8 MIN READ
Product management thinking in education services
“One topic, one course” thinking is holding back education services. Well, not all teams. Leading education services teams use product management thinking in an effort to produce course offerings that add value to customers and add value to the software company. Yet sometimes we get stuck in a mindset that the next offering we should design is the next topic we should cover. This is not necessarily true. We might be able to add value if we offer the same topic, but in a new modality. It might be best to add two existing topics together in a bundle. We need to think of our education services product offerings outside of the limits of course topics, a belief which can limit the value we add to customers and to our companies. Let’s look at a simple example for how to do this, then dive into a useful method for how we might productize our offerings.
If we start with a "one topic, one course" world view, we can greatly limit what we offer customers. With this point of view, it would never occur to us that we could create seven product offerings based on one topic.
How about “one topic, seven offerings?”
Take for example your admin 101 course (or your equivalent). You don’t just create the admin 101 course. You create multiple offerings that cover the foundational admin topic:
Admin 101 (free tutorial)
Admin 101 (paid eLearning with labs)
Admin 101 - virtual instructor led public course
Admin 101 - virtual instructor led private course
Admin 101 - In person public course
Admin 101 - in person, onsite, private course
Admin 101 certification program (course and assessment).
That’s one topic and seven product offerings.
Why do this?
Different customers want different things.
Enterprise customers (generally speaking) want more of the stuff on the bottom end of this list. Early adopter, smaller companies (or smaller teams) want more of the stuff on the top of the list.
If we can break free of the "one topic, one course” mind-set, we free ourselves to focus on customer needs and aligning what we do with company goals.
Product management thinking in education services
As described in the excellent CEdMA Europe book, "Technical Training management: Commercial skills aligned to the provision of successful training outcomes,” product management techniques we can apply in education services include; determining the market need, deciding what offerings to develop, building a roadmap, positioning of offerings, and lifecycle management (from concept to end of life).
CEdMA is the Customer Education Management Association and the book, mentioned above, was written by Philip Bourne. It is required reading, and I believe it will become a reference that you will go back to again and again.
I interviewed Philip Bourne on Helping Sells Radio about the book. Listen here on your next walk around the neighborhood.
In Chapter 3, called, technical training product management, Bourne describes three ways to categorize training offerings and none of them have anything to do with topics. These high level categories will help you think through planning your offerings.
The categories are:
Bundles and packages
We won’t spend much time defining each in detail, as most are self-explanatory. But there are some important points I want to make. For more detail, get the book and read chapter three.
There are five high level calories of offerings.
Course: Course is simple enough. Think of a course as a single unit of learning that consists of a topic, learning objectives, and content designed to help a customer achieve the learning objectives. A course could be long or short. Live or on-demand. Product or role-based. Feature or use-case focus. The main point is that “course” is a high level category to describe one type of offering; a single unit of learning.
Subscription: A subscription is an offering that provides access to a collection of offerings. Customers pay a recurring fee to retain access to the content, within which customers can come and go and take and retake the offerings in the subscription as often as they like, as long as they remain a subscriber. You can offer a subscription to your content to individual customers or to the company as a customer using a per-user licensing model.
Seminar: According to the Technical Training Management book, a seminar is a “short duration session typical covering advanced topics presented by a subject matter expert.” This definition is worth covering because the word seminar implies possible overlap with webinar and workshop.
So let’s clear this up.
There are two part of the seminar definition that are important. The first part is “covering advanced topics.” Sometimes, courses don’t cover small, specific, advanced topics. Instructors have a lot of product knowledge and experience teaching but not necessarily the practical, advanced knowledge that a solution architect or professional services consultant has developed with experience. A seminar should cover very specific, advanced topics not covered in normal courses.
The second part of the seminar definition is “presented by a subject matter expert” Here we relax the need to have a professional instructor to run seminars. We get SMEs to do it. They know the specifics, the scenarios, the interdependencies of integrations and varied customer environments.
Lab/practical: A lab/practical offering is an exercise or collection of exercises that your customers can perform to gain hands-on experience using your software. You set up an environment of your software that learners can access to perform task in the pursuit of practicing the learning objectives taught in on of your courses. If you are not offering practical exercises in your training, figure this out. Get a sandbox for your SaaS product or set up training accounts. If your product is on-prem, get images installed on virtual machines or on services like Cloudshare.
Certification: Putting aside the differences between high stakes and low stakes certification for a moment, a certification offering is an assessment you offer customers so that customers can demonstrate they have achieved the learning objectives in your course (or courses). When a customer demonstrates a minimum level of achievement, you provide them a credential of some kind that visually shows the achieve they have earned.
Those are the offerings of an education services team, as describe in the CEdMA book. Within each, there are many offerings you can create. But offerings is just one way to look at categorizing your content.
The next level of categorization is modalities.
Modalities are simply the deliver methods. Here are six types of modalities to know.
Instructor-led training (ILT): The ILT modality is any offering that is led by an instructor and is done in person. Physically in person. In a conference room, training center, hotel ballroom, pre-conference training day, or onsite in a customer office. ILTs can be public with open enrollment or private organized specifically for a team or company customer.
Virtual, instructor-led training (vILT): Take the ILT description, change it to say the delivery is done via a web conferencing services like Zoom, Strigo, or Webex, and you have vILT.
eLearning/Self-paced: eLearning can be simple screen recordings explaining tasks in your software, more formalized and organized SCORM content, or even recorded, vILT sessions. These can be as informal or formal as you would like to design them. The point is that you create content explaining concepts and tasks in your software, then you publish them so that customers can access them on-demand.
Seminar: We defined seminar above. You might argue that a seminar is just another form of ILT or vILT, but I agree with Bourne that is deserves its own listing as a unique modality. I think of seminars as a workshop, and not delivered by an instructor. A subject matter expert delivers the content and the content is designed to be on a specific, technical topic designed to help customers understand a specialized task, concept, or function. To me, this is where education services has an intersection with marketing on one end and professional services on the other. Education services has a leadership opportunity to work with both marketing and professional services (I think this is a topic worthy of an article).
Learning hub: Let’s not overthink this one. A learning hub is a place online where customers can access all of your offerings. It’s the learning tab on your website. It’s the academy in your knowledge center. It’s the place your customers can find on their own, then search, register, and complete your content. Your learning hub could offer everything, not just self-paced content.
Lab session: Lab sessions can be delivered in-person, virtually, or on-demand. Most of us have attended software training in a room and had to do exercises in the software with an instructor giving us instructions. Labs can also be delivered virtually with tools like Strigo. And on-demand with tools like Cloudshare.
Bundles and packages
Bundling is the assembly of any combination of the above. There are three main types of bundles and packages
Combined offering and product package: This means you combine courses with the software product. For example, you could offer three courses (beginner, intermediate or advanced) or a company-wide subscription packaged with the product sale.
Multimedia offerings: This packaging companies multiple modalities of training together. You might call this blended learning, putting together live and self-paced content together in a bundle.
Course and certification bundle: Put courses and certifications together in a bundle. Some software companies offering courses and certifications separately. You can combine these into a single bundle.
A note on bundles: According to Bourne, “Do not offer a training package or bundle unless it is addressing a customer or market problem.” This is an important point. We tend to talk about bundles with the question, “How can we create another offering that we can sell customers?” We can do this and not address a need, which is a mistake. If we want to create a course and certification bundle, do customers want this? Will they find value buying both items together or do they want to purchase each separately? These are the questions you need to answer before you create bundles. This is the discipline of sticking to our value proposition canvas. Yes. It all comes back to your value proposition canvases.
Now you know how to build a roadmap
Offerings, modalities, and bundles are the three high-level categories of content that education services team can provide customers over time.
You can image creating a matrix listing course topics on the left side and the three categories across the top of the matrix. Then put a check mark in each box that applies. This will become the beginnings of your product roadmap.
It’s time to get serious about agile
You might now have a strong feeling of being overwhelmed with the possibilities described above. You get it, but think, “How are we going to do all of this?” Part of understanding product management practices is thinking about lifecycle management and development cycles. It’s time to get serious about learning agile methodologies, especially scrum.
We wrote a guide to walk you through how to use scrum as a process for developing courses and delivering more value to customers. It’s called The Learndot Guide to Better Course Development.