In the land of learning, two distinct groups are finally looking across the chasm separating them.
For the longest time they ignored each other, acting as though each had nothing to do with the other’s priorities and interests. That changed far too slowly, but now the two are motivated to connect. At the moment, it’s like two porcupines making love — it is done very cautiously.
On one side of the chasm are learning organizations in corporate America. On the other side reside American universities. Recent developments are rich with significant potential, but there are two reasons both groups are finally acknowledging each other.
The history of this chasm sets a context for emerging conversations. On the corporate learning organization side, the academic world of colleges and universities has long appeared as an impenetrable fortress. Their missions, vast resources and most of all cultures acted as barriers to even minimal levels of engaged conversation.
Markets and mission defined colleges’ priorities. Their markets consisted of green, undeveloped 18-year-old high school graduates malleable to the dictates of professors in traditional face-to-face classrooms taught behind closed doors. Corporate interests had no chance of getting to the door, let alone opening it.
Academics historically viewed their relationship with hiring organizations as a remote supplier role where the companies could hire graduates once colleges were done with them. The message from academic was: “Stay out of our business — our curriculum, delivery, quality control and assessment are none of your concern.” Though never spoken, these were the realities.
Corporate learning organizations turned out to be practical observers in their own right. The message from campus was one of isolation, so when it came to motivation to converse and collaborate, there was none. Neither group perceived potential gain. That is changing. Conversations are increasingly driven by a changing global reality for each group.
The academics have been the most inflexible. For centuries, traditional 18-year-old high school graduates were a readily identifiable market with growing numbers and increasing pools of federal dollars to finance higher education. The customers fitting their business model and the capital to finance it were both there.
But the market for colleges has changed. The majority of potential students are now nontraditional adults engaged in the lifelong learning activities, and the market for education is dramatically different. The heavy, fixed cost business model of high-maintenance campuses and rigid tenured faculty has shifted to potential lode stones from attractive assets. Thepossibility of drowning in debt is a real threat.
The new market of reinvesting adults demands that learning come to the customer rather than have learners go to a fixed, traditional campus. Few havefully responded, though there are a handful including The University of California at Berkeley; University of California at Los Angeles; Southern New Hampshire; and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
In the corporate learning community, however, there is another set of forces at work. Despite messengers like David Vance and I droning on about the need to quantitatively show the financial impact for learning, few learning departments are actually doing it. As a result, corporate learning organizations have surrendered to the command to do more with less, and they are largely unable to tap into the vast sea of cash liquidity sloshing around the global economy.
Corporate learning organizations are literally starved for new resources. Unable to secure them from their own organizations, underutilized resources are available in a few willing colleges and universities. Why? There is a market of lifelong learners readily identifiable — within corporate America.
Suddenly, these two communities need each other. The mutual benefits are now at our finger tips. It starts with engaged exploration of collaborative possibilities, which begin with honest dialogue centered on mutual interests.
Isn’t the possibility of the new forced by change just great? Some may disagree, but I certainly think so.Filed under: Learning Delivery