“The learning business” is a concept at the heart of our work. Having now written and spoken about it in many places, we thought it would be helpful to pull together some our most essential learning business resources into a single page, representing a sort of informal curriculum. These are materials you can work through individually, or – much better from our point of view – use as the basis for ongoing departmental or team discussions and planning within your organization. We’ll return to this page often over time to flesh it out and update it, so we recommend that you bookmark it.
What Is a Learning Business?
First things first, let’s be clear about what we mean by “a learning business” – that is the sort of business that is part of the learning business. For us, a learning business has to meet two criteria:
- It has to generate revenue through selling learning and education experiences to a target audience – in most cases, this means net positive revenue or profit.
- It has to self-identify as a business – the majority of the people working in the business recognize that revenue generation is fundamental reason for the businesses existence.
Practically speaking, our focus is more narrow than the definition above because we focus specifically on adult lifelong learners. That is the audience served by the learning businesses that we serve.
It may also be helpful to be clear about what is not a learning business (for the most part):
- Corporate training – while corporate training can and should contribute to business success, it is typically a cost center, and its audience is primarily internal to the company. (Leaving aside the concept of “extended enterprise.”)
- Traditional academic institutions – many public institutions are heavily subsidized and even for institutions that do have to generate at least break-even revenue, whether public or private, it is rare for this requirement to be emphasized/recognized, outside of a small segment of the administration.
Types of organizations that we do feel qualify as learning businesses include:
- Continuing education and extension programs in the academic world – these parts of colleges and universities are often run more like private training and education companies.
- Most trade and professional associations – we feel that is true whether an organization is selling education and training directly, or it provides access to learning opportunities – whether formal or informal – as part of the benefit of membership. In either case, learning is driving revenue, and should be treated as a business.
- Commercial firms that serve the adult lifelong learning market – this may include everything from solo edupreneurs who sell courses or other learning experiences to large training companies with extensive catalogs.
Who Is a Learning Business Professional?
It’s also worth being clear about who works in the learning business – the people we refer to as learning business professionals. Here’s our definition:
A learning business professional is a person who works within a learning business and recognizes that she/he works within a learning business. Why does it matter to see yourself as a learning business professional? It’s a very different role from those found in the other types of education and training organizations. And because it is a different role, it requires a different mindset, skill set, and body of knowledge.
Also there is the rub that for the most part, we have not really acknowledged the whole sector of learning and education where learning businesses operate, and there is no “off the shelf” curriculum or program for training people in it.
What’s worse, many people working in it are not really conscious of their organization as a learning business or of themselves as learning business professionals – and it’s important to first recognize yourself as a learning business professional to then be able to excel in that role.
Keep in mind that if you offer learning experiences to adult learners as part of your business model, we view you as being in the learning business. It does not matter whether you are selling learning directly – e.g., as a main business or business line – or whether it is part of the value proposition for a broader business model – e.g., a member benefit. Either way, you are in the learning business.
Learning Business Podcast Episodes
So, now on to some resources. To start with, here are the Leading Learning podcast specifically dedicated to the concepts of “the learning business” and “leading learning.” Keep in mind that we provide extensive show notes for all of our episodes, so even if you don’t want to listen, clicking through will provide you with content you can read on each topic.
- The “Why” of the Learning Business
As the title suggests, in this episode we discuss why we believe the concept of the learning business is so important. We start with an abbreviate version of our definition of the concept, in case it is not already familiar.
- The Learning Business Manifesto
The manifesto is intended as a succinct way to state some of the key ideas and principles that should drive a successful learning and education business.
- The Learning Business Professional
We believe that the people who work in learning businesses fulfill a very different role from those found in the other types of education and training organizations. And because it is a different role, it requires a different mindset, skill set, and body of knowledge.
- The Learning Business Maturity Model
The Maturity Model brings it all together into a framework to help organizations assess capabilities and to surface problem areas – and then provide a clear way to move from problem to opportunity and from there, towards innovation. You can also read more about and download the related resources in this foundational post on the topic.
- Exploring What It Means to Lead Learning
Finally, our vision of the learning business is underpinned by our view that the most successful and impactful organizations lead learning in the fields and industries they serve. In this episode, we discuss what that means.
Here are a few additional episodes we think are useful complements to the one’s listed above.
- The Mainstreaming of Lifelong Learning
Until recently, “lifelong learning” has been a sort of musty old term. No longer. In this episode we discuss why.
- 10 Critical Shifts in the Market for Lifelong Learning
The learning landscape has changed and continues to change dramatically. In this episode, we highlight what we see as 10 of the most critical shifts organizations need to be tracking.
- One Word: Impact
Long term success in the learning business really comes down to whether your efforts are having an impact. In this episode, we discuss what that means and the implications for organizations in the learning business.
- The New Learning Landscape: Two Shifts and a Gap
In this episode we discuss two critical shifts – an economic shift and a power shift – that have occurred in the market for adult lifelong learning and the gap they have created.
An Informal Learning Business Curriculum
While we have highlighted them separately to get you started, all of the above episodes are actually part of a much larger informal “curriculum” that spans the life of the Leading Learning website. This curriculum is comprised of articles, podcast episodes (which also have detailed written show notes), and various other resources to help educate people about the learning business and to support learning business professionals in in growing their knowledge and skills.
At this point, there are no formal classes or courses associated with this curriculum. It is intended for self-directed learning in which you determine what may be most useful for you and your learning business at this point in time.
One of the most valuable ways to use the curriculum is in collaboration with other professionals, whether that means people within your own company or organization or peers from other learning businesses. The articles, episodes, and other resources can be used as the focus of discussion for regular meetings, whether those are weekly, monthly, or quarterly. (We recommend quarterly as an absolute minimum.)
Other Learning Business Resources
We offer a range of free resources for learning businesses on our main resources page. For your convenience, we thought we would highlight a few of the most essential ones here.
- The Market Insight Matrix
Succeeding as a learning business requires really understanding your market – and then leading it. The Market Insight Matrix is an essential tool.
- The Value Ramp
One of simplest, and yet most powerful tools, the Value Ramp can help you develop a product strategy that makes sense.
- The Learning Business Maturity Model
We reference this above, but it is such an important resource, we want to be sure you don’t miss it.
- Learning Platform Selection Resources
Technology is such an important part of the new learning landscape that we want to be sure you know we have these resources available.
Again, you can find other valuable resources on our main resources page. Please note that everything mentioned here and nearly everything mentioned in the resource center is free. We make these resources free because we feel it is extremely important to spread knowledge about the concept of the learning business as broadly as possible. To that end, we would be truly grateful if you would make use of the social sharing buttons you find on this and other pages to share these resources with others.
Thanks so much,
Jeff & Celisa