We suck at teaching internet marketing. Why?!!!
Ian Lurie Aug 11 2011
How the hell do I teach my team internet marketing? Why do we all suck at it?
I spend a lot of time on this puzzle. My company’s survival depends on it. I have to find ways to teach, and to teach teachers, while working it around everyone’s busy schedule. And I have to find ways to teach clients, too, or their investment in us burns up the moment we’re gone.
I’ve studied the success/failure of:
- The Khan Academy;
- Bridge programs;
- Campus learning centers (I worked in one, decades ago);
- People who taught (or failed to teach) me;
- The near-collapse of American education;
- My attempts to teach my own kids (often comical).
Here’s my random collection of theories. I have a favor to ask: Read this. Then tell me what you think:
In-person training fails
Training in person sucks. I love doing it, but the truth is, it’s of limited value. Here’s why:
- Students learn at their own pace. Get 3 people in a room, and you’ll have a fast, medium and more deliberate learner. How do you make that work? You can’t. You teach at the slowest pace. Fail.
- People need repeatable teaching. The best training comes in a form folks can pause, play back and repeat, at their own pace.
- Questioners get embarrassed. Ask two questions in a row and you’ll catch yourself saying “Sorry if this is a stupid question…” That may seem polite, but it’s really our hard-wired reflex to Never Make Waves. It stops us dead in our tracks.
- People can’t learn 8 hours at a time. I find that my stamina as a trainer or a student ends at about 2 hours, no matter how fantastic the class or teacher. My brain is just full. After that, it’s frantic note-taking so I know what to re-learn later, or me sticking to my script and trying to keep everyone entertained and learning.
- Pupils don’t retain knowledge after just one go. They need repetition.
- The time people really need help is when they try to apply learning the first time. Which is exactly when they do not get it.
Yes, ‘real life’ training has advantages, but they’re all related to accountability, not educational value. You pile your employees into a break room for a 4-hour lecture on customer service because you know they’re physically present. As a manager, you can check off that budget line item with pride: Training Complete.
That is a godawful justification.
Just-in-time training rocks
On the other hand, teaching via recorded material—writing, video or audio—works well.
- Students can learn in private. If I want to learn linear algebra, I can use Khan Academy. That way, no one knows how much math I’ve forgotten, or the fact that, if you put me in competition with a chimpanzee, I’m mathematically impaired.
- Everyone advances at their own pace. Absorbed a lesson? Great! Move on to the next one. Still having trouble? Read or play it again, Sam.
- You get to pick ideal learning time.
- It scales like crazy. I can deliver training via text or video to thousands of people, even if I’m asleep. Nice! I get to sleep!
Do the homework at work
This is the core of Khan Academy’s program for classrooms: Students listen to the ‘lectures’ at home. Then they go to school and do the exercises with a teacher present to help them out.
The UCSD writing center worked in a similar way when I worked there. Writers would come in. We’d facilitate as they worked on their writing. Then, they’d go home to complete that work. No lectures at all, actually.
It makes even more sense in on-the-job, internet marketing training: The stuff you’re learning is the stuff you’re doing, every day. Don’t do ‘homework’ or ‘exercises’ during slow times. Instead, study the lecture-style stuff during quiet time. Then apply it again and again while others are around to help out.
Learning = advancement
This is going to sound harsh. But with self-paced training, the people who don’t want to learn slack off. If they have training and support, then “I went to the class!” is no longer a free pass. They have to learn.
The enthusiastic students can bolt ahead, and I as an employer can reward that behavior. Internet marketing requires constant learning. I want to encourage that in my team.
You can’t just throw your staff a bunch of books and say ‘go learn’, though. You have to set time aside, one way or another, for them to do it.
That’s really hard. It’s why I still succumb to the periodic ‘training day’. Work has a nasty way of scheduling itself. If I go to everyone and say “OK, Wednesday from 9-10 AM is learning time,” it’ll fail. Clients will call. Stuff will break. Etc.
Somehow, though, you have to create time for your employees to learn. And it can’t be in a single, marathon 4-hour session. They have to be able to learn in little bites.
Let me know if you figure that one out, OK?
Trust, but verify
Finally, you have to verify that learning’s going on. I hate standardized tests. They’ve ruined American education, probably forever. But somehow you have to know how folks are doing. That’s the only way you can provide extra help where needed, or reward those who are truly kicking butt.
I haven’t figured this one out, either. By the time the employee is applying what they learned to a client, it’s too late.
Work in progress
This is a work in progress. I’ll post more about it as time passes. If you have ideas, or think something I’ve said is horrible, feel free to comment.
I still love conferences. I’ll always go. But here’s the thing: A well-run conference has lots of short sessions where you pick up one or two great tidbits. Then you can immediately try ’em out on your laptop. Plus, you get to drink until the wee hours. Whole different ball game, really.
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Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He is co-author of the 2nd edition of the Web Marketing All-In-One for Dummies and wrote the sections on SEO, blogging, social media and web analytics. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. And, Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Read More