As one of the founders of learning service provider Skillsoft, Jerry Nine has seen a lot of change in the industry since he and his partners started the company in 1998.
For the 10-year anniversary of the magazine, Chief Learning Officer talked with Skillsoft’s chief operating officer about what he called the “sea change” in the L&D industry and what it means for the CLO.
How have you seen the industry change over the years?
The really big scale change was with the Internet. That’s where there was a profound change in the L&D industry because all of a sudden you had scale and reach that you never had before. [Prior to that], it wasn’t uncommon in many large companies to have 50 or 100 local area networks. But a lot of that wasn’t linked together. You had a lot of this stuff that was moving in the direction of scale but nothing like what happened when the Web came out.
And then over time, when we bought Books24x7 in 2001, there seemed to be another change with informal learning and how you address the immediacy for information. If you look today at people in their personal lives and in their work lives as well, people are looking for answers to problems in real-time situations. When we started this company in 1998, we were a single modality company going after a single subject area, which was business skills.
Fast forward 14 years later, it’s a multimodal world where courseware — or formal learning, if you will — is only one type of learning. It’s everything from social now to “referenceware” to simulations. The whole profile of learning and how learners learn across multiple generations has had a profound effect on the industry and how you deliver this to employees — because the boundaries have become limitless.
Just in the last 18 months, we’ve seen a lot with social applications — whether it’s our own with inGenius or maybe it’s Chatter with sales organizations. The way that people are harnessing their opinions and information in an informal way through social is another sea change that is going to continue to manifest itself along with mobile. Change continues to accelerate.
How has the market changed over that time?
Overall, the market is growing. If you look at the e-learning market [content services or platform technologies], the compounded annual growth rate over three or four years is still in the high single digits. We’re still seeing classroom be the predominant amount of the learning that takes place, but in many companies that’s being augmented by, and shifting over to, other forms of learning.
It’s not a market that is growing 20 or 30 percent annually, but it is a market that is growing nicely and it’s a large market — it’s in the many, many billions of dollars. Many companies realize that as it becomes more competitive in whatever industry they’re in, that talent is key as a differentiator. Despite high unemployment, there’s still a war for talent out there and companies are still competing to get the best talent.
How have you seen the customer change over that time?
If you look over the last 10 years, the chief learning officer role has been elevated and is a lot more visible. CLOs have really evolved to become more aligned with business goals.
You hear a lot about that, but I think they’re really taking that to heart. They have greater understanding of their ability to impact the growth of the organization. Many customers today really have a seat at the table with other senior business leaders that maybe 10 years ago didn’t exist.
We’ve seen a shift from a culture of learning in business to a culture of business in learning. Organizations now are applying the same processes [and] metrics — formal ways they measure their success — as you might see in other parts of the business, such as finance or program management or engineering. It’s been a maturation in terms of how they manage learning [from] when I got in this business back in 1995 or even in 1998 when we started this company.
What is the future direction for the industry and your business?
Technology in general — removing Skillsoft for a second — is going to be key. The younger generation coming into these companies expect to leverage technology as their preferred learning style.
You’re going to see a continued proliferation of technology-leveraged learning across a number of different fronts: shorter learning interventions, more rich media, videos and things like that. There will continue to be more blending, so the process maturation of these companies continues to accelerate in how they’re bridging the old with the new.
Mobile will continue to be a key theme. You’ll continue to see investments in process, measurement in social and mobile. When people have a business problem they want to be able to solve that problem immediately and in many cases they want to have trusted and vetted information so when they’re out there looking for answers they can get it.
When I got my engineering degree 25 years ago, you had to memorize every equation. The new kids coming right out of college, they don’t want them to waste their time memorizing equations — they just want them to know how to use the tool to get to the equation to solve the problem.
We’re seeing a lot more of that in companies, where they’re leveraging technology to solve the informal side of whatever the problem is and mirror that to the foundational learning they need to be successful in their careers.
As you look ahead to the next 10 years, what advice would you give to L&D professionals?
Many organizations are stepping back and taking a new view of the learning function itself. For lack of a better term, many learning professional are either consciously or unconsciously operating in the mode of supply chain experts.
The global learning organization in large companies is as complex, and sometimes more complex than what I’m seeing in other functional areas. When you’re dealing with generational challenges, cultural challenges, logistical issues, different preferred learning styles from formal to informal, classroom to e-learning — what they’re having to manage and how they’re having to manage that is as complex as any part of the business.[CLOs] have become the curators of a vast collection of multimodal, multi-topic content. It has to be delivered in different manners. It’s not just the LMS anymore. The LMS might be the backbone, but they’re pushing this content out to the everyday workflow, where people go and congregate to get what they need.
The essential capability for the L&D professional going forward is how they’re going to manage, acquire and deliver all these learning resources globally from a variety of sources, internal and external, while balancing the needs of the organization and the individual. Learning professionals are moving in that direction … because of the complexity that they’re dealing with. The L&D professional that can really take that mindset and really adopt his or her approaches will be the most successful over the next five to 10 years.
It comes down to people. Companies really understand that and that’s why they are putting in these investments and why CLOs are getting a seat at the table. At the end of the day, it comes down to talent.
If you go back 10 years ago, I was talking instructional design. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had that discussion. I’m talking to senior leaders now and it’s all in business-speak. The way they talk about their business is probably the same as if I were talking to a CFO about their business. The value they bring and how they are managing their business has really evolved over the last 10 years.
Mike Prokopeak is a vice president and editorial director of Chief Learning Officer magazine. He can be reached at mikep@CLOmedia.com.