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Learners Are Consumers, Too

Wednesday, June 13, 2018
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Just a few months ago, I was sitting in a Deloitte ideation lab at 30 Rockefeller Center looking out over New York City, feeling like a demigod of my industry as my peers and I started a robust discussion around the question, “Who is our customer?” We were debating whether our customer was the business or the learner. The more I’ve thought about that discussion, the more I realize that as long as we’re still having that discussion, we’re missing the point. One is our customer; the other is our consumer.

Let’s back up for a moment and identify the difference between a customer and a consumer. The customer is the buyer and the consumer is the user. You’ll know this example well: During the holidays, toy commercials target the consumer—the kids who will want the toy—and apply pressure on parents (the customer) to make the purchase.

Yes, the business is the customer, but we must recognize that the learner is the consumer. And as a consumer, shouldn’t the learner drive decisions around our content, our technology, and our experiences?

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that we ignore the business. I’m not asking that we abandon the belief that we must produce business results. I am suggesting that we start thinking of our learners as consumers—empowered, choice-making, critical-thinking, credit card–carrying consumers—because they are. Learning is becoming a free market, and we’d better catch up with that concept quickly.

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If we start treating our learners like consumers, the game will fundamentally change. If, with each product we release, we ask ourselves the critical question, “Would they buy it?” the level of innovation, the quality of our design, and our focus on experience will take a dramatic turn for the better.

Sure, this means we’ll have to put a lot of effort into listening to the learner about what they want; concepts like design thinking and user research will become a part of our work, too. We’ll have to become obsessed with delivering with more agility and getting to market much more quickly than ADDIE will allow. It also means we’ll have to stay at the forefront of new technology and pay attention to things like application programming interfaces, artificial intelligence, and personalization.

If we desire to be more than box-checking compliance and humdrum e-learning modules, we have an obligation to value the voice of our consumers in a way we’ve never known before. It’s our moment to begin valuing the person (the learner) over the process (learning) and let that shape our industry. This cannot be an iterative approach for slight improvements. This is a moment that’s going to require a radical transformation in our departments that resembles the digital transformation we see occurring in our businesses.

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

About the Author
Matthew Daniel is a high-energy, no-holds-barred, tell-it-like-it-is learning technologist with nearly 15 years of experience with some of the largest and most innovative companies across the country, and six years in one of the nations top ten banks - Capital One. While he’s implemented LMSs, LCMSs, Social Learning Platforms, and Curation Tools– his biggest success comes not in the implementation of the system, but in helping learning professionals figure out how to take their existing skills and experience and adapt to the digital age in a realistic way.

Matthew believes in building incredible learning experiences, not just events – that all begins with good instructional design, but it has to be wrapped in incredible user experience. Prior to implementing learning systems, Matthew was an instructional designer who built large-scale new hire and upskill programs for organizations like Homeland Security, the DoD, Honeywell, Valero, and ExxonMobil.

Today, Matthew works with learning software companies on product design, consults on learning transformation, and inspires learning professionals to adopt new technologies and create amazing experiences to transform the lives of our learners.
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