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Dear Workforce How Do We Market A New Online Learning Initiative To Employees

We’re planning to provide online learning for the first time in our privately held, fast-growing company. It is a new concept to this company. What are some good ways to market online learning prior to launch so we can create user interest and have a successful pilot program?
November 4, 2005
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Two Dear Workforce experts, Brandon Hall and Jack McDaniel, weigh in separately on e-learning initiatives.
First, Brandon Hall's view on how to build a successful model for online learning:
Make sure to direct your marketing messages at specific groups of people, letting each group know what's in it for them. Don't simply put all your effort into mass marketing, leaving learners overwhelmed by a mountain of courses. Mass marketing delivers the strategic message, while target marketing sends very specific messages. Combining the two is essential.
Target groups based on more than just job titles. Other factors to think about include their level within the organization (e.g., entry-level workers, middle managers or executives), location, the languages they speak and the extent of their computer knowledge. If you're offering a basic course on using Windows, for example, send an e-mail to a group of computer "newbies" across all job functions--not to everyone in the company. Conversely, an e-mail touting the benefits of the new Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer certification course probably will be deleted by everyone but information-technology professionals.
Second, provide targeted testimonials whenever possible. A receptionist probably sees a completely different benefit to online courses than a CEO does, so craft your messages to answer the ‘what's in it for me?' question for each group. If you're sending a message to upper-level management, include personal comments from colleagues at other companies who have seen their employees' productivity rise as a result online learning initiatives. If you're targeting a group of IT people, include testimonials from other IT workers who have received valuable certifications using online learning.
Of course, a truly targeted approach means more work for the person in charge of the initiative. If you have a learning management system that's capable of doing skills-gap analysis--where users determine their current skills and the skills they wish to develop--the system can choose appropriate courses from the online library.
Finally, if it is possible, treat the introduction of each course as a new product launch, with its own marketing plan and promotional concepts. Offering a thousand titles isn't necessarily a winning strategy. Showing people the benefit of a specific course is.
Now, Jack McDaniel of AchieveGlobal offers this view on some of the specifics of e-learning strategies:
Start small.
Resist the urge to build a comprehensive solution until you have proven the e-learning concept to upper management. Identify an obvious need that the pilot program can satisfy, such as sales training for account executives that spend most of their time away from the office. Then target that need and don't get sidetracked by ancillary goals. There will be time later, after the concept is proven, to explore tools that support and enhance the e-learning experience.
Choose your vendors wisely.
There are many ways to select the right e-learning vendors. The trick lies in matching up your specific requirements with the right feature set offered by each particular vendor. For example, if launching and tracking your e-learning pilot isn't important, avoid buying expensive programs with features you don't need.
Use early adopters.
Select people who are comfortable with new technologies as your first participants. Not only will those folks be more motivated to complete the program, but there's also a good chance they would become advocates for e-learning within the organization.
Advertise, publicize and evangelize.
Be proactive--even aggressive--in promoting the pilot program. Don't depend on an e-mail to pilot users to get the word out. Where appropriate, use face-to-face meetings with the pilot users--and their managers--to emphasize the importance of the training. When you can't meet in the same location, use conference calls or Web meetings to spotlight the program.
Think about the metrics.
A completion certificate has been shown to be a poor measurement of a program's success in many instances. Often, e-learning participants will get what they need from a program long before they reach the program's end. Perhaps success to your users means using a new software application or mastering a technique for handling conflict in the workplace. Carefully define the desired outcome and build an assessment that accurately reflects it.
No one knows the future, and there's no guarantee of success. By addressing these issues, however, your chances of effectively integrating e-learning into your organization can only improve.
SOURCE: Brandon Hall,Brandon-Hall.com, Sunnyvale, California. Jack McDaniel, AchieveGlobal, January 17, 2005.
LEARN MORE:How Do We Boost E-Learning Rates? Also:a training needs analysis form;formulas for quantifying the value of a training investment; tips forimproving e-learning completion rates;what to look for in an e-learning vendor; advice oncalculating training costs.
The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.
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