Epimetheus opening Pandora's box or jar

Learning has been unbundled – what do we do about it?

The arrival of the internet has been such a forceful source of change for the industries involved in learning. Everything has changed for the people we call learners. And yet, so much change is still needed for organisations servicing those learners and to gain and sustain relevance.

Arguably, the most important of those changes is the unbundling of learning. The internet has exploded all the parts bundled into a course (for centuries the base unit of instruction) and allowed open access to them. It has also allowed anyone to create and distribute them, with Google solving the problem of surfacing the best and social tools making sharing so easy.

The book was unbundled by the website, then the blog and then further by social media. Journals and magazines had the same treatment. Access to information within was unbundled by search engines, offering direct access to the freed nuggets. 

New content formats, themselves enabled by greater bandwidth and processing power, allowed for the unbundling of the crown jewel of learning services, the classroom. YouTube, and now TikTok have liberated video as a natural content mode. The rejuvenated podcast has done the same for audio. Together they rendered the bundling of access to expertise in the form of a lecture or classroom event a curiosity. 

Access to guidance, advice and feedback has been disaggregated into social media channels and messaging tools. The academic ivory tower of the lecturer, teacher and facilitator is becoming a lonely place as punters wander by, in direct conversation with a new breed of instructors. 

Technology troubles

All this disaggregation leaves corporate learning with a real challenge. The technology infrastructure that enables unbundling in the consumer world is weak or absent in many organisations. Search does not work in the same way, if at all. Content repositories and sites are siloed, poorly organised and equally poorly tagged and indexed. Document repositories are similarly stashed away. Social platforms and tools fare better, but are not searchable from without. Add to all this the reflex action of workers to just Google it and rely on the trusty combination of Wikipedia and YouTube. It’s a tough gig.

Learning platforms are now engineered to enable shorter forms of content and to free content objects from their SCORM sealed containers. Microlearning has travelled through the fad wringer and, I hope, recognised not to be an end in itself. So, in one sense, the technology is primed for unbundling, within the constraints of a single platform at least.

And further…where does that unbundled learning go and how can it be managed? I foresee three routes through these tangles: 


L&D is a big fan of curation, and rightly so. It is a natural response to the content morass in organisations and good counter to the reflex of building and buying more (excellently described in the Toby Harris Content Chaos piece). It is not good in itself, however. There is a risk of learning pathway creation becoming the new content reflex. Purposeful curation is needed in response to known needs, defined by the data that describes those needs. Good tools for scale are required as well. Content libraries have gems within, but workers cannot be bothered to find them with Google only a browser tab away. 

Curation also needs a chosen destination to house its wares or a good mechanism for distribution to the audience. Hence…

The EXP as the learning front end

This is where, I believe, the employee experience platform (or Teams as we most often know it) has a role to play. It is the flow of work for so many of us. It’s where we talk, collaborate, meet, write and access increasing volumes of information. As such, it is becoming the natural candidate as a destination for our curation efforts, the point to which we distribute those items and collections. This is where the feeds should go. There is opportunity for the EXP to overcome many of the challenges to unbundling in the corporate context. It will take time (probably quite a lot of it) but the first steps are taken and Microsoft can see it coming very clearly, Salesforce too.

Refresh the value of the learning bundle – the lesson from the creator economy 

Interestingly (and instructively), whilst the learning world is unbundling the course and the components within, the creator economy is going in reverse and bundling content into courses. There is both a commercial and user experience logic to this. The course bundle allowing sale and resale of content with the opportunity to reach new audiences and the creation of a richer, purposeful and more rewarding experience for those who wish to learn.

content creator unbundling diagram
Content creator unbundling and rebundling

Course creation has become an important revenue stream for online content creators. Plenty of investment has supported this and many platform businesses are developing around the opportunity. These platforms simplify the creation of the course bundle from video, audio and text. Add in community and feedback, collaboration and live events. The web has, after 25 years of ignoring it, found fresh value in the idea of an LMS and made it relevant for personal users. These course platforms are content business enablers rather than training control systems. They solve a problem of creating a richer and more deliberate experience for both creator and user. Not a SCORM object or authoring tool in sight. 

The role of editorial and commercial judgement in this bundling is vital. This is what the best creators are realising and developing expertise at, powered by access to rich feedback and performance data.  They are, quite ruthlessly, focused on valuable course packages. They know what is in demand from their networks and the data they provide. Their tone of voice and audience relationship is clear and well rehearsed. It is direct, authentic and personal, creating a relevant experience for buyers. They also know what people are paying for. They experiment with course production swiftly and move on. It’s a digital marketing approach, coupled with product management execution. Essentially, course bundles are being created to meet known demand for that type of experience.

I will return to this theme and consider the broader potential value of ‘re-bundled’ learning content. In the meantime, if you are bundling, be more content creator and put your bundles in the right place for your audience. And remember, a bundle does not have to be experienced in one go or at one location.

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