In marketing as in learning, the common goal is to engage and communicate with our audience. Even though our end-game is to support skill development as opposed to selling something, it makes sense to emulate some marketing techniques when creating our learning solutions. As designers, we can leverage some valuable skills that marketers have honed over the years in order to connect with, and spark interest amongst, our audience.

4 marketing techniques instructional designers can apply to learning solutions

1. Understand your learners: As with the campaigns marketers create, we in the instructional design field need to focus on our learners' needs and connect with them. Consider learner personas and other techniques to bring your learners to life so you can then cater to their learning needs. This is important not just for text composition of the content, but also in how the content is put together and displayed, and the design and multimedia elements accompanying it.

2. Leverage multi-channeled media: Given your learners don’t exclusively use their desktops, consider the right multi-channel approach that meets their needs. The takeaway from studying how marketers utilize a multi-channeled approach in advertising is using your learner personas and understanding that learners have different needs in different situations. This dictates using different media.

Learners may access a microlearning nugget while standing in transit during their commute, or be in need of immediate support when doing a systems training before a looming deadline. Hence, your learning solutions may need to differ, even if they’re supporting the same overall topic. To keep all these media cohesive, however, you’ll need to ensure you use a consistent visual theme and course personality.

3. Use a consistent and appealing personality: Based on your learner analysis, choose a specific theme that resonates with your learners. Marketers use a “brand personality” to convey key unspoken qualities and attributes through visuals, colors, and words. Likewise, this works in course design.

For example, you may choose to have a bright and approachable palette in a compliance course to make the content less daunting and more relatable. On the other hand, you may purposefully choose dark colors, somber music, and an authoritative tone to convey fearful emotions. To reinforce your overall messages, use the same personality or theme across all your learning media, similar to how a marketer would keep the same theme in an advertising campaign.

4. Ask for feedback: Make sure that whatever your overall content and content design is, your learners can connect with it. Take a hint from marketing and use focus groups or other mechanisms to get feedback on how you can improve your course design for better learning experiences. Ideally this is done through an iterative creation process that allows for mid-course development improvement. However, even if you collect data post-course, there are rich insights that will make the next executions more effective.

Employees are constantly dealing with day-to-day distractions that our learning solutions have to compete with. The modern learner requires approaches that will essentially keep them engaged long-term. It’s my belief that leveraging these marketing tips will elevate their involvement in our learning solutions for lasting skill development.