Why Content Aggregators Compromise Your Learning Program
There is a rapid change occurring in the nature of work today, resulting in an interdependent relationship between the learning process, acquired skills and job performance. According to Deloitte, this is “an opportunity to build robust work-centered learning programs, helping people consume information, and upgrade their skills in the natural course of their day-to-day jobs.”
However, rather than plan and deliver an updated learning program to address these changes, some organizations recognizing the high demand for new skills have turned to “content aggregators” — sources who curate eLearning content authored by others and sell them as bundled libraries. With thousands of courses titles now in their arsenal, these companies confidently proceed as if the demand for new skills is successfully satisfied.
This initial response by organizations to securing eLearning training from Content Aggregator is not surprising. Over a 3-year period, between 2011-2014, most of VC investments in education went into companies that are essentially aggregators.
With this new influx of money, Content Aggregators have invested in marketing their brands heavily. Over time, they’ve successfully acquired significant subscriber counts, as shown in the illustration above, something they continue to do today.
At first glance, everything looks great. Content Aggregators offer large libraries of online courses to HR professionals and learning managers. They, in turn, extend opportunities to their employees to learn new skills. All the necessary ingredients for writing that perfect storybook ending is here, except very few are actually happy.
It all comes back to this main point that the nature of work is changing. According to Bersin by Deloitte, experienced workers spend less than 40% of their work week on tasks specific to their jobs. Employees are overwhelmed, distracted, and impatient, even before they are ready to start their training.
Somehow, employees must find time to learn, which implies that their training must be simple to find, with content that is engaging, and informative. Learning material must be presented as small modules that are easy to digest and fits into any busy schedule.
Unfortunately, this is not what employees experience when working with content provided by most aggregators. Selected by stakeholders to improve the performance of their employees, Content Aggregators contribute to an already dysfunctional learning environment, potentially compromising learning programs in existence.
How? Here are some common problems encountered with Content Aggregators:
- The Issue of Quantity — There is a tendency to think that larger quantities of anything are always better. But this idea doesn’t always work, especially with online learning content. Large libraries of courses tend to expose learners to many courses that are irrelevant to their roles. Extraneous content just means employees have to sort through inconsequential titles, just to find the training they need. Consider Netflix, who reduced their entire movie library from 8,000 titles in 2014 to 5,559 in 2018, moving away from quantity to quality. In fact, 93% of the movies offered in Netflix today were produced after 2000. What inspired Netflix to make this move? Perhaps they thought a smaller, refined, updated library was a better offering.
- The Issue of Redundancy — Courses in these types of libraries are aggregated or collected from many authors and organizations, so it’s not uncommon to find multiple titles on the same or related topics. Overlapping content forces the learner to choose what to consume, but only after launching and reviewing those similar courses. It’s also not uncommon to find conflicting opinions, and perspectives offered by the various authors, which confuses those attempting to acquire new skills.
- The Issue of Consistencies — Content Aggregators tend to focus on increasing their title count, with little consideration on how courses are laid out and presented to learners. Inconsistencies to layout and playback experiences mean users must adjust to the content they are consuming, contributing to frustration, disruption to the learning process, and overall dissatisfaction.
- The Issue of Updates — Online content requires constant and consistent updates, a problem when there are multiple vendors supplying online courses to aggregators. Content owners understand there is a cost associated with updates and often plan for them when it’s absolutely necessary, especially if there are no guidelines or requirements enforced by Content Aggregators. Beyond the superficial reasons outdated content may become distracting, such as obsolete equipment included in images, there is another reality that must be acknowledged. Skills-based content must remain current. According to Denning and Brown, “The half-life of a learned skill is 5-years.” If half of what has been learned 5 years ago is irrelevant today, what does this say about the information contained inside content libraries offered by aggregators? Employees could potentially be processing and internalizing outdated data if lessons aren’t updated every 2-years or less.
- The Issue of Management — It takes greater effort to manage larger libraries. Content Aggregators tend to organize content into categories that require additional refinements if employees are to easily locate specific training. Then there is the additional task of assigning appropriate content based on job titles, departments or groups. Complexity for delivering and supporting larger volumes of courses grow exponentially, as employee counts grow.
- The Issue of Engagement — It’s not surprising that learners gravitate towards easy-to-find content that is engaging. What shouldn’t be surprising is that employees are quick to share with colleagues which courses to consume, as well as avoid. Engagement is an important measurement when calculating activity among employees and learning content. For example, if Vendor A has a library of 6,000 courses offered at the same price as Vendor B with a library of 2,000 courses, Vendor A appears to be a bargain, until viewership is considered. If the same number of courses are consumed in both libraries, then the cost per course from each vendor is identical. However, Vendor B has a greater engagement percentage since their library is smaller, which means their learning content has greater appeal.
Let’s be clear — Content Aggregators are not intentionally sabotaging any learning program. But, it’s the unintended consequences experienced when quantity is sold as a benefit, with less focus on quality.
Call to Action — Take Another Look
It’s never too late to review what employees are consuming, but with a critical eye. It’s essential to understand what percentage of course titles are opened and completed. But, this is just the beginning.
- Review Unopened Courses — Open a few of those course titles never opened, then ask questions why they are not engaging employees. Determine if the issue is superfluous content without value to the organization, quality issues with the presentation and flow, or overlapping training presented in another course that is opened and consumed. Mark and track how many courses remain unopened, just to clarify the real cost per course.
- Ask for Feedback — Employees tend to be ignored during evaluations. Yet, their opinions matter most. Asking simple rating questions are appropriate, but it’s important to frame some that generate detailed responses. Explore what they thought about the content, the process for finding relevant topics, the quality of the library, and the overall user experience navigating through a course.
- Evaluate Performance Improvements — Sometimes, as learning professionals, we forget the ultimate goal of training isn’t producing the best possible learning experience; rather, it’s about producing top performers. Open any course in the library and confirm the training includes objectives and goals. Then review several employee performances after the training. Where appropriate, engage supervisors or managers. Affirm whether employees are improving, such as adopting newly learned skills and/or exhibiting evidence of positive behavioral changes.
Now, with all this data in hand, let’s return back to the salient point that the nature of work is changing, creating interdependence between learning and work. Building a sustainable learning culture is essential. We must look beyond corporate walls, real or virtual, and rethink how to make learning a daily natural process in the flow of work, rather than weekly interruptions in busy schedules to complete required training.
In 2016, Millennials became the largest generation in the workforce, defining new operational rules, as identified by Josh Bersin, dean and principal of Josh Bersin Academy. Millennials value learning and development offered by an organization over traditional benefits. New attitudes about learning and associated personal growth cannot be ignored if companies hope to attract and keep Millennials in their workforce.
Getting your learning program right is more than an exercise, as it may determine the future of your organization. Look beyond Content Aggregators who position themselves as the one-stop shop and aggregate your own collections. There are great off-the-shelf training libraries available to supplement any learning offering, where the course layout is consistent, content is continuously updated and organized for easy access. Take control of your learning!
Remember, our mission is for you and your employees to become a top performer in your industry. We encourage your feedback, so add your responses or comments on this blog below.
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