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The digital transformation of learning i, and the emergence of the "Amazon" of digital learning

Admin Pultorak June 17, 2016 amazon of digital learning digital transformation of learning digitization of learning

I've been involved in learning and teaching for a long while.  In college, in the 80's  I taught guitar and bass lessons to help pay my tuition (and to have something to eat! :)).  This was a low tech affair by today's standards, 1:1, no Internet or apps for reference materials, just you and your student, often slowing down LP records and tapes to be able to hear passages so you could learn them (and having to work hard to relate it back to the original key), or buying expensive hardcopy transcriptions of tunes. Compare this to to today: there are multiple transcriptions of just about every tune you can think of online, with apps that automagically change the key of a transcription, or change the key of a recording without changing its speed, or changing it's speed without changing its key.

Later, in the 90's, I got into the corporate work world in IT. I learned by reading books, reading documentation, going to hardcopy classes with hardcopy student kits, and by getting into systems and doing things. I also learned to learn who knew what about what--the 'tribe' around a certain body of knowledge--although getting to know that tribe beyond a very small circle was hard as there was no automated way of seeing people much beyond your immediate orbit and published authors.  Compare this to today, where, yes there are still books but searchable eBooks to get right to what you are looking for, complemented by (and often, exceeded by for currency an applicability) YouTube videos, and online blog posts and the like.  And documentation for just about anything is published online by vendors--and not just traditional guides, but video tutorials, eBooks and the like. I'm not sure which day it was when most people learned things like how to tie a tie primarily from YouTube, but I do know that day has already passed. And I don't recall the precise day when search engine searches to answer basic questions eclipsed "referring to the manual", but that day has long since passed.

I also picked up teaching IT courses at local colleges and universities in the 90's.  It was still a hardcopy classroom, with hardcopy textbooks, and no devices anywhere in site, except for IT labs cut off from the Internet.  Contrast this to today, where students typically have Internet access, and tablets, laptops, and smartphone to interact with their instructor and fellows students and too access and augment related content in the moment; the potential for a richer discourse and deeper learning (and distraction!) is so much higher.

Later, in the 2000's, I started my consulting and training business, Pultorak & Associates.  Over the years we have made the rounds through a variety of technologies and platforms, from traditional instructor led training with hardcopy materials, to digital courseware and virtual instructor led live synchronous online training, to computer based training (CBT) and eLearning, at times packaged with a mentor for cohorts of students to enhance their self-directed learning experience.  

Besides our core training products we produce for public consumption, we have also done lots of content development in a variety of formats for customers, for example, eBooks, hardcopy books, job aids, and posters, all designed to make learning and doing something with what you've learned easier.  Part of that work has been refactoring content--taking, for example, three traditional instructor-led courses of 3 days each and refactoring them into one 5-day self-directed eLearning course.  We've done video training, eLearning, and a variety other formats for our customers.

More recently, we've seen the emergence of online training subscription-based services, like Lynda.com, Teachable.com, Udemy.com, and CBT nuggets, not to mention monetized YouTube video learning series.  And I've notice that many of my corporate customers have scaled back their physical facilities, while at the same time my partners with physical training facilities are renting out more and more of their space to corporate customers.  So... bricks and mortar training companies are becoming more like "WeWork" sites, sort of an AirBNB of training space for whatever topic, renting out space and making their money that way, versus largely by the old fashioned approach, that is, picking topics that are popular, delivering training yourself or through a partner, and marketing so that people come.

Last week, I went down to Lynda.com to record a course, and it made me reflect on my experience as well as what will come next. While I was down there, the announcement about Microsoft acquiring Lynda/LinkedIn came out, which made me think about it further--integration of (business) social connections + Lynda platform + Skype + office etc.

I do think that over the next few years a "winner" will emerge that is the "Amazon of digital learning".  By that I mean this: as with Amazon, they will have so much stuff available and they will make it so easy to access that, even if it's a little bit more (for consumers to buy, and for producers to sell), it makes more sense to subscribe to them versus alternatives.  Think Uber versus a mess of local taxi services.  It doesn't mean they'll own the market exclusively, it just means they'll be the "go to".

So what would an "Amazon of digital learning look like, and what would they have to do to become it?  Here's my thoughts:

  • The winner will spend a lot of time getting SEO/Social right; this will be much more than 50% of their effort; how does one know you have the latest info on XYZ nowadays? SEO/social.
  • The winner will master how to get optimal content with a minimum investment; this is not a small point; figuring how to get SMEs to produce timely, accurate, and usable content without a lot of editing and production overhead will separate better than everyone else will separate the winner from the losers.  This means getting really good at getting good content from SMEs in the field with remote and central recording, production, etc. that is with a system that gets the latest content out fast as it happens with "just enough" production quality (think reality TV versus movie-level quality) to pass muster.  
  • The winner will also figure out how to get upgrades to materials to make them more current, etc. done quickly and cheaply.
  • The winner will get a lot of content up there quick, through whatever means possible, including federation of content.
  • The winner will figure out how to pay SMEs fairly, so they don't revolt / feel like indentured servants and bolt for another platform (this has already happened in this industry).
  • The winner will figure out how to charge customers fairly, so they don't revolt / feel like they're getting ripped off / feel like a schmuck for choosing this subscription when the best content is elsewhere, or for a better price (similarly, this has already happened in this industry)
  • Subscribers will get jobaids with their learning to help them apply what they've learned (e.g., sample exams for a certification test, spreadsheets for  a self-assessment)
  • People who buy the training, the customers for the users;, will be able to track who started, finished, and where the rest are in progress, including passing of quizzes, etc; and they won't need an LMS to do this, AND they'll be able to do this for learning materials that aren't traditional SCORM packages (for example, John and Katy just completed viewing the OneNote on the topic).
  • The platform will be all about primarily self-directed learning, but allow for "freemium" options for blended learning that includes an assigned mentor who handles questions via chat or email, up to and including scheduled synchronous video coaching.
  • The winner will figure out how to integrate with other platforms to provide content, e.g., if the best coverage of a topic is a monetized YouTube video, it can be integrated simply with the channel, and the author gets paid fairly, and everybody wins.
  • Speaking of authors, the winner will allow authors to make more money than just for the training by offering upgrade options to eBooks, online synchronous training, etc. And there should be a freemium model like you see on YouTube today, for example, the author is a singing coach; she has a series of videos with basic tips that are useful and demonstrate competence, e.g., here's how you improve your vocal range, here's how to sustain long notes, here's how to breath.  Then she can upsell here video series, her remote teaching sessions, etc.
  • The winner present a new earning  opportunity to traditional brick and mortar training firms as they shift to more of an AirBnB model for training delivery.
  • The winner will give the clearest picture around the 'tribe' for the topic--while I'm learning, for example, about DevOps,I want to know who the chief and current experts are, have their materials within easy reach to consume or buy, and interact with my 'tribe'--people who are learning the topic right now, people who have just gone through it--I want to benefit from that. This is where I think Lynda has a potential huge leg up being part of LinkedIn.
  • Consumers will be able to consume the content of popular devices; it goes without saying the content should be accessible and render properly on a variety of devices.
  • Speaking of devices, the platform must allow consumers to interact with the content with ALL of their devices; so for example I'm going through a course on my tablet, and I can take quizzes for it on my smartphone; I am taking the virtual instructor led portion that is live, and I can answer polling questions on my smartphone.

Okay, so this isn't a comprehensive list, but we should be able to see where this is going. Bricks and mortar has a new 'AirBnB'-type role in learning; learning is digital, self-directed, subscription-based. There is a shake-out over the next few years based on business model and ability to execute. May the best firm win!








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