Learning campaigns, or, out in the country

Cammy Bean, on her Learning Visions blog, summarized a live session by Brent Schlenker.  Brent’s topic:  “Marketers and Game Developers Know More about Learning than We [learning design folks] Do.”

Both Cammy’s post and the extended comments are worth reading; I’m going off on my own, starting with Brent’s notion that we need to move from “event-based learning” (the course, whether classroom or e-learning) to “learning campaigns.”

He contrasts what corporate learning does with what corporate marketing does.  Marketing is about a campaign, “a series of events/operations/continuing storyline.”  A learning campaign, he suggests, is not about t-shirts and email blasts (the latter always strikes me as both offensive and fatheaded).  “It’s about providing more ways for learners to engage with and accent content.”

That’s part of the mind shift for corporate learning: it’s not about getting the word out, if the word is mostly “we’ve got these courses, this elearning, the fabulous LMS.”  Sometimes the message received is: “We’ve got lots of ways to consume your time while distracting you from your real job.”

If I quibbled with Brent, it’d be about the statement, “Marketing brings in the money.”  I think marketing brings in the attention.  But the entire organization–product development, sales, production, customer service–has to deliver on that attention in order to bring in the money.  Or at least to bring it in more than once.

Take the Starbucks campaign for VIA Ready Brew.  If your local area has paved roads and indoor plumbing, you’ve probably experienced part of the marketing campaign around “100 percent natural roasted arabica coffee in an instant form that is rich and full bodied just like a fresh-brewed cup.”  But have you tried it?

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I say “quibble” because I think both Brent and Cammy would agree with this: the concept of campaign aligns well with the idea of an overall performance system.  People who know about communications will tell you that your web site isn’t a brochure; it’s one way that your organization talks with people.  And before you decide on the colors and the layout, you need to think about who those people are and how the conversations might go.

So: corporate learning is about identifying skills people need but don’t have, skills that connect clearly to results that those people and their groups need to produce.  And the learning must not only engage (a far better word than “entertain”); it must do so in a way that isn’t divorced from my real work.

“Campaign” entered English some 300 years ago, referring to large military operations in a geographic area.  In other words, not the Big Idea at headquarters, but theory-meets-practice on the front line.  A successful learning campaign, whatever it looks like, clearly knows the territory.

2 thoughts on “Learning campaigns, or, out in the country

  1. You are right on the money here: no quibbling required ;-)
    My goal has been to start this conversation and hopefully it would resonate with others and we could ALL work together to hone it a little more.
    I think we are all on the same page here. I do believe the entire organization contributes to the bottom line. I think the point I was trying to make was that, for whatever reason, marketing departments have larger budgets, and are perceived as having a much greater value to the bottom line. My point being that we cannot influence that, for better or worse. But we CAN learn from them and enhance their messages with a little instructional design for both the internal and external audiences.
    Great stuff!
    I’m looking forward to continuing this conversation both online and f2f at Devlearn09 in November.

  2. Brent:

    I was moving slowly this morning and compensated for that by tidying up the way learning feeds are organized on my NetVibes page.

    Fortunately, that led me to Cammy’s summary, the comments there, and thus into the larger conversation.

    Marketing often does have a budget. More to the point, marketing (well done) knows the real value of a conversation, which is an ongoing exchange. Kind of like my conversation with Starbucks: I think the instant-coffee stigma is a hard one to overcome, but that’s like my deciding I don’t like the car you drive. More central to my exchange with Starbucks: the consistency, that “third place” possibility, even the free wireless I can get thanks to my card.

    If the local Mayorga Coffee chain ever opens a store I could walk to, though…

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