April’s Learning Circuits blog big question is: ILT and Off-the-Shelf Vendors – What Should They Do? The problem is that ILT and OTS vendors are producing canned product in an increasingly flexible and changing world. Their products take time to develop, and there’s much competition from what you can find free-to-air on the web. What’s a vendor to do?
I believe there’s a pyramid of basic business stuff at the bottom, vertical market specialization in the middle, and then there’s organization-proprietary stuff at the top. The top should be custom-developed in house. Another cut through this is the stuff that every novice needs to know, the middle ground where practitioners need updates as things change, and then at the top there’s the ongoing negotation of understanding among experts. This is a framework that has helped me think through the tools we use for elearning, but also helps me think through how to address this problem.
There are several sorts of basic business needs: specific tool skills (e.g. spreadsheet use), basic business comprehension (e.g. ROI, Sarbanes-Oxley), and interpersonal skills (e.g. communication, negotiation). At the next level up, we have vertical market specifics, such as financial (e.g. what defines ‘insider trading’) and health (e.g. federal regulatory procedures). I think there’s a role for vendors of shelfware in both these markets. However, they’ve got to get better, as most of what I’ve seen isn’t informed by what we know about learning.
So, for instance, the ILT vendors need to wrap the F2F experience with preparation, and subsequently support the learners afterwards, ideally creating a community. And the software vendors need to find ways to tap into the benefits of social learning, by having at least virtual meetings, and again building community.
So the ILT and OTS folks ought to partner, and distribute what’s best done asynchronously through OTS stuff and what’s done better F2F. Also, we probably need to find new business models. For example, training for software and processes should be provided free by the tool vendors. So the shelfware vendors need to develop it in conjunction with the tool/service vendors. I think, similarly, that vertical markets should create associations that partner with a vendor to get cost-effective solutions developed to serve those markets (and that’s happening). Those will be the only roles for shelfware vendors, and they’ll be limited.
Other than that, those hoping to build a library and milk it like a cash cow are probably doomed unless they are the ones that create the demonstrably superior learning that’s optimally efficient in time, optimally effective in outcome, and optimally engaging in experience. Pine & Gilmore tell us that the next step beyond the experience economy is the transformation economy, experiences that change us in ways we are interested in (and that’s what Engaging Learning is all about!). And those that do create it will be the ones who partner with vendors or associations, or own the market in that space.