Yo Clark, I really liked your new book, Revolutionize Learning and Development, but there’s one thing I’m not sure I’m fully behind—your recommendation that we as learning professionals kowtow to the organization—that we build our learning interventions aimed solely to meet organizational needs. I grew up near Philadelphia, so I’m partial to Rocky Balboa, using the interjection “Yo,” and rooting for the little guy. What are you thinking? Isn’t revolution usually aimed against the powerful?


Will, what is powerful are the forces against needed change.  L&D appears to be as tied to an older age as Rocky is!  I’m not saying a complete abdication to the organization, but we certainly can’t be oblivious to it either.  The organization doesn’t know learning, to be sure, and should be able to trust us on performance support and informal learning too.  But do you really think that most of what is happening under the guise of L&D is a good job on the formal learning side?


Clark, Of course not. Much of L&D is like Rocky’s brother-in-law Paulie, having an inner heart of gold, but not living up to full effectiveness. I’ve written about the Five Failures of Workplace Learning Professionals three years ago, so I’m on the record that we could do better. And yes, there are lots of forces allied against us, so I’m glad you’re calling for revolution. But back to the question Apollo! To whom do we have more responsibility, the organizations we work for or our profession? To whom should we give our Creed?


Will, your proposed bout is a non-starter!  It’s not either/or; we need to honor both our organization and our profession (and, I’ll argue, we’re currently doing neither).   When we’re building our interventions, they should be to serve the organizations needs, not just their wants. We can’t be order takers, we need to go to the mat (merrily mixing my metaphors) to find out the real problem, and use all solutions (not just courses).   Mickey’d tell you; you got to have heart, but also do the hard yards.  Isn’t the real tension between what we know we should be doing and what we’re actually doing?


I am so much in agreement! Why are we always order takers? You want fries with that? Here’s where I think some in our profession go overboard on the organization-first approach. First, like you say, many don’t have a training-request process that pushes their organizations to look beyond training as the singular leverage point to performance improvement. Second, some measurement “gurus” claim that what’s most important is to measure organizational results—while reneging on our professional responsibility to measure what we have the most control over—like whether people can make good work-related decisions after we train them or even remember what we taught them. Honestly, if the workplace learning field was a human being, it would be a person you wouldn’t want to have as a friend—someone who didn’t have a core set of values, someone who would be prone to following any fad or phony demigod, someone who would shift allegiances with the wind.


Now you’re talking; I love the idea of a training-request process! I recall an organization where the training head had a cost/benefit form for every idea that was brought to him.  It’s not how much it costs per bum per seat per hour, but is that bum per seat per hour making a difference!  And we can start with the ability to make those decisions, but ultimately we ought to also care that making those decisions is impacting the organization too.  I certainly agree we have to be strong and fight for what’s right, not what’s easy or expedient.  Serious elearning for the win!


We seem to be coming to consensus, however, you inspired another question. We agree that we have two responsibilities, one to our professional values and one to our organization’s needs. But should we add another stakeholder to this mix? I have my own answer, inherent in one of my many below-the-radar models, but I’d like your wisdom. Here’s the question, do we have a responsibility to our learners/performers? If we do have responsibilities to them, what are those responsibilities? And here is perhaps the hardest question–in comparison to the responsibility we have to our organizations, is our level of responsibility to our learners/performers higher, lower, or about the same? Remember, the smaller the ring, the harder it is to run…the more likely we get hit by a haymaker. Good luck with these questions…


Bringing in a ringer, eh?  I suppose you could see it as either of two ways: it’s our obligation to our profession and our organization to consider our learners, or they’re another stakeholder. I kinda like the former, as there’re lots of stakeholders: society, learners, ‘clients', SMEs, colleagues, profession, and more.  In fact, I’m inclined to go back to my proposition that’s it’s not either/or. Our obligation as professionals is to do the job that needs to be done in ways that responsibly address our learners, our organizations, and all stakeholders.  To put it in other words, designing interventions in ways that optimally equip learners to meet the needs of the organization is an integration of responsibilities, not a tradeoff.  We need to unify our approach  like boxing needs to unify the different titles!


From what I hear, boxing is dying as a spectator sport precisely because of all the discord and multiple sanctifying bodies. We in the learning-and-performance field might take this as a warning—we need to get our house in order, follow research-based best practices, and build a common body of knowledge and values. It starts with knowing who our stakeholders are and knowing that we have a responsibility to the values and goals of our profession. I like to give our learners a privileged place—at the same level of priority as the organization. It’s not that I think this is an easy argument in an economic sense, because the organization is paying the bills after all. But too often we forget our learners, so I like to keep them front and center in our learning-to-performance models.

Thanks Clark for the great discussion. And thanks for agreeing to host the next one on your blog

Well, it's not clear whether Oprah's doing subscription learning, but her press release says she is.

Calls to Oprah to guest star on this website have not been returned.

Just kidding! We never called Oprah. Would you return our calls?


Joe Pulizzi, marketing expert, offers several definitions for content marketing in his very good book on Content Marketing, including these:

"Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distrubuting valuable and compelling content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience–with the objective of driving profitable customer action."

"Content marketing is a strategy focused on the creation of a valuable experience. It is humans being helpful to each other, sharing valuable pieces of content that enrich the community and position the business as a leader in the field."

"Content marketing is about delivering the content your audience is seeking in all the places they are searching for it. It is the effective combination of created, curated, and syndicated content."

As you can see in these definitions, content marketing is generally something that marketing and business leaders think about. Content marketing is NOT what we learning professionals think about.

But we might be wrong! We might be missing an important opportunity!

Notice in Pulizzi's definitions the overlap with our learning goals:

  • creating and distrubuting valuable and compelling content
  • to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience
  • with the objective of driving profitable [employee] action
  • focused on the creation of a valuable experience
  • humans being helpful to each other, sharing valuable pieces of content that enrich the community
  • and position the business as a leader in the field
  • delivering the content your audience is seeking
  • in all the places they are searching for it
  • [using] the effective combination of created, curated, and syndicated content

In the Training Maximizers model there are seven priorities we ought to have to create successful training.

  1. Valid Credible Content
  2. Engaging Learning Events
  3. Support for Basic Understanding
  4. Support for Decision-Making Competence
  5. Support for Long-Term Remembering
  6. Support for On-the-Job Application of Learning
  7. Support for Perseverance in Learning

Content marketing can impact several of these, depending on how we use the content. Content marketing creates, researches, or curates valid content. It can be engaging if designed well and targeted for relevancy. It can support learners in having a basic understanding of key principles. It can support on-the-job application and after-training perseverance by connecting with learners over time.

That's all the easy stuff. If content marketing is taken to an even higher level–through scenario-based decision-making, through spaced practice, through realistic practice–it can also help support long-term remembering and decision-making competence, which, in turn, will support application and perseverance.

Others have talked about curation of content as a key role for us in the learning field. By taking the Training-Maximizer goals seriously, we can use content marketing to be maximally effective.

Subscription Learning and Content Marketing

Subscription Learning can be defined as follows:

"Subscription learning, as its name implies, provides an intermittent stream of learning-related interactions to those who are subscribed. These learning-related interactions–called "nuggets"–can involve a great variety of learning-related events, including content presentation, diagnostics, scenario-based questions, job aids, reflection questions, assignments, discussions, etc. Nuggets are short, usually presented in less than five minutes. Nuggets are intentionally scheduled over time to support learning, often utilizing research-based findings related to the spacing effect. Learners subscribe (or are subscribed) to one or more series of learning nuggets, called "threads." Learning threads can be predesigned, selecting nuggets based on anticipated learner needs or they can be dynamically created based on learner performance."

Subscription learning is ideally positioned to utilize content marketing approaches. It can be as simple as content curated for learners after a training session and emailed to them by their instructor. It can, of course, be more sophisticated, involving diagnostics, simulations, video, etc.

But content marketing ideas go beyond just information presentation. One of the key ideas with content marketing is that we are trying to build an audience of learners and learning facilitators. We in the workplace learning space should consider how we can meet our main mission by going beyond our traditional models. We could support communities of practice by supporting people in providing content. We could–instead of offering courses–provide content to generate interest and encourage self-directed learning. Indeed, we might ask ourselves, what's more costly, providing skilled instructors or providing content curators?

Those of you who are the most ambitious and most innovative might consider learning a bit more about content marketing and brainstorming ways you could use it in your organizations.

To get you started, here's an excellent article on content marketing from Inc. Magazine.