Published On: January 28, 2020By
overlooking hot corporate learning trend

Perhaps it’s just me. But I’m beginning to think that an astonishing number of L&D practitioners aren’t paying attention to today’s most promising organizational learning trend. And here’s why…

A Top Learning Trend Hidden in Plain Sight?

Every January it’s the same story. We’re bombarded with “learning trend” headlines from all corners of the industry – so by the end of the month, our heads are swimming in a flood of forecasts.

I understand the appeal. New and popular stuff can be compelling. Even our own Lead Analyst, John Leh, gets in on the action with annual learning trends commentary of his own. And year after year, those posts zoom straight to the top of our site’s traffic charts.

But this year’s wave of learning trend articles seems more tsunami-like than ever.

Maybe it’s because we’re entering a new decade. Or maybe it’s because so many information sources are tracking so many interesting learning tools, technologies and techniques.

Whatever the reason, processing all those ideas can be mind-numbing. That’s why it helps to focus on a small cross-section of industry experts.

For example, one of my favorite resources is the annual “L&D Global Sentiment Survey” from Donald H. Taylor, Chair of The Learning Performance Institute.

It started in 2014 as a simple one-question blog poll: “What will be hot in L&D this year?” Although the survey’s simple structure has remained the same, participation has grown dramatically over the years. And along the way, Donald’s analysis has become a must-read barometer for learning professionals all over the planet.

Where in the World is Extended Enterprise Learning?

The 2019 learning trend “hot list” was based on responses from more than 2000 people in 92 countries. As always, the results revealed that learning professionals remain focused on a variety of legitimate issues and opportunities.

AI Trends and Learning Systems - What do learning community surveys say about this trend? Results from the Global Sentiment Survey by Donald H. Taylor


No surprises there. But here’s what concerns me…

Extended enterprise learning was nowhere to be found on the L&D “hot” list in 2019 – or in any previous year. And it’s missing from the 2020 list, as well.

And I can’t help wondering why.

After all, learning practitioners are widely known for saying they want to consult more deeply with business leaders, align with strategic objectives and even earn a seat at the executive table. Plus, it’s no secret that today’s organizations are obsessed with improving customer experience in the hope of establishing a competitive advantage.

Yet serving external audiences still doesn’t seem to be a priority for L&D.

Do learning professionals think of customers, channel partners and other external audiences as “ugly stepchildren”? Or is some other factor suppressing widespread enthusiasm for extended enterprise learning?

Last March, we sought answers directly from the source. Here’s what Donald Taylor said in a Talented Learning Show podcast interview:

JOHN LEH: I’m curious how much interest you see in extended enterprise learning?

DONALD TAYLOR: It’s not a big topic right now. I’d say the U.S. leads in this because of its scale. It’s a huge country with one language and one currency. Large U.S. companies may be dealing with tens of thousands of customers, compared with only thousands at large U.K. companies.

The need for U.S. companies to reach so many customers from a distance has led to a lot of innovation in the “e” space – elearning, ecommerce and so on. If U.S. companies can gain a competitive advantage by getting extended enterprise learning right, the cost can be worthwhile.

And once the rest of the world sees how it’s being done, we’ll pick up on it and start to implement it.

JOHN LEH: Interesting…

DONALD TAYLOR: It is actually being done outside the U.S. now. For example, hardware stores in the U.K. don’t want their sales staff tied-up describing how things work, so they try to make that information widely available for self-service customer learning.

But something with the kind of sophistication you describe isn’t yet “hot” in the rest of the world. It surged for a while in the 2000s and is just starting to come back now. It’s definitely one to watch and I’m looking forward to seeing it…

JOHN LEH: Yes. I think it would be good to add to your learning trend survey. But I’m a bit biased…

Maybe I should include extended enterprise learning on the list next year? We’ll see.

Extended Enterprise Learning – Not Just for Big Companies Anymore

I see what Donald was suggesting. Apparently, learning practitioners tend to equate extended enterprise solutions with massive corporations and big budgets.

This was certainly true in the past. But digital innovation has turned that equation on its head. For example, some of the most dynamic LMS market growth is happening in customer education.

A decade ago, the upfront cost of developing, coordinating, delivering and supporting traditional classroom training for customers was far too steep for many organizations.

But now, even tiny companies operating on shoestring budgets can set-up successful customer education portals, thanks to inexpensive high-speed internet connections, widespread mobile device access, cloud-based learning systems, adaptive content and other technology breakthroughs.

We see this every day in case studies from a variety of vendors who focus on customer-facing business needs. For example:

All of these solutions are proven and reliable. But what makes them particularly viable is their ability to scale with demand. In fact, many even offer free “getting started” levels of service.

Because these systems are nearly risk-free to try, they’re opening the door to millions of subject-matter experts and small businesses that otherwise could never offer training to their prospects or customers.

So again, I can’t help wondering why this trend isn’t top-of-mind among L&D professionals.

Will Extended Enterprise Learning Ever Break Through?

Perhaps I’m preaching to the choir. After all, if you follow Talented Learning, you’re probably already delivering some form of extended enterprise learning – or at least it’s on your radar.

But what will it take for members of the broader L&D community to see that, in essence, every organization is an extended enterprise?

When will they recognize that educating external audiences is strategically important? And when will they agree that, as instructional specialists, they’re uniquely qualified to create measurable business value this way?

It’s disappointing that extended enterprise opportunities still aren’t highly visible on the L&D radar. But given the surge of momentum in this segment of the LMS landscape, I believe training for customers, channel partners and other external audiences will soon receive the recognition it deserves.

Awareness Starts Here and Now

Extended enterprise learning may still be on L&D’s backburner. But no matter what surveys say, it is clearly on the rise. We see impressive results every day. And we think you deserve to see what’s possible, too.

That’s why we’ll be publishing new case studies this year that illustrate what extended enterprise education is accomplishing for businesses of all types. We hope these stories will inform and inspire you, as you chart your organization’s course. So stay tuned!

SPECIAL NOTE:  Do you have a story that would help others learn how to succeed at extended enterprise education? Please tell me about it in an email. We look forward to hearing from you and sharing your experiences. Thanks!




How to Scale Customer Education Beyond the Classroom

Struggling to train more customers without bringing your team to its knees? How can you expand your reach and add more value in a profitable way? Learn from experts in this virtual roundtable!

You’ll learn:

  • How to build an effective blended learning ecosystem
  • Guideline for optimizing your content mix
  • Strategies for educating customers at each stage in the relationship
  • Tips for choosing a technology foundation that adapts to fluctuating needs


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About the Author: Kathleen Kruse

Kathleen "KK" Kruse has been exploring communication, innovation and business dynamics for more than 20 years. As an independent consultant, she focuses on the space where humans and digital technology intersect - including content strategy, learning, user experience and information design, community building and social media. A storyteller at heart, KK blends analytical insight, creative vision, and the power of the English language to define and develop narratives that are relevant, useful and persuasive. Her efforts have won credibility and market momentum for some of the world’s most innovative companies, such as Adobe, Apple, Netscape and Yahoo! You can connect with KK on Twitter at (@kkruse) or on LinkedIn at in/kathleenkruse.

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