Is your learning organization an emerging POD?

I actually started writing this post a while back but realized my thinking wasn’t distilled down. The primary reason was a conflict – learning or education is increasing becoming similar to retail conceptually – multiple channels, learner/customer experience, and learner/customer outcomes.

The ancient usage of Bricks & Clicks, Bricks, Clicks or Flips, or any other didn’t fully capture the essence of how learning/education is slowly but steadily inching towards a POD – Physical, Operations, and Digital and is increasingly beginning to talk about learner & learner experience.

Physical & Digital represent two dimensions of reaching our learner through physical presence in a classroom (or) a digital experience respectively while Operations is an enabler of the supply chain & efficacy. Let’s dwell more on it.

  • Physical: Many learning/education functions deliver their learning experiences either in their “academy/university/schools” (or) in a hotel (or) in some form a physical brick and mortar. The conversations center around creating similar pockets of experiences around the world. Well sounds very similar to what retailers are trying to do – think Walmart, Best Buy, Target, or any other. The measures & metrics of successes are very similar to a retailer.
  • Operations: In your learning/education function, have you discussed about sourcing & getting trainers ready, classrooms coordinated around the world, materials shipped, strategically sourcing locations/materials to be cost-effective, making sure your P&L is profitable etc. then all of them seem to be very similar to managing a training supply chain to me? When we talk about how excellent a Walmart or Amazon’s supply chain is, we are actually talking about their ability to do this in an effective way.
  • Digital: Now that we’ve said Amazon, can we truly stay away from the power online presence either via computers, tablets, mobiles, and wearable devices? All of them have emerged as a channel for retailers and so are learning organizations talking about how to make themselves omnipresent and front and center for customers/learners and reworking the products/experiences for physical into a digital space. This is such a special area that many companies have created a separate arm to pursue these experiences.

It doesn’t end there. The learning strategy for a learning/education environment is very similar to outlining a product strategy for retail – you need to know your audience segment, tailor multiple experiences to just do that, and build to reach them similarly. However, overly centralizing your product strategy can hurt sales. Just like a local store should have ability to bring out umbrellas when it is pouring rain in a certain locale, the learning strategy should accommodate customization. Similarly, you may build (or) source products – just like purchasing off-the-shelf experiences or tailoring them?

Finally, we learning professionals talk as passionately about our learners like retailers talk about their customers. Retail professionals just about do everything to get that customer attention, market themselves, and make a customer feel good about what they possess as a result of their shopping experience. Sounds very familiar to how we talk about learners?

The bottom line is all forms of channels are to stay and they are all needed – it is about how do we make the most of it. As you go down this path of drawing parallels, there are immense similarities and if one type of innovation is inspiring from other ecosystems and making it your own – are we as learning organizations doing enough to structure & execute ourselves for the right reasons (or) can we do more instead of coming in our own way. What do you think?


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