Preparing for changing opportunities

On the Learning Circuits Blog, in response to my Leave a clean corpse, Tony Karrer asks:

Is this whole industry really obsolete? Is there some other kind of business that someone who is a SME and used to doing courses and courseware can get into? Should we stop offering ID degrees?

I'm foreseeing four different kinds of business opportunities in the training field for the coming decade. Each has a congruent form of education to prepare for it. Each follows from the significant obsolescence (but not the elimination of the whole industry and ID degree programs) of vendor delivery of instructional content.

Compliance training: Bureaucracies will never disappear entirely, though I expect a significant shrinkage is in progress. Layers of mismanagement will always spend 50% of their training budget on administrative overhead. They will continue to test for conformity with ineffective policy requirements and user manuals. The best way to prepare for creating "check the box after you check your brains at the door" materials -- is doing time in academic bureaucracies. Sit in college classrooms until you get a degree in ID. Take notes on boring bullet points prior to cramming textbooks covered by machine graded tests of your short-term memory of the one right answer.

Systems consulting and implementation: Performance problems that cannot be fixed with compliance training -- call for outside consultants (like Tony) and inhouse liaisons (like Wendy). System wide diagnoses and interventions get developed. Blended solutions install new technologies while developing skills of the system users. Preparing for all this in college -- calls for faculty who use game-like instructional designs (like Karl). Cases, simulations, contests, and in-basket exercises replicate the politics, changing rules, conflicted constituencies and unforeseen consequences -- that are the daily fare of consultants and liaisons.

Game design and development: When an industry is dying or a product line becomes obsolete, systems implementation fails to fix the problems of the clients. Creative talent ventures out as free lancers (like Jay). Nothing in a college classroom prepares for thriving on a network of contacts, learning informally from happenstance or making a difference by prolonged conversations. The sensibilities to thrive outside the machine comes from playing games (and the college experiences outside of classes or sales experiences in the field). Games will get designed to epistemically adopt a role, go out into the long tail and monetize one's personal network. Gamers will create those "serious games" from their countless experiences with playing games and networking.

Market innovation and co-creation: Once there is a critical mass of free agents available to create innovative instructional designs, new support systems and aggregations of their ID offerings will emerge. Networks will reciprocate with a vast number of small providers like Walmart does with manufacturers, Microsoft does with .NET programmers and eBay does with sellers. Each developer of educational value will be listed, searchable and ranked like blogs, shareware and digital content. Each provider will learn what does and does not sell -- by being listed, searchable and ranked in a global, online marketplace. Developers will "prepare for this" by diving in and doing it, just like us bloggers and all those Web 2.0 entrepreneurs. Customers will contribute ideas, questions, alternative directions. The value of the offering will be tuned by the market and co-created with the users. The market will teach these developers to stop delivering content and switch to enhancing feedback, longitudinal evaluation, conversations, subscriptions to internal resources, etc.

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  1. Very insightful, Tom. I agree that the low-hanging fruit (compliance training) won't go away, but that market will get very competitive.

    Good descriptions of the other up-market opportunities, which of course will require greater skills and more right-brain thinking as you move up.

  2. Nice pattern recognition Harold. I wasn't even thinking about right brain thinking as I developed the four business models. I did have "Free Agent Nation" in mind. I guess this post should have included a "Daniel Pink" tag. Thanks!

  3. I think you are absolutely right noticing that systems implementation is a limited opportunity. I suspect that as the final "paper-based" industries (such as health care)catch up with the rest of the business world and become more sophisticated users - opportunities for implementation specialists will also shrink.

    I see this within my own organization. The folks more comfortable with the old version of our software seem less freaked out by the change and more engaged in how to use the new system better in their own environment.

    Where an SME with exposure to multiple organization can help is by providing multiple case studies for what works and what doesn't.

  4. Thanks Wendy! I think you're right that the switch from paper to systems integration will shrink the need for outside experts with some organizations. The docs you work with are a great example of being oriented to: take charge, solve problems and make things work. The "vendor from hell" you're enduring is the opposite example. I suspect there will always be hard core bureaucrats that can switch to systems and subvert it, play stupid and appear to need SME's to come in from outside and dictate "best practices". There's already signs of that where email is only used like memos - not for conversations; and the web is read only - not for blogging, subscribing, wiki-ing and tagging.