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Gatekeeping Stifles Innovation


Wed Jun 06 2018

Gatekeeping Stifles Innovation

One of the primary principles of any capitalistic society is freedom of choice. In societies like the United States, we pass antitrust legislation to ensure that no monopoly is able to take control of an entire market. Just imagine for a moment how frustrating it would be if there were only one LMS on the market, or one e-learning development tool, or just one training delivery vendor on any topic. Worse yet would be the moment when that one provider realized they had the market cornered and started to get “too big for their britches.”

Many of us have found ourselves in a vendor relationship that was too hard to get out of and your supplier didn’t really care what you wanted in the product any more. Maybe they sent you occasional surveys, but they didn’t do much with the results. They started to take you (and your business) for granted.


I don’t think it’s a far stretch to draw a line from that experience to the one many of us are creating in our corporate training environments today. We often (though not always) hold the purse strings for the training budget and we certainly carry a self-righteous attitude (even annoyance) regarding what we know about adult learning and what the business “doesn’t get.” Meanwhile, there are a burgeoning number of high-profile learning technology vendors and content providers, of which fewer and fewer are coming from corporate learning and more and more are coming from the tech or tech–ed industries (companies like Pathgather, Degreed, Lynda, Khan Academy, Coursera, Udemy, and Codeacademy that are converting into corporate learning tools). It turns out that often the business is working around us with their corporate cards or discretionary budgets to make development investments that better align with what they want or need over what their corporate university or training department is providing.

We are being disrupted, sometimes by the vendors that show up at our conferences and sometimes by something as simple as YouTube. And you know what? Good for the disrupters.

“Why is that good?” you ask. Choice (a free market) drives innovation, and a heavy culture of gatekeeping stifles a new approach. We will not be able to use blacklists, approval processes, and budgetary strangleholds to continue our role as gatekeeper. Our response to this innovation has to be to move further and further toward making learning content and opportunities “open source” and flinging open the doors to access the resources our learners are seeking. We have an opportunity to use money differently to expand content partnerships, consider curation tools over formal LMSes, and incorporate that content into our formal learning paths. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been in the industry for only about 15 years and I miss the simplicity of having only a few modalities, systems, and tools to choose from. What I don’t miss about that time is how crappy the experience was when there were so few options.

This free market of content and technology is changing the game. The learner is becoming an empowered consumer, and we’re being pushed to create better experiences. Rather than roll our eyes or sigh in frustration, it’s time to open our arms, embrace the complexity of our new world, and help find ways to open markets, not shut them down.

Matthew Daniel will be presenting Compliance Doesn't Have to Kill Innovation at ATD's Talent Development Across Industries (TDI) conference this October.


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