the april big question on learning circuits blog is about content vendors and how to help them solve their problems in an ever more competitive marketplace, providing more customized content, which costs more but sells at lower and lower prices.
around about 100 years ago, there were manufacturers who specialized in one thing - buggy whips. fashion accessories of the second half of the 19th century, buggy whips served a major function in transportation of the time. need to go a bit faster? crack! off you go. sudden stop needed? crack! you stop on a dime. the onset of the 20th century saw gas pedals and brakes replacing the need to get horsepower by cracking your whip. unfortunately the buggy whip makers saw themselves as buggy whip makers, not transportation accelerators and decelerators. as the demand for buggy whips died, so did the buggy whip makers.
flash back to the present and there is a strong parallel when we look at learning content vendors. clearly a new paradigm of how learners learn and how they access the content they need is well on it's way to being cemented in place. i left college textbook publishing after 14 very successful years of publishing and promoting course based textbooks. i left and joined carol vallone and barb ross at universal learning technology (which upon merger became webct) because i just didn't see the established publishers making the radical shift that is being demanded by today's marketplace.
i have no interest in bailing out or bucking up content vendors who refuse to listen to what the marketplace is demanding. so part of me agrees with tom haskins' leave a clean corpse post. if you aren't changing to meet the market, you might as well send out your finest outfit to the dry cleaners and prepare for the day when people will ask, why did they have to pass now.
wendy wickham voices the feeling of many learning professionals in what i need now. this is not a whining varuka salt, i-want-it now plea, but rather an understanding that learning and development at the speed of business is a "solve today's problem today" proposition versus a plan for tomorrow environment. perhaps we have forgotten that the rapid elearning movement wasn't created to eliminate vendors and instructional designers. rapid elearning's impetus came from the realization that we were taking 12 months to develop a training course for a product with a 9 month development cycle.
for years the content vendors had enough sway to make us learn and teach the way they felt we should. but it is no longer "buyer beware." it's vendor beware. if you don't want to provide what the customer truly wants, someone else will. a classic example is the explosion is the number of cut-rate basic functionality lms's that have hit the market. in the past few years to compete against blackboard, desire2learn, and moodle.
that said, i agree with claudia escribano in thinking about big questions and valerie bock in formal learning: it's not dead yet! that there is a valid place for content and content vendors in the learningsphere. high quality content that is priced appropriately has always been welcomed and appreciated. such content is focused on customer/learner needs and provides an extension of what can be provided by other instructional means (ilt, online discussions, one-on-one tutoring, etc.).
i'm a believer that good facilitators and good content serve as accelerators to the learning process. providing best practices, case studies, compendia of relevant facts and resources, guides to prerequisite information to support subsequent content, access to experts in specific fields, are just some of the possible types of content that can be used by facilitator and learners alike to advance learning at a pace that is faster that what an individual could do if they sought out content to learn on their own.
certainly, content vendors are struggling with the change the face today. that's to be expected. it's also likely that some of them won't make it through the change. but that's natural too. those who understand what their customers want, are willing to drop their previous conceptions regarding what content development is, and embrace new types and forms of content will survive and, likely, earn the types of profits they yearn for today. for those who are whining about not making enough profits or trying to convince us that we should change our approach to learning are just sitting being the steering wheel trying to figure out how to use their buggy whip to get this contraption moving.
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