Stores—brick-and-mortar or eCommerce sites—want customers to buy their products or services. And recommend the products to others. Then, return and buy more. Similarly, for online training, you want trainees—whether employees, partners, or customers—to buy (or buy into) your eLearning content. And use and apply it. And rate it positively through recommendations and endorsements. And come back and “buy” more. Effectively, to become loyal customers.
Marc Rosenberg’s recent article, The Knowledge Management Genius of Amazon.com, prompted me to think of online learners as online customers and apply the principles used by successful eCommerce sites to eLearning. eLearning and eCommerce have much in common, if you think of learning as a commodity. Keep your favorite eCommerce site in mind as you read on, think of your trainees as customers, and try some of the following techniques to get them to “buy” your online training program.
The Learner is Always Right
Here’s an illuminating quote from Inside Amazon’s Idea Machine: How Bezos Decodes Customers: “More than a century ago another legendary retailer, Chicago’s Marshall Field, championed the fatalist’s slogan: ‘The customer is always right.’ Bezos, perhaps more than anyone, has taken that mantra into the digital era, incrementally cracking one of the business’s great mysteries: figuring what customers want before the cash register rings and then making those insights pay off.”
Which eCommerce principles should we apply to eLearning to ensure that online training provides a worthwhile pay off?
#1 CONTEXT: What’s the Customer Need?
If a customer does not need (or think that they need) a product, they will not buy it. If a learner does not see the need for your training, why should they bother to learn?
The point of workplace learning and performance training is to help people to do their jobs better, or they won’t “buy it”. We are used to learning experiences organized by concepts, or topics. (Look at the majority of textbooks as examples.) If you want to connect learning to the job, why not move, as Rosenberg suggests, “from a topic-centered approach to a performance- or task-centered approach”?
Consider organizing learning content in terms of the daily tasks the learner performs for which he may need help, reminders, or extra knowledge. Performance-centered training creates mindful connections between the learning and the job.
#2 COMMUNICATION: Online Marketing
Yes, there are definitely eCommerce customers who actively seek products without needing to be pinged by ads, sales, and recommendations. However, a business must be constantly in front of the customer to grow.
Besides traditional electronic ads, consider messaging that is integrated with your training program through your LMS. Emails or texts with reminders that pull the learner up to their training dashboard make it easy to jump immediately into a training module. Using a microsharing tool, like Yammer or Twitter, you can easily notify learners of training events. Post-training, communicate next steps to learners, for continuous learning. Ask for feedback. And perhaps daring for eLearning, but not for successful eCommerce, share learner feedback and course ratings. If you receive low marks, improve your product (training), as any eCommerce business would do if the product is not selling.
#3 COMMUNITY: Create a Loyal Customer Base
eCommerce sites allow customer ratings and reviews, ratings of reviews, product images and specs, and recommendations for complementary products. All these devices not only aid the purchasing decisions, but give the customer a sense of importance.
Allow your learners to feel a part of the learner community, formally or informally. Show that other learners trust your training, and social learning will increase.
And why not make your training ratings visible to everyone? If your ratings are low, showing that you are actively improving the experience will increase learner loyalty. Leverage the community’s help to make training successful, by identifying subject matter experts (SMEs) and leveraging learning stakeholders (management). Act on the feedback. Share changes and updates. Treat training as a product that is built on user feedback and need. Put your reputation on the line, and your learners will do the same for you.
#4 ORGANIZATION: Product Catalogs
Content must be organized in a sensical way, or it’s difficult to absorb. eCommerce sites put a lot of thought into their product catalogs.
For eLearning, your training “catalog” should include courses and series of courses grouped into an overall training program. Through an LMS, you can also specify the order you want learners to complete courses. Or, let learners choose their own course path from the catalog, as an eCommerce customer would do. If you are using microlearning techniques to create learning bursts, using a catalog will make your bite-sized training morsels well-organized and easy to select and purchase.
In addition, your LMS training dashboard is an organization tool to help your learner get the overall picture of how she has performed on those courses that she has “bought”, and what she can “buy” next.
#5 PERSONALIZATION: Customer Service with a Personal Touch
When eCommerce sites began competing with physical stores, they ensured that the personal touch offered by face-to-face purchasing was retained online. Payment information, shipping address, and other preferences can be stored, and “one-click purchasing” is offered to frequent buyers. Upon login, your name is usually displayed on the screen, along with personalized messages.
While it may be true that online training is replacing traditional training, learners still like the personal touch of traditional training, such as getting to know the instructor and the colleagues. Fortunately, those personal touches can be integrated into online training as well. Instructors can personalize online training by posting video lectures, hosting online office hours (Yammer, hangouts, discussions, etc.), ease of use, and through a host of applications that allow the injection of personality into the training and allowing the class to meet and get to know each other.
#6 FLEXIBILITY: Anytime, Anywhere
eCommerce is popular, because you can “purchase in your pajamas”. The PewResearch Internet project finds that as of January 2014, 98% of Americans aged 18-29 have cell phones, with the percentage of cell phone ownership decreasing slightly with increasing age.
So, if your learner is suddenly inspired to complete a training snippet on the train, while waiting in a line, or when telecommuting, can they do so easily? Online training can be made to be device agnostic and ubiquitously accessible, so let your learners learn on their schedule. Keep your eLearning “shop” open 24-7.
#7 RISK REDUCTION: Money-back Guarantee
Perhaps most controversially, and most difficult, offer a money-back guarantee (or the emotional equivalent). If you are asking your learners to invest their time and put their reputations on the line via training, what guarantees can you offer that the experience will be worth it, whether they are actually paying out-of-pocket or not?
Set up the metrics to measure ROI up front. Tough to do, often skipped, but so crucial. And if you dutifully incorporate the eCommerce principles listed above, you should be well on your way to ensuring that your training program is successful, or collecting the input to make it so.
Make Training Worthwhile, and They Will Come
Your eLearners are, effectively, your eCustomers. What changes would you make to your eLearning program if you thought of it as an eCommerce enterprise? What would happen if your learners weren’t forced to take training by company mandate, but consumed training because they believed it to be worth their time and effort?
What techniques do you use and recommend to make your training “worthwhile”?
Gauri Reyes loves the idea of combining shopping and learning. She is a talent developer and learning leader with extensive experience in roles ranging from software management to managing the learning function in organizations. She is Principal Learning Strategist and CEO at Triple Point Advisors and Founder of the YOUth LEAD program. Follow her on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+.