Thursday, April 26, 2007

Client eLearning Examples

Three weeks ago, I lamented the fact that I could not find good examples of eLearning applications that help an organization's clients or potential clients figure out how to use their products or services. Well, faithful readers have come to the rescue and sent me a few examples.

Not surprisingly, two of these examples are from the telecommunications field, and are designed to help clients use cell phones, wireless mobile email devices and MP3 players. This makes sense, as these are technologically complex devices that can take some time to master (for codgers like me of course, not teenagers!).

Sony Ericsson

The Sony Ericsson website in the UK has a Learn About section where its clients can click through various tutorials on how to perform tasks on its cell phones and other mobile devices, such as downloading music, transferring files, synchronizing, sending text messages, etc. What I like about these tutorials is that they are story-based. They have characters in defined situations wanting to perform certain tasks with these communication devices, and learning from others (often friends or family) how to do these.

There are clean, simple graphics and users often click on different parts of images of the devices to get the results they want. In this way they mimic how to use the actual device and are more likely to remember the steps. In fact, users could go through these tutorials while simultaneously doing the tasks with the actual device.

These tutorials could be improved, however, by better and more extensive use of audio. They were eerily silent for the most part. Strange, given that people are learning how to use devices that transmit voice and music.


Like the Sony Ericsson site, Research in Motion has a site that has a numerous Blackberry 101 multimedia tutorials on how to use their mobile phone / email / Internet devices.

These RIM lessons follow a much more lock-step (do this, then do that, then do this, etc.) pattern than the Sony Ericsson tutorials. They have, as you would expect, great production values, but I didn't find them as interesting or compelling as the story-based, situational Sony Ericsson approach. And, in contrast to the Sony Ericsson approach, the RIM tutorials use a lot of sound. Too much so, in my opinion. It was a relief to have the option of turning off the pulsating and grating background music.

I think the ideal approach is somewhere between the more engaging story-based approach of Sony Ericsson and the sharp production qualities of the more boring and traditional lock-step RIM approach.


While not an example of "client education," a reader pointed me to a site called Instructables. Here, anyone can post a tutorial (with text, pictures, call-outs, highlights, etc.) that guides one through how to build something as simple as invisible bookshelves, aluminum computer tables, or solar heaters for your garage, to more complex projects such as wind turbines and jet engines (not kidding). Readers can post reviews of and comments about these different projects, and ask the author questions.

I think the Sony Ericsson and RIM tutorial sites could have been improved by having users post questions and having them answered right there, much like the Instructables site. If one person has a good question, odds are that there are many more who would benefit from the answer. And these questions from real users could be used to improve subsequent versions of the tutorials.

Possibilities are Endless

We are just beginning to scratch the surface of what I would call online "self-service" learning. The possibilities are nearly limitless. I really see great potential for organizations providing more and more opportunities for clients to help themselves. This makes good business sense. As a consumer, I prefer helping myself whenever possible (as long as you make this easy, interesting, and fun for me to do this). It certainly beats reading manuals written by engineers, or wasting my life away listening to muzak while on hold for the help desk. And, as the provider of a product or service, having good online learning supports will increase your client satisfaction levels, while at the same time lowering your client support costs (the best of both worlds).

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

eLearning for Client Education

A friend, knowing that I work in eLearning, recently asked "what kinds of courses are you working on lately?" Well, I certainly am working on developing courses for some clients, but most of my current project list is centred on creating electronic performance support systems, or online job aids for clients. These involve creating embedded tutorials that help staff understand how to use both customized and off-the-shelf software applications.

I have talked about the advantages of such approaches previously. Learners get exactly the support they need, on the job, at the point of need. They are therefore motivated learners and more likely to remember what they learn because they are applying it right away. These embedded supports save organizations a lot of time and money in organizing and running one-size-fits-all in-person training sessions. It is much like having a colleague at your side who can guide you through a process as you do it.

This got me thinking. Why couldn't these same approaches that are used to support staff training also be used for client (or potential client) education?

There have been many occasions lately when I thought that my experience as a consumer would have benefited greatly from eLearning. Here are three examples.

The Three Pound Manual

Why does anything come with a manual anymore? These things are usually written in dense, lengthy and impenetrable technical jargon that few can understand and fewer still have the stamina or time to get through. I usually make it to page 6 by the time I nod off. Why not just create easy-to-understand online tutorials, rich in graphics and animations that walk users through a step-by-step process of getting their newly purchased appliance, computer peripheral, cell phone, camera, etc. to work as it should?

Energy Economics 101

We have experienced some de-regulation in the energy sector (Ontario, Canada) over the last few years. I have had a parade of people coming to my door trying to convince me that their fixed-rate plan for natural gas or electricity was the way to protect myself from the vagaries of floating prices. There are real problems with this approach. #1) The people they generally send around to do this are singularly unprepared to really explain, in a convincing fashion, the benefits of their approach. #2) My doorstep is not the place I like to make these kinds of decisions, particularly as I am shivering while someone goes into a rather lengthy pitch. If one of these energy providers really wants to make their case, send me a link to a well-thought-out online tutorial that clearly lays out why you think your plan is the best, is backed up by some independent research, and has some actual case studies and testimonials to prove your point. And why not add in a little interactive tool that lets me compare various scenarios as commodity prices go up and down? Then you just may get a sale.

Retirement Planning 101

I received an email from my bank recently warning me of the dire consequences of not setting aside enough for my retirement. They provided a link back to their website, saying that I would find all the answers there to the "real facts" of what was required to ensure that my twilight years are spent in comfort and not squalor. What a disappointment. The link took me to some static web pages and a few downloadable PDF files that were really no different from the printed material they sent me previously in the mail that I threw away. What a wasted opportunity. Why not provide interactive tools that let me determine my financial net worth and do calculations on various financial scenarios into the future? This is how I will learn about retirement planning. And, in doing so, I very well may be predisposed to buying some of your financial products. But don't just send me links to digital versions of what I have already received from you. You're wasting my time.

If anyone has come across really good examples of online client education, please let me know. I would be really interested in seeing these, and sharing these with some of the companies trying to win my business.

(And if you are looking to use eLearning for your own client education initiatives, you know where I am.:))