Ashish Rangnekar, a self-described lifelong learner, is co-founder and CEO of BenchPrep, where he’s focused on helping organizations digitally transform their learning offerings in the new digital world order. BenchPrep elevates and empowers learning businesses through their full-stack learning platform, aimed at delivering the best digital experience to drive outcomes and increase revenue.
In this penultimate episode in our series on the frontiers of learning technology, Jeff talks with Ashish about why the learntech market is slated to experience unprecedented growth and transformation, related trends, and potential implications for learning businesses and society.
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[00:36] – Intro and background info about Ashish.
A Transformative Time for Learntech
[01:44] – There’s a lot of investor interest in learntech right now. What’s different now compared to past surges in learntech investment? What’s the opportunity that investors see now, especially in the adult lifelong learning market?
This is an amazing and transformative time for learning technology companies and the entire industry. Music streaming has seen tremendous growth in the past ten years (from less than 5 percent of music revenue to more than 80 percent today). The education and training industry will see a similar trend, with more and more moving to digital delivery.
Three macro shifts happened in society, leading to this enormous potential for growth in learntech:
- The Fourth Industrial Revolution has brought massive transformation to society, driven by technology, and fundamentally changed the way we live, work and relate to one another. As this revolution unfolds, every professional, irrespective of the industry, and every organization will have to retrain how they work and operate.
- Lifelong learning has become an economic reality. Because of the Fourth Industrial Revolution change we are seeing, companies like Amazon and AT&T are spending more than a billion dollars on upskilling and reskilling. So much learning is happening beyond the traditional degree programs and higher ed with a focus on lifelong learning.
- We have entered an era of digital-first, digital-all, digital-only learning.
Seventy percent of learning happens on the job (experiential). Twenty percent is peer-to-peer. Ten percent is formal. What we have seen in the last couple of decades is most of the digital or the technology was focused on that ten percent of formal educational programs. Finally, we’re seeing that digital is driving all of it—not just formal, but social and experiential as well. And that shift has opened up the market 10X.Ashish Rangnekar
All these things were already happening, but the pandemic accelerated everything by at least five years. The potential in the next ten years is once in a lifetime, so it’s not surprising there’s been a lot of investor interest.
The Frontiers of Learning Technology
[07:11] – When you think about the phrase “frontiers of learning technology” what comes to mind?
Ashish thinks of Andy Grove, ex-CEO of Intel and author of Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company, and his 10X change concept. It’s a moment that signifies change so big, that all bets are off. The frontiers of learntech are the technologies, concepts, business models, and organizations that are leading a 10X change.
The Near Future of Learntech
[08:26] – Which trends in learntech have the most potential for significant positive impact in the next three years or so?
Data is an area where we’ve only started to scratch the surface and that can drive 10X change.
Our collective ability to leverage data, I think, can truly transform our ability to drive learning and business outcomes. And not just there. I think if we leverage, collect, analyze, and deploy the right data models, it can bring equity and access to learning like never, never before.Ashish Rangnekar
As things go digital, it’s easier to collect data. It has become cheap to collect and store data over the last ten years. The technology has made it possible to truly collect and store every click and response for every single learning activity.
We are still in the first phase of a transformation where everyone is focused on data collection, and we need to quickly get into the second phase of deploying insights gleaned from the data back into the learning models. As we start doing that, it’s going to become cheaper to create content, we’ll be able to drive learning outcomes more quickly, and we’ll be able to innovate faster because we will know exactly where to innovate.
Many technology developments are happening in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and data storage, and those developments will have a massive impact in the next three years.
Over-Hyped Trends in Learntech
[11:10] – Which trend or trends in learntech do you think might be over-hyped, shiny objects distracting us from what really matters?
Ashish thinks that many of these technologies, which others may consider hype, are just a matter of prioritization and time. Organizations need to understand if they are ready for a particular technology or not. Whether something is a shiny object and a distraction depends on the specific learning organization and their goals.
Gartner’s Hype Cycle looks at where specific technologies (personalization, AI, machine learning, immersive technology, virtual events, etc.) are in the cycle of commercialization. The cycle covers five main phases (e.g., the peak of inflated expectations or the slope of enlightenment), and Ashish makes the point that how valuable (or not) a technology is depends a lot on the specific learning business and what its needs are.
The Near Future of Learntech
[14:06] – How would you characterize learntech in the near future? Is there going to be disruptive innovation, incremental innovation, or something else?
When it comes to innovation and change, we overestimate the time that it takes for true disruption, and we underestimate the time it takes for something that is next to us. Ashish is betting on net-net overall disruptive innovation—something he wouldn’t have thought pre-pandemic. However, the disruptive innovation will happen through step change.
Many learning businesses fully understand they are going to have to make big changes in their learning technology stack, the way they operate, and even their business models. However, in some cases, the technology itself hasn’t fully caught up, and that commercialization is going to take time. An example is video conferencing. We haven’t seen true innovation at scale in video conferencing yet, but, during the pandemic, everyone moved online, and that level of scale and commercialization is going to yield innovation over the coming 18 to 24 months.
The More Distant Future of Learntech
[17:28] – What might learntech look like in the more distant future?
The impact of learning and learning outcomes are very important. Ashish would like to see more of a focus on impact and outcomes than the learning process. He’d also like to see more innovation around peer-to-peer social learning. Social learning is an area where technology can make a big difference in the way we learn from each other.
Learning at the core is a very social activity. We learn way more from each other—talking to each other, watching each other—than anything else…. But I don’t think it has reached the scale that it needs to in the digital world.Ashish Rangnekar
Social learning is decentralized, in small bits and pieces and in multiple computing sites. Rather than being tethered to one particular instructor, provider, or course, Ashish hopes to see continued decentralization, where we learn from every single interaction in every facet our lives.
[20:45] – If you’re looking for a partner to help with your organization’s digital transformation, check out BenchPrep, our sponsor for this series.
BenchPrep is a pioneer in the modern learning space, digitally transforming professional learning for corporations, credentialing bodies, associations, and training companies for over a decade. With an award-winning, learner-centric, cloud-based platform, BenchPrep enables learning organizations to deliver the best digital experience to drive learning outcomes and increase revenue.
The platform’s omni channel delivery incorporates personalized learning pathways, robust instructional design principles, gamification, and near real-time analytics that allow organizations across all industries to achieve their goals. More than 6 million learners have used BenchPrep’s platform to attain academic and professional success. BenchPrep publishes regular content sharing the latest in e-learning trends.
To download BenchPrep’s latest e-books, case studies, white papers, and more go to www.benchprep.com/resources.
Getting Learntech Right
[22:07] – If we get learning technology right as society, what’s the good that we might see?
At the highest level, if we get it right, we truly elevate human potential. Ashish admits that’s a philosophical perspective, but it is the impact of learning and training, as he sees it.
I truly believe that every human wants to learn and do better in life. And learning is an enabler towards that. People learn, people go through training so that they can get a better job. They want a better job so that they can maybe potentially earn better, take care of their family. And all of this starts with actually helping them in their learning outcomes…. Technology, which is a true enabler of that, can make the difference. So that’s what’s at stake. We can truly elevate human potential and have an impact at a macro scale if we can get learning technology right.Ashish Rangnekar
Getting Learntech Wrong
[25:01] – If we get it wrong, what are the dangers that learning technology might bring?
Ashish sees three areas of concern in getting learntech wrong:
- Allowing the power of AI and data to lead us in a direction we don’t want to go
- The enormous consolidation of power (which we’ve already seen with companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon)
- Society and learning businesses becoming pessimistic about the impact and slow to adopt learntech
If organizations are not diligent about how to leverage and deploy learning technology—or if they do it in a suboptimal way—then we’ll see suboptimal or unintended results. We could leave hundreds of millions of people behind because learning technology couldn’t scale to provide them with the equity and access. And that would lead to whole new set of economic and social problems.
Advice for Learning Businesses
[28:28] – What advice do you have for a learning business looking to effectively use learning technology and trying to decide what to focus on and invest in?
Associations and learning businesses are at a critical point, with a lot of opportunity ahead. This transformation is only beginning, so learning businesses need to think long term.
Ashish offers three major considerations for learning executives to think through related to the effective use of learntech:
- Identify your goal. Are you trying to optimize what you have or trying to digitally transform? Those are two different goals, leading to different processes and outcomes. Thinking long term, learning businesses have to go through this digital transformation, and sooner is better than later. Technology companies have to transform every five years.
- Identify the triggers by understanding the 10X changes around you. What is happening around your learning business that is driving change? This is where the 10X moment comes in. A learning business might want to transform, but it’s not just an inside-out transformation; it’s also outside-in.
- When it comes to the solution, it’s not about one tool or platform; it’s about a technology stack. Platform providers and vendors are part of a solution—they are the enablers, but not the solution. Start with the entire technology stack, and work backwards to figure out what learning platform, learning technology, vendor, learning management system, etc.
[33:45] – Wrap-up
Ashish Rangnekar is co-founder and CEO of BenchPrep. BenchPrep offers a learning operating system—a full-stack learning platform that organizations can use to build and grow their learning business. Ashish is passionate about learning and would be happy to talk lifelong learning, professional development, learning technology, and anything in between with podcast listeners.
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We encourage you to learn more about the sponsor for this series by visiting benchprep.com/resources.
[35:32] – Sign-off
Other Episodes in This Series:
- Learntech: The Next Generation
- AI, Data, and Optimism with Donald Clark
- The Future Learning Ecosystem with Sae Schatz
- Bias and Equity in Learntech
- Finding XR’s Sweet Spot with Sam Sannandeji
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