As the covid pandemic morphs into a persistent global endemic, Leo Blankenship examines the barriers to growth in the altered learning landscape and considers how they may be circumvented.
You know the effect that Covid-19 has had on your business. Or do you? This is more than a temporary labour shortage. The learning industry is engaged in a process of fundamental, far-reaching change which has only just started. Complexity is unavoidable. The threats are real, but so are the opportunities. Here’s what you need to know.
The labour shortage has been mitigated (or masked, depending on your view) by the dramatic rise in web conferencing platforms such as Zoom, Teams, Webex and a few hundred lookalikes. Although much of the basic functionality of such systems was already well-known, it took the pandemic to move web conferencing from ‘nice to have’ to a daily reality.
Learning providers and their clients have been quick to adapt. The learning landscape is almost unrecognisable compared to two years ago, or even one year ago. Pragmatism has led to the accelerated adoption of new technologies. Already, face-to-face ILT (Instructor-Led Training) and web-based vILT (Virtual Instructor-Led Training) are no longer ‘either/or’ choices. They have started to blend.
A shifting landscape
Growth in the rediscovered technologies has been explosive and it continues to accelerate. According to Bloomberg, Zoom’s daily active users increased by 2,900% in the span of just 4 months during 2020. Microsoft, Google and Cisco have also reported stratospheric growth from their Teams, Google Meet and Webex platforms.
Looking to the future, analysis by Global Market Insights Inc predicts that the video conferencing market is expected to grow from more than USD 15 billion in 2020 to USD 75 billion in 2027 – a compound annual growth rate of around 23%. But, as the saying goes, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Because this isn’t just about videoconferencing. Every part of the learning landscape will evolve. We will see the growing integration of technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and the Internet of Things, in video conferencing products and solutions. We will see the continuing evolution of augmented reality and holographic technology, led by industry giants such as Microsoft (HoloLens) and Facebook (Oculus), and social audio apps such as Clubhouse and a host of direct competitors.
Put bluntly, Zoom, Teams and Webex will no longer satisfy your clients’ appetites. They will not fulfil the desire for an improved and lasting return on their investment in ILT or vILT. User expectations have changed. The bar has been set a great deal higher.
Although Covid is still with us and perhaps always will be, the response of business in general and our industry in particular has been to embrace wholesale change. That will continue for years to come. So how do you take advantage?
Growth without growing pains
Your learning content is up to date, but is your delivery? Has anything drifted? Can you still point to efficiency, economy, scalability and effectiveness? To excellence?
Can you still grow? Or has the new learning landscape become a swamp for you?
Keeping up with rapidly emerging market trends is tough. Filtering out all the sales noise and marketing hype to identify the potential winners and losers, and how everything fits together in a harmonious, coherent, learning platform is a full-time job. That’s not your game. Nor, if you think about it, is the burden of delivery.
The challenge of managing and delivering the non-core activities that are essential to growing your business – the promotional campaigns; the scheduling; getting the instructors ready; preparing your content and supporting material; all the logistics; the administration of the course and issuance of the certificates – all in a way which is seamless and satisfying to the learner, is an immense undertaking. And the more you grow, the bigger the problem becomes.
Outsourcing could be the solution, here. Choose an activity that’s a real pain point and start from there. But what should you look for in a provider? That depends on your resources, budget and the things which you want to keep close to home.
Clearly, a solid grounding in the practical realities of managing ILT and vILT, and familiarity with the most popular learning management systems and tech stacks is desirable. A knowledge (and, ideally, hands-on experience) of the new and emerging technologies is also useful – especially as the relationship develops and mutual trust is established.
The shorthand for all this is that you need a partner who understands your business and can help you navigate a shifting landscape while managing and streamlining anything which drains your resources. You might not get all of that – you might not want all of that – on day one. But it’s a good starting point, especially in the current environment.
Adapt and thrive
Covid has forced a lot of change on the world: change largely driven by fear. The learning industry is no exception. But now we are finding new ways of running our businesses and the world is continuing its transition from fear to pragmatism. Existing technologies have been put to excellent use and there is a new way of working that seems likely to stay, not because of the drawbacks and dangers of the pandemic but because of the benefits delivered by the new ways.
Old certainties are no longer so certain. Everything is open to change. And by partnering with a supplier who can deliver the logistics in the way you need – and which is monitoring the market, examining the various technologies and analysing how they may be best applied – you will be in a position to capitalise on change. You can inoculate your business from uncertainty and attrition.
The adoption of new behaviours and expectations will bring rich rewards to some and, perhaps, a decreasing return on investment for those who are less prepared or who bet heavily on the wrong technology. Right now, the learning landscape might look like a swamp. Perhaps it is. But those who look beyond the hype and keep a steady focus on their core activities will be able to lay the foundations for steady and sustainable growth.
Meet Leo Blankenship
Formerly VP and GM for Learning & HR Services of Global BPO giant Conduent, Leo’s expertise ranges from designing and developing learning strategies to the implementation of complex global learning logistics solutions. In a career spanning many years he has led multiple implementation programs for Learning Management Systems, and Learning Administration & Supplier Management services, substantially reducing costs and improving learner outcomes. He is now Vice President of Operations & Advisory at KnowledgePoint.