How to Make Your Online Training “Go Viral”

Social media conceptI’m not a marketer. I’m an educator.

But, maybe, I’m both? Or, at least, maybe I should be both.

Consider content marketing and online training, for example.

  • Both involve content delivered through digital media (infographics, blogs, videos, podcasts, slides, e-books, how-to guides, etc.).
  • Both involve content delivery. Content marketing uses content for the purposes of attracting and retaining customers, and online training uses content for the purposes of helping people to learn.
  • In both disciplines, the content is valuable only if people (customers or learners) pay attention and buy or learn, respectively.

One of the goals of instructional design is to design learning experiences such that the learner sits up, pays attention, wants to learn, completes the training and applies the learning back on the job. Given that particular goal, perhaps applying content marketing techniques is one secret to convincing the learner to buy into the online training program, and thereby causing your online training to go viral through shares, referrals, word of mouth, and general buzz?

Digital Media in Online Training: Spotlight on Infographics

Online learners have come to expect digital media to be integrated into the training experience. Otherwise, one could argue, what’s the point of online training versus reading a paper-based textbook and/or attending a lecture in a classroom? And content marketers use digital media to accomplish their marketing goals. The common element between the disciplines of online training and content marketing is digital media.

Let’s take the infographic as a prime example of a digital media asset that is useful in content marketing, and then extend the usefulness of that particular digital media asset to online training. In “How to Make a Winning Infographic Without Risk” Demian Farnworth says, “Research suggests that publishers who use infographics grow in traffic 12 percent more than those who don’t. This is because an infographic, unless it’s completely awful (and they exist), will more than likely go viral.”

Going viral...a key aim of content marketers.

Wouldn’t it be great if your online training programs would “go viral”, too? When you’re selling your online training, of course you need to market it to get your customers. But, for internal training programs, your learners may not have a choice of whether or not to take online training. Still, imagine how much more your learners would be engaged (and therefore learn) if you marketed your training so well that it “went viral”, too? Imagine if your learners told their colleagues about your online training, if they shared their experiences in a positive manner, if your online training caused a buzz among the learners, etc.?

In his article, Farnworth goes on to talk about using the infographic as an “asset pillar”. Once you have a great infographic, use the information in it to build additional assets from the information it contains. Use each stat or data point as a launching pad for creating more digital media assets: a podcast series, videos, how-to guides, job aids, discussion board topics, etc. The infographic basically serves as the centerpiece of an idea package.

One Example of Infographics in Online Training: Course Syllabus

The idea of an infographic as an "asset pillar" makes me think about designing the course syllabus for online training in the form of an infographic. What if you created a show-stopping infographic that had all the relevant information that the learner would learn during online training, showed it to the learner up front as an overview or preview of the course material, and then launched into the learning details piece by piece? And, if the detailed learning included additional, related digital assets, then how engaging would that online training course be?!

For example, consider the following infographic—Training for Senior Leadership: Which Skills are the Most Valuable?—as an example an infographic that could be used as a replacement to the traditional text-based course syllabus slide in an online training course in a leadership skills for senior managers, let's say. In one image, all the skills that will be taught in the course are shown. The image show stats, such as the skill levels that most senior leaders have compared to the levels they say they need. So course participants can feel comfortable with the fact that their skill levels may not be up to par (yet) in certain areas without feeling threatened. Course participants can also share this image with each other and start conversations around skill building, or can share this image with their team members or colleagues to bring more participants on board with signing up for the online course. And, and, and. There are so many possibilities for how this infographic could be used, and likely more course participants will use and refer back to this infographic than they might use or refer back to a simple bulleted list of course overview items on a text-based slide.

(click image to enlarge)

Combine Multiple Types of Digital Media in Online Training

Certainly, the infographic is not the only type of digital media that is useful in content marketing and training, but it is an eye-catching way to grab a person’s attention and make them stop and ponder the information you have to offer. Also, infographics are also easily shared, making the person who shares the infographic and its data into a surrogate educator and giving him a reason to reach out to his personal networks.

However, for online training, certainly consider using as many types of digital media assets that you can effectively combine into your courses: video, audio, podcasts, articles, how-to guides, job aids, discussion board questions, and other methods to effectively convey content to the learner. The more types of digital media that you can effectively include in your online training, the higher the chance that your content will resonate with learners regardless of their preferred learning style: aural, visual, verbal, and even kinesthetic learning styles.

Take a look at these articles for ideas on how to embed these types of digital media into your online training:

Start the Buzz

In marketing, giving customers and prospects the chance to talk about your products and services helps to generate buzz. Allow your learners the same opportunity to talk about your online learning by enabling live conversations before, during, and after the training. Fortunately, it takes very little time to design learning experiences that enable such conversations. You just have to provide the opportunity and the incentives for people to want to take part in these conversations. If you do it right, the participants will do the rest.

Some ideas for fostering social collaboration during online training include:

  • Create buzz by sending pre- and post- training quizzes or surveys, videos, or links to relevant articles and documents.
  • Organize online discussion groups using Yammer to keep the conversations going.
  • Ask key participants to create follow-up training modules. These can be short (two to seven minutes) that hone in on a single aspect of learning needed on the job.
  • Ask learners to submit short videos of people completing important tasks on the job. Assemble these “how-to” videos into a follow-up training module(s).
  • Design breaks into online training modules, where the learners must walk away from the computer and go and talk to a colleague or create a job aid or any other relevant assignment, before training can be resumed.

Use your online training courses to spark conversation, not to end all discussion. Start the buzz before training officially begins and extend it past the online training course itself, encourage people to talk, learn, apply knowledge and skills, and contribute to the organizational knowledge base.

In short, when designing online training, expand your focus beyond learning objectives, methods of teaching those objectives, and measuring if those objectives were attained by the learners. Think of your online training courses as products that need to be marketed to the intended learner audience—just like any other product or service—and work to actively get your learners to “buy into” your training.

Gauri Reyes 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+.

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