A New World of Corporate Learning Arrives: And It Looks Like TV

Over the last several years the corporate learning marketplace has been under stress. Video-based learning programs, free courses, MOOCs, and hundreds of high fidelity technical and professional programs have arrived, but corporations have struggled to deal with it effectively. As I describe in the article “Digital Learning: Ten Things We Have Learned,” the net-promoter score for corporate L&D is negative, showing how employees have almost “given up” on the training department and now search for learning on the consumer internet.

Well in the last few weeks this tide has started to turn, as a variety of vendors announced innovative new solutions, showing how the fast-moving corporate training market is the center of innovation again. In fact I would venture to say that those who stated that “the LMS is dead” are going to be proven wrong – LMS vendors, like chameleons, are simply changing their stripes. I wrote that the LMS is “starting to go away.”  Well the tide has turned, and the market is rapidly starting to adapt.

The simplest way to describe the situation is this: today’s LMS platforms are “Learning Management Systems,” designed to administer, manage, and report on all corporate training. As I describe below, these systems are being complimented by “Learning Experience Platforms” and a variety of systems that manage MOOCs, micro-learning, VR learning, and content. And the concept of the “Learning Record Store,” a smaller more focused system to manage learning activity and analytics, has started to grow.

Fig 1: The Corporate Learning Landscape

We know companies don’t want to buy dozens of products to make their training departments work, so all this now starting to come together. And the new paradigm has emerged: it looks, feels, and acts like digital TV, the consumerized approach to content.

In what I believe is a very significant announcement, Cornerstone OnDemand just launched its new open learning solution, which essentially brings the Learning Experience Platform right into the LMS (CSOD is now the #1 LMS vendor by market share).  LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com) just announced that it is open to third party content, making it also start to take on the role of an LMS and Learning Experience Platform, and vendors like Oracle, Saba, SAP, and Workday are all moving this direction as well. (Read my article on Workday’s video learning, launched last Fall.)

The largest e-learning content provider SkillSoft, just introduced Percipio, its new digital learning platform, and it too is moving down the track to combine “learning management” with “learning experience.”  (Percipio does not accomodate third party content yet, but the plan is to open it up.)

Where is this all going?  To make it easy to understand, these announcements suggest a a shift away from the corporate learning management system (LMS) as the “center” of learning toward a new model where we view learning like channels or movies on TV.

Corporate Learning: TV Style

In my 20+ years in the corporate training market, I would say most of the software being developed was focused on managing courses in the paradigm of a university. You look at the course catalog, you enroll in a course, you start the course, and then you traverse through until you complete it. Almost all the business rules, navigation, search, and data analytics were developed in this paradigm, and it served us well for almost 20 years.

Today we just don’t live this way any more. We live in a world of never-ending streams of content, and we click on videos, articles, and sometimes long form content (I call it “micro-learning” and “macro-learning” ) right in the flow of work. So the entire industry has badly needed a new paradigm.

I believe it has now arrived, and we can recognize it as “TV-Style” learning, more similar to systems like Netflix or even Spotify than the college course catalog.

If you have ever used Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, Comcast or other modern video systems, you immediately recognize the interface. We see a panel of movies by topic or genre, and in a series of small windows we see a preview or image that tells us what the content is about. We then see a series of other scrolling areas, including “most popular,” “recommended for you,” and “just announced,” or “recommended because you watched xyz.” As in the TV interface, you can scroll down to see the categories, then scroll horizontally in each row to view the movies, shows, or channels you want to watch.

Look, for example, at Cornerstone’s new learning interface. It reminds you very much of a TV set, with all its various features for scrolling, horizontal navigation, machine-driven recommendations, and search.

Fig 2:  Cornerstone OnDemand New TV-Style Learning Interface

Imagine if you opened up the corporate training page and it showed you “Mandatory courses to complete this week,” “Recommended based on your current role,” and interesting categories like “Programs to prepare you for promotion” or “Tips and techniques for your current role.”  All , including much more sophisticated recommendations based on your prior learning experience, your job role, and what other peers in your company are taking.

Once LMS and other platform vendors launch this interface, you then can imagine a series of channels based on leading content from well-known vendors (ie. Pluralsight, General Assembly, Lynda.com, TED, and hundreds of others). These third party courses, which would typically be hard to find and perhaps buried in the traditional course catalog, would simply be new channels – channels you can quickly find and easily browse at any time. And as the screen shot below points out (from Edcast), people can be channels too.

Fig 3: Edcast TV Interface

And to help make this new world even more exciting and useful, the platforms now enable your company to let any employee publish any instructional content (video, document, powerpoint, audio, blog) and publish them by topic as well. So you can expect to see “channels” like “most read by your peers” or “most popular by your team” making it finally possible to socialize internal content in a compelling and easy to use interface. Fig 3: Edcast TV Interface

To make the system customizable, users and administrators can create lists of courses and content objects to focus on a topic, learning objective, or course outcome. Cornerstone calls these “Playlists,” Pathgather calls them “Paths,” Degreed calls them “Pathways,” Edcast calls them “Channels,” Saba calls them “Collections,” but they are all essentially similar. In the new paradigm, these playlists can be curated (i.e. you can recommend them), rated (five stars), and they have comments sections and other tools to let people socialize them. In most big companies these playlists are expected to become dynamic, user-generated programs, available alongside formally developed programs built by L&D or other professionals.

Fig 4: LinkedIn Learning, Which Now Supports User-Developed Content

Not A New Idea, but Now Implemented Effectively

I have to say, all these ideas are not new. The platform Jambok, which was acquired by SAP in 2012 (and is now called SAP JAM), did much of these things years ago – and platforms like Wisetail, Fuse, and other innovators have had these kinds of interfaces for a few years. And of course the fast-growing vendors like Degreed, EdCast (which already calls itself “The Netflix of Knowledge”, and Pathgather have all made quite a business out of doing this – delivering a platform that sits on top of the LMS and delivers this interface without messing with your underlying infrastructure.

What’s really new is that now, at long last, the major LMS vendors themselves have implemented these solutions, so they can blend the TV-style learning experience with the compliance, job-related programs, onboarding, career transition, and other structured programs right into the environment. Prior to this period companies had to spend millions of dollars on their LMS and then take years to develop all their formal, structured programs (which I call “macrolearning”) and then buy a totally separate system to deliver agile, rapidly developed “microlearning” which sat on top. Today these are coming together, finally giving training departments a whole new option to just “start over” with their LMS strategy and build a modern solution from the bottom up. And I expect the LMS vendors to focus next on Micro-Learning functionality (read about Spaced Learning in my prior article), machine recommendations, and implementing their own Learning Record Store (Saba has done this).

Don’t get me wrong:  all these new announcements are still young. In nearly every case the LMS vendor-provided “TV Learning Solution” is not 100% perfect quite yet, and most have yet to develop deep relationships with all the third party vendors they need to give you a truly integrated consumer experience. And while the promise of “machine generated recommendations” is powerful, there are still many issues to work out (ie. how do I align my TV channels to my job architecture, skills taxonomy, or career paths?).

But it’s clear to me that this shift has now occurred, and the new world of “TV-Style Learning” is here, ready for corporate buyers to jump in.  Look at how LinkedIn recommends content, for example.

Here’s an example of how “Pathways” or playlists work and can be curated, shown in Degreed.

How course “discovery” now works, where users can browse, search, and quickly find courses and micro-learning through facets and easy-to-use search criteria. (Pathgather shown below.)

How Will The Vendor Market Change?

With all these new vendors entering the market (Learning Experience Platforms, Micro-Learning Platforms, Content Providers, and more) the big question to consider is “who will win?”  Should you go out and buy a Learning Experience Platform or wait for your LMS vendor to build the “TV-Style” learning you need?

Right now it’s going to be a bit messy. Some of the LMS vendors (Cornerstone, Workday, and SAP), are well along with their TV-Style learning and they have already invested heavily in third-party content integration (many use OpenSesame to do this) to give you lots of channels.  But it’s going to be like real TV: some exclusive content is only on Netflix, some is on Hulu, some is on Amazon Video, and some is on other platforms.

One more point. There is a new interface coming: conversations. If you have used an Amazon Echo or Google Now, you understand the power of the conversational interface. Imagine simply asking your learning system “Can you help me with X?”  This conversational interface has arrived at home (I can actually talk with my TV through my Comcast remote control). It will also come to corporate learning.  Let me show you a simple conversational interface available today from Edcast – it’s another exciting part of “TV World.”

The key right now is to make sure you select tools that are clearly moving int this direction. If you have invested hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in a particular LMS and that vendor does not yet deliver the TV-style open learning platform you want, you’ll probably find yourself with multiple platform providers. This is not a bad thing, but you should just be aware that over time these should become totally integrated, and the vendors are now all going in the same direction.

The positive thing I see is that the LMS market itself, which is over $4 billion in size and represents many tens of billions of dollars of investment, integration work, and embedded business rules, has now woken up to the new world, and the “TV-Style Learning” interface is becoming standard, making it easier than ever for vendors to jump in and join the fray.

  • Neil Von Heupt

    I worry about this Josh. Whilst I love my Netflix, Stan and Spotify and the associated personalisation of the user experience, I’m never satisfied with the restricted offerings. It all gets a bit vanilla, with everyone exchanging binge marathon stories about the same shows, the same pop-culture references, the same bands and the suggestions of other (vanilla) things I might like because I liked X.

    With a $4B industry at stake, is this an attempt to make the LMS look relevant, but people will still be learning outside the LMS, informally, socially? Will people notice that their thinking, their learning, their language, their career are all being shaped by someone else’s agenda?
    Just saw a production of 1984. “They will not look up from their screens long enough to notice what’s happening”. Hmmm.

  • gpm

    Thanks Josh Bersin for your complete and detailed article, very enlightening for all those who have worked for years in the eLearning strategy, because we are interested in continuing to learn and motivating people to enjoy the process of knowing. The eLearning orientation towards a netflix content grid is very visual, fast and practical. I would also include two elements facing the user’s dashboard where he can see his learning progress with the appearance of either percent or general progress bar (not just for each course), if there is one I have not yet seen it. It would help and encourage social collaborative learning to include a feedback section where the user or colleagues can value, express opinions and help improve the content and its presentation. And yes there would be a collection of soon or future releases would be the icing on the cake.