Educators and Marketers are Both Facing a Huge Problem

learner data

I admit, I am a relative newbie to the world of learning compared to those lifelong professionals who have been on the journey for more than my paltry 4 years. One thing I have observed is that learning suffers from the same challenge that marketers do each day: how do I get my audience to engage or purchase my product?

It used to be different for both, as 10 years ago, a marketing professional could walk in the boardroom and talk about how their billboards, print ads, radio and TV commercials were getting the product exposed to many eyeballs without having a measure of accountability. But then things changed. The internet made things highly trackable and marketing automation & tracking tools such as Pardot, InfusionSoft and HubSpot exploded on to the market providing the C-Suite with the ability to measure performance at a very granular level, establishing a ROI for spend.

What happened next?

Well, it was simple. Many marketing leaders and professionals lost their jobs. Why did that happen to them? They were unwilling to change as “they knew better” from their years of experience, and if the company wasn’t making sales as usual, “that was Sales’ fault – not mine.”

By now I am sure you are saying, “how does this apply to me as a learning professional?” Let me explain. Today the world of learning is under attack from entrepreneurs and the Venture Capital community as the last frontier left to conquer. There are now tools and approaches to delivering learning that measure everything from knowledge gaps to completions and much more.

What is even worse is the audience – the learner – no longer feels limited by corporate boundaries of the teacher’s instructions. Now, learners are choosing the medium they want to engage in whether that be a Google search, YouTube Video, etc. As a learning professional, you are not only being measured by completion rates but on the value of your content and the speed of which it is delivered. That challenge to a marketer is hard. But to a learning professional (who likely entered the field to provide quality content to learners and focused their own education on understanding how to build the “right” questions and which pedagogy is best used to achieve a specific outcome) it is daunting.

So, what do you do?

A few months back I attended a Future Workplace event in Las Vegas, NV where Scott Katz, the Senior Vice President of Learning and Talent Development at SunTrust, shared a story about how he built a successful campaign to drive attendance for a leadership training they had launched. What was most interesting about Scott’s story wasn’t the content or the tools used to build/measure it, but the approach used to build up demand.

Scott understood that SunTrust employees were busy so he looked outside of the learning world to the music industry for a hint. At that time, Adele was still on tour and was only performing at a few venues with very limited seating and if you know how popular she is, you also know those seats go fast. So instead of just offering the class, Scott and his team created a campaign that promoted the class that emphasized the limited space available while including testimonials from a few select SunTrust managers who got the privilege of taking the class before it was released. What happened next was unexpected even by Scott. The class not only filled up but there was a waitlist for it which led to another email going out letting everyone know the event was sold out… which led to even more demand.

Scott and his team were smart: they realized they were not the only show in town and it was their job to market the program to SunTrust employees vs. just post the availability of the class.  Scott incorporated one of the most basic elements of marketing, scarcity, into the promotion of the training.

Most learning professionals did not chose their career with the intent of becoming marketing professionals, but the world has changed and just like journalists had to adjust to digital replacing print, so must trainers adjust. This blog post isn’t meant to scare you – instead it is meant to open your eyes and minds to what the world has become around you.

Think of it this way: the consumer has embraced a new way to learn and your C-Suite isn’t far behind with expectations of data and metrics.

Change is easily feared and resisted – it’s part of human nature. However, the early adopters have already changed their outlook and tactics on learning; will you?