Consumerisation of learning and keeping pace with the platforms

Sunder Ramachandran looks to ed-tech and the consumer market for the future of learning.

The consumerisation of learning narrative has been discussed and debated on the L&D conference circuit for the last few years and is driven largely by the leaps made by the ed-tech industry. The usual casualty with new trends is an overwhelmed and confused buyer, i.e. L&D professionals in this case.

Just as we were getting warmed up to modern workplace learning practices which include leveraging social- and mobile-first channels to support performance, terms like learning experience platforms and ‘Netflix for learning’ where thrown at us.

There are blogs that define these trends and a Twitter/LinkedIn search will throw up enough literature to get you to speed. L&D is notoriously susceptible to falling for the new and shiny and our partners in the ed-tech ecosystem know us better than we may acknowledge.

So along with some smart decisions we make, we also buy snake oil every now and then. It gives us an impression of being progressive and ahead of the curve, an important fuel to keep L&D’s self-esteem high. If you doubt this, just count the number of conferences and award shows our profession puts out.

The way we consume information, education and entertainment has changed and there is significant experience spill-over when it comes to our expectations from an enterprise system. This holds true for learning but also for any other enterprise-wide platform.

Building capabilities such as smart search, picking up low signals on the changing environment, social listening and building your personal learning network will deliver a better bang for the buck.

If our internal video learning platform doesn’t match up with what we experience via TED or YouTube, we get scoffed at. If the quality of our elearning is not on par with a MOOC from Coursera, the employee experience is mediocre. While we don’t state these explicitly in an engagement survey, we are all anchored in our experiences from the consumer world.

This makes all of us in L&D anxious at large and nervous in parts. How do you solve this? What skills and capabilities are required within internal learning teams? Is this a ‘build’ or a ‘buy’ use case? 
Whenever L&D is in doubt, there are always partners that come to our rescue.

So, if you can’t compete with the external platforms, stitch them into your internal learning management system. It’s a win-win as the partner community will let you believe. The immediate outcome is a rush that we are seeing from LMS providers to integrate with MOOC platforms like Coursera, video platforms like TED and content providers like LinkedIn Learning.

So an employee doing a short module on LinkedIn Learning gets credit on the internal learning system and has something to show for it. The parallel argument here is around open badges gaining rapid acceptance and a shift from recording every interaction that could have a currency of learning.

This type of joined-up approach is a B2B revenue stream for the content provider, a new go-to-market strategy for the platform provider and low hanging fruit for the corporate L&D buyer. Overall, it delivers a clear win as part of the ‘employee experience’ narrative that HR leaders are being held accountable for.

This is not limited to learning systems as we are seeing this play out with Workplace by Facebook becoming the new norm in enterprise social networking and Slack for internal messaging and collaboration.

It’s driven in my view by a well-intended but captive mindset which manifests into corporate talk like ‘We will create a best in class learning pathway for our employees’, ‘We understand the learning needs of our employees and have responded’, ‘We are committed to creating a great employee experience’. 

It feels like being invited to the buffet but being served by someone else. 

If ongoing review of enterprise learning architecture is the new norm, then we must be at this every six months, given the pace and sophistication we are seeing in the new platforms. Masterclass is a strong example of how delivering a learning experience online is getting redefined and I am sure they will be available soon via an LMS. 

In summary

My argument is that we must invest our energy in building the ‘learning to learn’ capability. I will put my money on the ed-tech industry, in their ability to stay ahead of us in interpreting consumer trends.

Building capabilities such as smart search, picking up low signals on the changing environment, social listening and building your personal learning network will deliver a better bang for the buck. The conflict here is that some of this involves disrupting ourselves as L&D in terms of how we are structured, staffed and what we are held accountable for.

I worry if we are focused more on keeping ourselves relevant as a function than keeping our employees sharp. There are no easy answers here, but we must engage in an ongoing dialogue. 


About the author

Sunder Ramachandran is General Manager, Training at GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals India. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached on Twitter @sundertrg


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