Innovation for eLearning

In my previous post Community is King, I summarized Rob Paterson’s post on Reed’s Law and put it into the context of the elearning industry. Dave Pollard has added to Rob’s view of Reed’s Law and discusses what customers really value – service for the long-run.

What’s especially interesting is that customers know that high-value service cannot be outsourced (see my Dell story for an explanation of the internal distrust and finger-pointing that outsourcing inevitably produces) or offshored (no matter how competent they are, people in India can’t give me good service simply because they’re not here looking at the product that doesn’t work).

My take on this would be to stay as close as possible to your clients. Not just in terms of proximity but in understanding the culture.

Dave Pollard goes on to look at James Surowiecki’s book, The Wisdom of Crowds, and combines Reed’s Law to come up with two new processes in his Innovation Model. One is to help to create user communities, and use the wisdom of the crowd, as eBay has done. This means that you have to let the community self-define, and you stay out of the way. No mean feat for control freeks. The other is to poll the community/crowd in order to determine what next innovation will fly. This of course requires a mechanism that will be unobtrusive and used by the majority. Kind of like opting in to Google rankings.

For elearning companies, I think that innovation with this model is possible. We have seen some of it in the academic community, but it too has its walls and silos. Open source software is one way of keeping the community open; in that no one owns the structure, and will not feel locked-in. Since product price descends quickly to zero, then start at a zero product price anyway. When the product is free, you can’t complain. And if you have the source code, don’t complain, fix it.

Just using open source software will not be enough. You need to foster community. Blogs or other two-way communication tools can help communication, but what will you blog about? You have to find out what’s really important to your market. eBay found out that people want a trusted method to buy and sell things. An elearning example could be – what are the limitations of using Google for your learning needs? What could you add on to a Google search that gives just a little more learning value? This could be anything between the results of a web search and a structured online course. Anyway, the key seems to be to offer good service at a reasonable cost, to a community to which you are committed, that you understand and support. Easy, n’est-ce pas?

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