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Take your online training program to the next level

The Beginner's Guide to Creating an Online Training Program

Step 4

Engage Your Target Learners

By now, all your content should be produced and uploaded into a learning platform. Step 4 of the beginner’s guide focuses on the delivery of the course to the target audience. At this point, you should revisit the learner persona you defined in Step 1 of the guide and use that information to implement the delivery of the content and create your ideal learner flow.

This step covers three major issues: how to deliver the course effectively to your target learners, how learners will access the content and how to keep them interested while they’re going through the material.

But first, let’s begin by clarifying what we mean by engagement.

What does it mean to engage learners?

An engaged learner is more likely to complete your training program, more likely to retain the information and more likely to be successful with your company. When a learner is engaged in the course material, it’s a win for both parties.

Training that's delivered in a dull, static or confusing manner will get through to only the most dedicated learners. With the abundance of information constantly flowing through the web, learners are unlikely to sit through a dry product manual or dense training course to get the basics. You need to deliver your content in a way that is engaging.

Marketing Your Course

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The most expertly designed course in the world won’t engage learners if they don’t know it exists. That’s why it’s so important to consider how you’ll deliver and market the course to your target audience, whether they be employees, contractors, partners or customers.

To create an effective marketing plan, it’s helpful to revisit the learner personas you developed in Step 1 of this guide. In that step, you identified where your target audience can be found, their pain points and how they like to learn. That guided how you developed learning content, and now it can help you attract those learners.

Revisiting the learner personas is a crucial part of 1) establishing your course’s value, 2) offering enticing incentives and 3) effectively delivering your message.

1. Establish Value

The first step in effectively marketing your course is to help your target learners understand exactly what they’re going to learn and why it will be valuable. Address what matters to prospective users:

  • Will it make their workday more efficient?

  • Will it help them develop their skillset?

  • Will it make them more productive in daily tasks?

  • Will it help them attract more customers through your platform?

  • Will it help them reduce costs?

  • Will it boost their revenue streams?

  • Will it save them time?

Don’t simply tell learners that the course will do these things. Instead, integrate testimonials from other learners, offer previews of the content and highlight learner success stories to back up your claim.

Include these pieces of social proof throughout your marketing initiatives—on the course landing page or cover page, in social media posts, in email blasts and wherever else you interact with your target learners.

2. Incentivize the Course

A well-chosen incentive can increase the value of the course to your target learner, adding an extra reason for them to engage with the material. This can be anything from small enticements earned at various milestones to a larger incentive like certification or a prize earned upon completion of the entire course.

A few incentives to consider:

  • Certification

    Offering an industry-recognized certification like HubSpot Academy’s Inbound Certification raises the value of your course. Learners will be motivated to complete the course both to gain the knowledge and for the credential.

  • Prizes

    Offer prizes like product discounts, store credit or swag. Be creative! A prize need not be expensive to be a good motivator. Think about your target learner and what they would enjoy.

  • Perks

    Offer additional perks to learners who complete the course, such as access to exclusive events or additional tools.

  • Recognition

    List those who have completed the course on your site, or offer them a badge to demonstrate their expertise and help them gain more business on your platform.

The most effective incentives are those that are tied to your business goals. If you want to set your company up as an industry leader, for example, consider offering a certification for course completion. If you want to use the course to increase brand loyalty, consider offering perks that create deeper brand experiences with your learners. A well-known example of that tactic is how Dropbox grew its user base in its early days by offering more free storage space (a deeper experience) for completing its micro-learning courses.

3. Communicate Your Message

What’s the best way to make your target learners aware of the content? That depends on your learner persona and the outcome you’re trying to achieve.

When it comes to marketing your course, think about message delivery in the same way you would when marketing anything else for your business. Consider the whole toolkit of tactics ranging from “push” (or outbound) marketing to “pull” or (inbound) marketing.

Ideally, you’ll deliver your message using a variety of techniques designed to reach your target learner. As a practical matter, you’ll have to prioritize, so think about which channels your audience naturally moves through and how they prefer to be reached.

  • Outbound marketing

    Most effective when you want to cast a wide net and attract a variety of learners to your course. Outbound marketing techniques include:

    • — Email blasts
    • — Social media posts
    • — Press releases
    • — Advertising
    • — Promoting through influencers or affiliates
  • Inbound marketing

    Most effective when you want to attract a highly-targeted and self-qualified group of learners to your course. Inbound marketing techniques include:

    • — Blog post or explainer video
    • — Gated content like a white paper or ebook
    • — Embedded content in a user dashboard or within the program
    • — Email blast to a selected segment of your list
    • — Content marketing

Delivering the Course Content

Once you have made your target learners aware of your course’s existence and communicated its value, you need to give interested learners access to the course.

A good training platform will provide you with plenty of options when it comes to making your course accessible, whether it’s public or gated, free or premium, anonymous or requiring the creation of an account. Make sure you’re choosing the one that your target audience will find the easiest to use and will be most in line with your business goals.

Some questions to consider:

What is the easiest way for learners to access the content?

Go back to your target learner personas, and think about how to make it as easy as possible for them to access the content. Will links to the course be prominently displayed in their partner dashboard? Will it be delivered as part of an email autoresponder series to a certain segment of your list or after a learner signs up for an account? Will you blast the link out on social media?

How you provide the link depends on a variety of factors, like when and where your target learners will be accessing the course (such as on-the-go on their mobile device or while sitting at their work computer) and how publicly available you want the course to be.

Should the course be gated or publicly available?

Should anyone who wants to be able to access your course? Or is the course only for a select few? The public availability of your course will depend on how targeted your audience is. If the goal of the course is to raise awareness of your brand, you may want to make it as widely available as possible. If the goal is to turn existing users of your platform into power users, you will want to provide a private link only to them.

A robust training platform lets you control access in multiple ways, such as pre-assigning courses based on the role of the individual learner, creating a catalog of courses available to registered learners or making courses available in a public-facing website.

Should access require account creation?

The number of barriers you set up between your target audience and your course will affect engagement. Requiring learners to create an account will result in fewer learners than a completely open course.

But that’s not always a bad thing. If the content is proprietary, if it’s relevant to only to specific learners or if your goal is to generate leads, it’s smart to put your course behind a gate. For lead generation in particular, the course should require the learner to fill out a lead generation form. Learners are then self-selecting to engage with your company. You’re trading the possibility of higher registration numbers for users who have demonstrated more commitment.

Keeping Learners Engaged


Once you’ve marketed the course to your learner and enticed them to access it, the next part of engaging them is keeping them involved in the course. Here are some ways to keep the momentum going:

1. Send Email Reminders

A good training platform will allow you to synchronize user data with your email program to send targeted email messages that will help keep them on track. Triggered by actions users take in your course, emails can be used to confirm user enrollment, remind them to begin a course, nudge them to complete outstanding assignments or to revisit if they have been inactive for a certain period of time.

Email is also a good way to keep in contact with learners after they finish the course. In this instance, email is used to keep learners updated on new training offerings or help them keep what they learned fresh in their minds.

2. Facilitate Conversations

Discussions are a great way to help learners stay engaged with the course and cement the material in their minds. When learners engage in robust discussions, they are more likely to thoroughly consume the content and extract greater meaning and value from it.

As discussed in the previous step, you should include discussion prompts throughout the course and encourage learners to add their input. A strong training platform will provide features for discussion. For example, Northpass has a native discussion tool built in that allows for private discussions at the course level, at the activity level or between members of a small group.

The best discussion prompts will be open-ended (so the learner is challenged to come up with their own solution) and tied back in with the learning objectives of the course. Ask questions like:

  • What are some common concerns you hear about from customers?

  • What is the best way to handle this difficult situation with a customer?

  • What support courses have worked best with customers in your experience?

  • Can you share a positive experience you’ve had with customers?

3. Create Community

Building a community around your course is a great way to inspire learners to stay engaged with the material. By creating a place for learners to interact with each other, you also create opportunities for them to answer each other’s questions and share knowledge peer-to-peer. This will help them master the material even more thoroughly.

The venue can be anything from a forum on your own website to a Facebook group, depending on the audience. Think about what perks or incentives you can offer to help motivate the community to stay active. For example, you could give top commenters additional recognition within your platform, or you may choose to require regular participation to maintain course certification.

4. Take an Active Role in Discussion

If you choose to create a community, you will need to put some guidelines in place to moderate the group and encourage participation. Without some regular management of the forum, it may not have enough momentum to sustain itself.

Consider how you will monitor discussion forums. Will that responsibility go to a staff member? Will you recruit power users to act as moderators? As the community grows, the discussions will begin to build their own cadence, but in the beginning, you should expect to take a much more active role.

Break the ice by asking learners to tell you about themselves and their expectations for the course and by soliciting feedback as the course progresses. Facilitators can encourage fruitful discussions by posting links to additional resources and asking provocative questions that challenge learners and encourage lively debate.

5. Provide Feedback to Learners

Timely, constructive feedback is another key way to engage learners. We retain information more easily when we have to apply the information rather than simply read it.

In-depth assignments outside the course can also help learners engage more deeply with the material. A training platform that allows learners to download assignments, complete them and upload them back to the platform provides you with additional opportunities to give feedback.

Quizzes and other interactive elements aid learners by gauging how well they understand the material and can help the knowledge stick in the learner’s mind. As a bonus, by reviewing quiz results, you’ll have a better understanding of the places your course succeeds and where you could improve the content.

6. Solicit Feedback from Learners

Giving learners opportunities to tell you how they’re doing in the course will not only keep them engaged but also provide valuable insight into how effectively the course is meeting their needs. Solicit feedback publicly in your online discussion boards or privately through email follow-ups or phone calls.

With a good training platform, you’ll also be able to create and embed surveys within your courses. Northpass integrates with tools like Qualtrics and Typeform to help streamline the process of survey administration.

7. Live Interactions

Self-serve and asynchronous learning has the advantage of convenience and scale, but live interactions provide tremendous value to your learners and get them heavily engaged. Webinars, Q&A sessions and regularly scheduled screencast trainings give your learners a chance to ask questions in real time, to let you know their interests and to build bonds with one another and with your brand.

You can use a hybrid model that combines these live formats with asynchronous training. Another benefit of hybrid models is that webinars and other live events help build content to use later, since they can be recorded and embedded into the course.

Remember that you need not deliver your first course to your entire target audience at once. On the contrary, you should test with a small sample of learners to start. This will give you the opportunity to collect their feedback, identify potential problems and implement fixes before the course goes live to everyone.