Employee Vs. Extended Enterprise Learning: 8 Differences That Make A Big Impact

Employee Vs. Extended Enterprise Learning: 8 Differences That Make A Big Impact
Summary: Here’s my “quick start” advice as a Learning Management System consultant who has focused on extended enterprise learning for over 20 years.

The Differences Between Employee And Extended Enterprise Learning

Just when we were wrapping our heads around modern employee learning technology, everything changed. Increasingly, businesses large and small are expanding their training programs with specialized education for customers, channel partners, and others who need product knowledge and skills. In the corporate world, this is called extended enterprise learning. And it requires a whole new mindset and methodology.

Some HR and Learning and Development professionals are eager to move this extended enterprise agenda forward, but it’s not easy for people who have always worked inside the employee training “box”. Their education and experience is focused on Instructional Design, learning theory, content quality, and training efficiency. Their functional priorities are compliance management, performance support, and basic talent management. Success depends upon finding or developing the right content for employee training – and continuously achieving more with less budget and personnel.

In this environment, it’s tempting to delay extended enterprise learning requests until time and budget permit. But extended enterprise business decision makers can’t afford to wait; so when training departments don’t step-up, EE buyers move forward on their own.

Meanwhile, for the brave souls who do respond, external learning programs can be an eye-opening experience. There are fundamental differences – not just in language, but also in philosophy and in the tools needed to succeed. Understanding these differences at the outset can make or break your initiatives.

Internal Vs. External Learning: 8 Key Differences

1. Mandatory Vs. Voluntary Learner Motivation

Employee compliance training is mandatory. Employees are forced to participate and successfully complete training – or be fired. Under those conditions, it’s easy to tolerate poor communications and a weak user experience. In contrast, customers and channel partners participate in training voluntarily. They must be persuaded to visit a learning portal/LMS, find relevant content, consume it and complete it – again and again. This demands sophisticated marketing, sales psychology and user experience design on the part of training providers.

2. Assigned Content Vs. Discovered Content

When entering an LMS, employee learners are typically “assigned” content automatically (based on their title, role, or other criteria) and the interface reflects their content status. On the other hand, extended enterprise visitors typically use search, navigational functions, and other features to find content of interest. This means it’s important to invest time and effort in creating searchable catalogs, filters, tags, categories, authors, ratings, reviews, and social recommendations to help extended enterprise visitors find relevant content as quickly and easily as they would when visiting popular online retailers like Best Buy or Amazon.

3. Roles Vs. Domains

An employee LMS typically manages one or a handful of very similar employee learner groups. In this case, it’s sufficient to manage access to content and functionality via “roles”. However managing external audiences is more complex, because each organization may want access to its own unique area in the LMS – called “domains”. Domains go much further than “roles”. You can create distinct experiences for each domain by configuring branding, language localizations, content libraries, integrations, personalized learner home pages, notifications, features, and business process workflow.

4. Third-Party Vs. Proprietary Content

Online content for employees can be aggregated from third-party providers such as OpenSesame, Skillsoft, Lynda, or Harvard Mentor. Content is available at every quality and skill level for nearly any business, industry, and technical topic you can imagine. In contrast, content for extended enterprise audiences is almost always proprietary and needs to be custom developed. Why? Let’s consider channel partners for a moment. They need content and performance support for one reason – to help them sell your products or services. One way you can start adding value immediately for channel business owners is by developing solid content quickly and at a reasonable price.

5. HR ERP Integration Vs. CRM Integration

In employee LMS deployments, user accounts, profile information, and organizational hierarchy are typically synced through integration with an HR or enterprise resource planning application such as Oracle or SAP. The amount of information shared to make the LMS work is usually limited to basic profile, manager and organizational information. For extended enterprise implementations, customer, and partner demographic information is stored in a customer relationship management system (CRM) such as Salesforce.com or Microsoft Dynamics. However, CRMs offer much more customer and demographic information you can leverage to drive learning programs and measure their success.

6. Certificates Vs. Digital Badges

Employee LMSs provide printable certificates of completion, which learners generally ignore or file away, but sometimes frame and display, unnoticed, on office walls. In the extended enterprise, organizations increasingly provide digital badges that are embedded with relevant metadata (such as the badge title, description, date earned, issuer, recipient, expiration date, and even specific details about the work submitted by the recipient). These digital credentials follow learners throughout their career, and they can be displayed on websites, social media profiles, and email signatures to demonstrate competence and get a job, promotion, or new client.

7. Free Vs. Paid (eCommerce)

Sometimes free is hard to give away. Organizations rarely sell learning content to employees. (And after years of exposure to compliance training, I can see why!) Getting individuals or organizations to buy content is tough, but it’s common to sell certifications and premium training to channel partners and customers. That means you need to understand the world of extended enterprise eCommerce – packaging for organizational purchases, volume pricing, bundling, subscriptions, cross-selling, upselling, discounts, promotions, digital advertising, landing pages, conversion funnels, shopping carts, checkout processes, payment gateways, taxation, accounting integrations, and more. The list seems intimidating, but these tools and techniques are essential for anyone who wants to generate revenue from online content.

8. LMS Notifications Vs. Email Marketing Systems

Most LMSs include automated notifications via email (and sometimes text) to let employees or managers know when content is assigned, completed or not completed. They may also include reminder notifications about upcoming training sessions. Extended enterprise notifications go much further, and are typically not provided directly by the LMS but rather through integrations with email marketing systems such as MailChimp or Drip. For example, the LMS can track when a user logs into the LMS, visits x times in a week, opens x pieces of content, finishes a course, asks a question, buys a product, doesn’t log in for 30 days, and countless other events. Any of these potential triggers can be designed to kick-off specific email marketing campaigns that send learners additional training recommendations, discounts, special offers. and much more.

At The Crossroads

Although I have specialized in extended enterprise learning technology for over 20 years, it feels as if the learning community is just beginning to see its potential. I have never seen more enthusiasm about this topic from both LMS buyers and sellers. This means HR and Learning and Development professionals are at a crossroads. You can choose to embrace all that is unique and challenging about extended enterprise learning technology and practices. You can close your own skills gap, take a seat at the business table, and lead the organization through this profit-driven opportunity. Or you can sit it out and continue to focus on the “safe” internal world of limited budgets and cost counting.

The choice is yours.

Thanks for reading!