Disruption. Really? Again? Yes.

Explosion by AJ Cann (CC NC 4.0)
Explosion by AJ Cann (CC NC 4.0)

Are you ready to be disrupted?

Personally I am heartily sick of the abuse of this word. From a humble position on page 278 of my Concise Oxford Dictionary it seems to have launched itself on a campaign of world domination. We can’t blame Clayton Christensen, who coined the phrase disruptive innovation in 1995. People have latched onto it, throwing it about indiscriminately until the meaning has been beaten out of it.

And that’s a pity, because the world of organizational learning, and learning technology is about to be profoundly disrupted.

This is not ‘disrupted’ in the diluted sense of mild inconvenience that the word has come to mean. Things are going to be profoundly shaken up over the next 5 years.


The statistics are familiar, but we act as if they can’t apply to our own field: Uber’s May 2015 funding valued the quasi-cab company as worth more than 80% of the S&P 500. Similarly Airbnb is apparently worth more on paper than the Marriott and Starwood chains. These upstart start-ups are already having an impact on incumbent suppliers.

If transport and lodging can be disrupted – really disrupted – why can’t learning technology?

It can.

I’m not talking about new technologies here, but about the disintermediation and smart use of data that is the hall mark of these new companies.

Take curation, for example. Currently we sift through the internet, curating content manually. Wouldn’t it make sense to curate by watching how most people react to, and interact with, individual pieces of content, aggregating the results and distributing them for free? An Amazon-like algorithm combined with some reasonably-sized data (it needn’t be big) would rapidly generate something useful. The result would be a system automatic tagging content and providing suggestions and recommendations to help steer people to what they needed to know.

This is just one example of where algorithms and disintermediation might be put to work. There are others.

Who would be in a position to generate this kind of disruption? There are already start-ups working on this curation idea – or variations of it, and I would be very surprised if the biggest players in data and search – including Facebook, Google and LinkedIn – hadn’t considered it.

Two decades ago, L&D was a cottage industry of course manufacture and delivery. Its premise has not altered much since, only its mechanisms. The future holds far more profound changes for us all.

Get ready to be disrupted.


This originally appeared as the introduction to Inside Learning Technologies Magazine #55

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