December 4, 2015 Last Updated 10:37 am

Guest column: Creating a diverse digital learning product strategy

Barry Kelly, CEO of online learning platform Thought Industries, writes that publishers are well-aligned to take advantage of the opportunities in online learning

The online learning market has been in steady growth for over 20 years and continues to blossom. In fact, according to IBIS Capital Partners UK, the global online learning market currently stands at $91 billion.

Many organizations are taking note, are embracing digital learning experiences, and they are seeing success. In addition to building new and engaged audiences, online learning is opening the doors to a new revenue stream. Both B2B and B2C publishers are well positioned to take advantage of online learning to expand their list of existing products.

Taking on a new learning venture is now easier than ever. Not only are publishers appropriately staffed and organized to build profitable learning products, but many of the key dependencies such as technology and the need for specialized staffing are no longer an issue. For example, technology has driven significant innovation in online learning, offering better experiences for learners, course creators and business owners. Additionally, the costs to staff and support online learning programs has fallen dramatically.

Supporting a Learning Business 

Most publishers work to their strengths and deploy a revenue model that closely maps to their core business. Some will opt to sell courses direct to their audience with an a la carte or subscription model approach, while others may stand-up the business with an ad-supported or sponsored learning approach.  Many will leverage online learning as a key component of their content marketing strategy, enjoying the exceptionally high engagement metrics and repeat visits. Licensing models are also popular with publishers selling learning programs to corporations or other business entities that need expert training and subject matter expertise.  In most cases, all of these models can be mixed and matched with a lot of success.

With the online learning market growing significantly year over year, there lies enormous opportunity to maximize the growth potential of this revenue stream. One of the best ways to drive growth for organizations with existing learning products is to diversify and expand current product offerings.

Common Learning Products 

While some publishers already have learning products in place, there’s likely an opportunity to expand that catalog. Here is look at four common learning product offerings, coupled with tips on how to elevate them to drive new revenue opportunities:

  1. Self-Paced Online On-Demand Courses
    On-demand self-paced or online courses, which can also be offered with asynchronous instructor feedback, provide a learning experience where your audience can buy and begin learning 24/7/365. They can also enjoy the course with peers and instructors in a way that fits their schedule and learning style. Many organizations leverage content or training created from their webinars or on the ground training programs, then repurpose it by adding additional multi-media objects such as videos, slideshows, interactions and peer-based galleries and discussions.
  2. Session-Based Online Courses
    Course sessions that start and end on a specific date are a great way to gather a cohort of learners together with an instructor or subject matter expert over a defined period of time, e.g. four-week courses with an industry expert. Courses that are delivered over a number of weeks often have scheduled chats or office hours, as well as feedback from the instructors through projects and assignments. Bringing a group of learners together through an online course makes for a great experience where peers can communicate and share work and ideas.
  3. Guides, Updates and Short-Format Learning
    Free short-form learning experiences are a tremendous way for many organizations to develop an audience and capture leads. Whether it’s a new product overview, skill refresher or software update, this is a quality content option for prospects, customers and any key audience member. One of the most powerful elements of online learning is the level of engagement achieved with learners—they spend way more time, volunteer more information and are more willing to engage with peers. The learning experience is also a captive environment to cross-sell other learning and physical learning products.
  4. Ad-Supported/Sponsored Learning Experiences
    For organizations running a webinar business or conference/training events, incorporating sponsors or advertising partners is always an option. This model is not exclusive to these formats alone, and can be easily leveraged in self-paced, session-based and short-format learning as well. You can start with simple options such as pre-roll post-roll video ads, or opt for full page interstitials and a host of other placements delivering ads from your ad server to the learning environment. A more elegant way to deliver the sponsored experience is to brand the learning interface so that learners are exposed to a more integrated experience.

Kelly-300The online learning industry is experiencing tremendous growth, and many organizations are building successful high-margin businesses in both consumer and professional learning. With an abundance of both know-how and content, publishers are well aligned to take advantage of the opportunity at hand. Whether or not online learning products are already an existing part of your online strategy, don’t miss the opportunity to expand those revenue streams with a more strategic and diversified approach to learning.

Barry Kelly is CEO of the online learning platform Thought Industries. He may be reached via email here.

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