As the CEO of Web Courseworks, Amber Winter is committed to helping their clients maximize value and deliver high-quality, impactful professional development to their learners.
In this episode of the Leading Learning Podcast, Jeff talks to Amber about her transition to the CEO role, the state of the learntech industry, and which trends are having an impact on learning businesses and learntech. They also talk about opportunities and threats for associations in the current learning landscape and what learning businesses can do to stand out.
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[00:00] – Intro
Stepping into a CEO Role
[01:38] – What’s the shift been like into your new role as CEO?
Amber says it’s a challenge—but a fun and exciting challenge.
[02:35] – Are there specific things you’ve been doing to get up to speed for the role?
Amber has been participating in Vistage, a peer group for CEOs. She also went through a Harvard Business School online program that shore up her skills and knowledge in finance. She’s been focused on her professional development to tackle this role but knows she has to continue to surround herself with advisors and mentors.
Lack of Younger Generations and Females in Learntech Leadership
[03:25] – Representation of younger generations and women in leadership roles at tech companies and, in particular, learntech companies can be lacking. Do you see that changing?
Amber feels very fortunate to have worked at a company where she hasn’t been discriminated against, but it is a problem in the software industry, though not in the association world. Amber does see representation in leadership changing and improving. Software companies are naturals for the flexible, remote work environments that can enable some under-represented leaders to thrive.
The barriers she sees are that current executive teams at software companies have to be open to coaching and mentoring. She acknowledges she wouldn’t be here if Jon Aleckson, the founder and former CEO of Web Courseworks, didn’t invest in her professional development when she told him becoming CEO is what she wanted to do.
I think we have to have an open mind and really focus on coaching and mentoring, regardless of sex or age. And making sure that we’re providing opportunities for people that are ready to excel.Amber Winter
Sponsor: Web Courseworks
[05:49] – Amber is the new CEO of Web Courseworks, and here’s more about the company.
Web Courseworks is a learning technologies company with an ever-evolving learning management system, CourseStage. CourseStage LMS is leveraged by organizations of all sizes to build a learning business and track education outcomes for proven success. Download the Web Courseworks guide “Four Ways an LMS Can Help Build a Revenue-Generating Learning Business,” and learn how your organization can leverage a learning management system to generate revenue for your learning practice.
The Investment Surge in Learntech
[06:52] – There is a lot of investor interest in learntech currently. There have been surges and bubbles before, but do you see anything special about the opportunity learntech represents in our current times, especially in the adult lifelong learning market?
Amber sees the hope of the investment as improvement of the technology, and so it’s exciting to lead a learntech company during this surge. With that excitement and that hope, though, real improvements need to come. We need to see the investment actually improving products and the technologies used to drive learning businesses.
Amber is especially excited about strategic investments that are happening when like-minded organizations work together to improve their products. It’s always a good thing when there’s more investment in the space, given the promise of improving the technology.
Check out our related episode “Learntech: The Next Generation,” the first episode in our seven-part series The Frontiers of Learntech.
[08:49] – When you think about trends, what do you see as the areas for the most significant positive impact in the near future?
Amber views artificial intelligence and personalized learning as the related trends that will make a big impact on technology. There are trends that come up—learning experiences platforms (LXPs) or virtual reality (VR), for example—but it’s also a question of what the customer is ready for. The technology can only change and disperse as quickly as what the market is ready to support.
At Web Courseworks, they talk to their customers and strive to be agile with what they want to do with the platform. They focus on how to improve their technology in ways that customers will actually use it rather than chasing the buzzwords. Amber is seeing real-life applications of personalized learning and how that can help the learning outcomes, engage learners, and add value for learning businesses.
[10:31] – How have you seen what customers are ready for evolve? What are customers prepared to do now that they weren’t three or four years ago?
Customers are smarter now. The pandemic forced society to learn online learning, which has been amazing for learntech providers. People are comfortable being in front of a camera, and they are comfortable with social learning. They’re ready for more engagement. So customers are ready to invest in higher-quality education—not just higher quantity but high-quality courses and certification programs.
One of the challenges with customers is accreditation rules and working around some of the realted formalities and requirements. Amber says they aim to be innovative and think of different ways to accomplish goals and add value to the learning experience.
The State of Learning Management Systems
[11:44] – Where does a learning management system (LMS) fit in the learntech landscape, which now includes learning experience platforms (LXPs), virtual event platforms, and more? Five years from now, will we still be talking about an LMS, or will we be talking about a general learning and events platform instead?
One use case Amber sees with LXPs is enticing learners to take otherwise boring courses. Amber is focused on creating learning businesses, and that comes with a focus in the LMS on marketing and personalization. Marketing and personalization are also features of an LXP, but LMSes have to cover those bases, and they are doing it right now.
Amber sees sense in going with a broader learning platforms term rather than trying to differentiate between an LMS and an LXP, but time will tell whether the market will embrace the broader term. She does know that there are plenty of features that a learning management system should have that speak to the “dream of LXP” because we’re all data-driven. We have to leverage data to recommend content and focus on the learning experience.
Problems We Couldn’t Solve Without Learntech
[14:07] – What learning-related problems or opportunities do we need technology to address? How do you see learning platforms helping us to address problems we couldn’t without them?
The learning platform drives the experience for the learner, providing engagement opportunities and tracking learning outcomes. We are surrounded by content. You could go anywhere to get any content. The learning platform providers and the learning businesses providing content need to engage learners and create communities around education. They also need to assess skills and the skill development.
Amber thinks her team adds value in helping organizations track and manage improvements, outcomes, and data around competency management and skills progression.
Opportunities and Threats for Associations in the Current Learning Landscape
[16:03] – When you think about that wide range of organizations that serve adult lifelong learners, what do you feel is the particular opportunity for associations?
Associations have great access to subject matter expertise through their members. The opportunity lies in capturing that expertise and repurposing and marketing it for high-quality education products, which are the foundation of their learning business.
[17:49] – Do you have a sense that associations feel threatened by other players, those using subscriptions to training and education for a membership model or Udemy, for example?
Amber thinks associations are finding the environment competitive, but associations are in a position to provide more specialized education than other players, such as universities, that serve a much broader market.
The promise of the association is really focused on that specialization, the specific industry that they’re serving. And they already have this member base that is their audience. But I have seen them expanding that. I’ve seen our customers focusing not only on their specific industry but like-minded organizations working and partnering with other associations to help each other and combine forces so that they do have more competitive advantages as well against the Udemys of the world.Amber Winter
Advice For Learning Businesses
[19:12] – What advice would you offer a learning business, both for organizations just getting started and for more mature learning businesses that are looking to grow and expand?
For learning businesses just getting started:
Content is king. It still is and always will be. You have to have high-quality content that is teaching your customer something and know the value of that. Focus on your content plan first.
For more established learning businesses:
Amber has seen learning businesses have success self-assessment products and test prep programs and creating education content that is specific to certifications and continuing education that can be tracked and adds value to the professional. Match the product you’re offering to a value proposition, making sure that what you put out is valuable to the learner you’re targeting.
What we’ve seen is actually a consolidation of content with our larger learning business customers…. I’ve seen more of a focus on, okay, well, these are our top 10. This is really our high-quality education products. How do we continue to improve those and focus here? Rather than trying to build out a vast library of things that will quickly get outdated. It’s more about focus and value-building in those programs that you already have an audience that you’ve seen success with.Amber Winter
[21:31] – Are there examples you can offer of organizations that you think are focusing and building value particularly well?
- The American Society of Hematology has come to focus on the programs that add the greatest value, such as their self-assessment program.
- The Institute of Real Estate Management created a certification program for property managers that relied on in-person, local-based courses before the pandemic. They are now delivering the certification program online (still instructor-led). This has been wildly successful over the last two years, and they’ve seen huge growth.
The Future of In-Person Learning
[24:00] – Are we eventually going to a place where in-person assumes the same role it had before the pandemic? Or have we experienced a fundamental shift?
Amber hopes it’s a fundamental shift because there’s the opportunity to increase the quality of both in-person and online aspects. Online education enables you to broaden your reach and enables education to happen without time limits or geographic restriction. The in-person experience also offers value for specific reasons, such as community-building, mentoring, learning from each other, offering case studies, and conversations that are easier to have when you’re in a room with someone versus online.
[26:03] – Do you feel like people are more willing to accept the possibility that e-learning can be as good or better than in-person now?
Amber thinks so, and it ties to the quality of the online education. If you’re sharing pre-recorded Webinars and calling that online education, that may not be the high-quality education learners might get at a conference.
The online education that adds value tends to be a bit more formal and holds the learner accountable. A lot depends on how online education is delivered, and the responsibility lies with learntech vendors and those using the technology to offer online education to make sure the product is high-quality.
Goals for the Future
[27:28] – What are some of your goals going forward? What are you hoping will happen for youself, Web Courseworks, and the adult learning sector?
Amber hopes to see those serving the adult learning sector become even more agile and change even faster to improve the quality of education. She also ways to see ways to engage and collaborate online that go beyond a Zoom meeting. Her company is focused on how to move forward using what they’ve learned the past couple of years to enhance the quality of products and outcomes. She hopes the industry will continue to improve as well.
[29:15] – Wrap-up
Amber Winter is CEO at Web Courseworks. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.
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