Is It Time to Assess Your eLearning Course Audience?

Association MarketingYou’re offering courses online. You think the content is relevant. So, where are your learners? Maybe it’s time to assess your eLearning course audience. You might not be familiar with market segmentation or demographic and psychographic research, but without them, chances are your bottom line will suffer. But that’s okay, help has arrived to get you started, marketing style.

Market Segmentation

Market segmentation is the process of breaking your potential audience up into groups that have similar needs. The four basic market segmentation strategies are based on:

  • Behavioral differences
  • Demographic differences
  • Psychographic differences
  • Geographical differences

Suppose your association caters to nonprofits seeking to learn more about fundraising and development. The types of people who would need this information are varied. Are you targeting board members and development directors with the same messaging? How about volunteers within the organization? Each of these segments requires a different marketing message to reach them. If I was a board member, I might want to make sure my team is doing all they can for the organization, whereas a development director might be looking for new ideas to implement, and the volunteer might simply want to know more about how fundraising works. Should they all take the same course? How does the course apply? If you don’t segment your audience and target the individuals who will benefit the most from your offerings, this could explain why your course audience is lacking.

Demographics and Psychographics

Demographics are segments based on age, income, education, gender, race, ethnicity, etc. For example, in marketing we may speak of  baby boomer, upper-middle class, college educated, females as a target audience. We have segmented this group into a demographic profile. Why does it matter? We can assume certain traits are similar among members of this demographic group and can create marketing messages based on those similarities. For example, did you know that before the 2008 recession in baby boomers possessed “three-quarters of the nation’s financial assets “and an estimated $1 trillion in annual disposable income?

Psychographics refers to attitudes, beliefs, lifestyles, etc. For example, did you know that millennials are active in their communities? In fact, the 2013 Millennial Impact Report revealed that “73% of millennials surveyed volunteered for a non-profit in 2012.” Did you know that Generation X is the first generation that was largely a product of divorce. As a result, this generation was more cautious, less concerned with maintaining the status quo, and married later in life than prevoious generations.  If demographics tell you what people are, then psychographics tell you who they are.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

Confession: maybe it’s not the eLearning course audience that isn’t interested. Maybe the value proposition isn’t interesting. But if you target your courses to the right audience, and create messages that resonate with the segment that values your offerings the most, your level of success is likely to rise. So, when your courses aren’t selling like they used to, it’s time to evaluate your marketing segmentation and assess your eLearning course audience.





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Top 4 Things You Can Learn from Buzzfeed (and #2 will blow your mind!)

elearning information catIn the modern world, clickbait marketing has taken the internet by storm and websites like Buzzfeed are leading the charge. You’ve probably seen their articles with catchy titles like, “20 Reasons the 90’s were Awesome,” or, “10 of the Cutest Cats You’ve Ever Seen (#4 is so cute you’ll want to explode).” You’ve probably clicked on more than a few of them. You may have even taken one of their many quizzes. While many may feel that these kinds of sites are heralding the end of intellectualism, no one can deny they’re effective for driving traffic. Discovering and using their techniques can boost excitement and interest in your program. These can help increase engagement and retention with your eLearning content. If BuzzFeed can make people excited about taking a quiz, wouldn’t it be great if you could do that with the quizzes in your eLearning? So, without further ado, here are four ways BuzzFeed dominates their industry and how you can use their methods to dominate yours.

1. Lists, Lists, Lists
What they do: The Buzzfeed business model, while not the first internet company to use lists, is definitely the most prolific and for good reason. Lists are a proven way to generate interest in a topic. Cleverly named lists are some of the most-engaged-with content on the web.
What you can do: Take information you want to deliver and present it as a list. Not only are lists the most convenient way to categorize information, they also let participants immediately know how much content to expect.

2. Anticipation
What they do: The writers at Buzzfeed are masters of creating anticipation with catchy headlines. They use attention grabbing titles that not only pique curiosity but provide a challenge of sorts, betting readers that they have not seen a cuter cat, thus drawing people in.
What you can do: Presenting your content in the best light possible from the very beginning is key to developing interest. People are excited to learn things that are exciting and setting that expectation early can lead to more engagement later. Give your learners a reason to care and dare them to be interested. Just make sure they have good reason to be excited, or they’ll be disappointed instead.

3. Graphics
What they do: Buzzfeed articles are full of graphics and small animated GIFs. These images add color and life to the article.
What you can do: No one wants to read a “wall of text.” Using imagery that is related to the subject and also constructive can increase engagement. “Zoning out” is a major issue that can be helped with additional productive stimuli.

4. Short and Sweet
What they do: Buzzfeed articles are all about getting in, getting to the point, and getting out. No fuss, no muss. Content is intentionally kept short in order to provide bite-sized entertainment for busy people on the go. Every article either has very few entries or each entry is no more than a sentence or two.
What you can do: Presenting information in smaller chunks dramatically increases understanding. It’s natural to want to explain things fully and clearly, but taking a step back and allowing users to digest information a little at a time will actually lead to better results in the long run.

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The Content or the LMS? Which Comes First?

Which comes firstYou need both. Without content the LMS is an empty cookie jar. It’s pretty looking but frustrating every time you open it. Then again, content without an intuitive platform for delivery is a treasure hunt, often without a treasure map to guide you.

But wait, don’t order yet, there’s more.

Before EITHER the content or LMS is considered, it is important to step back and think:

  • Who am I providing this content for and why do they need it?
  • What can I offer that is both relevant and unique?

If you cannot answer either of those questions, then neither content NOR an LMS will help you provide successful educational material. Once you have a clear direction, understanding what type of content will be most relevant will help you select an LMS. What will resonate with your audience and how will they consume it? Will they have blocks of time at their computer or will they be getting the information in snippets on their mobile devices? Knowing what the content should look like narrows the requirements so it’s easier to find the best LMS for delivering that material. It doesn’t necessarily need to be all written out before LMS consideration begins, but it is helpful to have a vision for the final content types and formats.

When we get requests from associations considering an LMS, it is always interesting to get an understanding of the current learning environment. For many there is already educational content, but it’s been developed sporadically, over time, it’s not all consolidated in one location, and it’s hard to navigate through all the archives. For others, the board is under pressure to offer educational content, but there isn’t any yet and they want to know how an LMS will help. Unfortunately, an LMS without content will not help provide education. Then again, content alone will not provide efficient education.

The reality is once the type of content is determined, and the LMS vetting process begins, there is time to start actual content authoring. The process of determining LMS requirements, narrowing down vendors, getting stakeholders to review demos, and debriefing on the different options can take weeks or months. Once an LMS is selected, there is still time to continue developing content. Implementing an LMS can also take weeks or months, depending how you need the system configured.

The end result of the original question? You can choose the LMS first and develop the content on the way, AS LONG AS you have done the strategic thinking about what types of content you need and how you want it delivered. Have the final destination in mind before you start building the road to get there.

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Learning Management Systems and You

Learning Management Systems and YouPeople always want to know how their association could benefit from a Learning Management System (LMS). To help explain, let me present a little scenario.

“Johnson!” Your boss calls to you. (Assuming your last name is Johnson, otherwise insert your name here). “I’ve got some great news! The board loved all the courses we offered at the conference last week. Detailed and informative, they said.” He smiles broadly while patting you on the back. “They want us to start offering them online.  Also, we need to track each user and send them certificates upon completion. I told them, ‘I know just the person for the job.’ You can save the day for us, right Johnson (or your name here)?”

Wait, he wants you to do what, with the what now? How are you supposed to compile all of your association’s training material in one, easy-to-access place, and still finish everything else that’s on your plate? Never fear! Your boss says the answer is simple. Find yourself a good LMS.

Was that enough explanation? Probably not. How about we break this down and start from the beginning? Cue the 1950’s film strip…

“Learning Management Systems and You!”

An LMS is a system for managing learning. It’s software that organizes, administers, and tracks  online training programs and certifications. Online training programs are often called eLearning.

Before we go any further, please note that an LMS is different from a Learning Content Management System (LCMS).   An LCMS provides tools for managing and creating course content, many LMSs do not.

Remember those courses from the conference your association already has? An LMS’s first job is to organize them, whether they’re PowerPoint presentations, recorded webinars, or something else. It can catalogue that valuable information in a convenient place, allowing your members easy access around the clock. Those courses will get a lot more traffic there than if they sit on your desktop in a seldom-opened folder labeled “conference stuff.”

Once you’ve found or built the appropriate course work, the LMS will administer that material for you. Whether that means something as simple as playing a video or as complicated as proctoring and grading an evaluation, a good LMS has you covered.

And after all that, the LMS will even take care of the tedious paperwork for you. Gone are the days of tracking trainees on spreadsheets by hand or physically printing and mailing out certificates. An LMS can automatically record and collate that information and provide you with organized progress reports for every learner in your system.

So, there you have a quick overview of what an LMS can do for you. The automation an LMS provides could save you hundreds of hours needlessly wasted organizing, administering, and tracking your education courses and training programs. This is just the tip of the iceberg, though. A properly used LMS can even become a money maker for your association, providing a non-dues revenue stream for you as well as valuable training for your members.


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Another Lens for Viewing Your eLearning

There is more than one way to look at an object. You can view it from the front or back, close up or far away, and so on. This is also true of eLearning. So, this post is going to consider it from a different perspective. There are nine elements of good instruction you can use as litmus tests to see where your association’s eLearning is doing well and where it has room to grow.

1. Wow… you have my attention.
Have you ever been to a session where the instructor walks in with music playing on the boom box they’re carrying? It’s not something you can ignore. If people are going to learn they need to be paying attention. Hook them with a vivid image, joke, anecdote, etc. It should tie back to the instruction. That boom box carrier was a history professor. We were studying the French Revolution that day. He was playing “the theme song of the French Revolution.”
2. Remind me, why am I here?
Imagine looking for a tutorial on “how to build a bird house” and ending up with a video that shows how to build a full-sized house that’s shaped like a bird. It can be frustrating to sign up for an online course and then find out it isn’t what you were looking for. Provide clear learning objectives up front so your learners know what they’re getting into.
3. Oh, it’s like that! Okay, I can do this.
Origami may seem really intimidating, until you realize it’s like making a paper airplane. Pretests and comparisons with familiar subjects can bring background knowledge to the front of a learner’s mind. They can also provide a confidence boost or a reminder that the learner needs to brush up on prerequisite skills.
4. I think I get it.
If there’s a timeline labelled “History of Chocolate” but the content is about different kinds of chocolate, that’s confusing. When you present eLearning, organize the content so it makes sense. You can present learning material in chronological order, least complex to most complex, start with generalizations and move on to case studies, etc. Using headings and visual hierarchies is a big help too. Just remember to be consistent. CHANGING the structure will throw learners off and MAKE it hard to focus.
5. So, what do I do now?
It would be pretty weird if someone randomly walked up, handed you a hammer, explained how to use it, and then walked away. Sadly, this is where a lot of eLearning falls short. Your association should guide its members and let them know what to do next, even when they’ve finished a course. Examples or job aids can provide context and let the learner see when their new skills could come in handy. Suggest places or events they can visit to put their new knowledge to work, let them know if you release more courses on the subject, etc.
6. Let me give it a try.
Just because I can explain how to do a cartwheel doesn’t mean I can actually do one. Theory and practical application are two different things. Whenever possible, let your learners practice what they’ve learned. This could mean a hands-on workshop, an eLearning scenario, or any other number of things. The point is that they need to be able to do what they know.
7. I think this is right. Is this right?
Picture handing in a proposal or report for review and never hearing anything back. Was there something wrong, could you do something to make it better, was it the greatest thing anyone had ever read? There’s no way to know. That’s why constructive feedback is so important. “Correct” and “Incorrect” are a place to start, but don’t stop there. Let your learners know what they did well, where they need to do some more work, and what they can do to improve.
8. I can do this. Let me prove it.
Being a plate spinner is impressive. But if you can only do it when no one is watching, how can anyone else know that you’re good at it? Tests and assessments are opportunities for learners to show what they can do. Beyond that, they’re also another opportunity for the learner to get constructive feedback.
9. Use it or lose it.
This saying applies to lots of things: playing a musical instrument, using a computer program, dancing, and so on. If you don’t continue practicing a skill or reviewing a set of facts it will fade over time. Give your members a reason to “stay sharp” after they’ve finished an eLearning course. You could send short mini-quizzes by e-mail a week or so after they complete a course to help jog their memories. Or, consider opening a forum to discuss the subject or holding a competition.

Looking at eLearning from different angles can help you pin down ways for your association to improve its offerings. Was this helpful? Could it have been improved? Leave some constructive feedback in the comments section.

This article is based on Robert Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction. Dr. Richard Van Eck has written a wonderful paper that discusses how the Nine Events can be used in game-based learning (his piece starts on page 4).

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Marketing Your Association to Millennials: Make it Social

Social Media MarketingYears ago, while interning for a social media marketer, I was taught the value of social media to engage and attract business. Today social media marketing has changed from meme generation, to promoted posts and tweets, image ads, and pay-per-click (PPC)  campaigns on big name social media sites. Yet associations and organizations are slow to capitalize on these advertising venues assuming them to be unprofessional and lacking in their target audiences. So here are the facts, if you want to market your association to millennials, make it social.


Facebook has 44 million users between the ages of 25 and 34. This generation of young professionals needs the bridge skills your association provides. College may have gotten them a degree, but not the applied knowledge they need to succeed at their chosen professions. Additionally there are 56 million users between the ages of 35 and 54. A savvy social media marketer might argue that this platform is not only beneficial for reaching the millennial generation but generation x and the baby boomers as well. How do you advertise on this platform? You have a few choices.  First, you can boost a post. Doing so will give the post much greater reach and visibility. For example, spend $20 and you’re likely to get around 2,000 views. This is a great tool if your goal is exposure. Next, you can choose to advertise. As with AdWords campaigns, advertising on Facebook is a pay-per-click (PPC) option in which you’ll use targeting to get your ads on the pages of the right people at the right time. Finally, you can promote your page, like boosting a post, promoting a page will get your Facebook company page seen by more people.


Twitter users are primarily millennials with 95 million users between the ages of 18 and 29 and 54 million users between the ages of 30 and 49. Twitter offers unique advertising opportunities including promoted Tweets and celebrity sponsored Tweets. For thousands of dollars you too can have a famous reality TV personality promote your association, because nothing says professional development like a reality TV personality. Additionally, the use of hashtags allows for branding across the platform. When an advertiser uses a hashtag that is already popular or “trending” their tweet is indexed and shown with every other tweet using that hashtag. This can result in free exposure.


Instagram is a mobile photo sharing app, with 74 million users between the ages of 18 and 29 and 36 million users between the ages of  30 and 49. If your goal is to attract the younger generation, this is where you’ll find them. The key to Instagram is “cool factor.” So, how do you use it? As an association you probably take pictures of your events, certificates, and members. You can post these pictures to Instagram to  show prospective members that your association can provide what they need, in an atmosphere will appeal to them. Instagram is just beginning to allow advertising through sponsored photos or in-stream ads, but this is in its infancy and is not well established.  Like Twitter, Instagram also uses hashtags for additional exposure. Why bother with this mobile app? Because 80% of millennials own a smart phone and they are 20% more interested in photo, social networking, lifestyle, and shopping apps than any other age category.


LinkedIn is often thought of as the B2B social media platform, but as young professionals, millennials are also using LinkedIn to grow their networks and promote themselves online. What better way to reach this demographic than by targeting their professional network? You can bring your educational offerings to their attention on the very platform where they focus on building their careers. LinkedIn has 45 million users between the ages of 18 and 29 and 81 million users between the ages of 30 and 49. The career minded millennial can be found here. Like PPC ads on Google, LinkedIn allows advertisers to create similar ads that can be targeted to specific criteria and pages within LinkedIn.  Like Facebook, you can also boost a post, which shows your advertisement in people’s feed rather than as a traditional PPC ad. You also have the option of premium advertising which gives you access to larger display ads with premium locations on pages, but at premium costs. There are other methods as well, such as paid “in mail” advertising, but these are the basics.


No matter what social media platform you choose, the important thing to remember is that social media is about engagement. You don’t need to advertise on these platforms to reap the rewards of going social, you just need a page or profile. The ability to have conversations with your friends and followers, as well as to curate content that lets prospective members get a glimpse of the association’s mission, goals, and character is what social media is really all about. Social media is an engagement tool, and success is measured not by Return on Investment (ROI), but by Return on Engagement (ROE). What’s not to “like” about that?

Have questions about other social media sites? Let us know and we’ll cover them in a future blog post.


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5 Ways to Bring Contextual Learning to Your Association

ContextThen it exploded.

By itself, this sentence doesn’t say much. What exploded and was it supposed to? Why did it blow up? Are we talking about a car in an action movie, a firework, or some leftovers that were microwaved for too long? Without context the information is meaningless.

eLearning works the same way. Making your association’s learning contextual will not only help your members make sense of information, it will also help them remember it. That’s because context answers the classic questions: who, what, where, why, when, and how. Let’s take a look at five ways your association can add context to its eLearning.

1.      Provide Clear Descriptions

The first thing a potential learner sees about an eLearning offering is usually a promotion or description. That introduction should provide all of the essential information and, ideally, grab people’s attention. For instance, if you post a webinar recording the description could include the title, host’s name, date and place it was recorded, and a brief summary of the topics it covers. Even that basic context says a lot more than posting the same video and just titling it “Webinar Recording.”

2.      Use Examples

There are many different ways to use examples.  They may be the most effective and versatile tools in your context-adding arsenal. Examples provide specific details that help learners grasp general, abstract concepts. In doing so, they make the ideas easier to remember. Let’s say that an association’s eLearning explains how to fill out a specific form and stresses that it’s important to do it correctly. That’s generic. If a short story shows the consequences of filling it out incorrectly (maybe someone gets fired) that’s specific, and more compelling.

3.      Offer It When and Where It’s Needed

It might seem straightforward, but you’d be surprised how often help or learning isn’t where it’s needed, when it’s needed. Ideally, learners should be able to find the answers they need without leaving what they’re doing. Keeping an instruction manual with the machine it’s for or having a help button in an eLearning course are both good examples. Providing a contact e-mail address or phone number can also be helpful.

4.      Add Social Components

Context is all about seeing how pieces fit into the big picture. The most important context for your members is, “How does this affect me?” Discussions and comments let learners ask their own questions, look for and give advice, and share their experiences. It’s a good way to get them actively involved in their learning. There isn’t much better context than being able to ask, “But what do I do if ____?” and then getting a response tailored to your situation.

5.      Include a Familiar Face, Voice, or Quote

You want your learners to see that the information or skills in the eLearning are valuable to someone who’s accomplished in the field. Note that it should be someone they recognize and respect. Throwing in a testimonial from a random professional counts as an example, but it lacks personal appeal. You can have a quote from Dr. Smartypants that says, “Inertia is a property of matter.” But if your members don’t know who Dr. Smartypants is the quote doesn’t provide as much context. If the same quote is attributed to Bill Nye the Science Guy, and your members know who he is and like him, you’ll have their attention.

The volcano science project successfully “exploded” when the student added vinegar.

Context makes a huge difference. It can completely change someone’s understanding of a sentence, let alone an idea. Providing context for your association’s eLearning offerings will help your members comprehend the information and recall it when and where they need it. It shows how valuable the content can be and lets the learners see how it can be applied practically, sometimes even in their own lives. How do you add context to your courses? Let me know in the comments section.



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