Blog Post

Build Your Customer Education Program with Learning Science

Dr. Michelle Ellis
March 5, 2024
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It’s no secret: Customer education has the opportunity to drive business outcomes and support customer success.

However, it has to be approached in the right way. 

Adobe recently commissioned a report through Forrester called “Level Up Customer Experience (CX) With Customer Education Programs: Driving Customer Loyalty And Revenue-Impact Through Learning.”

The research found that, while customer education is seen as an integral part of a customer experience (CX) strategy, most customer education programs today fail to meet expectations.

To be fair, many of those expectations are due to internal disagreements. The report stated, “Decision-makers tend to view the completion of learning courses as a measure of their organization's education program's success. However, the real measure of learning is behavioral change.”

When the metrics on-hand are around content completion and engagement, it can be easy to focus there. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that successful education programs are measured by behavior change—and we must find metrics that align to those changes.

The report found, as we’ve been talking about for years, that successful customer education programs have to be rooted in learning science. 

That doesn’t mean you need an advanced degree to run a customer education program. However, an understanding of adult learning theory will be beneficial.

The following are four research-backed approaches you can use to ground your customer education content: 

1. Offer Problem- and Experiential-Based Learning

As Bruce Lee once said, “Knowledge without application is useless.” The point of learning is to apply knowledge—to drive a change in behavior.

When we encourage learners to apply theory, we can expect an increase in engagement and retention, as well as better learning outcomes. 

The Adobe/Forrester report found that less than half of respondents said their organization implements problem-based learning (43%) and experiential-based learning (41%). 

If your company isn’t currently using problem- and experiential-based learning, consider: 

  • Providing learners with a sandbox they can use for practice
  • Giving learners assignments to complete that show mastery of the subject matter
  • Having learners submit projects they’ve completed using your product/tool 

2. Make Learning an Iterative Process

A key part of learning is reinforcement. You don’t just teach something once—you teach it again and again. 

There’s an instructional design concept called “Tell, Show, Do, Apply.” In this model you:

  • Tell (teach the concept)
  • Show (show the learner how to apply to content/concept)
  • Enable the learner to Do (try it on their own, scenario-based learning)
  • Help the learner Apply to their own situation (internalize the knowledge into learning)
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The Forrester study suggests interspersing formal learning with practice results to master skills over time. 

Consider DuoLingo as an example: When you’re learning a new language with DuoLingo, you don’t do long stretches of language learning and practice spread out over time. You do a little bit every day, creating habit-reinforcing loops. 

3. Provide On-the-Job Learning

Our customers are just like us—busy at work and in their personal lives. Especially if you serve a B2B audience, your customers are likely learning about your product to support their work. 

Knowing that, you can structure your education content to fit your customer’s busy schedule. Get them the information they need, when they need it.

This might look like:

  • Creating bite-sized content in the form of short videos or tips
  • Breaking longer content into smaller modules you can distribute over time
  • Adding chapters to how-to videos or jump links to help articles to make it easy to find what they need
  • Interactive job aids to encourage application

Yes, formalized and curriculum-based learning is great and has its place. But we also need to make sure we’re meeting learners where they’re at. 

4. Leverage Social Learning

The research supports social learning as a key element of knowledge transfer and retention. Yet, the Adobe/Forrester data discovered that one in two respondents noted their organization is not implementing social learning. 

Social learning can take many forms:

  • Discussions and online forums
  • Cohort-based learning (such as onboarding groups)
  • Communities of practice where learners can ask questions about your product in the flow of their work

Try implementing one or more of these methods to encourage social engagement and cement learning.

Customer Education Programs Informed by Learning Science Outperform Other Programs 

Research from another 2019 Forrester study found that formalized customer education programs significantly outperformed more ad hoc programs. The report discovered that taking a methodical strategic approach leads to well-defined business outcomes.

Technology alone can’t solve learning problems. Technology helps to scale a solid research-backed, strategic approach to customer education. 

Here at Intellum, we’ve built learning science best practices into our platform to make it easier for you to create effective, high-impact customer education programs. 

About the Author

Dr. Michelle Ellis Speaker Headshot
Dr. Michelle Ellis
Director of Learning & Development
Michelle Ellis has over 25 years of experience in instructional design, including nearly 20 years at Disney, and a PhD in Training and Performance Improvement.. Her experience ranges from teaching in the academic setting to designing, developing, and facilitating education to teach technical, soft, and leadership skills. Michelle came to Intellum as a practitioner to share her experiences with learning and how to build a learning strategy.