An article in the Wall Street Journal a while back highlighted how corporate training programs are often a waste of time and money. With “little practical follow-up or meaningful assessments,” the article argued, “some 90% of new skills are lost within a year.”
You can debate the validity of the research highlighted in the article if you want, but I know from first hand experience – and you probably do too – that training and education too often gets treated as a “nice to have.” And that viewpoint applies whether you are dealing with a big corporate budgeting department or an individual customer.
I’d argue one key reason is that people question intuitively whether most training and education offerings really have any impact. It’s not hard to see why when, as the the WSJ article suggests, we often do very little to create or demonstrate educational impact. (Corporation are hardly alone in this: research at my company, Tagoras, shows, for example, that very few trade and professional associations do anything to assess the impact of their educational offerings.)
As a result, potential purchasers may put off buying decisions or – arguably worse – undervalue training and education and shop based on price.
Naturally, these are circumstances you want to avoid if at all possible. If your goal is to thrive over the long term, you need to create real impact with your offerings and you need to be able to show that you are creating impact.
3 Keys to Demonstrating Impact
So how can you demonstrate more impact with your learning products?
First of all, of course, you need to develop and facilitate great learning experiences that follow the adult learning principals and design approaches I’ve advocated in various places (including, of course, Leading the Learning Revolution). In other words, you need to start with a great product.
But even great products usually need some help when it comes to communicating their value. So, here are three steps to make sure you are taking.
1. Set Clear, Achievable Impact Signals
Don’t over think it. Being able to demonstrate impact doesn’t mean you need to administer complex, labor intensive evaluations and assessments. (Though more power to you if you are in a position to do this!)
Start by asking yourself: What would be a clear, simple sign that one of your learners has achieved success? What action will he or she take? What event will occur?
I was listening to the Internet Business Mastery podcast a couple of weeks ago when it struck me how clearly and powerfully Jeremy and Jason, the hosts of the podcast, have defined the core “impact signal” for their teaching. The key goal they set for their learners is what they call the “money milestone,” meaning the first time a person makes money – any amount of money, however small or large – through selling something on line. Simple. Highly achievable. And yet extremely powerful as a sign of impact. Participants in their trainings routinely share the stories of their money milestones.
What would be the equivalent of the money milestone as an impact signal in your market? What small victory will your learners achieve that will feel really big to them? Define it, clearly articulate it … and then move on to the next point.
2. Actively Gather Meaningful Data
As I noted above, the Internet Business Mastery guys routinely get stories from people about their money milestones – and that’s because they ask for them. They know this is a highly meaningful piece of data and they are focused on consistently collecting it from their learners.
The data that makes sense in your market may be less anecdotal. Maybe you need the hard numbers that tracking completion rates (e.g., by using a learning management system) or assessment scores offers. Maybe it makes sense to send out follow evaluations months after a learning experience to determine if learners are actually putting to use what they learn.
Whatever the appropriate data is, put the right tools and processes in place to collect … and then move on to the next point.
3. Publish Social Proof
The best way for prospective learners to hear about the impact you are having is from other learners. “Social proof,” as Robert Cialdini labeled it in his seminal Influence: The Science of Persuasion, is a powerful force. People believe what they hear significant numbers of their peers saying or see them doing.
So, spend the time to collect testimonials that communicate the key “impact signals” you have defined for your products. Ideally, you want at least three testimonials for any product you offer, and even better, you want these to be testimonials that provide the name of the customer along with a picture or video.
And you need to actively publish any other meaningful data you collect that show many people are having success with your products. This kind of information needs to be front and center in your promotions.
As simple as all of that sounds, experience has shown me again and again that lack of social proof is the number one mistake that people in the education business make when it comes to promoting their products. It is also among the easiest mistakes to remedy. If you don’t have plenty of testimonials and other social proof for your products, make getting it and communicating it a top priority going into 2015.
Make the above three steps a consistent part of your business practices and you’ll be on your way to demonstrating impact and achieving long-term success with your education business.