Published On: July 5, 2017By
Employee learning audiences have different needs than extended enterprise learning audiences. Analyst John Leh explains why it matters when choosing an LMS

Once upon a time, HR and learning organizations focused exclusively on training and development of corporate employees.  Those days are long gone.

Everything changed with the dawn of modern learning technology and other digital enterprise innovation.  Now, businesses large and small are expanding their internal training programs to serve the needs of learning audiences outside of organizational walls.  This includes customers, channel partners, contract workers and others who need product knowledge and skills.

In the corporate world, this is called extended enterprise learning.  And it requires a whole new mindset and methodology.

External Learning Audiences Require Broader Strategy

Some HR and learning organizations are eager to move this extended enterprise agenda forward, but it’s not easy for those who have always operated inside the employee training “box.”

Their education and experience are focused on instructional design, learning theory, content quality, and training efficiency.  Their functional priorities are compliance management, performance support, and basic talent management.

Success depends upon finding or developing the right content for employee training – and continuously achieving more with less budget and staff.

In this environment, it’s tempting to delay extended enterprise learning requests until time and funding permit.  But extended enterprise business decision-makers can’t afford to wait.

If training departments don’t step up, extended enterprise learning sponsors move forward on their own — often duplicating technology, content and effort.

Meanwhile, for the brave souls who do respond, extended enterprise learning programs can be an eye-opening experience.  There are fundamental differences – not just in language, but also in philosophy and in the tools needed to succeed.  Understanding these differences at the outset can make or break your learning initiatives.

As an independent LMS consultant who has focused on extended enterprise learning for more than 20 years, here’s my quick take on differences that can make a big impact on your results.

Internal vs. External Learning Audiences: 8 Critical Differences

1) Mandatory vs. Voluntary Learner Motivation

Employee compliance training is mandatory.  Employees are forced to participate and successfully complete training – or be fired.  Under those conditions, it’s easy to tolerate poor communications and a weak user experience.

In contrast, customers and channel partners voluntarily participate in training.  They must be persuaded to visit a learning portal/LMS, find relevant content, consume it and complete it – again and again.  This demands sophisticated marketing, sales psychology and user experience design on the part of training providers.

2) Assigned Content vs. Discovered Content

When entering an LMS, employees are typically “assigned” content automatically (based on their title, role, or other criteria) and the interface reflects their content status.  On the other hand, extended enterprise learning audiences typically use search, navigational functions, and other features to find content of interest.

This means it’s important to invest time and effort in creating searchable catalogs, filters, tags, categories, authors, ratings, reviews, and social recommendations to help extended enterprise visitors find relevant content as quickly and easily as they would when visiting popular online retailers like Best Buy or Amazon.

3) Roles vs. Domains

An employee LMS typically manages one or a handful of very similar employee learner groups. In this case, it’s sufficient to manage access to content and functionality via “roles.”

However managing external learning audiences is more complex, because each organization may want access to its own unique area or “domain” within the LMS.  Domains go much further than “roles.”

You can create distinct experiences for each domain by configuring branding, language localizations, content libraries, integrations, personalized learner home pages, notifications, features, and business process workflow.

4) Third-Party vs. Proprietary Content

Online content for employees can be aggregated from third-party providers such as OpenSesame, Skillsoft, Lynda, or Harvard Mentor.  Content is available at every quality and skill level for nearly any business, industry, and technical topic you can imagine.

In contrast, content for extended enterprise learning audiences is almost always proprietary and needs to be custom developed.  Why?

Let’s briefly consider channel partners.  They need content and performance support for one reason – to help them sell your products or services.  One way you can start adding value immediately for channel business owners is by developing solid content quickly and at a reasonable price.

5) HR ERP Integration vs. CRM Integration

In employee LMS deployments, user accounts, profile information, and organizational hierarchy are typically synced through integration with an HR or enterprise resource planning application such as Oracle or SAP.  The amount of information shared to make the LMS work is usually limited to basic profile, manager and organizational information.

For extended enterprise implementations, customer, and partner demographic information is stored in a customer relationship management system (CRM) such as or Microsoft Dynamics.  However, CRMs offer much more customer and demographic information that you can leverage to drive learning programs and measure their success.

6) Paper Certificates vs. Digital Badges

Employee LMSs provide printable certificates of completion, which learners generally ignore, file away, or sometimes frame and display, unnoticed, on office walls.

In contrast, extended enterprise learning programs increasingly award digital badges that are embedded with relevant metadata (such as the badge title, description, date earned, issuer, recipient, expiration date, and even specific details about the work submitted by the recipient).

These digital credentials follow learners throughout their career because they can easily be displayed on websites, social media profiles, and email signatures to demonstrate competence and help land a job, a promotion or a new client.

7) Free vs. Paid eCommerce Models

Sometimes free is hard to give away.  Organizations rarely sell learning content to employees.   Convincing individuals or organizations to buy content is tough and different, but it’s common to sell certifications and premium training to channel partners and customers.

That means you need to understand the world of extended enterprise ecommerce – packaging for organizational purchases, volume pricing, bundling, subscriptions, cross-selling, upselling, discounts, promotions, digital advertising, landing pages, conversion funnels, shopping carts, checkout processes, payment gateways, taxation, accounting integrations, and more.

The list seems intimidating, but these tools and techniques are essential for anyone who wants to generate revenue from online content.

8) LMS Notifications vs. Email Marketing Systems

Most LMSs include automated notifications via email (and sometimes text) to let employees or managers know when content is assigned, completed or not completed.  They may also include reminder notifications about upcoming training sessions.

Extended enterprise notifications go much further, and are typically not provided directly by the LMS but rather through integrations with email marketing systems such as MailChimp or Drip.  For example, an LMS can track when a user logs in, visits x times in a week, opens x pieces of content, finishes a course, asks a question, buys a product, doesn’t log in for 30 days, and countless other events.

Any of these potential triggers can be configured to kick-off specific email marketing campaigns that send learners additional training recommendations, discounts, special offers and much more.

Extended Enterprise Learning at the Crossroads

Although I’ve specialized in extended enterprise learning technology for decades, it feels as if the learning community is just beginning to see its potential.  I have never seen more enthusiasm about this topic from both LMS buyers and sellers. This means HR and learning professionals are at a crossroads.

You can choose to embrace all that is unique and challenging about extended enterprise learning technology and practices.  You can close your own skills gap, take a seat at the business table, and lead the organization through this profit-driven opportunity.  Or you can sit it out and continue to focus on the “safe” internal world of limited budgets and cost counting.

The choice is yours. Good luck — and thanks for reading!

Want more LMS insights? Replay our on-demand webinar:

How to Succeed at Extended Enterprise Education: Strategies for Learning Engagement

Convincing employees to engage in training is hard enough. So what happens when you want to educate customers, channel partners and others across your extended enterprise? Relevant content is a start, but it is not enough.

What else does it take to succeed?

Join John Leh, CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning, and Kevin Hanegan, VP of Knowledge and Learning at Qlik, as they explore learning strategies that win extended enterprise hearts and minds. They discuss:

  • Innovative marketing techniques to attract external audiences
  • Methods for improving content quality and contextual relevance
  • How to motivate learners with contests and rewards
  • Creative ways to leverage video for stronger engagement
  • What custom mobile apps can do to drive continuous learning
  • How to measure, analyze and improve your impact, over time


Need Proven LMS Selection Guidance?

Looking for a learning platform that truly fits your organization’s needs?  We’re here to help!  Submit the form below to schedule a free preliminary consultation at your convenience.

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About the Author: John Leh

John Leh is Founder, CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning and the Talented Learning Center. John is a fiercely independent consultant, blogger, podcaster, speaker and educator who helps organizations select and implement learning technology strategies, primarily for extended enterprise applications. His advice is based upon more than 25+years of learning-tech industry experience, serving as a trusted LMS selection and sales adviser to hundreds of learning organizations with a total technology spend of more than $100+ million and growing. John would love to connect with you on Twitter or on LinkedIn.

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