What Marketers Can Gain From Web-Based Ed

In this and coming articles, I’m going to be taking a look at three different types of education on the web: higher education, technical certification training, and corporate training. Why should marketing professionals care? Because web-based training can make your job easier and your rewards higher.

First, the higher rewards. Each type of educational offering may present you with affiliation opportunities that will feed two birds with one bowl. (That killing-two-birds-with-one-stone thing is so unwebby.) Your customers get a good resource for smartening themselves up, thereby becoming better informed, not to mention more self-assured and frequent, consumers. Your education affiliate provides a revenue stream for referrals it converts into clients of its own. You stick to your knitting, the trainers stick to theirs, and your customers stick to both sites. Sounds like a plan.

The Learning Organization

Education offerings can make your job easier through better employee retention. Your client’s executive or your own boss may not realize it, but if you don’t treat employees like customers nowadays, you lose them, too. Company-sponsored training is a valuable perk from the employee’s point of view. And it’s a smart tactical investment for the company. Recruiting is expensive, in money and wasted time. From your own perspective, once you develop useful relationships with the top talent in your company, you’re better off if it stays there.

Besides, organizations (read: managers and employees) have to continue to learn so the enterprise can morph as needed in this fast-forward world. Peter Senge’s book “The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization” introduced the concept of the learning organization, and its wisdom is instantly apparent.

Web-based distance learning comes from brick-and-mortar (and mortarboard) schools and nontraditional organizations — some for profit, some not; some cyber-only, some multimedia. Its advantages are accommodating diversity among the student body while ensuring consistency of the materials and learning experience. The major challenges today are maintaining user motivation and bandwidth limitations. If you turn your workplace into a learning organization, the culture will conquer the first problem, and the web connectivity you provide can overcome the second.

Customer Ed 101

You have to do a bit of homework to identify the kinds of education (information) or training (how to do something) your customers need that is also relevant to your site. Since most of those who commit e-commerce could use more information, let’s start there.

First, you search. Try the name of your market space + “education” + a phrase commonly found in emails your customer service staff receives. Here are some examples of searches and the most relevant results:

  • “Gardening” + “education” + “fertilizer” resulted in pages of useful links for organic gardening; tools, seeds, and gardeners’ virtual communities; and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

  • “Marketing” + “education” + “ad buying” resulted in the University of Texas’ AdMedium Newsletter and a lot of marketing company sites promoting their own services. It just goes to prove we’re good at our jobs.
  • “Flowers” + “education” + “symbolism” resulted in an exhaustive list of more flowers than I knew existed and their metaphoric meanings.
  • “Jewelry” + “education” + “diamonds” + “evaluation” resulted in a thorough explanation of the four characteristics on which diamonds are graded, a lot of gem sales sites that understand meta tags all too well, and Moscow State University’s English-language page describing its courses for gemologist certification.

I hear the sound of e-biz marketing whizzes’ noses turning up. Educational nonprofits, you scoff, are nobody worth doing business with. They don’t grok business. News flash: In this world, they do. They know that if they’re not everywhere, they’re nowhere. Distance learning is one of the fastest-growing spaces in the marketplace. Increasingly more people feel less and less informed but have even fewer hours to spend in class, never mind traveling to campus. The tradeoff? You can’t doze at the back of the classroom. Web-based training knows who you are, what you’re doing, and probably what you did last summer… if you took a course then.

The 1980s saw universities offering courses on the campuses of the largest corporate employers in town to capture that juicy audience. Now they just log in. Visions of professors pumping gas? Hell, no! They’re getting carpal tunnel syndrome along with the rest of us, posting lecture notes and streaming video of demonstrations, updating their class message boards, and responding to students’ emailed questions after every class.

Forget the luxury of office hours when the gurus made you stand in line waiting for an audience. Now they’re speed typing at 2 a.m. to meet communications commitments. It’s “Revenge of the Grad Students”! Forbes lists its Best of the Web schools offering distance-learning programs. (Ignore the “story not available online” disclaimer at the top of the page; the list of best web-based higher-ed expansion teams is farther down.)

Recess: If it’s later than 10 a.m., you need to take a break. Save the world from aliens or just from corporate eco-killers. If you need coaching, you know where to find me.

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