The responsibility of promoting an eLearning program is often the last thing to be considered and falls on the shoulders of one or two people. In this article, I'll explain how a simple technique allowed us to leverage word of mouth to increase engagement with our audience.
Some eLearning programs kick-off with a small budget. The responsibility of choosing and introducing the platform and gathering or creating content may be given to one or two individuals.
Often this isn’t even their full-time role – it’s looked upon as a project that they are expected to undertake whilst performing their day job!
Other eLearning programs are allocated bigger budgets, where the project is either outsourced or an internal team is recruited to create and deliver the program.
However, the focus of investment is usually allocated to creating a suite of courses and subscribing to a fancy LMS. Investing in a strategy for how the program will be marketed to maximise engagement isn’t budgeted for.
It’s a chicken and egg situation.
Management are understandably nervous about investing until they see a return on investment. It requires a leap of faith from organisations to invest before they can see proof of its value.
I often see organisations embroiled in this tug of war scenario. They want to deliver high quality content online but are not willing to invest in activity to promote the program.
Without bold, strategic decisions made at the outset of the project, they end up with a program that never really gets off the ground.
As the eLearning program manager, we often have little control over the resources and budget allocated to a project like this.
But we do have the power to invest those resources and budget wisely.
Let’s go back a few years…
After graduating from university without a penny to my name, I spent a summer working as a salesman in number of big, consumer electronics stores. My job was to speak to shoppers and try to encourage them to switch their telephone contracts to a third party service that offered cheaper calls.
I didn’t receive a salary, but was paid a small commission that increased with each person that I signed up.
With my limited maths skills, and the calculator on my new Nokia 3310 (remember those?) I calculated that I would need at least 5 signups per day to make standing in a shop all day worthwhile.
My first weekend was lousy, I signed up one person and my total takings for the weekend didn't cover the bus fare home.
The second weekend wasn't much better.
And by the third weekend, I was ready to give up.
But then I had an epiphany!
I realised I was missing a trick. There were at least 10 staff on duty at any one time, and I recognised that if I could encourage each one of these employees to sell one contract per day on my behalf, I could be taking home a really good salary each week.
So I shifted my energy from selling to customers, to building relationships with the staff. They were already interested in why there was an awkward-looking new guy hanging around the checkouts, so I slowly began to sell myself and my product to them.
I figured that if they could see the value in the product, they would be more likely to promote it to customers; of which they were speaking to hundreds each day.
Well this turned out to be a stroke of genius - by week four I had doubled my income and by week six, I was the leading salesman in my region and was earning a cracking weekly salary.
What did this teach me?
A valuable lesson in working smart rather than working hard. There is a limit on how many people you can persuade to start using your eLearning program, but if you can persuade others to become champions for eLearning, they will do the job on your behalf and together you will influence many more people than you can on your own.
How to cultivate a network of champions
Start by making a list of influential people within the organisation. You are looking for well-respected individuals, who are open to new ideas and who come into contact with a lot of employees.
- Managers and team leaders – have an influential relationship with their teams and will help encourage their staff to buy into e-learning.
- Sales staff – usually fairly outgoing and good at selling! So let's get them selling your system.
- Trainers – come into contact with more employees on a weekly basis than most, and by the nature of their job role, will be encouraging learning within the organisation.
- SMEs - you may have worked with SMEs (subject-matter experts) who have helped build content for your e-learning platform. As their title suggests, these people are experts and will command respect on certain topics. These people should naturally be excited about sharing the work they are invested in.
- Social butterflies - we all know who these people are, they waltz through the office. Loud, proud and unabashed. Everyone knows their name. These individuals are naturally gregarious and will love talking up your new system. Bonus points if they are a member of the social committee.
Organising your champion workshops
Once you have created your influencer list, invite them to short workshops within which you can educate them on the benefits of the eLearning program.
I have run these myself and found them to be a valuable learning experience (both for myself and the attendees).
Many of them may not be aware that eLearning is available. You can educate them not only on the benefits of content, but also explain some other useful things about the eLearning program that they probably aren’t aware of.
- Do they know that there is the ability to track their teams’ progress via manager administration dashboards?
- Are they aware that they can make recommendations for off-the-shelf content that may help their teams and colleagues?
- Did they know they can record their important WebEx’s and send them to you to upload to the LMS for anyone who missed the live event?
Educating this group of people will get the cogs turning in their minds and you’ll find many of them coming back with requests for new courses, admin access or something else that they (and you) can benefit from.
You can also involve them before you develop new courses, ask for their input etc. This will be an excellent way to give them ownership and they will naturally feel more inspired to promote the content.
Demonstrating the value of your eLearning program
We have to ensure that our ‘influential people’ see the real value in eLearning. We don’t want them to just be paying us lip service when they politely agree to promote the program.
So spend some time talking to these people. Find out what makes them tick, what keeps them up at night, what would help them to do their job better.
If you can procure the answers to these questions, you will be better placed to recommend which content or features will help them and their team. (This will also help you prioritise your content roadmap).
Once you’ve started spreading the word, be persistent. Meet these potential champions again and find out whether they learnt anything from the content, whether their team benefitted and whether they have seen any changes.
If not, why not? If we can be proactive, we can potentially address their concerns and provide a solution.
Not only will they start to see the benefit of eLearning, they will start to think of other content that would benefit them and their teams and start coming to you with requests for different topics.
And once this happens you have struck gold! They are starting to see the true value of the platform and will already be promoting this on your behalf.
This is also where you can start to negotiate.
“Why of course we can add a course on X, Y and Z. Would you be able to allocate some of your own training budget towards that?”
Don't do all the hard work yourself when you have people who can do it for you. Build your own network of eLearning champions and roll your elearning snowball down the hill!
Who would be on your list of eLearning champions? Why not write that list today and organise your first workshop?
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