-for-you approach to preparation.

View the complete virtual schedule with course outlines here, on-demand here

Table 5: Virtual Schedule with Course Outline

(Source:, 2016)

Organizations like IIL that offers certifications have been building up thousands and thousands of members for many years. Their on-line and digital offerings are fairly new and they are still building business cases for long term investment. Just the fact that they have moved into Virtual Conferences is a testament to that fact that they see and are jumping on board the technology wave of the future.

Figure 13: Waves of Innovation

(Source: Wollard, 2012)

Olga Richards is the Director of Customer Care at IIL[4] and is happy to answer any questions about their training programs. They have many training options available organization, including on-site and group training and corporate discounts. 

They also conduct a virtual conference, which is a powerful wave of the future. Their last one went live on June 2nd and gives attendees the option to obtain 90 days of on-demand access if they cannot attend on the live date – Agile and Scrum: Driving Success through Innovation.


6.7 Private Software Developers

I had multiple conversations with several organizations that are providing online training to companies and government organizations. Their business models are varied. Frequently, they are designing and building their own solution offerings not dissimilar to how Udacity or Udemy offer courses. Many companies buy from these providers when they buy a traditional LMS or they have it hosted by the provider and pay for seat licenses and currently we are seeing more models where they may be paying per transaction. These companies provide the platform that hosts and displays the courses and they have Instructional and Graphic Designers on staff or available to them. Many of them also build on open source platforms like Moodle or Sakai. These are shareware product that needs Designers so that they are able to add any features such as building out reminder engines, graphical metrics, dashboard /analytics, quizzes. Once Games and Video are added to the platform, we see the timeframes extend and the costs increase significantly. It is not unusual for a company to make an initial investment of anywhere between $100K and $1M for these LMS and Software Provider Solutions that are frequently customized.

They will present multiple libraries, not dissimilar from the categorization in SB’s library and then within the library, they offer courses. You can often view the storyboard for the course, which will provide on outline all the elements of the course. When the level of interactivity is higher or the usage of video is greater, the costs are naturally higher. It is not unusual for a custom Code of Conduct training to cost $50K. If most of the content is provided and it is high quality, the costs can go down. These models look at percentage splits with the majority going to them as they bear the development costs and higher financial risks.

In a few of these discussions with these providers, they wanted detailed information on SB’s Business Model as they have had enough experience to know and understand the impacts and opportunities.

They will ask about:

  1. Membership Numbers, Costs, and Tier Structures
  2. Licensing Agreements for Content Gathered and Demand for Royalty Free Access for Them
  3. How Much Content is Available and What is the Quality
  4. Has any of the Content Been Curated or Reviewed
  5. How is Governance Managed and How are Decisions Made

They observe that today SB has 63 Member Companies and that the membership tiers are not based on the size of the company. The multiple membership tiers include:

  1. Bronze – $15,000/yr. (18)
  2. Silver – $25,000 (29)
  3. Gold- $33,000 (15)
  4. Platinum – $50,000 (1)

Next, they do the math projections for themselves and determine that they may be able to work directly with the Brands and obtain approximately $75,000 for each sale times the total addressable market, which could be $4,725,000. They know that they need to charge approximately $10,000 for 1 library and obtain about a 20% market penetration at $120,000 per year. They might project that eventually, they can generate $25M from this association.

They will typically look for the organization to be involved in the Pitches to the Brands and help the Brands understand what is involved in the costs of development to the Company and the Individual Learner. There will be a healthy discussion on whether SB should give certain members free access to the library as part of membership costs, what kinds of discounts could be given to members and how to price for non-members. Handling companies versus individuals changes the business model and often the software platform to accommodate financial transactions and associated security features.

There also needs to be agreements made on the amount of courses that could exist in one library and what the length of time should be of courses. Typically they are 30 to 90 minutes. One of the providers gave us statistical research stating that learners participate actively at an average engagement time of 56 minutes. The way they usually do their business model calculations is by looking at the value of a library where they might charge approximately $20 per user per library times the total number of employees. In this model, SB may get anywhere from 10% on the low end to 30% on the high end of the profit and how that profit is calculated has a lot to do with how much work/development/design/technology enhancements the provider is responsible for. Their preference would be that SB participates in the upfront costs which could be anywhere from $100K to $1M.

They will assume responsibility for building the libraries but for that they need to be able to sell it to anybody else, with SB endorsement and in this scenario, they are likely to give SB less or give them approximately 10% of revenues generated. They will also look for a co-marketing agreement where they can be put up on the SB website and where they will put SB on their website.

Almost all of the Brands are using third parties in this way. None of them are bringing it in-house, as they know they do not want to become a software vendor and bear no sunk in costs. If they do bear some of the costs, then obviously they share the risk and keep some of the revenue or come up with a discount scenario. Rich multi-media course usually starts at $25K per course and they try to design it in a way that they can sell it over and over again. It is not unusual that a one-hour course can cost from $35K to $60K if it is rich with multi-media inputs or gaming. LMS system providers usually charge $10 per user per year so if you are creating a library for 100,000 employees, you can see how the numbers pencil out. One of the large training organizations just recently licensed a learning provider for $2M.

They also ask for as much standardization as possible. Examples of this include building all the storyboards with common templates, getting other companies and give them all content and they build in differences. If all courses use the similar game, then you can get economies of scale. All of these factors are part of minimum investment agreements, royalties, and financial negotiations.



6.8 Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM)[5]

One the groups that gave me a significant amount of time and expertise were the Society for Human Resources Management.  They have one of the more advanced online and E-Learning solutions I saw in an association of member companies.

The Society for Human Resources Management is 40 years old.  The association offers members a couple of different training options.  Membership obtains access to a database of information for HR Professionals.  Certification is an important element for HRCI – Human Resources Certification Institute.  They offer a Standard and Passing Exam. They recently started coming out with more products, particularly in the E-Learning space.

Their Learning Management System comes through a Vendor who provides licenses and sold SHRM a user license.  If you are a member, the learning system is $695 for members and $870 for non-members for the certification preparation learning system. $300 for member and $400 for non-member HRCI and SHRM split. HRCI does not have a learning system anymore.  Exam structure and scoring system are different and they are closer to $500. SHRM exams are scored differently and this was part of the reason the two organizations split.  HRCI has a system that is more like grading in schools and semesters.  SHRM has a situational based grading system, which focuses on how would you apply it? HRCI had an exam that if you got one or two wrong, you missed it and failed it.

Figure 14: SHRM E-Learning

(Source:, 2016)

Different sets of certification systems use the same partner – The Holmes Corporation – Info@holmescorp.arp.  Today SHRM creates items and ships materials through customer service, especially books from their location. Their SHRM Store generates significant revenue for the organization.

SHRM E-Learning produces some partner content, webcasts, recorded items and in person virtual seminars.  SHRM uses their own platform – built on Docebo – who acts as their partner.  They find the system to be flexible enough so that they can adjust a lot for their own content.

If you have an E-Learning library subscription, you can find courses on things like Workplace Harassment and either go through the Workplace Harassment portal or can go through Learning System. Some parts of the system are specifically designed for Certification. You are also able to purchase items in bulk per an agreement with SHRM or Holmes such as 1000 licenses for Workplace Harassment courses and certifications. The way this works is that if they use a corporate purchase and or buy in bulk and then they get the link and it is good for 1000 people. There is also a model where you can purchase per license – member and non-member. The Corporate Administrator gets metrics to see completion and this can only be done at a company level.

For individual courses or ala carte such as ones you really need to have like “Workplace Harassment”, SHRM sees steady purchases on an ongoing basis for these. Docebo hosts the website E-Learning Library especially for individuals, for specific lessons, for older products, etc. We also offer training On Demand, which is that if you could not go to a conference then purchases recorded version and the library. Today SHRM has 500 high-quality sessions over 40 years where there is typically a speaker with PowerPoint. We also accommodate for mobile apps to download and take notes. They have insisted on a certain format and level of quality from all the conferences as it relates to taping and then making those training available. You see PowerPoint and hear the voice. You do not even see the speaker or the audience. Currently, have 500 and they like to maintain 500. In other words, as they get more, they cull out old or outdated ones so they keep the content new and fresh. It is currently broken down by year and conference.

An E-Learning library subscription today is $229 for members and $249 for non-members. They are given access to a search bar and other filters. Today SHRM has over 275K worldwide members and they are based in Virginia. SHRM India and SHRM China have a separate member base. SHRM does not have corporate memberships. They offer corporate discounts but this is about individual professional development. They maintain a profile on every member and it includes membership history and purchase history.

They just launched the new Docebo platform officially in the last few months do not have detailed usage and revenue generation metrics. Certification includes accreditation process and it is very long and we are going through it. HRCI was not accredited for a long time and within the last ten years, they got it. We were using another system before which was Cornerstone. Some of the feedback was that the system was not very user-friendly. The biggest complaint they received was that the login procedure was difficult and that members could still not find what they were looking for, that the system was not intuitive enough. Additionally, the website did not have a smart flow and the most common question they got from management was that they could not seem to track the progress of users and print out certificates. They did extensive research on Docebo and users really liked it and found it very easy to use. The subscription is brand new and they are offering On Demand – access for 6 months for $149 if you went to the conference.

Figure 15: SHRM Certification

(Source:, 2016)

If you did not go to the conference we are charging between $500 and $600. SHRM keeps the certification preparation separate and today on a different website. If you are already certified and need re-certification you have a unique login number.

In the learning system, we took the time to go through keywords. The SHRM Store online is divided into an early career and mid-career SHRM Store. Ultimately the plan is to combine into one easy place to purchase almost everything but exam registration from the SHRM Store. This allows the member to put them all in one cart, seminar registration/E-Learning, and book; it all goes to one place.

I had a healthy conversation with them about their relationship with content providers and experts. They have developed a separate E-Learning contract separate from the contract they use to bring experts in for webinars, company engagements, speaking at seminars or conference. All their contracts have agreements with pay structures.

Today webcasts have live airing and it is offered as a free membership benefit. Membership is $190 per year. Individuals are also able to just go in and buy individual courses without a membership as well. When I asked about pricing costs, she said that it depends on the course how much they can charge. If it is a compliance course, it might cost more than an ethics courses. We have $40 Benefits Trainings but typically we charge between $60 and $300 for courses. Single purchase courses are not in the conference library.

Some of the compliance or Benefits Content courses, they will make sure these are purchased ala carte such as Workplace Harassment which ensures a better overall return. All of the courses have video, quizzes built into them and provide a certificate of achievement.

I asked her how many staff SHRM has for E-Learning to maintain this system. She says that they have 3 full-time staff and that other departments also contribute work on it. Have Spanish translation for some courses and not for all. They have text that can be translated but not video.

I asked if they knew today how many were the accessing system. With previous Cornerstone system, one of the challenges they had was that it didn’t tell them whether the people accessing were members or non-members. Both systems run reports on where each individual is with their courses. They experience a high demand for system and are looking forward to new metrics reports from the new Docebo system including how many users are in the system, what is the average number courses they are taking and whether they are pursuing Compliance Certification vs. Knowledge Building courses. They are attending a large E-Learning convention (DAVEX) in the fall and hope to keep building a better and better system.








6.9 United Stated Green Building Council (USGBC)[6]

Figure 16: U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)

(Source:, 2016)

I also spent a significant amount of time thinking about how to move forward at a fairly rapid pace and get some courses up and running.  This led to my eventual conversation with United States Green Building Council, which has led to a potential breakthrough in attempting to get something up fairly quickly.  Here is the simple interface they use.

US Green Building Council Educational Library and Offerings

Another outstanding opportunity that exists for us is on how to do the certification and or badging, which were stated by many organizations as the real revenue generator for many associations and organizations.

I have concluded that USGBC is the least costly model for SB and that they will follow through on outputs.  It is one of the best solutions thus far and working with USGBC and their content experts will enable us to get up some rapid prototypes.

Recently had a meeting with them and USGBC representative and Geoff Trotter, the Chief Development Officer from SB who the CEO has assigned to this effort. USGBC is a mission-driven, member-centric non-profit. Their current CEO Rick Fedrizzi has been there for 15 years and will be stepping down. New CEO Mahesh Ramanujam is from IBM has to background in technology and comes from United Technologies. He brings a dedication to technology that is being welcomed.

USGBC has been expanding reach. They have been acquiring certification systems in different areas. Kristin Ferguson and Harley Wolfe are charged with educating stakeholder group to create green building world. Their focus to date has been on entities that build, operate and own buildings. Much of their audience is interested in anything sustainable so this could be a good marriage.

Kristin said that she big fan of courtship and going out to lunch before we move in. We may want to try to start with a suite of learning resources and put them on to the platform in some form. Let’s see how well it performs. They are looking at launching pilot with academic institutions and this typically requires a bit less curation and design around the offerings. USGBC is currently looking at what does it look like to give a campus access.

The curation and creation of threads are the challenges and this is consistent with what I have currently discovered during my action research cycles. What USGBC has done are created custom offerings that are available only to members and some of our stakeholders. They have discovered that people need more modularized content. People’s attention spans are not existent anymore. So that when they walk away, they retain the information.

Kristin requested that Geoff provides USGBC with SB’s analytics on the usage of the current library – which ones have been, accessed the most so we can float the best to the top. Can SB do this?

Geoff said that it is a goal of SB to set out to inspire and enable.   We score an 8 on inspiration but we have not really taken on the enablement part of this. The focus over the last decade has been to learn, collaborate and communicate. The content to date has been informal. The opportunity is to partner with USGBC that has the competency to understand the learning opportunity and how to make it accessible to a broader community. SB wants certificates and ultimately certification and the extent to which SB can learn from USGBC in this space, they would be appreciative. SB currently licenses out 8 events – 300 to 1000 people around the world attend the international events. Approximately 2000 people attend the US event.

The goal is that regardless of whether people are at an event or at their desk, SB wants to stay connected. SB’s Digital space is underplayed and has the most potential. Today there are 3 million impressions, 2 million visits and 1.5 million unique users with 55% coming from North America and 25% from UK/EU and 12% from Asia. 95,000 reach for the weekly newsletter, 70,000 twitter followers, 15,000 Facebook followers and 17,000 linked in followers.


USGBC has 12,000 members. One of the best exercises might be to look at which large companies are in both worlds. USGBC has a Manufacturing User Group – Now LEED User Group Industrial Facilities. Thus far they have delivered 250,000 hours of education to 25,000 unique users from 100 countries in 10 languages. Today 200,000 LEED credential holders access online training.

An important benchmark to look at is TED where they had 10 years of high-quality video footage before they released it on their platform. They continue to set the standard for success and have done a lot to curate information. USGBC’s Instructional Designer has the expertise to provide feedback and they may send over some specific requests as they look through the library.

When it comes to a projected financial model for this Business Model Strategy, I believe that we are shooting in the dark, which is why I like the USGBC model of starting out slowly and seeing how members respond. They have been building their system for 3 years to get the numbers they now have.

When I interviewed many of the companies, they pretty much agreed that navigation and the ability to find what they needed and what was relevant was critical for the ultimate business model.  What they would like to see in the navigation is something like “Here are all the different libraries. Within the libraries, here are the courses we offer. Here is the content for the courses for you to be able to refer back at will.”  A good system might provide a brief storyboard for courses, which includes all the elements, including learning objectives, videos, slides, interactions, and text.  When creating the actual training, it is important to recognize that the more interactivity and video, the higher the cost. One custom code of conduct course can cost up to $50K.  If SB can provide a lot of high-quality content and the provider verifies it, the costs can be kept down.

Content experts often also expect to receive a percentage of the sales if they are featured or if their intellectual property is involved.  The sales or marketing people will typically get a higher percentage as well, particularly if they have to spend a lot of time with different departments within a company to reconcile the style and delivery.  SB currently has a lot of content, and they automatically have to license to the 394 pieces of content for example in the brand and marketing space.

An example pitch might be to come up with a cost to companies or a discount based on tier value of one library.  The marketing library for starters could be about 7 to 10 courses. Each course might be about 30 minutes to a maximum of 90 minutes with breaks and lots of activity. The previously accepted market value of a library is $20 per user based on the total number of employees.  Content experts can often contribute around $3,000 to $5,000 worth of work per course even though they may have to develop 3 to 5 at discounted rates.  The higher costs are factored in when you include video, graphic treatments, voiceovers, narration and the total actual cost of the courses could be about $70,000 for 7.  It would not be unusual for the cost to Sustainable Brands to be about $100,000 for the marketing library alone.

In summary, there are many choices on how to execute a world-class E-Learning Platform for the SB COP. I have made it clear that after all the research I have conducted that I believe that SB should start slow and take the lead from a group like USGBC. Even better, if a group like USGBC that is not motivated only by profit since they are a non-profit agrees to help curate and create a test vehicle, then my suggestion would be to move forward. I think that many other profit oriented groups will continue to approach SB with offers and opportunities, but that until SB gets its feet wet and experiments with a partial solution, that the CEO and staff cannot know how members will respond or how much potential revenue can be generated.

[1]ARIEL SCHWARTZ Good news for corporate social responsibility leaders: there’s a growing body of evidence that sustainability often goes hand in hand with profits. A new report from MIT Sloan Management; Review and the Boston Consulting Group adds even more data to the pile: according to a survey of 2,600 executives and managers around the world, the number of companies that profited from sustainability initiatives climbed to 37%—up 23% from last year. 02.05.13


[2] Forbes Online…/online-learning-industry-poised-for-107-billion-in-2015/

Aug 27, 2014 – Online learning, also known as e-learning, is booming. Market research firm Global Industry Analysts projects it will reach $107 Billion in 2015.



[4]Olga Richards
Director of Customer Care
International Institute for Learning (IIL)

[5]; Minh-Chau Truong, (703) 535-6420 Specialist E-Learning System Administrator was most helpful.