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Elearning {hearts} Marketing

elearning loves marketing

I’m squeamish about sticking cables into my cortex, but I love the scene from the Matrix where Neo jacks in to learn karate (Oh Wachowski Brothers Where Art Thou?).  There are so many things I want to learn. The internet is my matrix.  Yet as the internet grows the world’s knowledge base, the pressure to learn more and learn more quickly also grows.  I believe there’s a huge opportunity to address this challenge through an approach that combines elearning + marketing to discover, share, and apply learning.

Traditional K-12 and higher education is experiencing its own elearning-driven renaissance.  However, my focus is on the application of elearning to lifelong learning and professional settings, where there is no captive audience.  Attracting and retaining this audience requires a more streamlined approach than that required by traditional education.  To reflect the distinction, I refer to this audience as customers rather than students.

Learners as customers

An educated customer is a better customer, whether it’s a patient being treated for crohns disease being more compliant and objective, or a home owner eager to maximize energy savings from the newfangled high efficiency appliance they recently purchased.  In both cases, there is more satisfaction, more allegiance, and more profit.  More value.

Many instructional designers, training managers, and other elearning professionals feel marketing is anathema to the value of “pure” elearning.  But let’s not throw out the bathwater just yet.  There are many non-commercial applications benefitting from the elearning + marketing approach, not the least of which is lifelong learning.  I see marketing as the art of getting the Right Message to the Right People at the Right Time, and crucially, Convincing them to engage.  The same goals could be ascribed to elearning design.  Most naysayers can agree with this point but they point to accreditation.  Without accreditation, the value of self-directed learning will remain ephemeral in a professional setting.

Legitimizing self-directed learning

Influential organizations like Microsoft, Macarthur Foundation and mozilla are exploring creative ways to evaluate self-directed learning.  These creative explorations include gamification, which will expand the customer base to knowledge mercenaries who will seek out valuable elearning for the bragging rights.  This massive effort to legitimize self-directed learning is valuable because discovering and sharing knowledge is a hallmark of thought leadership.

Discovering more learning opportunities

We discover knowledge through search engines primarily.  Anyone who’s ever had to look past page one search results on google will be glad to know google is committed to making the engine smarter.  With its release of KnowledgeGraph, google is making a big push to reposition itself as a knowledge engine.  Its Google Prediction API, a machine-learning effort, now powers several public websites  including HotPot and Schemer.  These are nascent but significant efforts to make useful recommendations based on machine learning.  Recommendation is not easy to get right (Remember the netflix prize?) but it’s already useful in limited domains.  Other related technologies like Adaptive Learning and Learning Analytics will help us along the path to learn more efficiently and also discover useful areas we feel worth learning more about.

Sharing learning

We like to share what we are learning.  Social media, namely through Facebook, brought sharing to the next level and along with it, brought marketing into our personal lives.  Facebook made marketing more natural.   More intimate.  More effective.  Now, Facebook Search, powered by OpenGraph, will be a treasure trove for triangulating interests — whether they are personal or marketed.

Your-Father’s-Elearning

To tap into this new, more natural way of marketing, Your-Father’s-Elearning will not work.  To be transformational, elearning must do a better job of fitting into our lives.  Elearning must evolve to support the learning-everywhere web.  It must be be more modular and flexible.  Fortunately, the evolution of SCORM, the main elearning standard, is well on its way.  And with gigabit cities in 50 U.S. states by 2015, 3D and HD video will be a feature that greatly enhances the appeal of elearning.

The next generation of elearning will be beautiful, engaging and quick.  It will branch and scaffold in the most valuable way for the customer and marketer.  Elearning then becomes a way to grow customers by contributing to their lives in a meaningful way.

We must do better than an egg hunt approach to seeking, sharing, and applying knowledge.  Our knowledge-based economy must have an increasingly effective way to help its knowledge workers learn more effectively.   I believe elearning + marketing can be the guiding design principle for a new generation of killer apps.

It’s only a matter of time before the first self-directed engineer is hired at Google.  Then we’re off to the races.