If you build it…they won’t necessarily come

I just wanted to re-post here the entry I wrote for the eLearning Network’s 24 tips seasonal blog that runs in December in the build up to Christmas.

A story I hear time and again in e-learning is that usage rates are too low. That trying to encourage people to engage with e-learning is a tough job.

But how hard do we try to engage with our audience? For a start, to ‘engage’ is a verb. It’s a doing word. Therefore, we need to DO something to catch the attention of our learners. Just because we build a fantastic piece of e-learning does not necessarily mean people will be queuing up to access it. So what can you do to engage your audience and get them involved?  We need to get our marketing hats on.

We’re at the time of year when advertising goes into overdrive. Much of this advertising is done with a scatter gun approach, however, well timed and relevant campaigns can and do work extremely well. I recently received an email from an online retailer I use now and again offering me 20% off and free delivery on Christmas present orders made before 10th December. ‘D’you know what?’ I thought ‘I bet they’ve got some good coats I could buy for my brother’. So I duly clicked on the email and bought my brother a coat, entering in my discount code and receiving my 20% off and free delivery. Excellent.

This is an example of an engaging campaign. It’s also one that is measurable. The retailer will see that I entered the discount code from that email and evaluate the success of that campaign compared to others it has run.

So how does this translate to e-learning? In a number of ways:

  1. Get the word out – the first thing to remember is you need to tell people about your e-learning. Use any and all channels available; email, Yammer, intranet, LMS, posters, internal newsletters. Tap into them all and get the word out. Just try and keep your message consistent across all the different mediums.
  2. Consider your audience – in parallel with this you need to consider who you’re talking to. Is your e-learning designed for everyone in the organisation or just a specific group? You need at least some understanding of your target audience and the communication channels they use before you start engaging with them. Think about their role and behaviours and try to incorporate this understanding into your communications. So if you’re trying to engage time poor directors, don’t bore them with an email that talks about e-learning in the subject line. Instead, grab their attention and ask for just 5 minutes of their time to read an important message that might help them learn something!
  3. What’s your objective? – Always bear in mind what you are trying to achieve with your communication. It could be a teaser campaign to raise awareness that some e-learning is coming soon. Or it might be a dreaded compliance email. Whatever it is, think about what you’re trying to achieve and how you can engage with your audience so that they do what you want them to do…
  4. Call to action – …The best example of this is including a call to action. If you want learners to read your email and then go and access the e-learning, make it easy for them! Include a link and a compelling message to encourage their participation.
  5. Watch your language – Try and talk in language that your audience will respond to. Use language they use every day. Avoid e-learning jargon wherever possible because this probably only makes sense to you!
  6. Active words – Using active verbs is a great way to write more efficient and powerful copy to engage your audience. Encourage your learners to ‘achieve’ or ‘update’ and embark on a learning journey by ‘trying’ or ‘discovering’.  When a passive voice is used, the learners you are trying to engage often end up having something done to them rather than being the do-er themselves. Check out the difference between these two messages. Active: ‘You can now discover a new range of e-learning courses ….’ Passive: ‘There is now a new range of e-learning courses available….’ Don’t give learners the excuse to say ‘so what’. Coax them into taking a peek and try the e-learning, and they might just enjoy it!
  7. Communicate the benefits – At this point you need to communicate the benefits of the e-learning. What’s in it for them? Why should they take time out of their busy day to access it? Well they might learn something that will make them better at their job or help the company achieve something new. Whatever it is, spell out why they should give your e-learning a go.
  8. But don’t lie – Having said that, don’t over exaggerate any benefits or the contents of your e-learning. If you do and people are disappointed you will lose your credibility and learners won’t even look at what you have to say in the future.
  9. Be concise – Don’t use 10 words where one will do. Don’t over complicate your communications. Keep it short, keep it simple and learners are much more likely to engage with what you have to say.
  10. Measure the response – Just like the online retailer with the Christmas campaign, you need to try to measure the response to your e-learning communications. By tracking what generates a response from learners you can start to build up a picture of what communications activity works and what doesn’t. Each campaign should then be more effective than the last, increasing the engagement of your learners and making your e-learning a success.

About kategraham23

Start-up founder, writer, connector, librarian's daughter. Interested in learning, HR, technology, online, media, marketing, fashion and cricket. Not always in that order. The views expressed here are solely my own and do not reflect the thoughts and opinions of the company I work for currently, or those I've worked for in the past.
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One Response to If you build it…they won’t necessarily come

  1. Fiona Quigley says:

    Nice post Katie. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, we should laminate this list and put it up where anyone is designing eLearning! Or maybe QR codes are the modern day equivalent 😉

    Your #8 is an interesting point. In my experience some eLearning programmes are over-hyped and therefore expectations get all askew.

    What I also have found that works is – involve as many learners in the process right from the start e.g. piloting design ideas, storyboards etc.. This helps to create the “buzz” from the beginning and helps to build promotional momementum.

    I have to say that marketing is often the last thing people think of. Even though we all know we should do it. Perhaps with all our social media tools these days, it will make the marketing effort a little easier.

    I have seen some cool eLearning marketing programmes though too. Some involved incentives like free mouse mats, pens and stickers etc (yes adults love those too!). The best one I saw was a a whispering campaign. A local health authoring releasing a programme on sexual health education created staged release Posters…there is someting cool coming to you in xx days…
    It actually worked too – even though it does sound twee as I explain it now, lol.

    Thanks for the post Kate.

    Best wishes,


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