“We’re not in Kansas anymore…”
The road to extended enterprise learning success is seldom straight, but increasingly, companies of all types are increasingly recognizing the need to educate and train outside audiences. Along the way, they’re also discovering the lucrative business benefits of delivering instructional content beyond their own four walls.
This extended enterprise strategy involves the delivery of specialized training, performance support and other educational resources to non-employee audiences, including sales channel partners, retailers, distributors, franchisees, contractors and customers. Sometimes, the content is bundled with a product, service or subscription membership at no additional cost. In other situations, it is sold separately as a premium offer.
Over the past few years, the popularity of extended enterprise learning has soared, with organizations turning to cloud-based platforms to deliver training at scale. As a result, they’ve transformed educational content into an asset that extends global brand reach, increases customer and partner satisfaction, and generates measurable income. Such a transformative shift depends on multiple complex factors, including strategic alignment, governance, training as a product and mobility.
Companies choose to educate external constituents for various reasons, but, as with any initiative, extended enterprise learning should be driven by business strategy. Here are some typical objectives:
- Increase customer success and lifetime value by ensuring that individuals know how to use a product.
- Enable channel partners to increase revenue by selling a product or service more effectively.
- Educate field service technicians to troubleshoot and fix products more efficiently.
- Ensure that franchisees maintain brand standards for quality and consistency.
- Monetize existing training content by expanding delivery to a broader audience.
- Minimize business risk by ensuring regulatory compliance across the entire supply chain.
There are certainly other objectives and plenty of possible combinations. The point is never to pursue an extended enterprise learning venture without defining your objectives. They are the foundation that helps you determine what kind of learning solution makes sense and which business units or functions are responsible for the program’s success.
Until recently, training has largely been the responsibility of HR, talent management and others in human capital management. In conjunction with the IT department, HR teams typically controlled the purchase, implementation and use of the learning management systems (LMSs) that deliver and track employee learning activities.
However, by definition, extended enterprise learning is designed for non-employee audiences. Today’s cloud LMS vendors have seized this opportunity by developing systems to serve the unique needs of various external audiences. For example, channel partners who want to purchase product training and certification programs need a learning environment that is dramatically different from a customer-facing product onboarding platform.
Because learning systems no longer come from a one-size-fits-all mold, multiple departments may invest in their own solution, leading to confusion about purchasing responsibilities and control. A federated governance structure for LMS purchases can accommodating the need for specialized solutions, while keeping various departments from “going rogue” with individual cloud-based systems.
Training as a Product
Selling training content is not the same as selling widgets, but there are common elements, including the need to attract prospects, convert them to paying customers and convince them to become repeat buyers. E-commerce learning systems are optimized for this process, with functionality designed to drive content sales, integrate with marketing automation systems, facilitate discounts and incentives, and support multiple pricing models.
Understanding the transactional nature of extended enterprise learning is key to selecting a technology platform that enables you to promote, price and sell content for maximum revenue. Similarly, understanding the product nature of extended enterprise learning is key to achieving long-term success. High-value content is essential. You’ll need to keep content current with regular updates, extensive testing and quality control. You’ll also need a team focused on product management, marketing and sales. To drive ongoing revenue streams, it’s imperative to treat training content in the same way you would treat any other product.
In less than a decade, our society has fully embraced mobile devices for nearly every aspect of daily life. “Always-on” mobile connectivity has opened doors to a whole new level of learning. The idea that learning content must fit into a single structured “course” has become a thing of the past. Instead, the focus is shifting to just-in-time learning and on-the-job training delivered in smaller chunks. Mobility offers unlimited opportunities to support learning in non-traditional contexts.
Although it’s now difficult to find an LMS that doesn’t support mobile learning, content still has some catching up to do. Mobile learning is not simply about replicating e-learning content on mobile screens — nor is it a replacement for desktop learning applications. The best learning experiences are often designed with mobile technology’s unique strengths in mind, while giving learners the flexibility to move across devices without losing momentum. Take the time to plan your strategy based on your audience’s needs and behaviors, and consider the benefits of a hybrid mobile/desktop approach.
Extended enterprise initiatives are breathing new life into today’s corporate learning function. Rather than operating as internally-focused cost centers, many learning organizations are expanding their reach beyond employees, driving profitable new revenue streams and addressing strategic business objectives. As you select a learning platform to support these initiatives, don’t let interesting features and functionality distract you. Instead, stay focused on your audience’s needs and the related business context. Let these fundamental considerations guide your steps, and your extended enterprise endeavors should lead you in the right direction.