How You Are Selling Your eLearning Content Short By Calling It "Marketing"

How You Are Selling Your eLearning Content Short By Calling It "Marketing"
Summary: In this article I will explore the explosion of for-profit eLearning courses on-line right now. There is no question that this market is booming, but course content is being generated as eLearning marketing materials instead of eLearning content. No one doubts that this market has huge potential, but many opportunities for learning are being squandered by a lack of coordination between Instructional Designers and course authors. This article unpacks why that coordination is not happening.

Why You Are Selling Your eLearning Content Short

As a fledgling freelance eLearning consultant, a huge part of my day is spent trolling social media platforms for potential leads. I have joined several freelance forums and forums for entrepreneurs, I join any periscope or webinar that mentions eLearning, I obsessively check Twitter and LinkedIn for any opening for me to dive in with a golden eLearning nugget. I have established a few relationships that give me hope, but I have really started generating a ton of business yet.

Having all this free time on my hands has given me lots of time to think about the state of the eLearning market, especially the for-profit courses not affiliated with academia or corporate training departments. I have seen several companies that advertise themselves in social media or marketing consultants who sell courses on how to write courses for profit or to grow an audience. There are over 1,500 courses on Udemy on how to write a course! As I learn more about the companies generating this content, I have yet to find one that has an Instructional Designer on staff (or anyone with any kind of education background at all, really). I reach out to the contact person for these companies and ask them about this, and without fail, every single one of them has seemed sort of surprised that I would think that they need a relationship with an Instructional Designer.

You see, in their mind, they are not teaching Instructional Design in their “How to Create a Course” classes, they are teaching marketing. And they are marketing experts, so why would they need to shell out the bucks for an Instructional Designer to consult with on the creation of marketing products? But many of these companies are having the same problem: student retention. For a marketing person, that is a problem because their audience isn’t sticking around, which means their core mission is not happening. They are getting the money from the student for the “How to Create a Course” and then they are never seeing that student again. Or, even worse, the student never finishes the course and asks for a refund!

For an Instructional Designer, there is a fairly simple solution to this. Not only would the application of instructional system development best practices improve the student experience in the “How to Write a Course” course, it would also improve the eLearning content! While I do see that the course is a form of marketing for these companies and Udemy instructors, they are doing themselves a disservice by not taking advantage of the years and years of academic and corporate research and case studies scrutinizing how people learn, and the science of student retention, and the Instructional Design process.

So, What Do We do?

Well, asking these marketers and entrepreneurs to study ADDIE and complete training needs assessments to identify the learning gap seems a little ridiculous. However, a less formal analysis of the problem the class is trying to solve is always a good idea. Sometime the water is so muddied with grand marketing plans that the simple question of “What does success look like at the end of this class” is never asked and there is a huge hole in the training. Or there is no clear objective for the course other than the course title. These are mistakes that eLearning designers would never make, but eLearning designers are not being brought into the process at all.

Why Not?

Usually the simplest answer is the right one, and in this case, the simplest answer is that the marketing folks writing these classes don’t realize that Instructional Designers are even a thing. They didn’t look to hire an eLearning consultant because they didn’t realize they exist, or if they did realize they existed, they think we are solely university employees converting classes to on-line and putting tenured professors out of work, or corporate wonks writing boring sexual harassment and timecard training. People outside of the Instructional Design industry really don’t understand what we do in the Instructional Design industry!

How Do We Fix It?

I think the first step is helping to define their classes as eLearning instead of marketing. Then they need to treat it like eLearning, following Instructional Design standards to produce higher-quality, sticky eLearning content. To start, as eLearning Designers, we can help these course generators to apply the most rudimentary Instructional System Design (ISD) principles to their training. I do this by personally reaching out to every marketing company I come across that offers classes on writing classes. I also ask to guest blog about Instructional Design basics on any entrepreneurial and marketing site that will let me. I have written several articles on Guerilla eLearning for eLearning Industry, but I am preaching to the choir here. We need to find a way to get the message to the masses. Once the content generators see what a difference applying the simplest eLearning design theories make on the quality of their final product, they will be chomping at the bit to work with an eLearning Consultant and really treat their course like an eLearning event, and give it the respect it deserves.

As eLearning professionals, we all know the impact that well thought out, well-designed eLearning content can have on a student. I also see the marketing potential in offering good eLearning content. Now the trick is to close the knowledge gap between the Instructional Designers out there and the marketing professionals who want to use eLearning as a marketing technique.