Promoting Your Online Learning Investment
...and ensuring its success!
One of the most overlooked elements of launching a Web-based training system is the internal marketing and promotion of the initiative to management and employees. While organizations willingly investing hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop and introduce Web-based training (WBT) to their employees, they frequently neglect this key element of success.
Unless you can somehow make online learning mandatory for employees, your ability to use basic marketing techniques to attract and retain users will be critical to WBT's continued success in your organization. For instance, you must introduce the new Web-based training system to the organization (the "launch"), promote it and register initial users ("internal marketing"), and develop ways to maintain and increase usage over time ("maintenance marketing").
Simple marketing and promotion techniques can contribute substantially to the overall success of your Web-based training initiative, especially in terms of increasing and maintaining employee participation over time. Consider how the following techniques could be used in your organization to increase the use of Web-based training.
- Integrate online courses into individual employee development plans and performance improvement initiatives. Incorporating online learning into this structured process is especially helpful (yet extremely easy) for managers and supervisors who will need to make recommendations to help an employee improve in a particular area, or offer suggestions for personal development activities during performance reviews or annual goal-setting meetings. Another advantage: online learning is trackable, measurable and time-specific.
- Hold "brown bag lunches" or bring in pizza while holding a short seminar for managers, supervisors and HR/training consultant on how they can incorporate online learning into their own development plans, and how online learning can be used most effectively in the employee development and performance improvement process. Your purpose: show managers and supervisors how online learning can be effectively integrated into the process of developing, coaching and mentoring employees.
- Incorporate online learning into your new employee orientation program. At the very least, new employees should receive an overview of your organization's online learning philosophy, the various options available to them, and how to sign up and get started.
- Take advantage of your company's e-mail system to frequently promote the overall concept and benefits of online learning. Some organizations send e-mails to their employee base to promote specific courses (i.e. "We've added a new course about XYZ."). Others provide useful tips, benefits and suggestions for incorporating online learning into the workplace and personal development. Your angle: constantly look for ways to position and communicate online learning as one of the solutions for dealing with current business issues in your organization.
- Set up a "help line" if employees have questions or difficulties (i.e. accessing a course, forgot password/userID, etc). Print business cards containing the help line contact information and distribute them to employees.
- Develop simple brochures and/or flyers and send them to employees via internal mail
(or via e-mail or posted on bulletin boards, etc.) that can be returned with their registration information and course selection(s). Some organizations use this tactic on a periodic basis (i.e. quarterly) and/or when new courses are added. Important note: using a mix of communication vehicles like e-mail, flyers, posters, telephone messages and newsletters is much more effective than using only one method over and over again.
- Create recognition programs...and use them liberally! Recognition can be personal, departmental or company-wide. Some organizations have provided modest incentives for completing a course or curriculum of courses, and others print simple "certificates of achievement/completion." Still others recognize employees in internal newsletters, memos, bulletin boards and/or e-mails. Another very personal way to recognize completion is a short note or e-mail to managers/supervisors notifying them that an employees has completed a course or curriculum (a copy of the note could also be put in the employee's permanent file). The key: use your imagination and link recognition to what works best with your employee group(s).
- Hold an "online open house" where managers and employees are invited to learn more about online learning and the services you can now provide. Some organizations distribute formal invitations while others send "online tickets." Others reward attendees with popcorn, chocolate, ice cream or other inexpensive "bribes." An online open house is a great time to register new users and hand out additional information. Your focus: promoting online learning as one of the solutions for dealing with current business issues in your organization.
- Consider making certain online courses available to the family members of employees (i.e. online SAT or ACT prep courses for college-bound teenagers, or personal finance courses that can be taken from home). Your organization can offer these as value-added service to employees and family members. What a great benefit to offer prospective employees!
- Conduct frequent course evaluations to pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of your online learning initiative. These can be formal evaluations or simple phone calls to random employees once they've completed a course. It can also be helpful to survey employees to find out what topics interest them (profession skills, technical skills, interpersonal skills, etc.) Consider ways to incorporate these "interests" into your online offering.
- If you work in a larger organization, recruit additional ideas and resources from other departments such as marketing or communications. You should also be able to call on your WBT vendors for additional help and internal marketing support.
Most of these suggestions are simple and inexpensive to implement. But they can be critical to the continued participation, acceptance and overall success of your Web-based training initiative.
Will Hipwell is the Director of Marketing for GeoLearning, a leading developer of Web-based training systems and courseware headquartered in West Des Moines, Iowa.
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