Give Site Visitors a Learning Experience

“Gone fishing.” That means you’re on vacation. It also means you’re doing something you enjoy, something you know how to do something that will reward you with supper! That’s why teaching people to fish forever is a greater gift than giving them a fish one time. Particularly if you want them to return to fish in your lake.

Have you seen those public-service ads on TV “The more you know…”? Knowledge is a useful gift. Useful to those who receive it, of course, and, in our industry, useful to those who give it as well. It earns us the recipients’ trust. Pragmatically, it ensures that they use our products and services skillfully and with confidence. Nobody likes to feel like a dunce.

Think your site already provides useful directions? Maybe there are numbered instructions: “1. Insert tab A into slot B. 2. Remove splinter from your thumb and curse.” Maybe customers can even print them out to use when they leave the online “instructions page.” Anybody can follow directions, right?

Not! Nothing is idiot-proof because idiots are so ingenious and they complain to their wide circle of friends about your inadequate directions. If we must generalize about our customers’ direction-following aptitude, let’s assume it’s zero.

Let’s not broad-brush “content,” either. In the online world, we refer to all information as content. Not all content is created equal. And content geared specifically toward training has intense, but subtle, impact.

How do you master the art of achieving that impact? One itsy-bitsy-spider step at a time, I’ll take you up that long water spout. In the ed biz, that’s called a “learning curve.”

Web Ed 101: Engage the user.

Presentational content states the information. It may suggest how to use the information. It may give examples. But it’s only one-way. The recipient reads and may (or may not) understand. The recipient may think he understands when, in fact, he really doesn’t. He may doubt whether he understands. He has no way of knowing whether he understands.

I get a headache just reading those possibilities. I like more of a sure thing.

Training content engages the participant. She’s not just a reader; she’s active. She gets feedback on what she does. (“Right, you genius!” or “You clicked ‘Edit.’ You should click the ‘Submit’ button to complete the order form. Try again,” followed by, “Great! You’re ready to check out” when she is right.) She knows when she understands because she has done something successfully. And she’s grateful for that certainty. She’s grateful to YOU.

  • Lesson: Marketing can use strategies from the education field.

    Web Ed 102: The education biz is a goldmine.

    If you’re wondering why you should care about providing a learning experience for your site visitors, here’s why…

    Peter Drucker observed (Forbes, May 15, p. 85) that people increasingly feel that they can’t keep up with what they need to know. “Education-to-business and education-to-consumers is tomorrow’s story.” The online education industry has a “market potentially worth hundreds of billions of dollars” (p. 88). Got your attention now?

    Of course, the Forbes article is talking about the pay-to-learn education industry. And we all know what “potential” is worth. Don’t despair. There’s good news for marketing here. First, a bit of education about education for you.

    The fact is, for now as well as for future potential, full course study is a hard sell. Even using the most convenient delivery medium – web-based training (WBT) – the universities and for-profit companies that offer “coaching” and seminars are going to find it difficult to sell full courses to people who don’t have to take them to complete a degree or certification program.

    Sure, the SBA and Cisco have teamed up to offer free e-training on e-business to entrepreneurs. But it’s free, and small-biz owners are more highly motivated than most people who know they should learn something new. People are afraid of change and failure, both of which are inherent in training. And they don’t want to commit the time not even if they can “stop whenever you want and pick up where you left off.”

    That’s the promise of WBT courses, but the reality is that once you stop, it may be so long before you start again that you’ll have to “pick up” back at the beginning. Course completion is rare unless you’re required to finish in time to get that semester’s credit and not waste your tuition.

  • Lesson: Education vendors need marketing expertise.

    But, wait, there’s more bad news about the hard sell of education and good news for marketers. I’m out of space, but you can tune in next week, same day, same click, for Web Ed 103.

    Homework: This is the interactive part of today’s lesson. Try taking any kind of training via the web, and tell me your evaluation of the experience. Or find a message board with the cries of the tormented from the 8th circle of H… I mean, the postings of people who’ve taken online technical certification courses. Meanwhile, if you need coaching, you know where to find find me.

    Recess: If it’s later than 10:00 a.m., you need to take a break. Have a cuppa tea or coffee. No, get your drink first, then read about it.

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