Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a powerful technology, capable of providing increased data intelligence, streamlining processes, and delivering personalized experiences. It’s also made it easier than ever for anyone to create educational content. What impact will AI-generated content have on the role and value of associations? And what should associations do to prepare for this new reality?
Adoption of AI in Associations
Sherry Budziak, Founder and CEO of .orgSource, has been helping associations advance their missions through strategic planning and digital transformation for close to 20 years. She notes that, “Like the introduction of the Internet, AI will become pervasive. At some point we won’t remember working without it.” There is one key difference, however. “This time, everything is evolving much, much faster. We’ve all had less time to prepare.”
Associations need to feel prepared. “There are questions of policies and ethics to address,” according to Omnipress Director of Market Development, Dan Loomis. “Associations want to ensure the appropriate protections are in place to maintain industry integrity.”
Because of this, adoption of AI tools among associations is relatively low.
“Between our work with individual associations and association-supporting organizations, we estimate 10-20% of association professionals are using any AI tools right now,” states Budziak.
How are these AI tools being used? According to Budziak, “Primarily as an assistant.”
The Role of AI in Associations Today
For associations who are working with fewer staff and resources, AI tools and technology provide welcome support. With the right solutions in place, education and conference teams can increase their capacity by streamlining tasks.
Loomis agrees. “We conducted an informal poll of association professionals to learn how they were using AI tools. Overwhelmingly, they told us they’re using AI to increase team output.”
Some example applications include:
- Data analysis to identify program performance, content needs, and member trends
- Development of course or session descriptions and marketing materials
- Attendee/learner/member support through intelligent chatbots
- Narration and translation services
- Summarizing transcripts of sessions, panel discussions, or internal discussions like interviews with SMEs
- Brainstorming topic ideas, frameworks, and outlines
- Generating questions to ask SMEs
- Turning course content into supporting resources, like case scenarios, checklists, quizzes, and videos
These tasks all support educational content that already exists. But what about using AI to help develop new content? This is where most associations draw a very hard line.
Taking a Stance on Using AI for Content Creation
The purpose of an association is to oversee and advance its respective industry through—among other strategies—education.
The educational content they deliver through conferences, courses, and other member resources is sourced, researched, and vetted by highly respected subject matter experts. This is a process associations want to protect.
During a recent discussion on the topic, several executives stated they felt strongly that, “We owe it to our members and our industry to ensure content is accurate, current, and thoroughly vetted. “
Several associations and credentialing bodies have taken a hard stance on the issue. Educational content that offers continuing education credits cannot be generated by AI.
But associations aren’t the only organizations providing education, certifications, and micro-credentialing. As Budziak observes, “We’re seeing an over-saturation of content, and thanks to AI, it’s just going to increase.”
Associations Experiencing Increased Competition from Alternative Sources of Education
According to global market research company Technavio, the U.S. professional development market is projected to grow at a compound annual rate of 7.83% through 2026. While this is great news for associations, it also opens the door to other organizations who want to capitalize on the opportunity.
“For a long time, associations were the primary source of industry information,” states Loomis. “Today we’re seeing increased competition from non-traditional sources.”
Association industry partners, independent trainers and coaches, and even prestigious universities provide both free and paid resources to a wide network of working professionals.
Meanwhile, young professionals, who are projected to make up 30% of the workforce by 2030, are turning to alternative sources on YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram for education.
Many of these competitors have embraced AI tools to help them develop more content even faster.
“If I’m a prospective member,” notes Budziak, “I might be asking myself, why do I need to join an association when there’s so much content out there in the wild?”
But not all content is created equal. And this could provide a significant advantage for associations.
Quality and Trust a Key Differentiator
As the professional development landscape becomes inundated with content—including AI-generated content— it’s hard to know which sources are accurate and trustworthy. Especially with so many of us turning to the internet as the primary place to find information.
“Internet users already had to weed through multiple search results to validate and substantiate information,” states Omnipress Director of Marketing, Tracy Grzybowski. “Add AI into the mix, and you have no way of knowing where that information is even coming from in the first place.”
To generate content, AI tools search the internet and piece together information from various sources to produce a body of work. Grzybowski notes, “The challenge is this information is being collated by an algorithm. And it may Frankenstein information together into a narrative that is inaccurate or out of context.”
Associations have an opportunity to re-establish themselves as the singular voice of authority for their industries.
“If people get content directly from the association, they can feel confident it’s high-quality, legitimate, and accurate,” Grzybowski points out. “This is a value proposition that every association should be shouting from the rooftops right now.”
The prevalence of AI-generated content may also force associations to re-examine their educational offerings. Budziak agrees. “If I can get information by entering a question into Google, so can anybody. There’s no value in teaching at that level.”
Instead, she recommends associations think about what they can offer that members can’t get anywhere else.
“This focus on uniquely valuable, vetted content will only get more important as time goes on.”