Global corporate learning is improving but it is not yet meeting the needs of learners around the world. A description of the current state of global learning and some of its causes can be found in the first article here. This article is part of a series meant to equip the learning leaders of global organizations on the best practices for creating engaging and impactful learning experiences for every team member, no matter the region or culture. CLICK HERE to see a list of the topics covered in this series and access the articles.
Several years ago, I was leading a webinar on the essential elements of creating learning experiences for large corporations. Several hundred learning leaders from around the world had joined the webinar, which meant that the questions and comment section was well populated. The audience was clearly engaged and asked excellent questions.
Each slide in the PowerPoint presentation contained one of the essentials of good learning experiences. One slide simply stated, “Marketing Your Learning.” Immediately the chat box and Q&A boxes on the screen lit up with comments and questions.
Some attendees were slightly put-off and even offended at the word as if marketing should not be discussed in the same conversation as learning. One person commented that her job was to create wonderful learning experiences and it was up to the learner to do the rest. She said something to the effect of, “You can lead a horse to water and make sure the water is pure, but the rest is up to the horse.”
The reaction among the rest of the audience was palpable. There was immediate feedback, almost all of it negative. Of course, they said, marketing was part of being a learning leader. Creating learning experiences without learning to market, said one participant, was similar to engineers who create wonderful products but don’t know how to market or sell them and are shocked when no one purchases what they’ve designed and developed.
Leading a webinar is an interesting experience. The panelists and I had other essential elements to cover, but the attendees clearly did not want to move past the marketing discussion. They wanted to know HOW to market learning experiences to their learners. Despite my best efforts to cover the rest of the material, the audience wouldn’t have it. So we spent the rest of the time allotted to talking about strategies for selling learning products.
Marketing, at its core, is really about getting someone’s attention. Attention is the most expensive real estate in the world. Getting potential customers to give you their attention, even for a few moments is what separates mediocre marketing from world class marketing.
Think about the words “Pay attention,” an expression first used in the eighteenth century. Pay means to render, bestow or give. Attention is about focus: when a person is listening, watching, or thinking carefully about something. Marketers who excel at their craft know that getting people to pay attention for even a few seconds is the holy grail of their profession.
Learning leaders constantly compete for the attention of their learners. Consider the average person at work. Most of us have long to-do lists. We are trying to prioritize what is most urgent and important and put those items at the top of our list. Emails, phone calls, text messages, and conversations all most likely contain some sort of task we need to complete. Calendars and project management software help us organize everything that is competing for our attention.
In the middle of a chaotic workday, learners get a notification that they have been assigned a learning activity. Too often, the notification says little about why this learning activity matters, what problem it might solve, or how it could make their work life better. It is just a notification to complete the learning. Like when you receive the annual notice that your license plate needs to be renewed by a certain date. You know you need to do it, but you aren’t very excited about it and there’s a good chance you will wait until the last possible moment to do it. Does the notification have your attention? Not really.
So we know the problem. What are some possible solutions to inviting learners to give you their attention?
1. Get to Know Your Learners: The first step, as is so often true in learning, is understanding your learners. Who are they? What motivates them? What do they need? What are their goals? Are you helping them solve a problem?
If your learning audience is international, you will likely find a lot of variety in the answers to these questions. Some cultures tend to be motivated by being compliant. Someone asked and they will do what they are asked to do. In other cultures, learning needs to be tied to personal achievement, competition, honor, or being of benefit to their community.
However, you decide to communicate with your learners, make sure you connect your message to them in a way that encourages them to give you their attention.
2. Nurture Your Learning Brand: Every learning experience you release is going to leave an impression on the individual learners. It could reinforce an already stellar reputation of just the right learning delivered at the right time. Learners will appreciate your work and contribution to helping them improve in their job or getting a better one. The opposite is also true. A poorly executed learning experience might reinforce a negative impression, making it even more difficult to overcome in the future. Your learning brand already exists. It is worth the time and effort to find out what it is and be intentional about strengthening it, reinforcing it, or correcting it.
3. Nurture Your Learners: Marketers know that no reaction is ignored. When learners open or click a notification you’ve sent them, send them something else of interest related to that learning. It could be as simple as a testimonial of others who have already been through the training. It could be an infographic giving an overview of what they are about to learn. It could be a video of a company leader talking briefly about why this learning really matters to your organization.
4. Give a Preview: Like a lot of people, I rarely see a movie without at least watching the trailer. Give your learners a sneak peek at the learning to which they’ve been assigned. Show them the best parts of what you’ve done. For large and high-profile projects, think about creating a 30-second animation, a Ken Burns-style moving stills video with music or a simple voice-over track. Humor can go a long way but make sure what you think is funny is also what your learners will think is funny, avoiding what might be offensive or misunderstood, especially if you have a multicultural audience.
5. Make It Visible: A notification sent by your LMS to your learners’ email is not likely to capture the attention of your audience. I’ve seen companies make very effective use of well-placed posters in the workplace. One company created a game based on learning content and invited a select group of learners to compete against each other. There were prizes and bragging rights and the results were made known to the entire company. There were even rumors about side bets being made. They got their learners to pay attention. The result was record-level participation and satisfaction.
6. Seek and Act on Feedback: Your learners will feel more valued if they see that you are actively seeking their feedback and making future decisions about learning based on what you’ve heard. It is better not to ask for feedback than it is to ask for it, be given it, and then do nothing about it. Getting and acting on feedback communicates that learners are valued by you and your learning team.
7. Ask Your Marketing Team: If you are in a sizable company with sales and marketing teams, ask them for their advice. Their jobs are based on getting and keeping their customers’ attention. Chances are, they will be honored that you have asked and will be more than willing to give you some free advice.
I do have some sympathy for the webinar attendee who made the comment about leading a horse to water and making sure the water is pure with the rest being up to the horse. Learning leaders are busy people with demands on their limited time coming in from all over the place.
Just a word of encouragement–Spend some of that time thinking about how to connect with your learners and how to market your experiences to them. Your learners will appreciate the effort and so will your organization.
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