Successful e-learning for Digital Marketers: Lessons from Google Digital Academy

June 2017

The power of e-learning can help land complex new digital concepts faster, and shorten the turnaround between theory and business application. Marni Wedin, Instructional Designer at the Google Digital Academy, explains what to look for in e-learning that builds swift learning experiences on-the-job at scale

Digital change is making marketers march to a new beat, tuning out certain skill sets whilst dialing up the need for others just as fast. However, 81% of marketers say they don’t have access to an impactful and effective L&D programme for digital marketing*. Here Marni shares an inside look at Skillshop, highlighting three design techniques that build engaging and powerful e-learning experiences.

“81% of marketers say they don’t have access to an impactful and effective L&D programme for digital marketing”

Start with the learning outcomes

Throughout the day there are so many competing demands for our attention. To put one more thing in front of someone – particularly something like learning, which by its nature requires a certain degree of cognitive focus – you need to show outright why it’s worth their time.

That’s why we lead with a real world challenge we know marketers are experiencing, and trail a solution. Right from the start the learner knows exactly what they’re getting and how that an activity or course will benefit them.

To make sure the scenario rings true, we pull on insights from our annual industry skills survey the Talent Revolution. Then we present the situation and offer a solution through a mix of engaging text and graphics. You could use a video to similar effect, but the trick here is to ensure any added visuals support the learning and don't add unnecessary cognitive load.

The overall payoff – ‘what you’ll learn’ – is then summarised in the form of a clear, concise learning objective.


Employ storytelling as a teaching tool

Tying a lesson to a relatable business objective that resonates and reflects challenges the learner might face doesn’t just capture their attention. Recognisable, tangible scenarios also help unpack complex ideas in a meaningful way. That’s where storytelling as a learning tactic can play a leading role.

Just as fairy and folk tales set out moral and social codes for children, storytelling located in the modern workplace is a powerful teaching mechanism. When done well, spinning a good yarn can spark the release of a chemical in the brain called Oxytocin**. Oxytocin increases empathy, meaning narratives and character-driven stories are more likely to capture our attention and keep it. In short, a story where someone is facing a recognisable business challenge stimulates an emotional and behavioural call-and-response when the learner needs it. If they find themselves in a similar situation now or in the future, they’ll be more likely to recall and act on the key learning points***.

So next we introduce our lead character and her obstacle: in this example, getting support for mobile media spend. The beauty of e-learning is in the potential for discoverable interactive elements. Here the learner can interact directly to uncover and reflect on multiple perspectives and angles to a problem. This draws on neuroscience – learning through activity – which is very different from the traditional, passive classroom or textbook learning.


Link that story back to the learner’s journey

As we go further into the story, we relate what’s happening to our protagonist back to ‘you’ as the learner: it serves as a check-in to keep engagement high as we start to move into the potential solutions to the problem. It shifts the participant's state from passive observer to active participant within that story.

That’s important, because we’re coming to the crux of the activity: how learners can actually apply these principles. There’s a heap of best practice coming their way and we want the learner to be in the most active frame of mind possible to take them in.

One way of doing so is to pose a number of possible starting points for a learner to apply the theory to their world. This stimulates the divergent thinking process for finding a solution that fits the situation.


We provide a similar opportunity for the learner to make an active contribution as a wrap-up at the end. A multiple choice quiz or summary provides both the opportunity to put the learning objective for this lesson to the test, and guidance on how to tackle a similar situation in the future.


The whole activity’s taken less than 10 minutes beginning to end: not bad.

So if you’re on the hunt for an e-learning solution that’s quick on its feet, effective and scalable, here’s what you’re looking out for:

  • Clear outlining of learning objectives from the get-go so learners know exactly what’s coming up and how they’ll benefit from working through the lesson
  • Situational storytelling that relates to tangible business scenarios and real-world business problem-solving
  • Interplay between passive story consumption and the learner’s active engagement which offer the chance to take ownership of the challenge and put their knowledge to the test in a risk-free environment

Try it out! See how all these ideas come together in this Skillshop mobile measurement lesson: Start your journey here.



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