"Business as usual" isn't so usual anymore. I'm sure that has a lot to do with questions about the relevancy of learning, elearning and instructional design as we've known them. While I know there are some calls to dump ID and to transform elearning into metaverses and social networks, I would suggest some additional reforms.
In the midst of all of the economic chaos it has become clear that we need to pay better attention to the business side of our business. Tony Karrer had a great blogpost on this topic. Jay Cross has taken this on as his next mission. And of course this is what my co-workers and I do at Sage Road Solutions every day.
Personally, I'm delighted about this change. The shift in awareness and new demands for accountability, value on investment and providing real business value with learning solutions is so palpable you can almost feel it. It suggests that we are maturing beyond the "craft" model of elearning and performance support where we (had to) do everything ourselves. It suggests we are ready for teams and specialization. It also suggests that maybe we are ready to think about the value that we drive in business terms.
It has always bothered me that a profession that puts so much stake in systematic processes has been built more on the foundations of self-evident truth than on real evidence. "What?!" I can just hear you shriek. "That's heresy! Why, every ID knows that the first thing we do is to ANALYZE! We are systematic. We use ADDIE! We know Kirkpatrick's Four Levels! We follow process models that are based in research and theory!"
What most IDs count as systematic analysis is when we figure out who will be learning, what they will be learning, how long will it take, when will it take place, for how long and how to test for success. These are the basic building blocks of any learning design. But they are also dictated in large measure by the conditions and context in which they are built and deployed. These kinds of things are not typically revenue driving activities. Which means that they end up being counted as costs. Costs without revenues to justify them - and pay for them - are bad.
For better or worse, I learned this lesson long after I had been an ID professor. When I started working at Macromedia I was a lone learning and design solutions market specialist working with a team of MBAs that needed to take learning and education solutions to market. I quickly realized that it really didn't matter that I could tell all about the learning theories I'd used and the instructional design model I preferred, and which level of the Kirkpatrick model I used to evaluate whether I achieved more satisfaction than impact.
My business partner at the time needed me to help her figure out answers to far more important business questions - what kind of demand could we show for the solutions I wanted to develop? What technology features really mattered to our customers? What could we actually sell? Who would buy what I was designing? Really? How much money would my customers be willing to spend for the kinds of things I was thinking about? Which demographic might be most likely to want what I was doing? What kinds of objections would we need to overcome? How could we best make our case with the customers?
I learned the lessons pretty well - well enough that Beth Davis, my former Macromedia business partner (best known in this industry for bringing a little product called Dreamweaver to market back in the Web 1.0 heyday, along with many other similar kinds of product successes over the past decade) and I decided to continue our unique blend of helping customers drive business value with learning products and solutions here at Sage Road Solutions. We have realized that the way we approach solving our customers' business problems has little to do with process, and has everything to do with dealing with our solutions as products.
Basically, Beth has taught me to think like a product manager. She has helped me understand that learning solutions may function as processes, but the solutions themselves ARE products - they need to be clear, definable, concrete, operational, has boundaries and has a fixed price. and not focusing so much on the processes that get us to the point of use, but more about figuring out how to solve problems. We need real metrics, because if we dont get the market defined right then we have no way of capturing the new and emerging opportunites. And these days, capturing the opportunity is maybe almost as important as getting the learning design right.
There is a point where talking about all the processes and possibilities just gets to be exhausting. For me, getting tangible and real about getting down to business is the most satisfying part of what we do. So much better to show, not tell. My .02.