About Learning Partner
Since its inception in 2008, Learning Partner’s goal is to provide on-demand Continuing Education (CE) training to certified financial planner (CFP®) professionals and insurance advisors. Learning Partner’s course offerings make it easy for CFP professionals and insurance advisors to accumulate annual CE credits. Courses range from 2 to 12 hours in length, allowing users to focus on the most relevant topics. Learners complete the course and post-test to gain a certificate of completion confirming their continuing education hours.
Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer a few questions about the success of Learning Partner. You recently saw a huge increase in traffic to your ecommerce store, what do you attribute this to?
Last year, the FPSC (Financial Planning Standards Council) implemented a new continuing education requirement for a professional responsibility or ethics CE credit. Prior to that, they informed continuing education providers of the new requirement and encouraged them to develop suitable training programs. We saw that as a good opportunity to increase our exposure, and we were one of the first companies to market. There are about 25,000 people who need this credit annually, and we were able to capture a significant number of new customers as a result. As a result of their positive experience, many of them returned to take additional courses with us.
Can you tell me about the certifying bodies you are accredited with?
There’s lots of free content out there, but most of it isn’t accredited. The accreditation gives our content value that most of the free content can’t deliver. We put all of our courses through FPSC’s CE Approval Program. There are also a number of provincial insurance regulators that either accredit individual courses or approve us as a CE provider.
Is it an intense evaluation process to become an accredited CE provider?
It’s not necessarily intense, but it can get expensive. Most of our courses would apply to a number of different subgroups within the financial industry. But each subgroup requires its own review and charges an accreditation fee, and some of those fees are substantial. We’ve sought accreditation in those areas that most closely match our history and that we can easily market to. Often our learners will ask “why isn’t it also accredited for this, or for that?” and it’s because we would have to substantially increase the prices of our courses to obtain these additional accreditations.
How do financial planners who need this credit find you?
We see a lot of traffic through FPSC’s online search tool. Their website has a searchable database of all courses they have accredited, and they actively market that search tool to their members. They also highlight new continuing education opportunities in their email blasts to members. So they do a fair amount of marketing for us indirectly. We also have an extensive email database, but we restrict our emails once a month – we don’t flood our customers with a constant stream of emails.
Have you tried any A/B testing to analyze your email marketing?
Yes, we’ve done some A/B testing in terms of the best time of day or best day of the week to get the best conversion rates. We’ve also experimented a bit with the language, particularly what the subject line says.
In the financial sector, are most training providers going online, or is it still mostly traditional instructor-lead training?
There is a fair amount of online training for financial planners, but the majority of training providers don’t go through the accreditation process so that gives Learning Partner an edge. Also, many of the online offerings are in the form of bigger certificate courses or programs that can take 100 hours or more to complete, when students only need 25 credits. So learners are less tempted to choose them because it’s more onerous.
Would you recommend that training providers get accredited by a certifying body?
Yes, it gives them legitimacy and, depending on the certifying body, they may be listed on that organization’s website as an accredited provider – which is where a lot of people go to find out where to get these credits.
Do you think there’s a benefit using Shopify as your ecommerce platform?
It is definitely better than our previous system. Before we used Shopify, order processing was much more cumbersome and it wasn’t reliable. Our ecommerce platform relied on PayPal as the payment gateway, and payments were often getting rejected and we found a lot of people abandoning their orders part way through. With Shopify, very few people abandon the order and they have more confidence in the system.
Do you use Shopify reports?
We do review the free reports to see where the bulk of our traffic is coming from (referrals, email campaigns, searches). We’ve used these reports to map our traffic and sales from one year to the next, and the pattern has been fairly consistent. In our business, the bulk of our sales come in the last quarter of the year, because the CE deadlines are December 31st. Even though we saw a significant increase in sales last year, the distribution pattern was the same, percentage wise, as the year before. The percentage of annual sales on a month-to-month basis, and even on a week-to-week basis at the end of the year, were similar to the year before.
Did you carry out any course feedback surveys?
We’ve done a number of surveys, focusing both on courses students have already taken, and on topics they would like to see developed. The latter is perhaps more important for us because it helps us know what new content we should focus on.
We also did an important survey on course format. When Learning Partner first started, we developed fully interactive and narrated e-learning courses, which are costly and time consuming to develop. One year, we had the content for a new course ready, but hadn’t yet found the time to convert it into e-learning. We decided to put it out there as course notes in PDF format, with an online quiz. Then we did a survey of customers who had done at least one of our earlier interactive e-learning courses as well as the new PDF course, and 95% preferred the PDF course! Of the few people who thought the interactive eLearning format was neat, no one put a value on it – in other words, they weren’t willing to pay any extra for it. From then on, we’ve only developed courses that include course notes in PDF format, and an online quiz.
Did you encounter any roadblocks while launching your e-learning initiative?
We’ve always been content developers, but prior to 2008 it was all paper-based and it was always for other education providers. When we decided to develop content to sell ourselves, it seemed like everyone was going to e-learning, so we figured that was where we needed to be. There was a huge learning curve behind that technology, and the first couple of years were pretty rough to be honest, but that’s behind us now.
How did you gather e-learning resources to help with course development?
We had been developing paper based curriculum for over 20 years, so we had a fairly good grasp of instructional design, but when we decided to do online training, we joined the e-learning Guild, went to conferences, asked questions on the community forums associated with our e-learning software (Lectora), and read a lot of books!
Finally, do you have any advice for e-learning professionals who are starting out?
The hardest part for us is creating quality content – make sure your content is solid. You don’t want to put out rubbish, but you also need to know when to stop fine tuning it as well. You have to find that balance of when it’s good enough – it may not be perfect but time-wise perfection is not always feasible.
If you have any questions about the topics discussed, or just want to find out more, please don’t hesitate to contact us.