Understanding the Landscape
As Brandon Hall Group’s newest Senior Analyst, one of my first official duties (aside from writing this blog) was to attend the eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions 2012 conference in Orlando, FL. What I found there was an astounding number of learning technology vendors that until that moment, I had no idea existed. Please, do not let that statement tarnish my burgeoning reputation as an industry analyst. For the past several years I have been conducting research in the space where learning and technology intersect, but I, like many buyers in today’s market, focused my attention at the time on the solution providers that had the greatest market share and the largest marketing budgets.
At the Learning Solutions event, I met several representatives from these smaller yet important solution providers, and it was great to see the passion they have for what they do and who they serve. Competition drives innovation and progress, and a market that supports all levels of solution providers is healthy. It can only help buyers to have so many options when it comes to learning technology solutions, but I also understand that it can make purchasing decisions difficult. I hope that the experience and knowledge I bring to Brandon Hall can help make those decisions easier for you and your organizations.
Sharing my Expertise
I have spent quite a bit of time during the last few years focused on the use of both social media tools and mobile devices in the delivery and facilitation of learning. Sometimes, when you are so wrapped up in something and spend every day thinking and writing about it, you get fooled into thinking it’s more widespread than it really is. But in speaking to companies and looking at what the buyers and solution providers are struggling with in this space, I am reminded just how nascent these technologies really are.
In the 90’s and early 00’s I worked in the music industry. In fact, during the dot com bubble, I worked for a digital media company that encoded music and video for the internet. We were also working on projects aimed at delivering music via cell phones, which was basically science fiction at the time. I bring this up because I see the way the music industry reacted to digital music as very similar to how the learning industry is approaching social media and mobile devices today.
At the time, a big part of my job was convincing the record companies that it was not only okay, but beneficial to them to have their music encoded and stored digitally. It was like pulling teeth. They couldn’t see how they could make money and they felt they were losing content control of their product (sound familiar?). The market was shifting around them, and they were unable to look beyond their current experiences. It took the big record labels years to figure out their digital strategies, and the number of opportunities missed is immeasurable. However, many smaller labels and independent organizations took advantage of the new approaches to delivering music quickly. In this day and age, can you imagine a record executive deciding that their music label would not have their music available on iTunes? Never!
Exposing Learning Functions to the Future
I’ve found that learning functions also fall along these same wide spectrums when it comes to realizing the shift taking place in their world today. Sales and marketing functions have been dealing with the consumerism of their functions for several years – and have been embracing the social and mobile aspects of their work environments very quickly. Many learning organizations, on the other hand, had have not embraced these new technologies. Although I’ve met learning organizations that have embraced the new learning approaches, other seem to want to sit back and see if social networking will go the way of the pet rock., and mobile is just too confusing to even consider for those same organizations.
Learning needs to get ahead of the curve for once. Right now, the solution providers are in the driver’s seat, because the buyers don’t know what they want. So the solution providers design solutions for problems but these solutions may not be good solutions for a company’s needs. If companies could figure out what they want from these new technologies then vendors will start to deliver. The new discussion is about the ways that people learn and social media is simply a technological representation of how people tend to collaborate and interact in real life. Mobile devices are simply the next delivery tool, falling in line behind the chalkboard, the CD-ROM, and the laptop.
So, that takes me back to the sea of small to mid-size technology vendors that exist. These are the companies that are nimble and hungry enough to develop really innovative solutions, but the buyers need to become much more savvy with this many vendors in the market. It’s time to get familiar with concepts like the Cloud (hint: it’s the Internet), HTML5 (web videos without Flash) and the Semantic Web (the Internet gets smart). If you have no idea what you need, you’ll end up with something you don’t want.
I look forward to taking these technology journeys with our members and finding out what people are trying to accomplish. I also look forward to learning more about what the vendors are offering and which direction learning technology may go next. So to those whom I’ve already met, thank you for your warm welcome, and to the rest, I can’t wait to talk with you!
Brandon Hall Group