Double Your eLearning Return on Investment

I was recently invited to speak at the annual Learning Technologies conference in London. My seminar was called ‘How to Double your eLearning Return on Investment’ - and following a lively seminar with lots of questions, I wanted to share some highlights.

The last time I presented at Learning Technologies was three years ago - whilst still being responsible for delivering an eLearning program within a huge, global organisation.

In that seminar, I highlighted five mistakes that I had made during the implementation process and suggested some solutions as to how I would have tackled these challenges if I could have started over from scratch (you can see the video of that seminar here).

Well it turns out, two years down the line I am facing very different challenges in my day-to-day business. Running my own eLearning consultancy has certainly been an eye-opener and provided me with a steep learning curve.

But I am still seeing my clients facing the same challenges that I was facing when working in the corporate world.

And the focus of this seminar was to provide five simple and effective techniques that any organisation can implement to increase levels of adoption of eLearning within their business.

So here is a brief highlight of each tip. I would love to go into a lot more detail and I will probably do that at a later stage, but it at least gives you an indication of what you missed at the seminar.

1. Treat eLearning as a business

One of the most useful tips I was given as I began implementing my first eLearning solution into a corporate environment was to ‘treat eLearning as a business and treat your learners like customers’.

This advice stayed with me for a long time and proved to be an excellent way to think about my responsibility within the business.

Any business can create the most incredible product or useful service, but if they don’t market their product/service, the business will ultimately fail.

I see so many companies recruit savvy learning professionals, fantastic content developers and platform administrators to deliver their eLearning program.

But they forget about one thing - marketing.

One of the most important things you can do when delivering eLearning within an organisation is create a solid marketing strategy.

There are thousands of different marketing strategies and techniques out there - so don’t be intimidated by this. The key is to pick two or three that work for you, and make sure you implement them diligently, making a commitment to undertake the tactics on a long-term basis.

Any business can create the most incredible product or useful service, but if they don’t market their product/service, the business will ultimately fail.

One of the most effective marketing strategies that any online business can use is email marketing. Now I’m not talking about the spammy emails that land in your junk folder - I’m talking about delivering relevant, high-value content directly to our audiences’ inboxes.

Probably the biggest challenge for any business who are using email marketing, is gathering an email address list - but we don’t have that issue! We already have access to a list of email addresses for everyone currently registered on the LMS - so that’s the first challenge out of the way!

The real challenge is finding value to deliver into their inbox.

So one suggestion:

  1. Pick out the most valuable courses currently available and highlight five useful and interesting facts from each
  2. Write an engaging synopsis of the content in an email with a link to the full course (stories are always a fantastic way to engage the reader)
  3. Use a catchy subject line that will guarantee your learner opens the email (click here for a great article on writing emails for marketing)
  4. For a more advanced strategy, segment your audience and deliver content relevant to their job role or interests (you can use a Marketing Automation tool like Drip to make this job easier)

Email marketing is a complex beast. But you can learn the basics and implement a simple email marketing campaign without too much time and energy, and the return on investment that you will see with this type of campaign will surprise you.

The key is persistence – your audience may not even open the first five emails but they will start to remember your eLearning program as a viable option because they are reminded of it every time you send an email.

And it might be the sixth email that catches their eye, and really delivers some value to them!

We could talk about marketing strategies all day, but the key point I wanted to make is that if you are responsible for managing an eLearning program, you really need to shift your mind-set from the paradigm of managing eLearning to a paradigm of running a business.

2. Create a network of eLearning champions

Most organisations will start an eLearning program with a small team. Most companies are hesitant to build a team of content developers and learning professionals until the concept has proved successful and you can demonstrate a return on investment.

If I look back at my situation, I was responsible for implementing an eLearning program within a FTSE-100 organisation completely on my own!

It took me 18 months of graft before I had demonstrated enough value for management to invest in another eLearning developer and an LMS administrator. This allowed me to create more content and demonstrate even more return on investment, and the snowball started to gain momentum.

So one technique that I have seen successfully used is to build a network of eLearning ‘champions’.

We need to be very intentional with this – there is no point in just hoping people will promote your program.

This network will consist of influential people within the business, those individuals who move around business and have a lot of contact with a variety of people, individuals who manage large teams and those who are very socially active.

Once you have drawn up a list of these people, you need to look at ways of educating them about eLearning and demonstrating the value it will deliver.

Once they see the value, they will naturally want to help you promote eLearning.

You can see a more detailed article about how to leverage a network of champions by clicking here.

One technique is to build a network of eLearning ‘champions’. We need to be very intentional – there is no point in just hoping people will promote your program.

Education

So how do you do this?

One way is to run small training sessions/workshops/coffee meetings. Within these sessions we will not only educate these prospective ‘champions’ about the eLearning itself, but we will talk about the potential of the platform and what else can be achieved.

For example, we can educate them on ‘off-the-shelf’ courses. Many of them will not be aware that they can go onto online libraries such as Coursera and Open Sesame and choose courses that can be downloaded and hosted on the LMS.

When we started explaining how this works, we began to see their eyes light up as they began thinking about different content that they could deliver to their staff and colleagues. Sales managers suddenly started getting excited because there were viable solutions to quickly deliver sales training to their sales team. Customer services managers will start to get excited because they could see that training courses on how to speak with customers were available.

Before this session they were unaware of ‘off-the-shelf eLearning’ and within five minutes had begun to see the impact of what could be achieved.

Taking ownership

Next up we can demonstrate how they could manage this content via the LMS. We show them examples of how they could log on to the LMS as an administrator and see how much training their staff had been involved with.

We taught them how to generate reports, how to set up automated reports that would be delivered directly into their inbox, showing how much training their staff and colleagues were undertaking, which topics their staff were interested in etc.

And the real key to these types of training sessions is to try and ensure these individuals within are taking ownership of eLearning. Rather than thinking that training is the responsibility of a training or learning department, they started to realise that this is a tool that they can use and benefit from themselves.

And once their mentality has shifted from seeing eLearning as something managed and implemented by somebody else to something that they can benefit from themselves, they are much more likely to promote eLearning.

How long is a piece of string?

There is no real limit to what can be delivered via an LMS. Who says it has to only deliver ‘training’?

I have seen spectacular success with LMS hosting sales and marketing collateral on the product training page of an LMS – this was in a customer environment, where the Sales Manager could see which customers were downloading sales collateral and could then reach out and support those customers on selling that product.

However, this is just one example. If you explain to your audience the functionality behind the LMS i.e. we can host any form of content, interact with the audience, capture feedback on their opinion of this content and finally, create reports to see who has viewed/downloaded/interacted with this content, your audience will connect the dots themselves and start thinking of alternative ways to use the LMS.

3. Implement some quick-wins

This tip is a great tip for anyone who has yet to launch an eLearning program, but may be extremely useful if you have already launched and are struggling to keep up with the vast demands placed upon you to deliver content.

In an ideal world, when we launch an eLearning program, it would have a huge range of high quality content that would be relevant to your whole audience.

But being in this situation is extremely unlikely.

We have already discussed how most organisations implement an eLearning program with very small budgets and a small team. Therefore it is almost impossible to create highly effective, highly engaging, highly interactive content for your whole audience.

And therefore you will need to think about ways of delivering value immediately and being able to go back to the key decision-makers to ask for more investment.

One of the best ways to do this is to implement some ‘quick-wins’.

I would class a quick-win as something that does not take you a huge amount of time to implement, but will show immediate return on investment.

One way…

In the last eLearning program I implemented, the initial objective was to complement the current face-to-face classroom training with a suite of online content.

So I was in an excellent situation in that there were already a team of highly technical trainers delivering face-to-face training to whom I had access.

The first thing we did was set up video cameras to record all of the classroom sessions. Now I’m going to mention a couple of things as I can already hear the eLearning purists throwing their hands up and complaining that a video recording of a training session is not effective eLearning!

And they would be right. In its most basic format, a video of a trainer delivering classroom training is pretty ineffective.

But there are several things that we can do to drastically improve the quality of this type of content. Some quick tips:

  1. Set up 2 video cameras so that in the final edit, you can switch between different views of the presenter.
  2. Use screen capture software such as Camtasia to record the presenters screen, which gives you 3 video files to edit together.
  3. Use a lapel microphone to capture high quality audio from the presenter.
  4. Write a detailed overview of how you want this content broken down into individual modules, chapters and lessons.
  5. Outsource the final content to a third party video production specialist via a website such as Upwork.
  6. Upload the content to your LMS and add basic interactive elements such as multiple choice questions at the end of each lesson or chapter.

I have repeatedly used this technique successfully to generate hours of content! It is by no means the type of content that I would choose to create if I had an unlimited budget and unlimited amount of time to create content.

However, especially when we are beginning an eLearning program, budget and time is not something that is in plentiful supply and therefore we need to think about how to deliver lots of value without taking months to create content.

This type of strategy also provides you with an immediate, measurable return on investment. If one of the trainers delivering that training was unable to deliver the training in a face-to-face environment, you can now deliver the training online.

The same thing applies if one of the attendees was off sick when you ran the session.

And if you decide that you wanted this training to replace face-to-face training, you have an immediate return on investment that can be demonstrated to management.

Read my case study on how to demonstrate a tangible return on investment through replacing classroom training with eLearning.

4. Share your success

I would estimate that it takes twice as long to create an eLearning course with a measurable objective (that is actually tracked from start to finish) than it takes to develop a course that isn’t measured.

And I’m not talking about tracking via assessment or quiz results. It is easy to ask a learner 10 questions once we’ve spoon fed them some information. We are not testing on knowledge retention, we are measuring tangible business results.

(I recently heard a university professor say that at the beginning of each academic year, he makes his students take the previous year end exam – very few of them pass).

And so it is important to realise this before developing content. It is unrealistic to deliver measurable return on investment on every single piece of content delivered via the LMS.

So why try?

My recommendation would be to pick one course that you know is going to achieve certain objectives (there is a great example in the last tip that we discussed!).

Once you have identified the course, think carefully about how you plan to measure it. What business objective are you going to achieve through the delivery of this course? Increase sales of a particular product? Reduce costs? Improved customer service scores? Increased number of accredited staff/customers? Reduction in non-compliances?

I can’t stress this enough but JUST PICK ONE!

Once you have delivered the course and have delivered value, this is where the hard work begins! Because you need to share this success. Share it with your management. Share it with your learners. Share it via your email marketing. Share it via your network of eLearning champions.

Why not type up this success into a case study? You could put some real effort into a nicely designed PDF document that can be emailed around management, sent out within your emails and used regularly to promote the value that eLearning is delivering.

Because once you share some tangible success, it is infinitely easier to encourage management to invest in eLearning. Not just financially, but with their enthusiasm.

Once you share some tangible success, it is infinitely easier to encourage management to invest in eLearning.

5. Communicate with your audience

It is relatively easy to implement an LMS, build some eLearning courses and send them out into the ether. We can even check whether people are looking at the content via the LMS reporting dashboard.

But does this tell the real story about our user’s experience? How do we know whether they are really enjoying the experience, excited to come back for more? Or whether they are sifting through the content and getting frustrated?

Unless we speak to our audience, we have no idea.

One of the advantages of classroom training is that you can instantly see the reaction of your audience. If they are excited and engaged, their body language will reflect that. They will be having discussions with others and will be asking lots of questions.

This is one of the major challenges we face with online learning. You cannot see how your learners interact with the content. (But if you ever have the chance to see someone using elearning that you have created, it makes for fascinating viewing!)

Therefore we have to be very proactive with this.

If you work in an office where there is a large group of people using eLearning, why not set up some small workshops, where you invite between 5 and 10 people along? You will already have access to reports showing you who is most engaged with eLearning, why not pick the top 50 and speak to those guys?

If the majority of your learners are situated in different locations, globally or nationally, it would take you less than 15 minutes to put the same questions into a SurveyMonkey or Wufoo form. If you send it out anonymously, your audience will be more likely to give you constructive criticism without feeling nervous that their answers will be judged!

You can ask them 3 simple questions:

  1. What do you like about our eLearning?
  2. What do you dislike about our eLearning?
  3. If we could improve one thing, what would it be?

The answers to these 3 questions will give you immediate feedback as to what is working and what is broken. It may be the LMS, it maybe the content – it maybe the relationship between both (you can read more about how to ensure your content is working with your chosen LMS in this article).

But hiding behind a computer whilst you pump out more content will do nothing to help you learn about the users’ experience. Listening to your audience is vital.

Conclusion

There are hundreds of tactics that can be used to increase adoption within the organisation.

These were just five I picked out to discuss within the seminar, specifically because they are quite quick and easy to implement regardless of where you are within your journey.

If you have any comments or questions about any of these tactics, please drop them in the comments box below. 

If you enjoyed reading this article, don't miss my free 5-day email crash course - 5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Starting an eLearning Project.

 

Ant Pugh

108A Tooting Bec Road, 108A Tooting Bec Road