The collection and analysis of data underlies a fundamental shift in strategy among marketing professionals—one that could transform eLearning as well. The ability to identify which campaigns prompt a response, along with a shift toward consumer-driven campaigns, has led to Omni-channel marketing, an approach that focuses resources where they are most effective. Learning and development professionals could find that Omni-channel eLearning has a similar ability to improve results—and drive engagement in eLearning.

The way companies, marketers, and end users use and apply technology has driven fundamental shifts in how marketers—and L&D professionals—approach interactions with end users, whether those users are consumers or learners. These big-picture changes provide opportunities to increase engagement with eLearning within an organization.

Technology upends tradition

At the tail end of the 1990s, the “build it and they will come” era of traditional marketing was shifting. In this original approach, marketers, the “professionals,” insisted that if they ran a TV commercial, posted a billboard on the side of the road, or placed ads in magazines or newspapers, people would likely notice and respond to their messages. The rule of “seven touches” held sway—the idea that, after seven exposures to a brand, product, or service, a consumer’s mindset was prepared to process a message. With that seventh exposure, someone might say, “I think I’ve heard of you. What do you do?”

However, it was impossible to prove empirically that what the expert advised and produced was actually driving business results. This led to a shift to “integrated marketing” and the dominance of the landing page.

With the rise of the internet, a wonderful development for marketers arose—tracking! Marketers could identify which ads led to which response; they could now say, “This Marie Osmond ad for NutriSystem drove this many registrations, while this other one did not.” Whether the medium was TV commercials, direct mail, print ads, or radio spots, advertisers could tie behavior to a trigger.

Multi-channel marketing or “one voice”

Accessing data about what activity drove behavior and decisions was a wonderful innovation—yet it captured only the last step of the consumer’s journey; attribution of influence and understanding of the role of the multiple steps that had influenced a consumer prior to that final tipping point was sketchy.

A further complicating factor was that a company might have multiple marketing campaigns going on at the same time. Were consumers responding to the latest message or to the collective experience?

In response to these questions, multi-channel marketing emerged. This approach used a coordinated effort among marketing channels to promote a related theme. For example, the graphic style would be consistent across newspaper, website, direct mail, billboards, magazine ads, and TV commercials. The offer to consumers would be the same, though subtle shifts might seek the ideal price point or trigger that would induce consumers to perform the desired behavior (call, sign-up, register, purchase, etc.). Brands honed a consistent voice, treating the various channels across which messages were communicated as a unified system.

A fundamental power shift

The age of data collection ushered in other changes. With more data, marketers were able to see and demonstrate what was actually working, not just what their experience or intuition told them should work. As data offered proof and continually improving results, larger budgets were allocated to campaigns and strategies that worked. Marketers gained more influence in organizations, and their reach broadened.

The move to data- and results-based marketing occurred at the same time as another transformation: Starting with what was referred to as “Web 2.0,” the focus of branding and internet experiences shifted from the content producers to the consumers and viewers. Web 2.0 came to mean websites that emphasized ease of use and interoperability with other products, systems, and devices—an easier, better experience for end users. It meant that anyone, not just the “professionals” could produce, distribute, and promote user-generated content. Marketing was no longer about the story that professionals wanted to tell, but rather what the users wanted to hear. This changed everything.

Web 2.0 foreshadowed the digital learning paradigm

With power in the hands of the consumer, the whole marketing model had to change.

A paradigm shift became evident in marketing—and in entertainment and related industries—that recognized a core insight: The consumer is the same person across the various channels. Whether on a cellphone or tablet, a desktop or laptop computer; whether using a voice-activated device, riding in a car, or viewing content on a streaming service, the consumer is a consistent person. Lagging a bit in time, L&D is coming to the same realization: Consumers and learners remain who they are, no matter which device or technology they are using.

What this has meant for marketing—and what L&D can learn from marketing—is that the audience expects to be able to pick up any device at any time and experience a seamless interaction. While the delivery needs to be native to the particular technology and platform, the experience on one device must influence the experience on the next device.

Take gaming as an example: A person starts playing a video game on her/his desktop, then switches to a smartphone. The points, the level in the game, the place in the game where s/he left off should all pick up on the phone at the exact point where they left off on the desktop. However, the interface—the appearance, the navigation method—would differ based on the device. For example, a mouse or joystick might control certain movements on the desktop, while the player would move the entire phone to achieve the same or similar results.

The parallel in marketing is with data: The data collected on one platform, website, retail location, or social platform will be used when the same consumer is encountered on a different platform, website, etc. The person on the other side of the screen is the same person, no matter where on the web they are or which device they are using. (Learn more about using data to inform eLearning design and development and to drive outcomes at The eLearning Guild’s Data and Analytics Summit, online August 22 and 23, 2018.)

The user’s voice now matters much more than the brand’s voice. The dynamic has shifted, based on user attention. What is the user’s desire? What attracts and interests them—what do they “pull” or choose to watch or click? Marketers track previous user behavior and decisions and then craft content accordingly. While marketers still educate consumers and promote desired behaviors, it is the user’s preferences that matter more, rather than the marketer pushing a specific voice. The subject is now the user, not the brand.

This consistency of experience across devices and platforms and emphasis on the user experience is described as omni-channel marketing. This description of omni-channel marketing sounds a lot like the corporate digital learning paradigm. That’s no accident; this new eLearning model is based on learners’ behavior and expectations as consumers. They remain the same consistent individuals across learning platforms as they do across media and consumer platforms, and the ways that we develop and deliver eLearning are changing to serve those consumer-learners.

Therefore, an omni-channel eLearning model is needed. An omni-channel approach must go beyond enabling learners to resume a course in the LMS where they left off. Allowing access on multiple platforms is also insufficient. L&D professionals need to apply what they know—and what they can learn from marketing professionals—about introducing, reinforcing, and evaluating behavior to devise ways to bridge and combine platforms to achieve a better learner experience.

Omni-channel learning must:

  • Be native to the various devices learners use
  • Reflect the typical experience on those devices and how people interact with them
  • Inform each experience with data from the previous experience
  • Create a seamless cross-platform learner experience
  • Combine individual learning experiences into a coherent learning path

Omni-channel eLearning starts with the needs and desires of the learner—not with what the manager or company wants to share. Improving learner engagement begins with understanding what people find engaging; with TV, gaming, and other forms of entertainment, the focus is on what people define for themselves as engaging and choose to engage with. Consumers’ preferences, their influence on what is created, and their power over what they consume impact not only their level of engagement but also their ultimate behaviors. Digital learners—omni-channel learners—are no different.