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If You Build It, Will They Come? Why Marketing Your Learning is Vital to Success

Angel Green, senior instructional strategist, Allen Interactions, custom e-learning design and developmentby , senior instructional strategist | @LearnerAdvocate

Corporate training is no field of dreams. Just because you build a great course, doesn’t mean they will come. I would bet there are some really great e-learning programs buried in the abyss of an LMS that is overrun with mandatory training courses and disguised with the same form of catalog description as every other boring, page-turner course your organization has ever created.    

When you create a great learning event, you have to shout it from the rooftop. This means that as training professionals, it is time for us to wear yet another hat. No longer are we just writers, programmers, designers, facilitators, and consultants; we must also wear the hats of marketing, sales, and advertising.

Like any good sales person knows, the first thing you must do is recognize and acknowledge the barriers of your audience.

Barrier number one: people don’t like training. It is sad, but true. I have mentioned it before, but when I tell people what I do for a living I am often the recipient of an “ugh” response. After the “ugh” comes the horror stories, which leads me to barrier two: people have scars from previous training experiences.  Your audience will assume the worse. When learners hear or read an e-mail announcement of a new training course, their mind goes back to the bad experience. They remember being stuck listening to a monotone, or annoying, voiceover talent read them every word on screen. They remember repeatedly failing a mandatory multi-choice test where the answers were so ambiguous any one of them could have been correct. They envision that creepy, talking head avatar leading them through a course.

Or worse, someone’s brilliant idea that a “fun and cool” way for a busy sales rep to learn about new products was to create a two hour Sales Survivor e-learning course – complete with Tarzan screams and Survivor drum beats. If only I were joking about these…

Barrier three: people are busy – really, really busy. Whether it is because of downsizing or rightsizing leading to less employees doing the same quantity of work, or that economic conditions are (hopefully) improving, or even due to advancements of technology allowing for 24/7 communication, the fact of the matter is, people are constantly busy. Meetings are “back-to-back”, timelines are rushed. Better, faster, better, faster…this seems to be the mantra at most organizations today. Getting folks to take time from their busy calendar to dedicate to training is hard enough when it is mandatory, and nearly impossible for non-mandatory training events.

Barrier four: people can get information anywhere. Here is a peek into my Google search history from a 20 minute window of time this morning: DNA Primers, Nucleotides, DNA Polymerase molecules, genetic amplification process, microtiter plates. In 20 minutes, I had enough information from those few searches to design an interaction on the process of DNA extraction and amplification used for molecular testing. When people want just the facts, they can get them without you. Courses in the past may have been a way to provide information – facts, figures, bullet lists. Learners have come to expect this and the sad thing is they know there are better ways to get this information. 

So, is it hopeless? Do we all just throw in the towel? Of course not! First, promise to create learning that begins to heal the wounds. Hopefully, you aren’t building the type of courses I described above. Rather, you are really designing learning to achieve performance change. (We have TONS of resources on how to do that).

MarketYourTraining copy

When you have created a course to help improve performance, market it against those barriers I mentioned. Acknowledge that the stuff they went through in the past was….well, awful!

Then, show them why your course is different. Position the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) for the learner audience. How will this course help them? Will they be better, faster, earn higher commissions, have fewer errors, be more confident?

Let them know this course is for them, by them. Your course designs DID include recent learners, right? If not, go back to step one. We believe recent learners (or potential learners) are vital to creating meaningful courses.

Finally, work to generate a buzz. Get a few folks to offer some quotes on the course. Gather a small test group and have them complete it. Reward them for providing written feedback. Small gift cards often work well. Don’t ask “smile sheet” questions – you want testimonials! Also, reach out for executive buy-in or star performer endorsements.

Your delivery of this advertisement needs to break through the noise. Just sending a standard email announcement of the course won’t cut it. You need to think creatively. Like advertisers, reach your learners where they are going.

We have found great success doing this with our clients. One of our clients, Chris Busa from BD had this to say about publicizing his e-learning course:

“Not all e-learning is created equally!  We found it very useful to use a short video to differentiate the learning we created with Allen Interactions from other programs to gain excitement and mindshare before launch.  As a result, our adoption globally and compliance of our sales teams has exceeded expectations.  The success of the first course has led to similar adoption and completion rates of additional courses we have developed.”

When you create e-learning that really helps improve performance, it is a motivator. This is a major component of the third M (Meaningful, Memorable, and Motivational). Simply by seeing the value of this one course, your learners will be motivated to take more of this type of training. And that, my friends, is the biggest win of all!!

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