Nine times out of ten, the story of learning product design is of evolution and iteration that builds on already existing content and subject matter expertise to expand the delivery model. The product strategy may start with in-person training (ILT), expand to virtual training (VILT) to achieve scale and bring costs down, and then, for some, a further expansion into self-paced or on-demand courseware offerings.
As learning organizations reflect upon their product line or services, the question to answer is whether these iterations were reactive or truly explorative? How much time was spent to research the market, evaluate technologies, or engage in creative exploration? All too often, learning organizations are in a hurry to meet a market opportunity, match a competitor, or fill a gap. As a result, they don’t take the time to truly stop, reflect, explore, and be creative.
Learning product ideation is a valuable exercise that delivers value to your learning business in so many ways. It should also be far broader than the learning experiences alone, to encompass your entire delivery and business model. Casting a wider business model exploration that considers differentiation, business growth, profitability, technical scalability, talent, and more will help build a better business with better products.
Here are some ideas to consider as you think about your learning delivery growth.
Most organizations already have a place to start, such as in-person training materials, virtual trainings content, videos, and eBooks. It’s even better if you already have a captive audience or successful learning business as there is less question about the market opportunity or risk. These valuable products and artifacts are a key platform to expand upon. Your track record with learning product performance and the market conditions can then begin to dictate your next logical next steps.
These days, we hear the terms “consumer-grade experiences” or “Netflix-like experiences” being used more frequently in learning product design—and for good reason. Modern learners (and buyers) want more than just digital delivery of clipart in a hundred-slide PowerPoint presentation.
Of course, the quality of the product is conveyed through exceptional instruction and subject-matter, but the full story is even more than that. Visual design is critical and has enormous bearing on the perception of quality by the learner. User experience design is also important for making it easy for the learner to find what they need within a well-conceived interface. The important work is in taking the time to consider how your brand is reflected through your learning products. Define a positioning statement up front and work to understand how those brand attributes can be conveyed in your product line. This also sets a sound foundation for the types of products you create and the overall experience your learners have as a result.
It’s simple: Learners want to learn on their terms—any time, anywhere. If they don’t find an option from you that fits within their busy lives or personal learning style, they will keep looking until they find it elsewhere. When considering expanding your learning product line, do the research and allow yourself the space to get creative. For learning organizations, that boils down to learning product creation at scale. For learners, it’s about options. But this should not be daunting. Engineering a content creation process that considers your multiple end product options will create developmental efficiencies.
As you explore product options, start with the past learning delivery options that were popular for your audience. Then, get creative around those core pillars. Where you take it is up to you, but these core options are a good representation of what the majority of the market will understand.
For most training organizations, consulting companies, and certification providers, in-person delivery has been a standard offering for many years. It’s still as popular as ever, and a valuable alternative as part of the product suite. However, in-person can be costly for both the organizations and the market, since flights, hotels, and other costs eat into margins.
Much like ILT, virtual training delivery remains incredibly popular, providing access to the experts but cutting out the travel and hotels and easing cost for the organizations and the market. This form of learning still has scalability issues, as you need to have trainers available at specific times to deliver training.
On-Demand learning is another string to your bow, offering the anytime/anywhere approach for a learner. A course can be created once and delivered many times, which offers incredible flexibility and provides high-margin return. There are many flavors to explore here, from entirely self-paced to semi-asynchronous. An example scenario would be a cohort who studies at their own pace each week with new content rolling out the following week. These can be instructor-led, as well, with assignments, feedback, and chat rolled into the experience.
If you are avidly involved in learning, you will have heard a great deal about micro-learning and micro-credentialing. These bite-sized learning offerings are designed to provide learning experiences for busy lives who need to learn in quick bursts. It is popular and scalable, but requires a large body of content and the update and release new content all the time. This is an effective offering by itself or when combined with the other formats outlined above.
Blended learning is the pure definition of the concept “more than the sum of the parts.” The real power of all of these approaches comes when they are combined, mixed, or matched. Whether you offer multiple learning options or curate “learning pathways” to mix your learning experiences together as program pathways—such as an in-person course that mixes on-demand courses and micro-learning reading—blending can be a powerful strategy.
This is extremely hard to scale but very effective and high-cost. It’s unlikely that you could to build a full business from this option. But, mentoring can be a great value-add or upsell to existing catalogs of content.
Once you have assembled your overall product options, the next important component of your process is the packaging. Like every physical product, how your learning offering is presented, connected, and experienced is critical for the end user.
It’s crucial that you put a lot of thought into this. There are two key pillars of learning design: Experiences and Outcomes. The outcome is the destination and the experience is the journey. The true key to a differentiated offering requires an exceptional journey!
The importance of this area of focus for your learning business. Take some time—often—to revisit and reevaluate your product line. The world of the web changes quickly and things grow stale very quickly.
So, don’t get left behind.
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