Tamer Ali, a seasoned learntech entrepreneur and founder of Authentic Learning Labs, believes in the power of technology to deliver transformative learning experiences. Authentic aims to address the challenges and elevate the status of learning within organizations through learning technologies and a global team to support initiatives.
In this episode of the Leading Learning Podcast, co-host Jeff Cobb talks with return guest Tamer about entrepreneurship, the evolution of the learntech market, and typical challenges for learning businesses. They also get into the importance of culture and strategy in making learntech work well for an organization and the key characteristics of a successful learning business.
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[00:00] – Intro
Using Technology and Other Tools to Elevate Learning
[01:22] – How do you typically work with an organization? What technologies do you put in place, and in what ways do you help them to elevate learning?
A typical scenario involves some pain point of delivery, experience, or data—or a combination of those—where there is some limitation, struggle, or friction that is preventing an organization from launching a program efficiently or on time. Another scenario involves an organization using their software for a specific use case.
Entrepreneurial Drive: Victories and Pain Points
[03:02] – What has driven you to start multiple companies and grow them?
Tamer says what drives him is seeing the impact. When he sees a technology-enabled education initiative rolled out, he realizes what he and his colleagues are doing has significant potential.
[04:52] – When you reflect back on your journey, what pain points have you learned from, and what victories have you seen?
Tamer shares a specific example and how the related success is what drives him to do his work. The day-to-day can bring many failures and frustrations, so you don’t always get to see success, but that makes remembering the highlights that much more important.
Arriving at a Suite of Learning Products
[06:48] – Your suite of products has evolved over the years. How did you arrive at your product mix, and what do you see that mix solving in the world of learning?
Authentic Learning Labs initially focused on analytics. It now offers an interactive video engine, a learning experience platform (LXP), APIs, high-grade hosting, and more. What seems to be an elegant tapestry resulted from serendipity. They actually started working on the interactive video piece but shelved it because the technology wasn’t there, and it was cost-prohibitive, and then they turned to analytics.
Tamer saw that if they wanted to control their our own destiny, they had to stay nimble and small and build the product themselves. They’ve always seen research and development at the heart of what they want to do, and R&D and innovation are central to how they attract and keep people. He wanted to make sure they could build something successful but also be niche enough that they didn’t wind up in a crowded, highly competitive pool.
Learn more about the importance of not getting into a crowded pool with “Blue Ocean Strategy for Your Learning Business.”
Authentic knew analytics, video, and the LXP spaces were niche enough to provide focus but large enough to offer a viable market.
The State of Learning Management Systems
[11:09] – How do you view the role of the traditional learning management system (LMS) at this point?
We used technology to solve a scalability problem to deliver education. The promise, though (and it is still unfulfilled), is helping learning be successful, meeting objectives, and using technology to help the retention of learning. When e-learning was first delivered, it was basically what was done in the classroom converted to online.
The LMS was really a school online. You came in and did it. But now, I think, embedding the learning where it’s relevant, when it’s happening, when it’s needed, to help measure the learning, to predict it, to potentially present learning that’s more custom and tailored to the person through curation automatically or through the user-driven curation—those are things that are promising.Tamer Ali
Tamer doesn’t see the LMS space doing as much in those promising areas as more niche players, platforms, and tools. He thinks the LMS will still be needed, to store grades and launch courses, but the other aspects of learning delivery and support can be diversified to other platforms.
There has not been a lot of innovation in LMSes. The investment money is going to the digital diploma movement of getting alternative methods of delivering formal education. EdX, Coursera, and the like are getting the money, but Tamer says there is a lot of cool stuff people can do with smaller tools that could make a big difference and impact in the learning.
Gaps in How We Support Adult Learning
[13:52] – Where do you see gaps in how we think about, value, and support learning for adults?
We’re not looking at a perspective of our audience members. We’re trying to race to see what technology we can adopt but not thinking about our core business strategy or our value proposition to our audience. We need to think about what the audience’s core need is and the problems the learners face and make sure we’re presenting the learning in a way that meets their needs and realities.
In learning, we tend to try to accessorize, to say…I’ve got this thing, I’ve got something fancy. But do we actually worry about the key strategic components of our objectives? I don’t see that very much…I don’t see a very pronounced, dedicated focus on the strategic elements of a learning program…. It’s elevating the discussion and bringing it up to what we’re really trying to do, which is with this audience. Not just about tech. And I’m a learning tech guy. I mean, that’s my professional background, but I think we’re sorely missing the target if we’re just talking about tech.Tamer Ali
Factors of Success for Learning Businesses
[16:38] – Are there organizations that you would point to that you feel are exemplary in how they’re leading learning for their audiences and how they’re leveraging technology to do that?
Tamer says successful learning businesses share some characteristics:
- Have a clear alignment, from top to bottom, from the executive level to the LMS admin.
- Have a vision combined with a way to implement it.
- Continue to try even if what’s tried is a small initiative.
- Have an entrepreneurial mindset from the leader to the person that’s running the platform and turning on courses.
- Make almost anything work and roll with the punches to achieve success.
From a vendor perspective, Tamer says when you find a technology, integrate it well into your ecosystem and the culture. The culture is key in the learning (and he sees very few examples of successful cultures). Successful organizations have good leadership and very clear direction.
There are a handful of clients that Tamer says meet those criteria. They seem to be the ones that don’t change providers often, tending to stay with what they have and making it work.
The State of Learntech
[20:47] – There’s a lot of buzz right now around learntech. Is the learntech industry evolving towards more maturity and more stability with more players? What’s your general perspective on the state of learntech?
Tamer sees an opportunity for nonprofits to leverage their strength in groups and collect resources. Nonprofits could create some type of assembly that would help them purchase in bulk or design in bulk. Nonprofits do have resources; they just have to be very mindful of how they expend them. They should collect their resources to create an aggregate model of investment into technology. Pooling the R&D together, they could achieve alone. This would allow them to insulate themselves some from the potential upheaval and the natural change that happens in the learntech space.
Given the amount of upheaval in learntech, draft contracts that can deal with mergers and acquisitions. A learning business wants a tech contract that provides an out, addresses migration, and offers others ways to ensure business can keep running smoothly.
Tamer notes the Green Bay Packers are owned by their fans—why can’t learning be the same way? Professional education, specifically certifications and certificate programs, have very specific needs. They can come together, pool their resources, and achieve more.
Learntech Advice for Learning Businesses
[25:28] – What advice you have for a learning business that’s looking to effectively use learning technology and trying to decide what to focus on and how best to invest in the near term?
Focus on your intellectual property and your value-add. It’s the content itself usually. Make the investment in the content, the process around it, the tools to help build it, and then leverage the technology you have, and make wise investments to improve. Tamer doesn’t recommend throwing the majority of your investment on a certain aspect (e.g., a technology platform) because it overshadows your key value (e.g., your content).
[26:37] – How do you approach continuing to learn and keeping up, from the perspective of work and life in general?
Tamer says we should take stock in each moment. Pause and reflect. That has helped him to learn his weaknesses. When you recognize you’re flawed, you want to improve.
He also goes to Reddit and other sites to learn more from about about younger people and to learn from their social interactions.
[29:52] – Wrap-up
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