What Can the E-Learning Industry Learn from Omnichannel?
Omnichannel e-learning is the next logical step from blended learning. Are you ready?
Many businesses have heard of omnichannel as a marketing strategy for a while. At first, the idea was simple: if a company is going to market in several places (on TV, on the radio, in a magazine, etc.), it should spread a unified message in all these places.
However, the onset of the Internet—and especially e-commerce—has given omnichannel marketing a new urgency. With customers engaging with a company from any number of platforms (desktop, social media, and in-store), it’s more important than ever for that experience to be the same, no matter what platform the customer uses.
All this seems like excellent marketing strategy, but applying the same concepts to e-learning has been a slower process. It began a few years ago with blended learning, which combines traditional classroom experience with online learning. Omnichannel takes this approach to the next level by applying it not just to online and offline learning, but to any learning channel a learner might adopt.
Essentially, omnichannel marketing puts learner experience at the center. By engaging the learner on whatever platform is the most natural to them, online instructors gain new opportunities to connect with their students—as well as improving the overall learning experience.
If you’re wondering how to apply this method to your own classroom, here’s a closer look.
People learn across multiple channels.
Omnichannel marketing isn’t just about having the best app or the greatest website. Instead, an omnichannel e-learning approach should aim to present a coherent content and learning experience across every method of engagement.
Full integration is not always possible, as not every platform has the same features and uses. But, insofar as learners can engage with the course across these platforms, content should be accessible and in-sync with the lesson plan.
Here’s how such a strategy might play out:
A learner decides to take your online course and signs in to your account using their Facebook profile. They join your community forum and begin watching videos and taking quizzes.
The learner heads to work, but wants to review a lesson during their lunch break. They download the app, log in, and pick up where they left off. Their earlier sign-in makes it easier for them to integrate with the learning group on Facebook, where they connect with other learners and share interesting articles to the group.
After a while, the learner hits a touch section of the course. Needing more instruction, they use the app on their phone to request a private tutoring session, which they schedule over Skype.
The instructor organizes a live event nearby which the learner decides to attend. They register for the event and buy tickets online.
Does this sound unfeasible? This is actually pretty close to my own experience with the language learning platform italki. I joined on their desktop app, scheduled regular Skype lessons with my tutor, and used my phone to message other learners using their app interface. With each interaction, italki kept my history in sync so that the transition from desktop to mobile and back again never disrupted my learning experience.
In fact, many students are by no so familiar with the seamless transition between online and mobile platforms that it can come as a distinct surprise not to have the option available on-demand.
This isn’t to say instructors should begin incorporating it without a good reason. On the contrary, omnichannel e-learning must serve more than itself to be a worthwhile strategy.
Omnichannel should be a goal for instructors, not learners.
Creating a multichannel environment for your learners should never be about forcing learners onto all these platforms. After all, the whole purpose of an omnichannel approach is to make your course available to learners on whichever platform they choose, not whichever one you choose for them.
Some learners will be more familiar with one method of engagement over another. They may love using their phones to learn, but feel less comfortable typing on the computer. Or they may not have a smartphone at all, or they may have a version that doesn’t run your app.
Either way, the purpose of omnichannel is to be inclusive, not prescriptive. Design you course so that it can be used on whichever channel (or channels) your learners want.
Omnichannel isn’t a requirement—yet.
If all this sounds overwhelming, that’s OK. Omnichannel e-learning is still a new concept, and until someone develops an easier way of releasing unified web and app interfaces, it will always take new courses time to level up to an omnichannel strategy.
However, just like with blended learning, there are ways you can slowly upgrade your course to incorporate more omnichannel e-learning approaches.
Start by finding the easy wins. You may not have an app yet, but you can optimize your website for mobile-friendliness. There are many free, popular tools, such as Skype and Google Drive, which instructors can use to collaborate with students or provide private tutoring. When you’re ready to scale, your experience starting small will have given you the feedback you need to be successful.
But just because you don’t have to incorporate omnichannel e-learning yet doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Technology and learning are only going to become more integrated as the years go by. Staying at the front of the trend will save you from having to catch up later.