September 29, 2003

No commodities

Lance Dublin and I are going to be giving a free webinar on change management and marketing of eLearning on Wednesday, October 8th, at 11:00 am Pacific time. (Sign up here.)

If you've heard Lance and me speak on these topics at a conference, this one's probably not worth your time -- only about 20% of the material will be new.

If you haven't heard (or read) our thoughts on these matters, by all means, tune in. Also, the following riff on marketing may interest you:

  • I often see the world through a marketing filter, asking myself "What need does this fill?" and "How can we add value here?"
  • A commodity is something so plain-vanilla and undifferentiated that it only competes on price.
  • When a product commands a premium price, it's called a brand.
  • A core tenet of marketing is that there need be no commodities. Marketers convert commodities into brands with advertising, promotion, packaging, positioning, association, features, claims, add-ons, "chrome," and personal selling.

The J. Peterman Company uses compelling stories to create its brand. For example, Peterman starts with a plain (commodity) canvas shirt and adds value through this story:
    Perhaps you recognize this shirt? It's the design worn by Mr. Quentin Grogran when he guided Teddy Rossevelt on safari in 1910.

    ("A good hunter and a capital fellow," said TR. "We became great friends.")

    All I'm doing here is to serve it up in new colors and a softly brushed, garment-washed cotton canvas. Otherwise, the shirt is Grogran's own original stripped-down version of a safari shirt.

    Same big, expandable chest pockets and tse-tse proof long sleeves, Same button-down collar (won't flap distractingly when you aim at charging rhinos or exit helicopters). Pragmatic and dashing, without coming on too strong.


How about this story about a suede jacket?

    In 1825, a Hapsburg courtier named Josef Kyselak* started the first recorded fitness craze.

    Wandern, his book called it. The sport of tromping vigorously through the forests and mountains of Austria.

    This antidote for sachertorte swept though the Viennese aristocracy, who created the first recorded sports chic. Tyrolean styles reinterpreted in rich materials, very understated.

    That's how Kisl explained it, anyway.

    I met her at the Tiergarten in the Vienna Woods. She was breaking off pieces of chocolate with slim fingers and feed9ing them to a stag.

    That morning she wore perhaps the most beautiful leather jacket I had ever seen. When I asked her about it she only laughed.


If your change management project or eLearning initiative doesn't have people clamoring to participate, maybe it's perceived as a commodity. Brand it! Perhaps what you need is a good story to buff up its image. Treat your learners as your customers. You've got to sell them what you have to offer.


Peterman has amply demonstrated that the story need not be true to deliver the message.

*Josef Kyselak was actually Western civilization's first street artist. To win a bet, he "tagged" every wall in his native Biedemeyer. The Sticker Nation website claims, "The cultural impact of Kyselak’s work was the genesis of an artistic tradition which continued and grew through the Mexican mural movement of the 1930s, the political scrawlings of the Hunagarian revolution in 1956, and the Situationist-influenced student uprisings in Paris, right up to the advent of turf graffiti in New York and Los Angeles in the 1970s."

Finally, a word of warning. A good story will not be sufficient to sell a poor product. (I sent back the shirt.)

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Innovation lessons

Personal innovation is a matter of good peripheral vision. Your trek will be more stimulating if you look to the side as well as toward your destination. What are other people looking at? What's at the far edge of my comfort zone? What have I been missing?

The monkeys in my mind are suggesting I introduce you to a few photos of yesterday's zany How Berkeley Can You Be parade. "A mind, once stretched, will never resume its original shape." (Oliver Wendell Holmes)

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September 28, 2003

Personality Quiz

Which of these items does not belong?

Hint: What would Dave do?

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September 27, 2003

Tom Stewart speaks

Tom Stewart, author of Intellectual Capital and The Wealth of Knowledge, gave the ending keynote at Online Learning on Wednesday. Read his books; they are simply great. Among the one-liners and anecdotes from the stage:

    Email appears in the night, as if delivered by some sadistic Santa...

    Fax has only been around as long as today's high-school sophmores. Email came into existence about the same time as today's third graders.

    Customer power. Every business is being taken over by its customers. (Buy a car lately?)

As the inventor of bouillabaisse eLearning, I loved Tom's thought that "eLearning is the okra in the gumbo." (Meaning that it's a required item, not necessarily that it's slimey.)

Finally, Tom mentioned this great Spam:

    From: [email protected]
    To: [email protected]

    ATTN: President/CEO

    I am the widow of the late President George W. Bush of the United States of America. I am writing you this letter in confidence regarding my current circumstances.

    I escaped the United States ahead of death squads with my husband and two children Jenna and Frank, moving first to England and then, when my husband's political enemies took power there, to Austria. All of our wealth, obtained legitimately through baseball, oil drilling and insider trading, was seized by the new government of the USA under the despotic regime of (Dr.) Noam Chomsky, except for the contents of a few Swiss bank accounts. These bank accounts, which contain social security lock-box funds and the bulk of the 2001 budget surplus, could not be accessed by me or my children, due to agreements made between the socialist government of the USA and Swiss bank regulators. They seized our ranch in Crawford, Texas and now use it to teach homosexualist propaganda to schoolchildren.

    When my husband died during a visit to the Mr. Salty factory here in Vienna, I decided to lay low, changing my identity and communicating only through Mrs. Peggy Noonan. However, now that Chomsky is dead of apoplexy, my advisors suggest that the time is right for me to transfer some of these funds. I will wish to deposit $1,250,000,000 in a bank account for certain purchases, investments and other safe and reliable business opportunities. Please respond to this letter and indicate your interest in receiving the money for us. I will stress again how important confidentiality is; my husband's political enemies would like nothing better than to see me made penniless and our hard-earned retirement funds turned over to Tom Daschle.

    Please respond with your contact information, including fax and telephone numbers, to signal interest in this mutually beneficial transaction. I will provide an introduction to my son (Frank), who will work with you in determining the logistics of the transfer and the method and amount of your remuneration. I would contact you via phone directly, but a spot of trouble in my youth has made me doubt myself around heavy machinery.

    In sincere anticipation of a productive relationship,

    Mrs. George W. Bush

This last piece is in preparation for tomorrow's How Berkeley Can You Be parade. (I am not making this up.) Last year...

    A few of the groups that participated in last year's parade were 2001 parking Space Oddysey, Berkeley Opera, Explicit Players, Berkeley High Jazz Band, Bicycle Rodeo, the Cal Band, Wavy Gravy, and the Vulva University. Caffe Venezia catapulted giant meatballs onto a huge plate of spaghetti, pregnant mothers from Birthways marched with synchronized contractions, nuclear waste was swept under the rug by the Groundswell Players, and Indian music drifted off the Ghandi Peace Float.

Theoretical IQs:

091 George W. Bush (R)
098 George HW Bush (R)
105 Ronald Reagan (R)
121 Gerald Ford (R)
122 Dwight D. Eisenhower (R)
126 Lyndon B. Johnson (D)
132 Harry Truman (D)
147 Franklin D. Roosevelt (D)
155 Richard M. Nixon (R)
174 John F. Kennedy (D)
175 James E. Carter (D)
182 William J. Clinton (D)

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KM Cluster & Next Practices

In mid-September, I took part in an all-day symposium of the KM Cluster on Next Practices. This was a companion to the eLearning Forum meeting a week earlier.

When my turn to introduce myself came, I decided to do something radical, to tell the truth. Instead of the usual self-serving claptrap, I said I was there to reinforce the beliefs and suspicions I had coming in, that maybe I’d hear something that would change my orientation, but I rather doubted it.

Fast forward to 4:30 pm when I join Ross Dawson, Wayne Hodgins, and Tom Housel for a concluding panel discussion. Wayne said that he lived in the future, where objects had become so granular that they poured into the contours of need like a liquid. I said it was ironic to have my friend Wayne living in the future at the same time that I’m trying so hard to live in the now.

For me, the day confirmed that there’s no reason to treat KM and learning as separate disciplines. They are points on a continuum of things that make organizations effective. Was the simulation we’d gone through earlier in the day knowledge or learning? It simply doesn’t matter.

KM and learning haven’t converged because they have different DNA. Training is almost blue-collar; KM is nearly aristocratic. Learning is borne of training; it’s a staff function. Trainers rarely graduate to management (except of training). KM comes from strategy consultants, Harvard Business Review, and CEO conversations on the golf course. KM managers are on the fast track. Blue-bloods and blue-collars have a tough time understanding one another.

John Maloney, leader of KM Cluster, asked what participants should keep in mind when selling these ideas back at the office. My advice:

    Keep it simple. Eilif Trondsen described how Altus was making tens of thousands of presentations available in seconds within Cisco. No ontologies, no specialized vocabularies, no big buzzwords. “JDI.” Just do it.

    Respect the individual. Knowledge is co-created, so keep the individual an equal partner, not a "recipient."

    Support the positive learning movement. The job of KM and learning is to augment how people function, not to fill in the gaps for a bunch of dummies.

    Find a better yardstick. Intangibles have become more important than tangibles, yet our ancient accounting principles value such things as knowledge, skills, and emotional intelligence at zero. It’s obvious what’s wrong with this picture.

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Ft Mason

I spent the better part of the day with a dozen and a half visionaries and seekers, chatting about what we could do, as individuals and in groups, to build a better world.

We met at Fort Mason, the debarcation point for every soldier fighting in the Pacific Theater during World War II, now recycled into conference centers, exhibit halls, cultural museums, and more.

I was determined to be open and receptive. Non-judgmental. The boys in the back room, AKA my subconscious, are working on my theory of Organizational Serendipity, a set of practices for kindling continuous innovation. In the morning I'll see what they've come up with.

Thought for the day: "One man's noise is another man's signal."

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September 25, 2003

Online Learning -- Grab bag

I'm back in Berkeley after four days in La-la land. In spite of the heat and humidity, I love travel because it feeds my natural curiosity and being in a different place always sparks new ideas. This morning I'm cleaning the lint out of my mental belly button. A few observations and memes:

All the handouts!

Thank you, VNU, for posting handouts and presentations on your conference site. This selfless "best practice" helps our industry. Remember when you had to have the secret code to look at stuff like this?

Blended Training, the Conference

Wednesday morning Gloria annonced that henceforth, Training and Online Learing will be one co-located event. The next combo event takes place in spring in Atlanta. In the fall, a west coat event will take place at an as-yet undisclosed location. Declining attendance aside, a blended conference makes sense in a world of blended learningl

No more chrome

Cool is dead among buyers of corporate eLearning. I should have been more clear in my earlier post. Stephen Downes responded that cool will never be dead; I agree. It's apodictic. Bells and whistles were trendy a few years ago. Now pragmatic and practical -- no frills -- is what companies are looking for. Hearing this, I suggested to Macromedia that they rename Flash. The new name? Dull.

eLearning = This Old House

eLearning has entered the Home Depot stage. Do it yourself. Bring it inside. Spend no cash. Do it with duct tape. If there's sufficient demand, maybe I'll write a booklet on free-learning, e.g. eLearning on a shoestring. Expos give a warped sample of learning tools: you only see things that are sufficiently expensive to justify paying the fees to exhibit.

M-learning comes to the tiny screen

To everyone who disdains phone-learning or PDA-learning because the form factor is too small, get over it. Mobile devices no more have to carry all the content than computers had to mediate all eLearning. Phones may augment learning with tips, reminders, quizzes, and short reinforcers.

SCORM reborn

SCORM is no longer a dirty word. The new focus on making things work (and not screwing everybody up with endless revisions) is both credible and popular.

Learning moves

For more on the mobile scene, check out the CoLab's blog. PAN = Personal area network, which connects your phone, your PDA, your camera, your pager, your desktop, etc., keeping them all in sync. Instead of squinting at a tiny screen, you may be looking at the equivalent of a 16" monitor a few feet away which is being beamed to your retina from a pea-sized projector imbedded in your sunglasses.

The West is the best

Sometimes I feel like I'm living the technology diffusion curve. In my personal circle, more authors than nerds, everyone knows what a blog is. Tuesday I helped facilitate a session where nobody knew what a blog was. Some were intrigued and want to give it a try. Others choose to take only a sliver of the potential, e.g. "Blogs are diaries," and then make pronouncements, e.g. "Business doesn't need online diaries." As William Gibson has written, "The future has already arrived. It's just not evenly distributed yet."


Talk with a "virtual classroom" provider about Microsoft's repackaging of Placeware as a component of Office 2003, and you'll get an earfull. Remember Netscape and "We'll cut off their air supply?" This is sort of like the tailor who visited the Pope. ("Charlie, what was he like?" Charlie: "39 Regular.") I asked two fellows from Redmond about the issue. They couldn't even remember the name for neo-Placeware. "Office Meeting?"

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September 24, 2003

Context is important

This evening GeoLearning hosted a cocktail party for everyone. Free beer, wine, and nibbles. People swapped stories and networked. Thank you, GeoLearning – this was just what the doctor ordered. Mark Oehlert said manning the M-Learning booth, one of the most popular spots on the exhibit floor, felt like giving an eight-hour presentation. We were all ready to kick back and relax.

Fifteen or twenty minutes into the party, GeoLearning began a long, involved case study of their success with International Rectifier. The audience was oblivious. We kept talking. PowerPoints rolled. A voice droned in the background. No one paid attention.

Why does a learning company set itself up for failure like this? It makes one worry about their design skills.

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Answering vestigial questions

For the last couple of years, I’ve been collecting material for a mock proposal from Genericorp. This an outfit that lives to satisfy customer needs. They employ state-of-the-art, user-friendly systems to provide exemplary service on time and within budget. You get the idea: meaningless pap.

On Tuesday I attended the first fifteen minutes of what could become Genericorp’s eLearning presentation.

    “It’s all about people.” People factors account for 35% of corporate value. “Successful companies understand that their real business is People,” says Geoffery Colvin, senior editor of Fortune magazine.

    “Competitive advantage is now driven by innovation and speed, efficiency, and ensuring customer loyalty. When I was a trainer, I was measured on utilization, not results. We never talked with the business units. We didn’t focus on competencies.” Learning must be aligned with the business. “I think there is too much information.”

Well, duh!

I was singing this song five years ago, and it was old then.

Guess who gave this boring, useless, and content-free presentation. Was it:

□ Element K?
□ Centra?
□ SAP?
□ IBM?
□ Saba?

It was SAP.

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Rapid ascent, rapid fall

Four years ago at Online Learning ’99 in L.A., on my signal, Gloria Gery announced that CBT Systems was changing its name to SmartForce, the eLearning Company. We put up new logos up in CBT’s 10’x10’ booth and distributed bushels of brochures.

At Online Learning 2000 and 2001, SmartForce had a 20’x20’ booth manned by swarms of sales people. One year we invited everyone to a Little Richard concert. “World’s Largest eLearning Company,” read the banners.

At Online Learning 2002, the 20’x20’ booth was a deeper shade of red, and the logo had changed from SmartForce to SkillSoft. SmartForce stumbled in a down market, SkillSoft purchased the firm, headquarters moved from California to New Hampshire, and most of the management team was invited to walk the plank.

This year at Online Learning 2003, things had come full circle. SkillSoft had a 10’x10’ booth with one person on duty. Former SmartForce competitors like Element K, NETg, and Digital Think were nowhere to be seen.

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September 22, 2003

Online Learning 03 Monday

Gloria Gery is once again our interpreter and master of ceremonies.

RIchard Saul Wurman gave the keynote this morning. I'll let him speak for himself:

    "I'm 68, short, fat. That's the personal stuff. Let's get into it. I'm not that smart but I'm incredibly curious. I love it. all. I'm also an ego maniac. Users? I don't give a shit. I don't kinow what's in their heads. I only know what's in mine. I only write about what I understand."

    "What is it like to understand what it's like to not understand? The disease of familiarity....


    "I sell my desire to learn about things. That journey is what you take people on."

    Someone else's joke: I thought my brain was the most important organ in my body and then I thought, hey, look who's telling me that.

    Gettting at perspective, Saul tells a Steve Wright joke that "Everything is in walking distance ... if you have enough time."

    It's one of the most important things we do, but no one receives training in how to converse.

Saul looks for patterns to help us (him) understand. He's very into maps.

Michael Allen: "I love the potential for eLearning move than what we've been doing with it"

M-learning (mobile learning) is bigger than I'd realized. A panel walked us through a sea of pocket PCs, tablets, video players, smart phones, and more. Takeaways:

  • You can buy a pocket PC with wifi, long battery life and a Flash player,

  • Online learning can use SMS for support or knowledge nuggets.

  • Hasbro has a handheld videoplayer for $50. Buy three movies on a chip for $8.

  • Storage is trending toward the free. 1 gig devices. Mobile does not necessarily mean connected.

  • Goal is develop once; deliver many -- automatically.

M-learning Drivers

    disconnected users
    modular content
    wireless (not not necessarily)
    automated delivery
    instant on
    on demand/pervasive

Meta-message: It's not just PCs any more.

M-learning will force people to get their learning house in order: chunks, rapid delivery.

The air spotter in Afghanistan, calling in air power.

DoD Job Performance Tech Center in Alexandria

    because performance on job is #1
    also used by IRS, CIA, etc.

GPS+PDA= context-based learning

Personal area network.

More to come on hacking your car and hacking the establishment.


Clark Aldrich's book is out! I'm waiting for Amazon to deliver my copy.

Hats off to Docent for the coolest exhibit: 3 heavy-duty motorcycles.

How bad is it?

In 2001, vendors had contracted for 80,000 ft2 of space
9/11 cancelled travel plans and only 40,000 ft2 showed up.
This year? About 12,500 sq ft2 total.

Over dinner, "Cool is dead." People are looking for the pragmatic and practical. I suggested Flash be renamed Dull.

Jacques told the story of watching a new learning program for pharma propogate around the world.

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September 21, 2003

VNU Supplier Summit

Los Angeles, Sunday, September 21, 2003

Clark Aldrich is so unassuming for a polymath. He analyzes, he writes articles, he speaks at conferences, his book just came out, he leads product development for a start-up, and today he was presenter and ring master of the Supplier Summit at Online Learning. Fifty to sixty vendors spent Sunday attending this full day of sessions on the state of eLearning, standards, the analyst viewpoint, the customer viewpoint, selling, the future of technology, and benchmarking.

Here are my rough notes from the day:

Standards Panel

Margaret Driscoll (IBM), Brian Taliesin (Microsoft), Wayne Hodgins (Autodesk), Clark Aldrich

Click for Clark's map of standards. It's big but meaty.

Wayne: SCORM 1.3 is the end of the line. There won’t be a 1.4 or a 2.0. ADL will focus on implementation, not churning out new models. The models themselves are becoming more modular. Metadata, API, packaging, sequencing are all different. Check out

Change? The Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines are breaking down their silos and cooperating.

Senior management is leery of standards because they’ve been burned before. Some turned proprietary, trapping those who adopted them; others are the lone ranger who doesn’t make it.

Who’s successful with this? Waffle, waffle, waffle. Open University in UK (1 million learning objects with 1 million students), EU Frameworks (5 year plans), ARIADNE (10 years).

Customers ask for SCORM compliance but don’t know why. 90% of military is not on SCORM. They don’t know what it is.

Wayne says to head off the roadblocks, simply say that compliance builds a bridge to future projects, some of which we may not even recognize yet.

Standards have zero impact on learning quality.

Clark: eLearning has been a manufacturing and distribution strategy. eLearning is to learning as fast food is to food. Quality has not been a driving force as yet. Wayne: Fast food meets the needs of certain groups, e.g. parents feeding the kids fifteen minutes before soccer practice. The solution should be defined by the problem.

Wayne: Identifier: unique identifier on everything, person, building, whatever. M for metadata. O for objects. (Problem has been trying to quantify the old monolithic models. Everything should be treated as an object.) T for taxonomy. O is for ontologies, relationship between the taxonomies.

Metadata, content packaging, sequencing, APIs, and (coming) QTI. (Questioning and testing interoperability.)

Collaboration issues. Go watch 14 year olds. Great eLearning but they don’t call it that

Competencies. Now monolithic and need to be broken down into skills, capabilities, etc.

RSS. Very good at metadata harvesting. HTML scraping (collecting metadata when it’s not there.) Aggregation.

Wayne: Everything that can be standardized should be.

Customer Panel

Judy Albers, Bank One

Gerry Lang, Microsoft

Steve Wright, Sprint University of Excellence

Judy: In an environment of cuts in IT, her eLearning is prospering. Reporting up and down the management hierarchy is key. Lots of turnover, hence lots of new hires (30% of all training). Acquisition management – making sure the LMS scales, important to get the cultural info as well as the operational.

Can’t get: integration experience. Getting proposals for parts of a solution, not the entire thing. Enterprise integration is breaking new ground. Moving to Websphere; again, the importance of reporting up and down the management hierarchy.

Want per-user licensing, not content library rental.

Little understanding of usability among vendors.

Gerry: bringing 41 different training organizations under one roof. Trying to be responsible for best practices, too.

Buyers don’t know what they want. Vendors don’t say “no” enough. Customers need advice, not yes men.

LMS are still selling version 1.0 and 2.0. Buyers don’t know what they want until they’ve bought the LMS.

Now in a company of 50,000 people, everybody’s an instructional designer.

Steve: It’s more important to provide the learning than to track it.

At Sprint, they try to meet with the internal customer in advance to define the ROI objectives. Now, instead of saying “We provided 32 million hours of training,” we can say “We boosted revenue by $9 million.” It’s given Steve more recognition and clout.

Analyst Panel

Stacy Marmolejo, VNU/Training

Michael Brennan, IDC

Adam Newman, Eduventures

Mike Flanagan, Lguide/Interpid

Brandon Hall

Stacy: Annual survey finds training revenue down $3 billion, from $53 billion. This is the first back-to-back decline in the 22 years. 17,000 companies have disappeared from the D&B list.

Michael: The future is rosy. Majority of eLearning adopters in first three years of the effort. Analytic tools are long-term, not immediate. Live training will be hot. Management ed is a big need. Because many have been burned, expect High Growth in service: infrastructure hosting,

Next four years, IDC sees services growing more rapidly that content or infrastructure.

Mike: If training is down $3 billion. Where did the money go? Part is falling headcount. Some of the training has migrated inside, the “do-it-yourself” meme. Some folks hire talent instead of training. Investments in low-to-no learning curve authoring tools, a trade-off people are willing to make. Tutorial or “simlet” builders, often software apps that convert to Flash. VW Beetle course architecture: easy to keep it on the road for a long time. The instructional design equivalent of duct tape.

Services, services, services. Vendors must assume the cost of the value discussion. (In order to break the commodity pricing cycle.) Practice what we preach: creating capability v. dependence. Rethink “quality” bells & whistles v. porridge.

Customers: don’t try to upsell me now. Give me something that just gets the job done.

Don’t be afraid to focus on learning as the core value proposition.

Brandon: Greatest growth potential – simulation tools and content. In services, implementation and integration are hot. Focus on initiatives to solve a particular business objective. Longer term, growth comes from human capital management = HR + learning + KM. At IBM they call it talent management. The distinctions now are a historic effect.

Training dollars are going mostly to salaries, traditional training, eLearning.Within eLearning, METAgroup breaks out the business as:

  • Services (incl custom devel) 40% (business model? Outsourcing?)
  • Off the shelf content 28%
  • LMS 20% (140 suppliers is way too many.)
  • Content authoring tools 12%

We’re back to a fundamental in this business: local relationships.

Adam: Content, Content, and More Content. (Content is more than content.) Not just about eLearning content anymore, rather where is the best content. Institutions spending more time developing the in-house content. Especially in this environment, search for

Develop a learning roadmap. What is your vision? Building partnerships, not one-time sales. Usability. Identify a core set of traveling partners. Share the itinerary and show customers how to make the journey.

Poor Adam, he’s pushing content, content, content, and everyone else is saying services, services, services. Then his summary of what’s required is a Roadmap. It certainly didn’t work for Israel and Palestine.

Important to think beyond current situation and reach out to CRM, ERP, etc. Don’t miss inking up with them.

Clark Aldrich

The Future of Technology

Hype Cycles

This was a great discussion, and the graphic tells 90% of the story. It’s a monster graphic. but well worth the time to study.

Chunks: sounds good, not happening many places

Blogging is in the theory stage. Clark asked me to describe blogging for the group. Millions of users but still a theory. Ditto Sam Adkins’ workflow based eLearning: all theory right now

Hype cycle is inevitable and painful. It’s almost a physical law.

Human capital management…in the theory stage.


Low-risk, well-defined. Four basic types:

Branching story:

  • Cognitive Arts, Ninth House
  • Easy to deploy
  • Easy to use
  • Good for new-hire, compliance, easier to create

Interactive spreadsheet model

  • Enspire, SMG
  • Compressed timeline
  • Rapid feedback
  • Present complex system
  • Chaperoned

Game-based simulation (not really a simulation)

  • Games2 Train
  • Exicintg, fun, kinesthetic, flexible
  • Good buzz, boring but important stuff
  • Virtual product-base simulations
  • Flashsim,

Bryan Chapman

Benchmarking Your eLearning Products and Services

Number of eLearning players

  • 142 LMS
  • 70 LCMS
  • 63 Virtual classrooms
  • 136 Authoring tools
  • 103 Simulation products
  • 378 Custom courseware development
  • 206 Consulting

Market Size (per META)

  • LMS Platform $500 million
  • Content Tools 300 million
  • ELearning Content $700 million
  • Services $1 billion
  • Total $2.5 billion

Competitive Analysis

Write down ten reasons why someone should buy your product or service? Your competition’s response to this?

$2 million "solution"

  • large finance company
  • 25,000 learners
  • scope creep
  • should have paid about $500,000
  • listed every feature in a Brandon report,
  • wanted everything
  • spent $2,000,000 but should have been $900,000

RFP requirements

  • More requests for internal development of eLearning content
  • Desire to include novice in instructional development process
  • More sophisticated requests for business system integration
  • Dept solutions v. full enterprise wed solutions
  • Huge emphasis on financial viability of the company
  • Single source solutions

Average price per seat of LMS



500 users




1st year




3 year license & maintenance





1ST year




3 year




Illogical variations in pricing

Cost of development for an hour-long course

$4,500 low end of range

$26,613 median

$80,000 high

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September 20, 2003

Online Learning 2003

I'll be in L.A. for the next four days, occasionally blogging events in real time.

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September 19, 2003

Social Networking: Is There a Business Model?

Check Courante for a blow-by-blow report of this week's symposium at Stanford B-School on Social Networking: Is There a Business Model?.

Ross Mayfield on Social Software:

Our business model is antithetical to traditional enterprise software. Top-down software, with lines of code as barriers to entry, process and ontology that users are expected to fit themselves into, long sales-cycles and inordinate TCO -- is by all accounts dead and leaves users stranded with email.

The reason for this is the rules and opportunties have changed. You can't screw your customers. You can't lock them in. You can't ask them to take significant risk up front. Risk is shared with customers by providing incremental proof of value in-line with them taking risk on you.

While startup costs have declined, some have increased. Notably, its harder to sell traditionally (top-down) and you can't raise barriers to entry by locking-in your customers. The only entry point is bottom-up. The only marketable barrier to entry today is network effects.

Another viewpoint rings true:

We will see social networking functionality become become an integrated service provided in an application suite. Just like Microsoft Outlook and Yahoo have email, calendars, and address books, it wouldn't be a stretch to extend their services to support social networking functionality. They already have the captive audience and branding so adding social networking functionality isn't really a high barrier to entry for them. We should all stay tuned for a lot of interesting M&A activity in this space, rather than the next big thing.

Bottom line on the starting question: No, there's not currently a business model.

Posted by Jay Cross at 11:34 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 17, 2003


This morning I wrote about the ineffectiveness of schooling, saying "Small wonder that executives hear the word “learning,” think “schooling,” and conclude “not enough payback.” I no longer talk with executives about learning; they respond better to “execution.”

This evening the Web came along with proof: The annual review by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reports that the U.S. spent $10,240 per student from elementary school through college in 2000, the most of any of the 25 industrial countries reviewed. The results are shabby.

Education Secretary Rod Paige said the results "confirm that schools here have grown complacent, and that a new law tying federal spending to school performance will help." Rod is essentially saying that throwing money at the problem will help. Given that we're moving from the information age into the knowledge age, I'd rather see us dismantle our industrial age school system and build something that prepares students for tomorrow.

Posted by Jay Cross at 11:25 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 15, 2003

I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore.

It's too bad Franz Kafka is not around to enjoy this and say "I told you so."

Microsoft Security Bulletin MS03-039

Buffer Overrun In RPCSS Service Could Allow Code Execution (824146)

Originally posted: September 10, 2003

    Who should read this bulletin: Users running Microsoft ® Windows ®

    Impact of vulnerability: Three new vulnerabilities, the most serious of which could enable an attacker to run arbitrary code on a user's system.

    Maximum Severity Rating: Critical

    Recommendation: System administrators should apply the security patch immediately

I'm still using Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 Workstation, but it is no longer in support. However, this bulletin has a patch. Why is that?

Windows NT 4.0 Workstation has reached its end of life as previously documented and Microsoft is not normally providing generally available patches. However, due to the nature of this vulnerability, the fact that the end-of-life occurred very recently, and the number of Windows NT 4.0 Workstations currently in active use, Microsoft has decided to make an exception for this vulnerability.

We do not anticipate doing this for future vulnerabilities, but reserve the right to produce and make available patches when necessary. It should be a priority for customers with existing Windows NT 4.0 Workstations to migrate those to supported platforms to prevent exposure to future vulnerabilities.

[Pay us or our lack of support will destroy you.]

Disclaimer: The information provided in the Microsoft Knowledge Base is provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Microsoft disclaims all warranties, either express or implied, including the warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose. In no event shall Microsoft Corporation or its suppliers be liable for any damages whatsoever including direct, indirect, incidental, consequential, loss of business profits or special damages, even if Microsoft Corporation or its suppliers have been advised of the possibility of such damages. Some states do not allow the exclusion or limitation of liability for consequential or incidental damages so the foregoing limitation may not apply.

[Don't blame us.]

Technical description:
An attacker who successfully exploited these vulnerabilities could be able to run code with Local System privileges on an affected system, or could cause the RPCSS Service to fail. The attacker could then be able to take any action on the system, including installing programs, viewing, changing or deleting data, or creating new accounts with full privileges.

[This vulnerability could easily delete everything from your hard drive, probably after stealing your financial records, passwords, work in progress, and dirty pictures and posting them on the net for everyone's amusement.]

"I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more."

My son, who has made one stock purchase in his life -- Microsoft -- switched to Linux. Now he's running BSD. I have other things to invest my time in, and I don't have a friendly Help Desk or sysop to call from my home office.

I used to rationalize putting time into knowing the latest technology fads, tweaks, patches, and workarounds by telling myself it was worth it to be able to share with others. I've hit the tipping point. I'm spending more time dorking around with fixes and Spam and brushes with catastrophe than I can justify. I'd rather be writing, photographing, analyzing, documentation, mindmapping, reading, interpreting...using my wetware.

So, where does one go? I would have thought this foolish until I finally encountered one patch too many. The answer, which I'll be exploring this week and next, is:

My switching costs used to be too high to contemplate this. Thousands of dollars in software, muscle memory for tapping out frequent instructions, and lots of peripherals/gadgets. Then it occurred to me that I can still use all this arcana as long as I'm not vulnerable to the net. I'll get a Mac and use it when I'm connected and keep my desktop for processing and specialty functions. At a minimum, this will give me training wheels while I get up to speed.

Mad As Hell [listen]

written by Paddy Chayefsky

Howard Beale: I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth. Banks are going bust. Shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's no one anywhere that seems to know what to do with us. Now into it. We know the air is unfit to breathe, our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had 15 homicides and 63 violent crimes as if that's the way it's supposed to be. We know things are bad. Worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy so we don't go out anymore. We sit in a house as slowly the world we're living in is getting smaller and all we say is, "Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster, and TV, and my steel belted radials and I won't say anything." Well I'm not going to leave you alone. I want you to get mad. I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot. I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crying in the streets. All I know is first you've got to get mad. You've got to say, "I'm a human being. God Dammit, my life has value." So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out, and yell, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" I want you to get up right now. Get up. Go to your windows, open your windows, and stick your head out, and yell, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!" Things have got to change my friends. You've got to get mad. You've got to say, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!" Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open your window, stick your head out and yell, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

Posted by Jay Cross at 10:54 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 13, 2003

Nothing since July 19?

I guess not everybody was born to blog.

Release 4.0

Saturday, July 19, 2003

    syndication and branding - preliminary thoughts
    Intel made a huge success of its Intel Inside! branding program. Although few consumers knew what a microprocessor was, they wanted one in their personal computer. Now Intel is trying to do that again, with the Centrino for WiFi.

    As we drove up Highway 101 to SFO, we saw the billboard for Auctiondrop ( funded by Draper Fisher and Mobius): You drop it off; we sell it on eBay.

    posted by Esther 11:27 AM
Posted by Jay Cross at 11:42 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 12, 2003

eLearning Forum

Four score and one people attended today's eLearning Forum meeting on Virtual Teams and Collaboration at Cisco. A quarter of them attended via Interwise from such places as France, Canada, Tennessee, Ireland, Denmark, Switzerland, Nevada, New York, Finland, Missouri, Sri Lanka, and Australia. Even more gratifying is the fact that none of them dropped out during the three-hour session. We've been working toward this for several years. This is the first time we've made it through without one SNAFU or another.

Today's success is attributable to many factors, among them a dedicated remote participant champion (who worked his tail off preparing for today), great support from Interwise, a Cisco A/V tech who has meeting support down pat, a video cameraman who knew his stuff -- and the room, a sponsor at Cisco who worked behind the scenes to make sure all was in order, a program that demonstrated real solutions to real problems, and treating our remote attendees as fellow participants, not second-class citizens.

Using voice-over-IP, we webcast a three-hour meeting with two-way audio literally around the world with no phone bill. Once again we can dream of sharing advice on what works well with the rest of the world.

Eilif Trondsen opens today's meeting.

Posted by Jay Cross at 05:12 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

September 11, 2003

How Organizations Learn

What We Do
Practice - - - This page is currently under construction.

About Organizational Learning
What 's New in OL? - - - This page is currently under construction. Please check our calendar for upcoming SoL events and related happenings in the field of organizational learning.

These pages have been under construction for at least two years!!

Posted by Jay Cross at 10:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Social Network Analysis

Eighty to a hundred people attended the inaugural meeting of the Institute for Social Network Analysis of the Economy (ISNAE: is-nay) yesterday evening at PARC. The crowd included social network software people, venture capitalists, sociologists, deal-makers, economists, and a handful of people looking for advice on how to leverage their own personal networks.

I’ll share some of my notes and use this as a social network analysis resource page for a while.

People at first ISNAE meetingMark Granovetter, a professor of sociology at Stanford, did a great job of covering the waterfront of Social Network Analysis (henceforth SNA).
Mark Granovetter
We’re all involved in social networking every day. It’s like the character in Moliere’s Bourgeois Gentilhomme who is astounded to discover that he has been speaking in prose all his life.

The typical person knows 500 people. That gives 125,000 possible configurations of relationships. SNA represents the relationships as points and lines. Software to sort through that many lines has only been around for the last five years, so deep SNA is relatively new.

Mark’s working on two major projects. The first is an SNA of the early electricity industry. Conclusion: A tight social network of Edison and others shifted electricity generation from a distributed model with local generators to a grid fed by massive turbines. The entrepreneurs drove the technology rather than the best technology rising to the top on its own.

Is this happening in SIlicon Valley, Mark’s second area of study? Other areas and nations send people to Stanford and to the Valley to study the ecosystem here. They are trying to find the formula that makes it happen. Mark and his students are years into the project but the completion date is always moving out faster than the project itself.

Mark introduced some of the classic concepts of SNA:

The strength of weak ties, his own serendipitous discovery. Looking for a new job? You’re more likely to get useful leads from acquaintances than from close friends. The acquaintances travel in different circles. For the most part, you already know most of the people your friends know.

The small world problem, famously studied by Stanley Milgram. Short-hand: six degrees, Kevin Bacon.

Scale-free networks, a confusingly named situation where mosts nodes only have a single connection but a few hubs have loads of connections. This is robust if you’re killing nodes because the odds are that you’ll hit one with few connections and the network won’t feel it. If, on the other hands, you understand where things are, the scale-free network is fragile; wiping out a hub does major damage.

The three authors popularizing SNA at the moment have different views on the impact of scale-free networks (think of it as a measure of density or clustering) on network resilience. The books Mark suggests are:

I found Linked much more enjoyable, and useful, than Six Degrees. have yet to read Nexus. Mark did not suggest the two that follow, perhaps because their authors lack PhD’s and tenure. Gladwell is an enlightening read; you can do it on a transcontinental flight with time to spare. Johnson’s book covers lots of things besides networks, and for me it was read/contemplate/read/contemplate/etc., one of those books you savor over weeks.

I asked Mark about the capacity of the current software. Points and lines don’t convey much information. I ponder the importance of the value and quantity of content flowing through the pipe and what’s going on in the nodes. Is this someone I respect? Or hate? Or don’t know well?

Mark said the software today is ahead of our ability to use it. I take it many SNA people are still relying on dots and lines. Apparently, the most commonly used package can take as many variables as you can throw at it. It’s named Pajek. That’s Slovenian for “spider.” It’s a free download. It produces dots and lines diagrams like this. Unfortunately, the documentation is a broken translation from the original Slovenian, so it’s difficult to learn. ISNAE will be sponsoring a class in Pajek (pronounced Pie-Ack) soon. Other software for SNA is here.

The solid state physicist sitting next to me was looking for direct application of SNA. Sick of designing chips, he’s looking for networking to take him into a new field. Upon hearing of the strength of weak ties, he deadpanned, “Does this mean I should shit-can all my friends and begin hanging out with mere acquaintances?” Mark said friends have their place.

I had a small-world experience yesterday myself. Over lunch in Emeryville, a friend had mentioned Bob Karr, a guy who is investigating the interlocking network of board memebers in Silicon Valley. The next question in the evening session came from the fellow behind me, who turned out to be the same Bob Karr. You can look at the Silicon Valley network for free at

For those who are interested in SNA, Mark recommends joining the International Network for Social Network Analysis. dues are $40. Annual conferenes, the Sunbelt Conferences, have taken place on the Costa del Sol, San Diego, New Orleans, Cancun, Charleston, and Budapest. Lucky you — the 2004 Sunbelt convenes mid-May in Portorož, Slovenia. Maybe you can pick up some hints on using Pajek while you’re there.

The INSNA site has a wealth of resources: back issues of Connections, the Journal of Social Structure, a listserv, social capital links, and lots more.

Posted by Jay Cross at 07:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 10, 2003

Organizational Serendipity

This is the follow-up site for participants in today's dialogs on informal learning.

Caution: Some of this material is controversial.

Catalysts to the discussion

    Informal learning is the unplanned, "unauthorized" learning that generally flies under the corporate radar. It includes such things as swapping information in the office kitchen or hallway, asking the person in the next cubicle, calling the help desk, watching someone else, trial & error, and calling teammates. People learn most of what it takes to do their jobs informally. Can we afford to leave this up to chance? Today's session addressed how to take advantage of informal learning to improve the bottom line.

    Complexity means that the world is more complicated than you thought and that you'll never have all the answers. Everything's connected and interacting. The future is unpredictable. Shit happens. Today's job is to solve the problems we're not yet aware of.

    Standard problem-solving limits our perspective and buries good things that are not part of the solution to the problem at hand. David Cooperrider says, "Once we describe something as a problem, we assume that we know what the ideal is - what should be - and we go in search of ways to close any 'gaps' - not to expand our knwledge or to build better ideals." As Einstein said, "Problems cannot be solved at the same level of consciousness that created them." ADDIE is dead.

    Serendipity is a "happy accident." People can develop a state of mind that makes serendipity more likely, more frequent, and far more consequential. Fortune favors those who have a cause or mission and pursue it with sagacity, sensitivity, and wisdom. Applying this approach throughout an organization's culture prepares it to expect the unexpected, to notice what others miss, and to be receptive to impressions and intuitions.

    Positive psychology posits that we should stop relying on what we've learned from the mentally ill when advising people who are mentally healthy. Better to look at what makes happy people happy. Take this approach organizationally and you get Cooperrider's Appreciate Inquiry.

    Stories are a compelling way to share knowledge and learn informally. Stories are natural, entertaining, and engaging. When fully engaged, the readers' minds work in concert with the storyteller to focus entirely on generating the virtual world of the story. The power comes from propelling listeners to invent their own stories. Then they own the outcomes. "I liked the book better than the movie because the colors were better."


Emerging conclusions

  • Start from strength, not from problems.
  • Cultivate organizational serendipity.
  • Co-create stories to change the culture.
  • Fight bureaucracy creep and (of course) over-formalism.
  • Be aware that the issue is not formal or informal; it's formal and informal.

I will post more after this afternoon's session.

Posted by Jay Cross at 12:11 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 09, 2003

Get Real

Why do I hate RealNetworks? Let me count the ways.

#1 You must provide a credit card number even though you're welcome to drop out before charges begin. They're hoping you'll forget....

#2 You can sign up online but you can't sign out online. Sign up 24/7; sign off working hours only. Reminds me of AOL.

    "To cancel your subscription, please call us at 1-888-768-3248.

    Thank you,
    RealNetworks Customer Service

    Our hours of operation are:
    Monday - Friday, 6:00 am to 7:30 pm - Pacific Time
    Saturday, 7:30 am to 7:30 pm - Pacific Time
    Sunday, 7:30 am to 5:30 pm - Pacific Time

#3 Real claims to do this to improve their service. What bullshit.

#4 If the past is any guide, I'll be discovering weird stuff Real left behind weeks after I've tried to eradicate it.

Posted by Jay Cross at 01:03 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 08, 2003

Social Network Analysis

Wednesday night is the inaugural meeting of the Institute for Social Network Analysis in the Economy at PARC in Palo Alto.

Naturally, I'll be there. SNA is at the core of informal and collaborative learning, two areas I'm focusing on.

We live in a world of networks, from networks of suppliers, to networks of computers; from networks of trading partners to networks of anti-globalization activists our connected world is linked like never before. Each instant more links are made through the Internet, cell phones, travel, trade pacts, markets and countless other ways. These networks can provide us with vital information and tremendous opportunities or they can become closed and stifle growth.

How do we know what the networks are? How do we know how they behave and interact with each other? When is a network a healthy beneficial one and when is it stifling and destructive? As networks have grown more complex, the tools job of analyzing them has grown more complex,. ISNAE exists to study these networks and use the knowledge to make a difference.

Mark Granovetter will be speaking Wednesday evening. Is that name familiar? Perhaps you read Linked. Mark is the fellow who discovered the strength of weak ties, e.g. you're more likely to find a job through a friend of a friend than through the friend itself. That's what this is all about:

>Special Insider Tip: They've sold out on dinners. Eat beforehand, and you're still welcome to join us. Your price: $20.


For more information, or to join ISNAE, contact: Don Steiny
([email protected]) or 831.471.1671.

Posted by Jay Cross at 05:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Outlook? Look out!

Good bye forever, Outlook.

Outlook is handy but it's also like leaving your front door unlocked in a bad neighborhood. And it's a bitch to back up. And it's slow. And it once asked me if I wanted to archive old records and when I foolishly clicked "Yes," a year of email vanished, never to be seen again.

Eudora is now my email client. It's snappy, easy to back up, and free. I just installed SpamPal, also free, and it's isolating most of the Spam so I don't have to deal with it.

Posted by Jay Cross at 03:01 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 06, 2003

Personalized learning

Personalization is important

Did you ever read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People? Written in 1937, and still in print 15,000,000 copies later, How to… was the first people-skills book. “Deal with people so that they feel important and appreciated” is Carnegie’s timeless formula. “*Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

I contend that much of what passes for eLearning would benefit mightily from Carnegie’s advice.

Fifty years after Carnegie, Stan Davis coined the term mass customization to describe the ability to provide individualized services and goods with the efficiency of mass production. Mass customization was supposed to be one of the foundations of eLearning, but somehow it slipped through the cracks as vendors raced for quick fixes and quarterly revenue.

Up the revolution

Looking back with the wisdom of hindsight, I think first-generation eLearning ran off the tracks because investors thought the learning revolution would be a repeat of the industrial revolution. What VC wouldn’t fight for a piece of that action?

The industrial revolution succeeded because of the specialization of labor and the substitution of machines for labor; it took most of the people out of the equation. eLearning attempted to do the same thing. In the early days, eLearning was justified by the savings in instructor salaries and airplane tickets when learning migrated from the classroom to the desktop.

Of course, people aren’t bales of cotton and learning is social, so most of the early eLearning programs went down in flames.

Come into my store

Imagine if I operated a store that treated customers the way early eLearning treats learners. You bought an expensive item last week and come back into the store. No one acknowledges you or says hello. No one calls you by name. They’re already forgotten you were here before. They have no memory of your purchase. There isn’t much merchandise on the shelves and you’re not allowed to try anything on before you buy it. We never follow up. You want a personal shopper? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. That’s a good one.

Most eLearning is like this. Is it any wonder people don’t buy it?

Drop outs?

Lance Dublin and I interviewed dozens of companies while researching our book, Implementing eLearning. Why were so many people dropping out of eLearning? They told us:

  1. It was irrelvant to their jobs.
  2. They already knew the material.
  3. They hit roadblocks and had no one to turn to.
  4. The material was dull as dishwater.

If eLearning were personalized, these irritants would evaporate. (Well, perhaps not #4.)

Even my online bookstore remembers who I am and suggests new things for me to look at based on my previous selections and those of people like me. It’s always learning how to serve me better. It lets me go at my own pace, providing lots of directions so I’ll stay interested. I’ve yet to see an LMS that learns as well as Amazon does.

What others think

71 people responded to a short poll about the value of personalized learning. I’ll provide a summary here; I’ve posted the details on the web.

  1. Most respondents say personalization makes a difference or is very important. (But only 7% rate their own efforts better than so-so.)

  2. A solid majority think it important to avoid redundancy by automatically skipping over material the learner has already mastered. (But only half do it.)

  3. More than 90% think it’s important for learners to be able to annotate and highlight materials and “dogear” virtual pages. (But only 27% have implemented it.)

  4. Four out of five think it’s important for learners to be able to share notes, annotations, and content with other learners. (But only one in five do so.)

  5. Everyone thinks it important to tailor learning to the learner’s job requirement and competencies. (And 38% do it.)

  6. Everyone thinks collaboration with peers is important. (And 42% do it.)

  7. Most people deem it important to have a live mentor or learning coach to asnwer questions and help learners over rough spots. (But less than half do it.)

The bottom line

Most people think personalized learning is important. Less than half do anything about it. I sense lots of unrealized potential to be gained by “dealing with learners so that they will feel important and appreciated.”

Posted by Jay Cross at 02:07 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

September 05, 2003

What works

Today I caught up with my old pal Josh Bersin at a coffee shop in Oakland. Eighteen months ago, Josh went independent after healthy stints with IBM, Sybase, Arista, and Digital Think. You’ve probably seen the Bersin & Associates logo on the web, announcing the firm’s market research findings.

I asked Josh a few questions and jotted down his replies. Like the cool colors? Go here.

Jay: You talk with a lot of people in eLearning. Who’s calling you these days and what do they want to know?

Josh: “The market seems to fall into two broad categories. A surprisingly large number are people new to eLearning and they need help getting started.

They’ve purchased some courseware from SkillSoft or NetG, and they think they’re doing e-learning. Although it’s a good start, it’s just the first step. Once they expand, they struggle trying to figure out which LMS to buy, where to find specialized content, and how they should build content on their own. The second group is people who have built e-learning programs but are growing to do more. They ask us how to do blended learning, when to use simulations, how to manage development teams, what tools to buy, and how to optimize their LMS. This group is growing in size every day, but at least half our clients are still relatively new to the whole space.”

What’s new and important today?

“One hot trend is something we call Rapid eLearning. In the early days, (only a few years ago) developing eLearning was an elaborate, expensive, and time-consuming affair. We have found that e-learning programs fall into four natural categories – and two of these are what we call “informational” and “knowledge transfer.” For problems in these two categories it is not necessary to build elaborate, expensive courseware. It’s more appropriate to use Rapid eLearning to slash development time to a week or two.

Rapid eLearning is typically based on PowerPoint and uses audio and maybe one short assessment. You push a button and it is published to the web, in a trackable AICC format. A great tool set for this solutions is Macromedia Breeze – which is a complete “rapid e-learning tool.” Others which fall into this category are Webinar tools like Centra, Interwise, and Webex. In this model the SME can do much of the authoring, and the program can be built quickly and edited easily. Small is beautiful and simpler is better.”

What should people watch out for?

“People often say that Content is King, as if that’s the only tough nut to crack. We agree that it’s vital to have content that’s interesting and on the mark. But in our research we find that success requires much more. Content goes nowhere unless you have an entire program around it — (we call it “program management”). This means worrying about program launch, marketing, infrastructure, audience motivation, manager motivation, change management, and business process integration. These processes are unique in e-learning because of the scale and technology issues involved. We find that the total cost and investment in e-learning is probably only 20% content. A king is not much use if you don’t have the kingdom to go with him.”

You and Chris and Karen are busy as beavers. When we’ve met recently, customers are inundating you with calls. In contrast, with the recession I’ve found myself with open spaces on my dance card. I have “excess capacity” for promoting products and ideas. How are you positioning Bersin & Associates?

“Well the simple answer is that we focus on what works™. Our goal is to continuously identify, research, analyze, and communicate best practices. ”

“The eLearning world is evolving so rapidly that you won’t find best practices in a book. Books are obsolete the day they are published. We talk with practitioners all day. We’re all former practitioners ourselves. We find out about best practices from the people who are inventing them and we analyze the impact. Then we share what we’ve found.”

There’s still a lot of confusing and hand wringing over LMS. You’ve developed them. Any advice for buyers?

“Caveat emptor. LMS systems are complex – far more complex than order processing or financial systems. Why? Because training is a very custom application from company to company and problem to problem. As a result, LMS’s are riddled with features which most companies do not use.

It’s vital for both buyer and LMS vendor to understand the business requirements – meaning the specific application workflows which you need the LMS to enable. Because of the history of the vendors, the products are wildly different from one another. Some grew from a “for-profit” training background, some grew out of “assessment systems,” others grew from “classroom management systems,” and others grew up focused on “content management.” The list goes on. We advise buyers to think through the business applications they are solving (not just “publishing a course catalog”), consider the features and workflows that enable those applications and then come up with a short list of providers, three or four. If the vendors don’t have at least fifty customers, cut them. Walk through business process with them. Ask whether they can do this or that. Then get hands-on demos and see if the product does what you need.”

Help us understand some of the differences. What’s the DNA of the prime LMS vendors? Where are they coming from?

“Well I want to be fair and equitable here. Click2learn comes from a content development background; they’re strong in content management and deployment. Plateau is strong in certification and flexible technology architecture, this has been their focus. Saba was originally designed to deliver for-profit training, which by definition is not behind the firewall – and they have added features for corporate universities over time. Docent’s legacy is in the assessment area, and now are heavily focused on analytics and measurement. In our recent surveys we asked more than 5,000 people “what was the business issue that drove the purchase of the LMS” and for the first time the #1 answer was “centralizing information about all of our training so we can make decisions.” This means that one of the critical value propositions of the LMS is reporting and analytics – an area I am very focused on. Saba and Docent each have strong analytics, and this will become increasingly important over time.”

What advice do you have for eLearning practitioners?

“Don’t get too far ahead of the curve. We advise companies to use what’s tried and true. Let the other guys take the arrows from pioneering.”

“Figure out how to integrate live eLearning in a big way. Bandwidth is getting cheaper. If someone’s not doing in-house webinars, they’ve missed some low-hanging fruit.”

“Centralized training units must figure out how to provide exactly what their business units need and no more. Otherwise, they’ll hear the frequent refrain that ‘We’re not using any of this stuff. Let’s outsource the entire function.’”

Posted by Jay Cross at 08:40 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack


Today I was sitting in Josh Bersin's kitchen. He got a conference call. I switched on his computer and started grabbing the news. Then I dropped by this site just to see how it looked in IE, which I'd given up for Mozilla and Opera, each of which has its strong points but both of which are miles ahead of IE.

Damned if my site didn't look goofy. The blog column was overlapping the navigation column. Argh. IE interprets tables in a non-standard way.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know good practice calls for testing one's site with a variety of browsers. In my case, I'm author, coder, webmaster, smut eraser, and graphic artist on a site that is continually changing shape and pushing the envelope. I'd rather see Microsoft go along with standards than force tens of millions of us to create workarounds.

Jay's justice: If you are convicted in Federal court of cutting off a competitor's air supply, you are obligated not to abandon your product for at least five years after killing the competitor. Nor are you allowed to collude with the purchaser of the former competitor's acquirer to bury what's left. Nor are you allowed to violate court order by incorporating the product back into your operating system to retain your monopoly.

That's just my opinion. I might be wrong.

Posted by Jay Cross at 07:14 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 02, 2003

Leonardo's Laptop II

Finished reading Leonardo’s Laptop and appended a few quotes to yesterday’s post. Is this a great line or what?

The old business was about making a profit; the new business is about making a profit.

The morning’s email contained a note from a woman in the UK who had read Ian’s and my The DNA of eLearning and was interested in obtaining a copy of Beyond eLearning, from which it was excerpted. She came to but all she could find was “a directory listing.” Uh-oh. I thought my minimalist menu design was lucid; she found it inscrutable.

So this morning I designed a Site Map of sorts and revamped my 404 error page.

Later in the day I dropped by Cody’s Books and Moe’s Books on Telegraph Avenue. It’s great to live in a town with a great university, for it guarantees good bookstores and great coffee.

Rather than buy books today, I jotted down names of a few books I want to read. As a member of four local libraries, I figured I’d see if I could simply borrow these:
* The Art of Happiness at Work by the Dalai Lama
* The Order of Nature by Christopher Alexander
* Lies and the Liar… by Al Franken
* The Resilience Factor by Andrew Shatte & Karen Reivich
* Good Business by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

What else? Oh, yeah, I installed the Textism plug-in for Movable Type, so you should see the difference between — and —-. These should be “curly quotes.” Dean Allen, the Textism inventor, seems a nice guy. Brad Choate, who wrote the Textism plug-in for Movable Type is an MT wizard.

Brad’s site led me to Matt Haughey’s great article on converting an entire site to MT. There goes another long weekend.

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September 01, 2003

Leonardo's Laptop

I’m reading Leonardo’s Laptop by Ben Shneiderman. Ben was a fellow keynoter at the I-KNOW Conference in Graz earlier this year.

The big message is “Computing today is about what computers can do; the new computing will be about what people can do.”

Leonardo da Vinci excelled in science and art, as he detailed in the notebooks he always carried. Today he’d carry a tablet computer of some sort. The book looks at computing in learning, business, healthcare, and government, always asking What would Leonardo do?

The old computing was about mastering technology. Remember when people talked about how big their hard drives were or the clock speed of their processor chips? The new computing is about getting people together. We’ve gone from formulating database queries to participating in communities of practice. Teachers no longer teach; they guide. Sales people don’t sell; they form relationships. Shneiderman says “This Copernican shift is bringing concerns about users from the periphery to the center. The emerging focus is on what users want to do in their lives.”

I agree that “The new computing is about collaboration and empowerment—individually, organizationally, and societally,” but it’s also the way the world is starting to work. The computing is a reflection of the users rather than some new invention.

Great line: “The shift in attention is from AI to UI.” From artificial intelligence to user interface. The UI is “you” and “I.” The desired outcome is not a HAL 9000 that replaces man; it’s more like the old Outer Limits punchline: “To serve man.”

Shneiderman posits a universal creative process:


Then he sets up four tiers of relationships

SelfFamily and friendsColleaguesCitizens

He puts these into a grid: an activites and relationships table (ART). Seeing how the cells play out in learning, business, government, and medicine fill most of the rest of the text.

Family and friends

“Memorizing dates for Napolenon’s rule, names of the U.S. presidents, or rivers of Africa is less relevant in an age of ubiguqitous information. The new education accenturates critical thinking, analytical strategies, and working with people. This goals are tied to improving communication skills and creative problem solving.”

“The case for active learning was boldly stated in 1971 by the Canadian educator Wilard Wees in his aptly titled book Nobody Can Teach Anybody Anything:
bq.Whatever knowledge children gain they creat themselves;
whatever character they develop they create themselves.

“I’ve come to see that the sound of learning is not my voice lecturing but the buzz of team discussions during a collaborative exercise.”

“Asking a good question is one of the golden keys to learning. Educational psychologists talk about meta-cognitive skills: the capacity of students to reflect on what they know and what they don’t know.”

The old business was about making a profit; the new business is about making a profit.

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