This is post 2 in the series "Essential Informal Learning for Any Degree Program" by Saul Carliner which offers several concrete suggestions for extracurricular activities to recommend and to students and details how to direct students to the choices most appropriate for them.

One of the most significant pieces of advice that faculty members can offer to students is that they check out one or more professional organizations. Through their publications, events, and networking opportunities, these organizations provide students with windows into professional practice and link them to people who might be able help them find jobs.  

But so many professional organizations serve the people working in our field; different organizations meet the needs of different students. Some organizations are more appropriate for academic-focused students—ones who hope to complete a PhD and perhaps become faculty members. (That’s what most of us promote, because it’s where our interests are met.) 

However, most of our students plan to become practicing professionals; other organizations typically meet their needs. And some of our students want hybrid careers, spanning both academe and industry—and some organizations meet their needs. 

Even within those broad categories, some students eventually find their professional “homes” in large organizations serving the entire swath of the profession; others feel more comfortable in smaller organizations that focus on one or two specialty areas. Table 1 lists categories and organizations to recommend to students.


Table 1: Professional Organizations to Consider Recommending to Students


(even if the members practice in academic institutions)

(that is, on researchers and people who teach in the field)

  • American Society for Training & Development (

Comprehensive organizations

  • Society for Human Resource Management (
  • Your additional suggestion(s)
  • Academy of Management ( (Specifically consider its HR division)
  • American Educational Research Association (
  • Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychologists (
  • Your additional suggestion(s)
Specialized organizations
  • eLearning Guild ( (for profit, though basic membership is free)
  • International Society for Performance Improvement (
  • Society for Technical Communication (
  • Your additional suggestion(s)
  • Association for Educational Communications and Technology (
  • Association for the Advancement of Computers in Education (
  • American Evaluation Association (
  • International Council for Adult Education (
  • Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Special Interest Group (SIG) on Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) (
  • Your additional suggestion(s)

Additional Considerations:

  1. Although memberships are rarely free, most organizations offer special rates to encourage students to join. Make sure you inform your students of these benefits.
  2. Many students feel that joining a LinkedIn or similar group in a social networking space provides the same experience as joining a “real” group. Although such groups are beneficial, they lack opportunities for one-to-one networking, much less the proprietary information offered by professional organizations.
  3. Even the most gregarious of students typically demonstrate a reluctance to attend meetings of these groups because they feel uncomfortable in a group of strangers. So whenever possible, organize a group to go to one or two of these meetings so students have people to share the experience with.  

Final Tip: To learn more about different types of informal learning activities, check out chapters 5 and 6 of the new book, Informal Learning Basics from ASTD Press.