Getting a degree, landing a job, and realizing success have always been a function of networks. However, training and education programs have traditionally been built around events limited to instructors and learners, a closed network richer in learning resources than live contacts. The idea has been to prepare learners to have success in these networks by providing knowledge and an affiliation with an institution or organization. And then off they go to placement programs, mentorships, or their Rolodexes to become known in their industries. Nevertheless, the actual task of professional networking has traditionally been seen as separate from the processes of learning and matriculation.
Obviously, the Internet has enabled fundamental changes to learning programs. We have learned to crowd source facts and ideas, share and search bodies of knowledge, group author and edit content, and, yes, leverage social networks.
The point of this post is that technology and policy have come to enable the demand of a new class of products for programs. These make networking a more integral part of learning experiences and create new interaction models that can define and differentiate programs.
To add some context, consider two terms: the Value Network and the Facilitated Network. A Value Network is used to describe associations and interactions among resources (human or otherwise), and its articulation allows one to understand and optimize an overall interaction model. A Facilitated Network is a business model that assumes a shared platform for people to exchange resources and services. Facilitated Networks are a way for Value Networks, once understood, to be optimized, generally by allowing a platform to monetize with members who want the right of access and exchange.
Apropos, our collaborative learning tool, asks users to engage in a collective search for information, working together towards a common set of links as a collective answer to a search prompt identified by an educator. Apropos allows a group of learners and an educator to network, to bring and review assets with an instructional value. To us, learner choice is a part of that value. We find value not only in what they find but in their choices as they search, share, and evaluate. While our business model is more of a traditional combination of B2B and sales to school systems and institutions, we offer a value network in the form of Apropos group interactions with an emphasis on learner choice.
The link I shared on Facilitated Networks argues for their use in healthcare. Learning programs, particularly those in education, share with healthcare a fundamental problem: the users generally aren’t the customers. This disconnect complicates reform and inhibits full information for stakeholders (not just consumers).
Lifelong learning, Human Capital Management, and any institution in education can be mapped as a Value Network. These networks are enriched by leveraging mentors, alumni, peers, counselors, instructors, and even friendly algorithms. More stakeholders = more resources = more value.
The functional value of networks is easy to see, particularly for learners who can simultaneously work on their knowledge, matriculation, and career prospects. But learners are not generally the customers. How can the customers, be they institutions or employers, see this same value and be motivated to change their programs?
There is no clear answer at present, but there are a number of products that provide a path to programs that seek a more networked learning experience. I endorse none of the following but mention them as signs of change and varying attempts to anticipate new business models or get creative with current paradigms.
- Degreed takes the Facilitated Network business model directly to learners as buying agents.
- Fidelis Education builds learner-centered, relationship-oriented program experiences for higher education.
- Gild recruits and places software developers, and their use of analytics suggests a direction for merging social interactions and portfolio building in order to assess, place, and support individual learners. In reality, all of these products suggest new forms of assessment/evidence of learning.
- Koru partners with employers and colleges to deliver business programs.
- MentorCloud builds mentoring networks within organizations.
- Minerva Project acts as an institution, partnering currently with one school to deliver a complete program.
One last thought: As learning experiences change, assessments of learning need to change, too. We can’t just keep lobbing multiple-choice questions at people and expect to gain new insights about learning or learners. How can assessments get more authentic and still scale? This will be the topic of the next post.