We’ve all experienced it: You buy a new car and suddenly you see the same model all around you. It’s not that everyone bought the car at the same time, of course—it’s that you’re now tuned in to something that was happening already. Similarly, here at Allen, we’ve begun to see common themes across our partnerships, and we’ve started to notice important shifts in the industry.
To us, 2013 has become the year of the needs analysis and consumer education. In the first six months of 2013, we’ve seen a 300% increase in these projects. Specifically, organizations are investing as never before in research to better understand how consumers and learners are gathering information and what influences are compelling their decisions. These new approaches, or maybe we should call them paradigm shifts for our partners, recognize that the vehicle an organization uses to understand and disseminate information to its audience affects how that audience behaves. It’s not just a question of knowledge or skills—it’s more fundamental than that.
In calling this trend a paradigm shift, we should start by admitting that we’re using the term in a less rigorous fashion then Thomas Kuhn does in his foundational work on paradigms in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. (There, Kuhn argues that a paradigm shift doesn’t evolve out of its predecessors, but instead replaces them in a new and surprising way.) But even if we adapt a slightly more open definition here, we have to admit that learning and analysis are changing rapidly, and in ways we can’t always anticipate. For example, consider the Khan Academy model, or the way the flipped classroom is changing the traditional instructor-centric models for the better.
Of course, as society adopts new types of technology, training professionals must evolve to leverage these new toolsets. And, it’s tempting to say, as a result of these new technologies, that the learners themselves are fundamentally different. But is that really true? Is it the learners themselves who are driving these new paradigms? Put another way, if you are a boomer do you inherently learn differently than a millennial? After analyzing Millennials, I believe that technology adoption trumps generation gaps. That is, whether you are 40 or 14, with the right immersion and instructional design, you can harness new technologies to advance learning. As a result, the changing paradigm that we see, while influenced by technology, goes much deeper.
If we look at this same issue playing out in another field, we see that this paradigm shift isn’t too far removed from what’s occurring in buying and purchasing. In the past 15 years or so, the factors that influence consumer buying decisions have drastically shifted, in large part due to the way we share and disseminate information. (For example, when is the last time you made a major purchase without consulting user reviews online?) These market and knowledge domain changes are critical influences on how we engage in not only buying, but in formal training, and ultimately the roles we play in and out of our jobs.
We at Allen believe these new paradigms in audience analysis and learner support systems will continue to strengthen in the next few years, for the following reasons:
- Knowledge needs for even the most simplistic jobs are not adequately supported by traditional classroom-based learning. The way we consume (and expect) information in sites like YouTube, Lynda.com, search engines, and other just-in-time learning sources are beyond the confines that any teacher or established resource can provide.
- Whether we approve or not, the content we create has to compete and evolve at the speed of a Wikipedia page. We will, willingly or not, have to stop talking about corporate training shelf-life and instead look at the refresh rate of our content.
- Technology has far surpassed the current state of traditional education approaches. People like Salman Khan are just harbingers of doom for an outdated system that is trying to support learning at a new speed that it was never intended to meet.
Of course, not all of these changes deriving from these new paradigms will happen overnight. However, taking the longer view, we see these paradigms continuing to drive better, learner-centric approaches, while less effective models of education and training go the way of the guilds of old. For now, Allen and our training partners have a small but vital role to play. We’re excited about the opportunities to drive ongoing innovation and to support the new realities of where our employees seek information, as well as to learn from changes in how companies approach marketing, behavioral research, and analysis. It will open our eyes to new possibilities.