The rapid increase in digital training and online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic has expanded two adult learning markets you may not be familiar with: customer education and consumer education. To set ourselves up for success in the customer and consumer education markets, we need to alter our mindset and skill set. What’s more, shifting our mind and skill sets to support customer and consumer learning markets will also enhance our ability to support training initiatives in corporate environments.

The Mindset

In customer and consumer education, we must think like marketing specialists and learning specialists. This mindset involves deepening our understanding of the target audience for each learning market and incorporating their underlying motivation for pursuing education into the learning experience.

Know Your Audience

    • Corporate: employees or volunteers who are self-motivated and/or motivated by their employer to acquire knowledge and skills for performance improvement, to support their organization’s growth and viability.
    • Customer: current or prospective clients primarily motivated by business results, pursuing education and/or learning resources to support the application of a recently acquired product or service.
    • Consumer: self-motivated individuals pursuing education or learning resources for personal or professional growth.

When comparing the underlying motivation for each audience, our initial insight may be that the training solutions we design will be distinctly different for each audience — which is not new information. What may be new, however, is the opportunity to incorporate these intrinsic and extrinsic motivators into the learning experience.

Incorporate Their Motivators

    • Corporate: Showcase the measurable impact of your learning initiative on employees’ or volunteers’ behavior and the accompanying positive organizational impact.
    • Customer: Curate a learning initiative consistent with, and complementary to, other customer service and support systems and resources.
    • Consumer: Demonstrate the measurable impact (ideally beyond or in addition to self-reported data) your learning initiative has on individuals’ personal or professional growth.

Review the strategies for incorporating motivators in learning experiences, and you’ll likely notice that the consumer strategy is nearly the same as the corporate strategy. A successful training initiative influences participants to apply what they’ve learned to their jobs or personal lives, as Dr. Ina Weinbauer-Heidel notes in her book “What Makes Training Really Work.”

If the goal of a training initiative is application, we must leverage systems and technology to track the degree to which participants are accurately applying their learning to their environment. If you’ve had a difficult time demonstrating how a current or previous learning initiative measurably influenced employees’ behavior and business results in the corporate context, prepare to turn up the volume of difficulty when measuring the influence of learning initiatives in consumer environments.

Consumer learners often pay out of their own pocket to join a learning experience. Therefore, the stakes are often higher to provide high-quality learning experiences in the consumer learning market. Consumer learners want to clearly understand “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM) before committing their dollars and their time. They want to know what other participants have achieved and expect to see this information in materials promoting the learning product.

In order to share these success stories, we need data — and focusing on data, systems and technology is where our mindset conversation ends and our skill set conversation begins.

The Skill Set

There are three essential skills for developing successful learning experiences in the customer and consumer learning markets. The first is collaborating with interdisciplinary stakeholders to articulate relevant behavioral and business or personal growth goals your learning initiative should influence. For customer learning initiatives, the key stakeholders are members of customer service and sales teams, along with executive operations leaders. For consumer learning initiatives, key stakeholders are marketing and operations team members.

Don’t forget that successful learning initiatives result in the application of learning, not just an increase in knowledge or confidence. To ensure that your learning initiatives evoke transformation, articulate business or personal growth goals, and then connect those goals to the critical behaviors learners must demonstrate in order to achieve the results you desire.

The next essential skill is designing and instituting creative Kirkpatrick level 3 (behavior change) and level 4 (business results) evaluation systems. Remember, customer and consumer learners are highly focused on WIIFM. Therefore, success stories will compel them to commit to your learning experience. This data is derived from the evaluation systems put in place before, during and after each learning event.

You can set up these systems using the software and technology platforms at your disposal and/or using new platforms. If you aren’t familiar with the plethora of learning management systems (LMSs), data analytics software and video hosting platforms out there, take the time to learn what’s on the market.

Lastly, we must align the content featured in our learning initiatives with the critical behaviors we attribute to the business or personal results desired. If you struggle with the challenge of too much content and too little time, honing in on this skill will ease your pain. In his book “The Art of the Pitch,” Peter Coughter devotes an entire section to helping presenters identify the essential content to feature in their presentations. Learning professionals can learn much from his best practice: Less content, purposefully curated to accomplish the goals of your learning initiative, is generally the best approach. If the content does not serve the behavioral, business or personal results you’re looking for, cut it out.

Looking for some examples of how to apply these mindset and skill set best practices? Below is a summary of steps you can take to apply them to your next initiative in the corporate, customer or consumer learning market.

Implementing the Mindset and Skill Set: Best Practices

TALK with stakeholders to learn how they define success. What needs to happen for stakeholders to feel satisfied with the learning initiative?


IDENTIFY what employees or volunteers need to be doing differently to bring about the outcomes stakeholders want to see. Select three critical behaviors.


EXPLAIN how you will know when employees or volunteers are engaging skillfully in the three critical behaviors (i.e., your evaluation method).


IDENTIFY what employees or volunteers need outside of the training event to reinforce the three critical behaviors. Build these additional resources and supports into your learning initiative.

MEET with stakeholders to identify the business results the learning product needs to influence.


CONDUCT an analysis of the content, programs, services and resources available within the customer service team to support customers.


DEVELOP learning products in alignment with the available content, systems, graphics and resources available from the customer service team.


INCLUDE one member of the customer service team in stakeholder meetings during the learning experience development process.

LIST all the ways your influencer or thought leader’s expertise, and any learning product you develop, could positively influence people’s lives.


TRANSLATE your list into measurable, time-specific results.


IDENTIFY three critical behaviors participants must demonstrate to achieve each result.


IDENTIFY what participants need to know and believe (about themselves and the world) to engage skillfully in the three critical behaviors.


DEVELOP content to develop the knowledge and beliefs that will empower learners to engage in the three critical behaviors.