A heavy load of client work has left little time for creating new content for the Tagoblog lately, so I thought this might be a good time to post an article I wrote a while back for the Avectra Academy. Enjoy – and I’ll be back soon with new content. – Jeff
If you are about to expand your e-learning efforts or take the plunge into e-learning for the first time, there is a good chance you are worried about whether your program will attract enough enrollments to pay for itself. A properly executed market assessment can help you not only gauge overall demand but also make better decisions about what offerings to build and how to market them.
The following results from assessments across three different organizations illustrate the ways in which slight differences in market needs can have a significant impact on strategic decision-making.
For the first organization, an association focused on serving business operations professionals, survey responses collected from more than a quarter of the membership base made it clear that the two market characteristics most relevant to e-learning demand were a combination of “time scarcity” – both lack of available time and also difficulty with scheduling – and a growing unwillingness on the part of employers to foot the bill for training.
Members of the second organization, which serves corporate advisors, have a high level of control over their own time and relatively little price sensitivity. For this group, interviews and focus groups suggested that value perception would be a critical factor for the success of an e-learning initiative. Potential purchasers would need to have little doubt that e-learning would deliver a high degree of “bang for the buck.”
Finally, for the third group, which serves contractors and others in the building industry, survey responses indicated that a high level of interaction with an instructor would be important for making e-learning attractive. Additionally, interviews with representative stakeholders revealed that organizations might find e-learning to be a valuable support tool for in-office training of salespeople and other key staff.
What implications do these results have on product strategy decisions?
For the operations professionals, short, on-demand e-learning courses at a relatively low price point per content or credit hour are most likely to fit the bill.
For the advisors, format is less important than ensuring that the content is delivered by trusted authorities and is highly practical and actionable.
For the contractors, there will clearly need to be a way to interact with instructors – and further probing suggested that e-mail or a discussion board might be the most appropriate approach. Additionally, it will be valuable to offer tools – like, for example, a facilitators guide – for using the e-learning content in a classroom setting.
In reaching these conclusions, it is important to recognize that the demand factors highlighted are not the only ones that impact product strategy – they are simply the most important ones. Interaction with an instructor, for example, was an important secondary factor for the operations professionals, and it should be taken into account as part of product design. But while a product that offers relatively little instructor interaction might still sell well, it was clear that offerings that presented time and budget challenges would not.
Organizations face a growing amount of competition for the educational “mind share” of their stakeholders, so knowing what to emphasize in product design and in the promotion of products is critical. In all of the cases above, pre-existing assumptions and biases would most likely have led the organizations down a different path, resulting in wasted time and money as well as a potential loss of market share.
It is tempting when starting a new e-learning initiative to dive into product development based on the assumptions of staff and board members. Resist that temptation and take the time to assess your market well. A little knowledge can go a long way.