Leverage is essential to the success of a learning business. It’s about helping learners get the maximum value out of their learning experiences and it’s basically the key to maximizing reach, revenue, and impact. So creating leverage for ourselves – and much more importantly, our learners – is arguably one of the most powerful things a learning business can do now, or in the future.
In this episode of the Leading Learning podcast, Celisa and Jeff discuss this valuable concept of leverage as it relates to lifelong learning and learning businesses. They talk about the importance of vision and insight and also highlight critical ways to achieve leverage including technology, curation, community, and metalearning.
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[00:18] – In this episode, we’re going to talk about the concept of leverage. Specifically, how leverage works in lifelong learning and the business of lifelong learning. But before we get to that, we think it would be useful to put leverage in context.
What We Mean By Leverage
And first we should probably say what we mean by leverage, both as it applies to the individual lifelong learners and as it applies to learning businesses. For learners, it’s about getting maximum value out of any time and effort you put toward learning.
It’s about ensuring that learning is not simply an event—something you attend and then mostly forget within a matter of days if not hours—but rather a process, something that continues to produce returns over time. So, invest half a day in attending a seminar, for example, and you should get many multiples of that investment in the positive impact the learning from it creates over time.
That’s the learner side of the equation. Learning businesses, of course, strive to help learners achieve that type of leverage, and there are many ways they can use even limited resources to expand what they are able to do, reach more of the right learners, and increase their impact. So, leverage for the learning business, is basically the key to maximizing reach, revenue, and impact, that triumvirate of learning business goals that we have discussed on many occasions.
So, hopefully that gives at least an initial idea of what we mean by leverage, but there is, of course, a catch. As essential as leverage is to the success of a learning business, you can’t pursue it in a vacuum and expect good results. You have to have also vision and insight.
Vision and Insight
[02:15] – And you need vision and insight first, so we should break those down at least briefly before heading into deeper discussion of leverage.
With vision, we’re talking about the efforts of learning businesses to help our learners see a path, help them to see where they could go in their life and career and also see the specific steps they need to take to advance from where they are now to where they could potentially be. That’s the practical side of vision. And then there is also a higher-level aspect of vision that is about the positive change we aim to create for the field or industry we serve. How will we elevate the profession and set the standard for the people who work in it?
So, that’s vision, but vision on its own is not enough. As learning businesses, we have to address how what we offer actually applies and creates value in the reality of the learner’s situation. We need clear insight into what is most essential for supporting our vision and maximizing our impact. Insight is about understanding existing circumstances and seeing how the vision might be attainable in that context.
And it’s really only after you have both vision and insight that you can most effectively make use of leverage—specific ways to achieve and accelerate the change you’re after. If you go to leverage without vision, you might be achieving and accelerating change that doesn’t really help with the goals you have in mind. And if you go to leverage without insight, you might be working harder than you need to—doing things inefficiently or doing the wrong things entirely.
We’re thinking we may devote a future episode or two to vision and insight, but for now we just wanted to make sure we note their importance and how they relate to leverage. The whole point of pursuing insight, and insight that is tightly connected to a clear, compelling vision, is that we need to create leverage. Maximum leverage. It’s the most powerful thing a learning business can do now or in the future: create leverage for ourselves and, much more importantly, create leverage for our learners.
Technology and Leverage: Boost Capacity, Increase Reach, Improve Effectiveness
[04:48] – So, now that we’ve set the stage, we can turn to talking more specifically about how to achieve leverage, and one of the key areas we’ll focus on is technology. While technology is definitely not the only source of leverage for learning businesses, it’s clearly a major one in our current world. A lever, after all, is a type of technology, and technology is fundamentally about creating leverage—but after we have a compelling vision, after we have insight into what’s really needed because then our choices about technology are clear, focused, and strategic, not just driven by the latest trends.
So, what some ways we can gain leverage as organizations in the learning business? We’re quickly reaching a point where technology can boost our capacity significantly by extending and enhancing our capabilities for creating learning content rapidly and facilitating learning experiences. In e-learning, for example, a platform like WildFire uses artificial intelligence to create learning content. You provide source materials—simple text, PowerPoint, or video—and then WildFire generates what it calls “active learning.”
Another development tool that uses AI is Quillionz. In the case of Quillionz, the AI creates assessment and quiz questions based on content you feed it.
And, for supporting and facilitating learning experiences, we’re reaching a point where AI-driven interactions can play a viable and valuable role. In 2016, for example, Georgia Tech added a new TA, Jill Watson, to its large Knowledge Based Artificial Intelligence (KBAI) class. Jill became so adept at answering many of the thousands of questions the student ask each semester, that few of them realized she was an AI-driven TA, not a human TA. See our related episode, Online Learning and the Future of Education with Ray Schroeder.
And there’s Jamie Good’s Takeaways chatbot. First released during the 2016 DevLearn conference, it’s designed to interact with users for about a 2-week period, starting during the conference and then extending beyond.
None of these technologies we’ve just mentioned are perfect, but they are already good enough to significantly augment the capacity of staff and subject matter experts. See our related episode on the topic of capacity, 7 Ways to Build Capacity for Your Learning Business.
[09:05] – And if you’re looking to augment the capacity of your learning business, we encourage you to check out sponsor.
CommPartners helps learning businesses conceive, develop, and fulfill their online education strategy. Their solutions begin with Elevate LMS, an award-winning learning platform that provides a central knowledge community and drives learner engagement. To extend the value of Elevate, CommPartners provides a wide range of online education services including curriculum design, instructional design, fully managed Webinars, Webcasts, livestream programs, and virtual conferences.
[09:55] – Beyond enhancing our capacity, technology can also, obviously, dramatically expand our ability to reach more learners than ever before. E-learning is an obvious example, but another area that is poised to play a dramatically bigger role in learning businesses is virtual conferences. Most of us are not reaching anywhere close to the majority of our prospective learners with our current place-based activities/conferences.
And if you look at the trajectory we are on with respect to climate change, there’s really no way we aren’t going to see a significant push back on conference travel and waste in the coming decade. Now is the time to seriously look at virtual conferences if you haven’t yet or invest in growing and improving any you have already launched. And, we’ll note, virtual conferences, really are a viable option for organizations of all sizes.
To offer one specific example, the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI) recently launched a virtual conference. They are a very small staff organization but because they took time to gain insight into their market, they were able to identify this as a clear, significant opportunity.
The last aspect of leverage we’ll touch on is one we find really exciting and significant, and that’s the way in which technology can help us increase the effectiveness and impact of our educational offerings. Tools like BoosterLearn provide an automated, structured way to help learners review, apply, and test themselves over time, following a course, conference, or other learning event.
And as a listener to this podcast, you might already be familiar with the MOCA Minute, from the American Board of Anesthesiology. This is an app which, again, provides for spaced review and practice—in this case of questions to prepare for a board certification exam. Check out our interview with Dr. Deborah Culley about the MOCA Minute.
We know that this type of spaced review and self-testing is among the most effective of learning practices—this is talked about extensively in Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning and we also interviewed Make It Stick co-author, Peter C. Brown. But historically most of us have not had the staff and volunteer resources for pursuing this.
And we’ll mention that, inspired by the work Mark Nilles, shared at the Leading Learning Symposium and then at Learning ·Technology ·Design, we experimented with some spaced review and boosting after our virtual conference, and we did that using a combination of e-mail and SurveyMonkey—so technology helps, but it doesn’t have to be fancy tech.
Aside from enhancing our organizational capacity, tools like these intersect with key ways we can create much more leverage for learners going forward. The key here is to find ways that learners can get maximum value out of any time and effort they put toward learning. There are many ways we can create this kind of leverage, but we’ll highlight just three more that we think are critical.
[14:37] – The first is curation. By curation, we mean doing the work of sifting through the volumes of content that flow through a field or industry and pulling out the things that seem to make the most sense and seem to be the most relevant for the curator’s audience.
Traditionally, curation has been a pretty manual effort aimed, for example, at coming up with content that you might share in a newsletter that goes out to your entire audience or is shared in an online community. This is still very important work because this type of curation creates common knowledge and shared points of reference across the professions we serve. This is an important source of guidance to our learners collectively. And it is worth becoming better, more intentional at it.
We think it’s so important that we devoted an earlier episode to curation, aimed mainly at the type of curation we just mentioned. We also have a video on using Feedly as a curation tool that’s very practical if you’re looking to get started with or improve this kind of curation.
Of course, in addition to that more manual kind of curation, it is now possible to be much more automated and personalized with curation. Tools like SelfStudy, leverage AI to curate personalized learning content, or Rasa.io, which uses AI to create personalized newsletter content based on individual subscriber interests and behavior.
These are powerful tools that can create a great deal of value for learners. We do worry at times, though, that we may become too intensely personalized and individualized in our learning, which leads us to the next lever we’d like to highlight.
Sponsor: AUTHENTIC Learning Labs
[18:13] – But before we get to that next lever, we want to thank our sponsor.
AUTHENTIC Learning Labs is an e-learning company that offers products and services to help improve your current investments in education. One key product is Authentic Analytics, a dedicated suite of visualization reports to help analyze and predict the performance of education programs. Organizations use Authentic Analytics to easily scan through volumes of data in intuitive visuals, chart performance trends, and quickly spot opportunities, issues, and potential future needs.
[18:53] – There’s been plenty of buzz about community over the past several years, but we don’t think we’re anywhere near maturity in understanding community as a lever for learning. Mostly there has been a race to implement community software platforms, and many—probably most—of these have resulted in listserves and discussion boards where very little of real substance is happening.
But we know that learning is fundamentally social, and we know that that learning spreads and multiplies through communities and the larger networks to which they connect. Our challenge with community is not so much one of technology, but again, of vision, insight, and prioritization. If we were going to put a single role in place in your average learning business, it would not be an e-learning designer, an LMS administrator, or a data analyst; it would be someone in charge of and solely focused on curation and community, with their activities tied to clear learning goals and outcomes.
We’ve been talking a lot about our activities as organizations, as learning businesses, but the final lever we want to highlight is about shifting power and responsibility to the learner.
[20:52] – This last lever is metalearning. Learning about learning. Learning to learn. It’s a skillset that the adult population throughout the world is sorely in need of. If you think about your own experience in school, chances are you were never really taught how to learn effectively. In fact, it’s been only in the last decade or so that we’ve really started to understand what works, how to learn effectively.
This is knowledge we must be certain our subject matter experts, our presenters, and our facilitators possess. Most organizations still have room to improve in this respect. But, even more importantly, this is knowledge our learners need.
We need to teach our learners how to learn. And this is something most organizations don’t do at all. Malcolm Knowles, the father of andragogy, adult learning theory, once said that it’s a tragic fact that most of us know only how to be taught.
For resources related to helping with metalearning, check out our recently published, An Essential Guide to Andragogy for Learning Businesses as well as our episode on the topic, Revisiting Adult Learning Theory.
And note our next episode will be with with Scott H. Young to talk about his book, Ultralearning, in which metalearning plays a big role.
Even without deep knowledge of andragogy, we think most learning businesses get that the source of change ultimately lies within the learners themselves. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. We can lead learners to knowledge and skills, but they have to drink them in, they have to make the effort to learn. We need provide thoughtful, active learning opportunities—and hold learners responsible for their part. See our related episode, The Trend That Isn’t: Learner Responsibility.
In summing up, we’ll say that it’s easy when thinking about leverage to think technology has the answers—that we’re going to be able to automate and personalize everything—but getting leverage right requires getting vision and insight right first. And motivating people to take responsibility.
[25:46] – Wrap-Up
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[28:07] – Sign off
- Reach, Revenue, and Impact
- Online Learning and the Future of Education with Ray Schroeder
- 7 Ways to Build Capacity for Your Learning Business
- ABA’s MOCA Minute with Dr. Deborah Culley
- Make It Stick with Peter C. Brown
- An Essential Guide to Andragogy for Learning Businesses
- Revisiting Adult Learning Theory
- The Trend That Isn’t: Learner Responsibility