Custom eLearning Development

The Most Effective Uses of E-Learning Part 1

Readers of this blog know that the focus is on e-learning with an emphasis on business.  We develop e-learning applications for businesses not for academics.  This post is the First post in a Series titled The most effective uses of E-Learning based on experiences with our clients.  These use cases are presented based on the business result they achieved for our clients.

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Sales and Customer Service

Sales and Customer Service go hand in hand.  A successful business cannot have one without the other.  While these two departments serve somewhat different function, their primary objective should be the same, provide solutions for customers.  With that objective in mind sales and customer service have similar training needs as well that can be served by expertly crafted e-learning solutions.

E-learning is an excellent tool to provide training solutions for sales and customer service teams because of its accessibility, consistency and versatility.

Sales and Customer Service staff are the front line for your business, their job is to provide the best possible experience for your customers. Training them is vitally important, part of its success is its accessibility   I look at accessibility two ways.  The first is simply how it is accessed by the user.  This is a area where the delivery on-demand online training makes sense.  Accessible 24/7 on the terms of the individual.  The second way I look at accessibility in the design methodology.  If you require your team to sit in front of a computer for hours reading through text on a screen just to get through a training it is not only ineffective, but lacks accessibility.  We are firm believers in short tactical training focused around a specific business objective.  15 minutes or less, something that can be taken on a coffee break.  It is more user friendly and accessible!

Consistency is another key when providing training to sales and customer service members of your team.  E-learning can be a tool to help integrate your employees into your company culture, this is especially important for those groups on the front line with your customers.  People will go to a McDonald’s anywhere in the world, is it because it is the best food available?  Hardly, but they know they will get a consistent experience.  Your customers expect a certain experience when they interface with your company, using e-learning as a tool for ongoing training for sales and service reps is sure fire way to make sure the message is always consistent with your brand and company culture.

E-learning is extremely versatile  when strategically developed around your business and it can offer some excellent residual benefits.  One of the best residual uses of online training is the ability to re-purpose training content for use as a job aid.  We all have things that we use everyday to help us do our job.  For sales and service reps it may be as simple as a cheat sheet with product specs they can call up quickly when speaking with a customer.  Many of the assets built for your online training can be reused to create quick, interactive and very visual job aids for employees.  This helps to create more confident interactions with customers and more engaged sales and service reps.  As mobile technology continues to evolve these job aid applications become more a more viable with accessibility across mobile platforms.  The Commitment to E-learning is an investment in time and money, its versatility as a job aid will help generate a greater return.

Sales and Customer Service Reps are on the front line with your customers everyday.  They must have the proper tools to create a first class experience for your customers with every interaction.  Providing training through an E-learning platform will help create an accessible, consistent and versatile training experience with a significant ROI for your business.

How have you used E-learning successfully in your business for Sales and Customer Service Reps?

Know Your Business Objective if you want a Business Result

My friend and fellow Toastmaster Mike Hayes, wrote an article this week titled, Strong Opinions Make Your PR Campaign Great!  The basic premise being that you need to take a stand and have a position in order for your message to be heard in a crowded marketplace.  This got me thinking about how this basic premise should be applied to online training application for businesses.  The e-learning world tends to be run by academics and instructional design theory.  Those principles certainly have their place, but without focus on a sound business objectives results may be hard to come by, much like having your marketing or PR message heard when you fail to take a firm stance or have an opinion.

E-learning, whether you are looking at it from a big picture view or down to a specific course must focus on the business objective in order to achieve a business result.  Resolutions has had the good fortune of working with many different types of clients all of whom have different objectives when it comes to the development of online training applications, but the constant message we preach to them is, “what is the business objective ?”  It seems like a simple question that should warrant a simple answer, but that is not always the case.  You would be surprised how difficult it can be to answer if it was not the focus in the first place.

When I talk about a business objective I am not talking about the specific learning objectives of a course.  Every online training module has its learning objectives, I am talking about the big picture.  The things that keep the CEO up at night like major citations, fines, accidents, bad press, declining revenue… the list goes on.  E-learning applications built for a company should consider how they can positively affect the actual BUSINESS of their business.  If a client comes to me and says, “I need to build a course on ladder safety.”  My first question is, “What happened?  Did someone get hurt?”  Chances are their is a hidden business objective behind the launch of a ladder safety course that the person put in charge of execution may not have been made aware.  My guess is there was an accident, someone got hurt and either sued the company or made an extremely costly insurance claim that leadership would like to avoid in the future.  Simply understanding that will make a dramatic difference in the development of the training.

Think about it.  If you go to work and all of a sudden you are asked to take a course on ladder safety, what is your first thought?  Most likely, “This is ridiculous  I know how to climb a ladder.”  You are probably right, you do know how to climb a ladder, but if the person developing the training presents ladder safety with an clear understanding of the business objective it can be framed in such a way that is valuable to the user.  When you present something of value there is a much higher likelihood of retention and behavior change over time.

A clear focus on the business objective can help trainers and e-learning developers build training that can have a real impact on their company.  Take a stance, have an opinion and meet a specific business objective.  It will help the company and the user achieve and actual result.

Compliance or Behavior Change?

You are busy, your business is required to produce results, and you rely heavily on your employees to help produce those results.  Training is probably seen as a necessary evil, or considered an afterthought.  Something that sounds good in theory, but not something that is going to help your business get Results!  What if you took a different approach to training and use it as an opportunity to change behavior and create a company culture.

It all starts with one simple question, “What is the terminal objective of my training?”  Typically there are two answers, but how you answer can dramatically the result you get from the training.  Many times we see the answer to this simple question fall into one of two categories.

  1. Meet Compliance:  Employees should be able to pass a test in order to be in compliance with some sort of regulation
  2. Change Behavior:  Help my employees understand the consequences of the actions on the job and ultimately transfer that knowledge to their job performance.

Your answer will dictate the type of training you develop for your organization and ultimately make the difference in the return you see on your e-learning investment.

A look at the use cases for each will give you a better perspective on the differences in the two answers. Many times training simply to meet compliance results in training with little to no interactivity, media stimulus and is primarily text and graphic based.  The positive is that it will most likely be relevant to the users job function since it is of a regulatory nature and in most cases the employee’s job will be dependent on staying in compliance.   The outcome for this type of training is for the student to be able to recall information for the test and pass.  The return on investment is the employee keeps their job and the company does not incur penalties or fines for lack of compliance.

Changing behavior requires a different approach.  In order to successfully change behavior the employee must successfully transfer knowledge learned to on the job skills.  There are some key points to remember when delivering training for behavior change, deliver in small easily digestible learning chunks, relevant, easy to use interactive content.  Appropriate use of media and you are much more likely to develop engaging and effective e-learning which maximizes ROI.  Returns could be a safer workplace, consistent customer service, a defined sales process and of course compliance, on paper and in practice.

Before you begin your next training project ask yourself, “Is my goal to simply be compliant?” or “Do I want to change behavior?”  You answer could change your business.

The Gen Y Effect on E-Learning

Generation Y is now a major player in the workforce.  Baby Boomers are starting to ease their way into retirement and many businesses are going to rely on the Gen Y to fill the void.  This poses a problem because Gen Y doesn’t approach the workplace in the same way as the Boomers have for the past few decades.  Y has grown up in a different era, an era with unlimited access to information, media and entertainment.  Baby Boomers struggle to program a VCR, their Gen Y children have access to and a mastery of technology never seen before.  What does this mean to our business owners and large corporate employers?  They have the responsibility of luring young talent and teaching them how to operate in business environment, Gen Y beats to the tune of a different drum, if you think they are going to respond the with the same grind it out mentality as their boomer parents you are mistaken.  Creating a company culture that appeals to this generation is the key to unlocking their virtually unlimited potential.  While Y may seem to lack some of the traditional traits employers loved in the boomers, they will find that if you peel back a few layers that Gen Y is certainly capable.

Gen Y has grown up in a world of instant access to information.  They want it fast, interactive and accessible.  E-learning technology and course development has grown tremendously over the past decade as the internet has evolved.  E-learning technology has been embraced by many large corporations, and is a tool to help define and develop a company culture.  There is however an opportunity for small to mid-sized businesses to capitalize on the swift moving technology in the e-learning world and is it as an advantage is luring and keeping top Gen Y talent.

The downside to being a large Fortune 1000 type corporate is that change rarely happen quickly.  Multiple layers of management and department heads make it tough for big sweeping decisions to happen.  This is where the mid-sized company can take advantage of being smaller.  E-learning technology is moving changing daily as Gen Y is staring to make its mark on the industry.  The advantage for smaller business is that it will take time for the larger companies to embrace the new technology.  As is the case with anything technology related the price starts to come down as the technology improves.

This article is not intended to cover the benefit of e-learning for business, rather to point out that the evolution of the medium has made it more accessible than ever for companies of all sizes.  Gen Y understands and expects e-learning technology.  Some may have never set foot in a traditional college classroom, opting to learn completely online.  There are a couple key factors to leveraging e-learning successfully with Gen Y that will help set your business apart and create a culture that attracts top talent.

Embrace BYOD.   As I stated earlier, Gen Y wants to access information on their terms.  That does not mean being tied to a company computer.  BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) has become a popular term in the e-learning world because it embraces the mobile nature of the workforce.  Mobile learning is evolving daily, but is certainly a big plus for the Y workforce.

Be Laser Focused. The traditional page turner, seat time based model of e-learning is dead, or a least should be.  Unless you are offering continuing education credits to fill a requirement for a specific industry certification you should not be delivering online learning to your employees that is more that 15 minutes long.  Attention spans are shorter than ever, this is especially true with Gen Y.  Understand your objective and focus on it and nothing else.  Short tactical learning modules are proven to increase retention of online learning material.

Use media wisely.  I advocate using multiple forms of media in your e-learning development, but you must be aware of the first two points when using media.  Mobile access puts some limitations on the use of certain types of media and you must be certain that whatever media is being used is only done to enhance the focus on your specific business objective.

E-learning technology is a powerful tool for developing employees and company culture.  The constant evolution of e-learning technology has made it more accessible that ever for small and mid-sized business.  This accessibility is a key for these businesses to attract and retain young talent entering the workforce.  Understanding that young talent and the tenets of Generation Y will help set your learning initiatives apart and create a competitive advantage for workforce development.

Selling Upstream

I have heard from business people on numerous occasions that Walmart does not make it easy to do business with them.  They make the rules when it comes to selling your product through their stores.  Why then do so many companies bend over backwards to cater to Walmart’s demands to sell their product?  It’s simple, for a retail product Walmart is high on the food chain, they are about as far upstream as you can go in regard to a retail distribution channel.

We have made a concentrated effort at Resolutions to identify the best way to get as far upstream as possible when selling our e-learning solutions.  It has made a dramatic impact on or business and how we approach different markets.  When I say selling upstream I simply mean going as far up the food chain as possible to find one company who with the stroke of a pen will provide you with access to a large portion of your market.

I had an interesting call with a prospect last week that really brought this concept front and center for me.  This prospect’s business happened to overlap two of our different industry vertical businesses, Mining and Insurance.  The prospect is an officer at a large insurance company that caters specifically to the mining industry.  As we talked through the potential of working together he asked my why I don’t just sell our Mine Training directly to the mines?  My response was simple, we do, but working with you would provide us access to hundreds of mine operators and contractors by signing one deal.

It may seem like an insanely simple concept, but think about your business.  How would it change your selling strategies, and possibly even your entire business strategy  if you were able to focus on just a few key prospects far enough upstream that it opened up your entire market to you with the signing of a single contract?  Take some time to evaluate your customers, find out what they have in common, how your business can add value to another that is higher on up in the food chain.  It may take some time, thought, research and patience, but in the long run it could change your business.

What are your thoughts on selling upstream?  Can you provide any good examples?

Sex Sells, but so does E-Learning

We have all heard the old adage, sex sells.  While that me be true, sex may not have the ability to generate incremental revenue and solidify customer relationships as well as e-learning.  This may come as a bit of a surprise so let me explain.  Every company selling a product or service has educational material available to their customers, but are they realizing the potential of that material to expand their business model and develop stickier customer relationships?

A fundamentally sound e-learning platform developed around your business and your customers can be a huge differentiator in the marketplace and most importantly could be an unrealized revenue source.  Let’s look at a software business as an example.  Company A is selling an enterprise software solution to mid-sized companies.  There is a certain about of ramp up and training time required to implement their solution, as well as ongoing support calls.  Chances are this is being handled by a small staff initially to handle installation, initial training either in person or via online meeting.  Ongoing support is probably handled by a 800 number help desk, support email system or FAQ database.  On the surface the systems are in place, and by most standards this is an acceptable practice in the software industry, but leveraging that internal knowledge base and transforming it into customer focused e-learning platform could open the floodgates to incremental revenue and better customer relationships!  All of the internal knowledge, manuals, trainers, webinars should be transformed into a tactical, engaging and interactive online training curriculum of courses that is on-demand 24/7 for your customers to have all the answers to their questions with real-time tracking, scoring and possibly even product certifications!  This type of online content delivery could drastically reduce ongoing support and internal manpower, while increasing the image and quality of your training product.  It also opens the door to up sell subscription based access to your world-class customer training system, providing a real return on investment.

If you read my post about the blurred lines between training and marketing, you would know that the training system you built to educate your customers may be the best way to market to and engage prospects searching for your company’s solution.  The needs of your prospects and customers only very by degree not kind.

E-learning is a powerful tool for education in both the academic and professional world.  Why not leverage its power in your business.  It could be the differentiator in your product or service, help generate more revenue and create stickier customer relationships.

Sales – The Cure for the Common Business

When times are tough we all have to manage expenses.  Tighten the belt, cut the fat, get lean, whatever catch phrase you want to use.  This is as true in our personal lives as it is in business.  Luckily in business there is a cure.  Sales!  Sometime sales is considered a dirty word or has a negative connotation, but trust me when I tell you that sales can be the cure to whatever ails your business.

I hold the dubious title of Director of Sales and Marketing for our company, but let’s be clear.  I get paid when I sell.  The role of marketing is to generate leads, but those leads aren’t going to close themselves, it requires a proven sales centric approach to our business to convert prospects into customers.  A sales centric philosophy gets lost at times in the business environment, especially with entrepreneurs who have a passion for their product or service, but may have never sold anything in their life.

Being sales centric from the top down in a organization can have a dramatic impact on how the business is run an the approach to everyday operations.  A focus on sales makes you look at your potential customers differently.  I makes you think, get in their head and really try to understand what makes them tick.  Honestly, it makes you a better vendor partner.  In order to sell you must be consultative, fully understand your prospects business and embrace their business objectives when considering your product or service.  This approach builds relationships that will stick and turn into repeat business.

A sales centric approach to your business also has an affect on your product or service.  Looking at what you offer based on how you will have to sell it can make you rethink and consider your entire offering.  If sales is your focus then you ultimately want a product or service that is easy to sell and once it is sold it should be of such high quality that the re-sell/up-sell is not even a SALE at all, rather a continuation of the relationship you have built around a superior product or service.

When it comes down to it, organizations with a sales centric approach to their business make actual selling easy.  It becomes something entirely different, it becomes a consultative relationship built around a superior product or service that is focused on the business objectives of your prospects and customers.

E-Learning and Beer, A Match Made in Heaven

I read a press release today from the Cicerone Certification Program announcing the BeerSavvy E-learning Platform.  If you have spent any time reading posts on this blog you know that I advocate finding your niche as a business, and your niche focus should bleed into training a marketing efforts of our company.  You also know that this blog is written from the perspective of an e-learning company.  Let me start by saying, I wish I would have landed this project!  More importantly though is that this is a perfect example of a business finding a niche focusing their business on it exclusively and using e-learning as a business tool in order to expand their audience, increase revenue and create a virtual business model with less moving parts.

Cicerone Certification Program has not just focused their business on beer, but specifically craft beer.  Their objective as a business is to help bars, restaurants, retailers and beer distributors capitalize on the growing interest in craft beer.  They found a unique niche in a growing market and have built a platform to help educate the staff of these businesses in order to help them capitalize on the growing market.  Genius!  As is the case for many education based start-up they started with live, classroom based training.  What most businesses in this space quickly find is that classroom training can be a grind.  The logistics and expenses that go along with classroom delivery can be quite costly and can account for less than stellar profit margins.  This is where a well executed e-learning platform can step in and provide a tool to virtualize and automate an education based business model.

We all dream of making money while we sleep.  This is tough to do when your product is delivering classroom based training.  I have nothing against classroom training, it has its place, but as a scalable business model it falls short for a number of reasons.  Delivering your training or educational product online offers the ability to build a product ONCE and sell it over and over again.  Growth is not dependent on more employees or the ability to secure locations.  It is now squarely on your ability to sell!  I will take that option anytime.

Does your business provide valuable education that could be turned into a online product?  It is an interesting thought.

What can Twitter Teach us about E-learning?

Twitter is a global force in social media.  Its signature, all posts must be 140 characters or less.  Twitter tapped into the human psyche and found something that resonated with human nature in a big way.  We want information fast, relevant to our interests and delivered, small easy to consume bites.  From this very simple concept Twitter has become something bigger than anyone could have imagined.  From being a news source to a conversation forum, twitter has a place for everyone.  Celebrities and businesses alike are able to tap into this social force and target specific niche audiences with their bite sized messages.

What can the e-learning world learn from Twitter?  Twitter taps into human nature and the message is clear.    Find your niche, understand your audience and deliver information in small easy to digest chunks.  E-learning should be no different.

Every piece of e-learning content developed should be looked at like your business.  What is your niche?  Anyone who is successful on Twitter, by successful I mean has a significant number of followers, has a niche.   The people who choose to follow them do so because that person provides the with a specific type of information.  For example, I follow Adam Schefter of ESPN because I know he is going to post information about player and team deals in the National Football League.  He has carved a niche for himself on Twitter as a news source for NFL information.  How can you apply this to e-learning?  It comes back to an article I wrote, called Go Niche or Go Home, where I discussed that in order to be successful in business you need to find your niche.  In order for your e-learning initiatives to have some teeth with your intended audience you must first understand your niche as a business and apply that philosophy to your e-learning.  If you want your e-learning to be successful it must be in line with the tenets of the niche you are serving.  By fully understanding your niche and applying those principles to your e-learning initiatives whether they are internal or consumer facing you will have set the foundation for success.

Once you have a clear understanding of your niche, you must fully understand that audience and what they expect from you.  I follow Adam Schefter for NFL news, I do not expect or want his views on politics.  I will go elsewhere for that information.  The audience in your niche is unique, which is why you have selected that niche.  You understand who they are, how they think and most importantly what is valuable to them.  Apply these principles to your e-learning and it will become a part of your business culture.  It will be the go to resource for information about your company.  Speak to the desires of that audience, use their language and imagery.  Make it feel like it was built only to serve them.

Finally, keep it short.  Twitter is recognized as the social network that delivers information in 140 characters or less.  I am not saying your e-learning has to be 140 characters, but I am saying that it is human nature to want things quickly and easily consumable.  Keep information in your e-learning practical and tactical, focusing on your business objective.  Don’t stray from the tenets of your niche.  Be clear and concise providing valuable information that helps the user improve in the area they are learning about.

E-learning is a globally recognized tool for delivering training, information and education to a user base.  Twitter is a social network globally recognized by providing information in 140 characters or less.  Both are broad, general and have the ability to be used by anyone, but their success in on the inside.  The ability to create a niche, relate to that audience and deliver information in a quick tactical manner.  Keep the fundamentals of Twitter in mind next time you tackle and e-learning project and see if there is a difference.

Build It and They Will Come!

Build it and they will come!  If it were only that easy.  Resolutions develops e-learning courses for a variety of clients in a number of different industries, one major challenge for all of our clients, regardless of industry, is user compliance.  Our focus as a company is building e-learning content that achieves a business result.  That can be hard if the intended audience is nowhere to be found and the company has spent thousands of dollars to develop the course.  We have come up with a few keys you should keep in mind for any e-learning initiative to help drive users and ultimately ROI.

1.  Identify your Objective – If you want to develop training that gets results, know up front what results you want to achieve.  Be specific, how does a particular employee group learning this material affect the bottom line?  How will it affect your customers?

2.  Focus – Once you have identified your objective focus on it!  Don’t take the, “While we have them here” approach of throwing in random topics you would like them to pick up while they are here.  Keeping your online training focused will help keep users attention.

3.  Tactical – You have set your objectives and are focusing on them, know turn your attention to the user.  What is in it for them?  Present useful information that will help the user be better at their job or possibly advance their career.

4.  Short – Your employees are busy, and honestly how much time do you want them away from their actual work?  If you are laser focused on your business objective you should be able to deliver effective tactical training in 15 minutes or less.  Coffee break anyone?

5.  Engaging –  User engagement can be defined a number of different ways, but in its simplest form make the learning active.  It is proven that passive learning is far less effective than active.  Make use of media where appropriate, discovery learning is always a winner and decision based learning paths will seal the deal.

These are a few short tips we try to pass along to our clients.  Every situation is different, each company and industry segment has a different level of acceptance when it comes to online learning.  The best clients incorporate it into their culture and make it a part of everything they do.  Not everything goes as planned, but if your build your online training content with these the 5 simple tips in mind, then they surely will come!

What rules do you follow in your company training?  What has been the result?