The Long Tail of Formal Instruction

Yesterday, Marc Oehlert was pondering how to develop a commercially viable model as we shift from the authoritarian control of learning to the informal, influential, and organic premises that Jay (and a bunch of us) are advocating. In December, I explored this transition as a move from aristocratic governance to the democratic distribution of rights. In The Long Tail, Chris Anderson speaks of the shift from centralizing to democratizing the tools of production and distribution. He is also insightful about how differently the customers are regarded as they are served by long tail providers - in keeping with the Time Magazine cover about us, Web 2.0 tools as well as cluetrain, permission and citizen marketers.

As I thought about Marc's question yesterday, I came back to this model of The Long Tail. I expect that commercially viable models will come by moving out the long tail, away from the current centralized controllers of content and instructional experiences. It seems to me that the T&D industry will experience the same "loss of revenue and dominance" as Hollywood blockbusters, the music industry's top ten hits, book publishing's best-sellers and headline news journalism. I find it helpful to picture the facets of formal instruction arranged by how centralized and controlled they are in order to develop innovations and business models in the long tail direction.

Mandatory compliance training - Everyone gets the same training if it's mandated by Federal law. The content is controlled by bureaucratic policy and the learners are regarded as "clueless idiots"

Certification cram courses - Everyone who is getting oriented in a new job, prepared to comply with a procedure, run through Top Gun School or certified in a software program -- complies with the uniform content of that specialty. The content is controlled by SME's. The learners are regarded as conformists and machines.

Timely briefings - Everyone who needs to know the latest news, changes or developments gets the same informative presentation. The news is controlled by changing happenstance and edited by transmitters. The learners are regarded as ants, soldiers or payroll expense.

Customized workshops - Everyone in a cohort receives the same combination of selected modules, exercises and projects - selected for their particular situations, challenges and breakdowns. The content is selected by the group or team leader. The learner is regarded as the end user and beneficiary.

Supervisor owned - Everyone who is a direct report of a supervisor gets involved in this upskilling, problem solving, and on-the-job troubleshooting of performance problems. Content is controlled by the supervisor who will provide the follow-through, longitudinal evaluations, feedback and accountability to achieve the desired outcomes. The learners are regarded as organic and evolving (i.e. botanical, composting, forest) processes in development.

Peer communities - Everyone in a "community of practice" receives the same insights, benefits of others' experience and encouragement to deviate from misguided policies. Content is controlled by the collective wisdom among the peers. Learners are regarded as resourceful contributors and collaborators.

Self taught surfers - Everyone who is finding what they need online and in the world is receiving the right amount, sequence and combinations of valuable input. Content is controlled by the learner. Learners are regarded as gamers who learn how to play, change their strategies and refine their heuristics in the process of learning.

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