5 Trends That Could Disrupt the Learning Industry

By Krishnan Nilakantan

The world around us is changing so fast that we realize today is completely different from yesterday.

It’s not an exaggeration. I follow news feeds from TNW (thenextweb.com) regularly—the quantum of disruptive technology being launched is mind-boggling. The learning industry has been like a good kid sitting in the “B” stand of the big stadium, watching the action on the field. I am not indicating that there isn’t any action happening on the ground, but the impetus is not there. I believe it is about time things change. So here are my thoughts around what the change should look like in the next 12 quarters:

1. Creation of a Learning marketplace: We will see the emergence of a marketplace like that of Netflix and iTunes for learning. This will make things easier for content creators to easily create content and generate revenue from them instead of depending on large providers that control this market today. These platforms also will perform the role of content aggregation and curation. Products such as Pathgather (www.pathgather.com ), Degreed (https://degreed.com/), and Edcast (https://www.edcast.com/) are some early versions of this model. Many corporate universities, which support small and medium-size enterprises (SME), will benefit immensely from such a marketplace. SMEs then could compete with large organizations with respect to developing their workforce. 

2. Pay for development tools/resources and not for content targeted at knowledge creation: We soon will see a situation where content that is only focused on learning becomes free as this content would be created by community and crowd. The providers of content will start charging for the content that is aligned toward the application of learning and helping employees develop skills—i.e., capstone projects, simulated labs, performance support, mentoring, and on-demand support. Take the example of Udacity nano degree. Content is free, but you pay for the project and mentoring support. We can consider this as an early indication of what consumers are looking for. 

The content provider market must recognize this shift to stay relevant and protect their business. Current content providers are very much focused on creating and selling content that addresses the knowledge development. Making money in the content-for-knowledge space is no longer easy. 

3. Pay per drink: Many corporate universities are realizing that enterprises-level licenses are not paying off. Corporate universities are only able to leverage less than 20 percent of the available content that is directly linked to business-relevant learning. At the same time, employees use these licenses for taking courses that are aspirational in nature and do not have direct business relevance in many cases. These are the investments that do not have real ROI. 

CLOs are being questioned on every dollar of investment they are making, with the expectation that they are to get more for less. That’s because organizations are keen to put the money where there is a clear business linkage and relevance. 

I had a few conversations with Learning partners in which I asked them to present to me a model where I pay only for what I consume (pay per drink model). We pay for the minutes/hours of content we watched/consumed and not for the full course or all the courses in the catalog. It is a well-known fact that most learners do not go through the full content. They will only consume what is deemed relevant. 

Why should the corporate university pay for what their employees are not consuming? Bottom line: We pay for what we consume.

4. Algorithms will be the key differentiator of a corporate university: The power of the algorithms corporate universities use will decide if they are highly effective or not. We come in touch with the algorithms Netflix and Amazon use often. The use of algorithms in learning and development has been negligible. This situation will change soon. The pressure to create hyper-contextual learning that is linked to business outcomes are increasing. I believe we can meet the desired results by using algorithms. 

The power of the algorithms will very much influence the ROI of a learning intervention in the future. Who should learn, what should they learn, how much should they learn, how should they learn, when should they learn, with whom should they interact, who should they be mentored by, what projects should they do to improve retention of learning? These things all will be prescribed by algorithms in the future.

In the not-so-distant future, we will have a virtual self who will go through the training before we do. Guided learning provided to our virtual self under the supervision of an intelligent system will determine if we are the best person to acquire the skills. It also will identify gaps in the learning that our virtual self would have undergone. This diagnosis will determine how we would fare if we were to learn and apply the learning. The learning instruction would be tailored based on the learning that was obtained from the training provided to the virtual self. 

5. AI will take over the role of content curator and will do a good job: Artificial intelligences (AIs) such as Deepmind and Watson have competed against humans and have emerged victorious. These AIs have proven that machines can outperform humans. A few months back, we learned that IBM’s Watson (an AI) has created movie trailers. Watson did a great job. Also, we learned that AI has been trained to create a meaningful messages/image titles when presented with images. These are some examples of how AI is complementing what we do. 

Soon we will have AIs that will search content sources and curate content, along with a quick summary. AI-based systems will recommend sections of content that could be viewed/accessed by learners to get specific information. Such curated content will be hyper-contextual, and we will be able to cut down on time to train on skills and help employees stay relevant. 

In short, corporate universities need to transform themselves into digital-centric organizations to stay relevant in the coming years. 


AUTHOR:  Krishnan Nilakantan has more than 21 years of experience in the education and talent development space. He works for Cognizant Academy as director of L&D. Training magazine named him an “Emerging Training Leader” in 2014. He has a proven track record in learning strategy development, performance consulting, learning impact measurement, designing learning solutions, learning transfer management, and leading large talent development change programs. 


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