When participating in a training program, your customers and partners have different goals and behaviors than your internal employees. Understanding your audience is the first step to achieving successful learning outcomes. Here are 4 key considerations when designing training for external customers and partners.


1. External learning is self-directed

Extended customers and partners get to choose whether to participate in training or not, and what content they wish to engage with. In contrast, internal users are often required by their employer to complete training for compliance reasons.

Training customers and partners therefore has unique implications:

  • Customers are more likely to consume bite-sized learning, pause and resume, and skip around to relevant content over several sessions. Content should be designed accordingly.
  • Customers are interested in exploring different training content and self-registering for areas of interest. Course catalogs, learning paths, and simple content navigation is key.
  • Interactive, bite-sized content keeps customers engaged with the material.
  • Customer satisfaction and knowledge assessments are just as important (arguably even more so!) as the traditional metric of completions.

2. User experience is paramount

Because external learners have a choice in their training (and frequently pay for training) the LMS and learning experience are important for overall satisfaction. If the learning process isn’t a positive, intuitive, and convenient interaction that represents your company’s brand values, it’s all too easy for customers and partners to abandon and never come back.

In contrast, internal employees do not have a choice. Once training is assigned, they are required to complete their training regardless of the learning experience.

3. Paid versus free

Customers and partners often purchase training, whether it’s on a per-course basis, bundled into a larger product sale, or included in a premium support plan. External learners are paying for a product or service, and expect a high quality experience that provides demonstrated business value. They are more motivated to complete training on their own, in order to obtain more value from your company’s products.

Internal users, on the other hand, have compliance training assigned to them, and are not typically as invested in mastering the learning objectives.

4. Access

Customers and partners participate in training from a diverse set of locations and IT environments. These environments are frequently located outside of your company firewall, and user identities are not in your employee HR system. Training delivery needs to be scalable and flexible across devices, browsers, geographies, and firewalls – and yes, this includes the latest iPhones, as well as Internet Explorer 9 and Windows XP.

In contrast, internal employees access training from a known IT environment. After initial setup, training delivery is very straightforward and technology performance is generally not an issue.


Training external learners (customers and partners) is very different from training employees. From awareness to registration, from interaction to motivation, these differences are critical to understand when developing successful training content and delivery strategies.

Next week, we’ll cover specific LMS requirements for external learners. Can’t wait till then? Download Choosing an LMS for Customer Training today!