You Can Lead a Horse to Water…

When I was growing up, one child in my class at school would be particularly stubborn and determined to do pretty much anything except what he was told to.  Quite often this would lead to a situation where pencil cases and books would be slammed on to the table, which would then draw the teacher across the classroom.  The teacher would patiently offer to help, and would normally get a sullen response, followed by a shrug from the teacher as they said “well, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” (often accompanied by the sounds of twenty five pairs of eyes rolling in the background!).

It's trite, but there is a lot in that phrase.  Think about your colleagues and their approach to learning and development.  Many firms will have access to some form of online training platform, often providing all of the technical training that they require, but how many colleagues will voluntarily go to the platform to learn something new, rather than having to log in and complete mandatory training.  In some firms, learning and development is part of the culture, and staff really buy-in to their training, in others, the relationship between staff and L&D is more of a love/hate affair.

As trainers, we not only have a responsibility to our learners to provide and develop appropriate resources to give them the opportunity to succeed, but we also have a responsibility to our organisations to deliver the training in the most effective way.  This means that on top of the roles of technical author, content designer and assessor, we also need to embrace the role of marketing professional.

No, that’s not a mistake, I said marketing professional.  Think about it for a minute.  Major global brands know that they’ve got an amazing product that people need and want, but they still spend billions of pounds every year on marketing them.  Think about the hype and media interest in the run up to Christmas each year as the major stores and websites launch their seasonal marketing campaigns.  Each of the campaigns is aimed at getting you to feel like you can identify with their brand, playing on your emotions to engage you and to make you understand their values.  Some of the most successful campaigns in recent years haven’t even featured the products – think back to the famous “Bear and the Hare” campaign from John Lewis.

I’m not suggesting that you should set aside a multi-million pound budget for an animated campaign to promote your training courses, but if you’re about to start a new “training year”, focus on a specific topic, or even launch a training platform, I’d urge you to consider developing a marketing strategy alongside the training material.

You need to know your learners in order to target your campaign appropriately, but there are some elements that could be adapted for any campaign.  Starting with the teaser – build up a sense of anticipation about the training, giving a few pointers about what will be covered and helping your learners understand why it will be useful to them.  (Don’t give too much away though, or you’ll undermine the training itself.)

Team up with some learning champions within your organisation – consider giving them early access to the training and asking them for feedback to help you refine the material before launching it.  If you build a rapport with them, you may also be able to use them as evangelists within their areas of your organisation, helping explain the value of the training to the more reluctant members of their team.

Build up a brand that will run through your training content – in most cases, this will be based on your overall corporate branding, so make sure you talk to your marketing team to help get it right.  If you use the Development Zone and want to apply your branding to the platform for your users, contact your account manager at RWA and they’ll be able to support and advise you.

Finally, engage with your learners – don’t just treat training as a one-off exercise, but build it up as a regular feature.  If your organisation has an internal newsletter or intranet site, talk to the people responsible and see whether you can include regular articles or content relating to training – build a voice for your training team so that learners can understand your aims and values too.

You may not be able to make your horses drink, but you can certainly make the water look attractive enough that they want to give it a try…

About the author

After gaining a degree in Computer Science, Tim spent nine years teaching in a number of secondary schools (11-19 year olds) in Wales.  For the majority of his time teaching, Tim led a highly successful team of teachers delivering vocational ICT qualifications and reached the level of Associate Assistant Headteacher before leaving teaching.  He has also been a senior examiner and moderator for one of the UK's largest awarding bodies.  Since 2013 he has been the senior developer for the Development Zone.

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