CEO Barry Kelly Reflects on a Decade of Learning Innovation

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Barry Kelly
October 3, 2023

This year’s COGNITION23 events have marked a significant milestone for us at Thought Industries as we celebrate our 10th year in business. It’s certainly been a challenging yet rewarding journey. These years have been filled with sleepless nights and hard work, and I don’t hesitate to say that our exceptional people have made it worthwhile.

Today, I got the chance to put a spotlight on Thought Industries’ impressive performance. With over 21 million active learners in 190 countries, over 30 million minutes of engagement, 51 million completed courses, and $230 million managed on our platform, the list goes on. And frankly, we never would have achieved this without the trust among my co-founders and our team. 

Reflecting on 10 years of Thought Industries

I got the opportunity today at COGNITION23 to share a bit about the history of Thought Industries, and why we built this platform 10 years ago. Back then, there was such a limiting gap in the market for learning technology that could suit an external use case. Organizations needed – and couldn’t find – a platform that seamlessly integrated content creation, commerce, and learning experiences. They were either building their LMS technology in-house (at huge expense) or they were leaning on vendors whose entire focus was on the internal corporate learner, forcing them into compromises and workarounds. So, we started our journey based on two foundational pillars: “Ultimate Respect for the Learner” and “Learning Business Optimization.” 

Ultimate Respect for the Learner

Looking back now, it’s almost hard to believe how under-served learners were 10 years ago. They were left with a one-size-fits-all approach to learning, with little to no personalization that made any kind of impact.

Respecting the learners who ultimately use our platform is truly an exercise in listening. Listening, to us, has meant identifying key problems and finding the best ways to solve them. Like most software companies, we are often inundated with “solution” requests from users and customers. It’s our job to listen, unpack the information we’re getting from the customer, define the problem, outline a solution, test and refine, and get it into production.

Learning Business Optimization

Learning is so much more than just courses. Even back then, we knew learning needed to be multi-channel. It needed to suit different needs and preferences, span videos, articles, formal learning pathways, both instructor-led and self-paced where necessary. 

One of our earliest visions for the product was to provide a way to build a course, merchandise it, sell it, and deliver it to the learner. Then, they’d need to report on the results – all from one platform. As our vision expanded, we quickly realized we were combining five separate software products. This was a combination of authoring, web building, commerce, LMS, and business analytics. 

Up until 2017, we had been focusing on delivering a great experience to external learners. But for learning businesses, it was becoming increasingly obvious that they needed to be able to deliver at scale. I remember two distinct conversations that really hammered home to me how important B2B scalability was:

  • The first was a requirements meeting with a health care training organization that had 5,000 customers and 100 courses. Whenever a course needed to be updated, a new version of the course was transferred to the customer. Then that customer would upload the latest version to their own internal LMS
  • The second conversation that stands out for me was around secure data separation. More and more, I was hearing that businesses wanted to delegate critical administration to their customers in a secure, multi-tenant format. This would allow their customers to provision their own learners, push out and update content, view reports and analytics, and manage and extend licenses. 

We’re so proud of what we built from listening to the market. Our multi-tenant feature, Panorama, has expanded every quarter since then. Now, it far surpasses any multi-tenancy or grouping functionality you can find in any other LMS. Today, there are more than 102,000 companies using Panorama, with over 41 million courses being delivered through multi-tenancy to over 8 million active learners.

Looking Ahead: Preparing for Disruption

The technology changes coming our way will impact every dimension of our industry. Every single part of the learning ecosystem we know is going to be disrupted and transformed.

As technology evolves, here’s what I think we’ll see:

  • New functionality designed to aid comprehension and the process of learning
  • New tools for instructors to improve their learning delivery and make administration more efficient
  • An enormous leap ahead in how learning materials and content are created
  • A revolution in how learning impact is measured 
  • Improvements in managing the business and administration of learning

As we wade into these uncertain waters, there are a few questions to keep in mind to really prepare for such massive disruption.

Ask yourself, where are your learning assets? How are you creating and storing new assets? Could you index them more intelligently, and break them down into smaller more modular objects that can be reused efficiently? You want to make sure that all of your assets, whether it’s text, videos, assessments, images, and even interactions can be accessed as easily as possible by any stakeholder. 

Next, turn your mind to the flow of your learner data. Ideally, you want to have a complete view of your user data, including their behaviors. It’s important to understand the learner’s interactions with Support and Customer Success, to be able to see their buying profile, their product usage, and even their community activity. Where is this information, and how are you using it? 

Finally, change management is always hard work. Understanding this new wave of technology is going to be your superpower, and that starts with mastering this very new set of tools. Take time to research and learn about the emerging technologies in your field, and understand how to use them effectively and ethically.

Technology continues to power forward, but one thing is certain: the future of learning is not based on what our platform can do, but what you ultimately do with it. We can’t wait to see what the next year holds for learning organizations. 


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