Seinfeld and Learning on the 3rd Platform

By Ernie Kahane September 25, 2014

Recently, the New York Times’ confidential innovation report was leaked. The report addressed the challenge of leveraging their success in print journalism on a digital platform. They noted that having great content alone was inadequate. The challenge was to connect that content to readers online. The “aha” moment for the New York Times was that going digital involved playing a new game.

Similarly, we’ve explored in previous blogs the rationale for corporate learning organizations to continue to journey beyond their current 2nd Platform blended learning ecosystem to 3rd Platform cloud-based learning. Reasons to extend to the 3rd Platform include:

• competing for empowered learners who have learning options
• meeting a preference for consumer-grade, on-demand learning
• scaling to global and ‘massive’ audiences
• providing new services, e.g., eLearning as interactive as classroom training
• reducing development and delivery costs

How we perceive the magnitude of change will dictate success in meeting it. Very few people proactively transform themselves. Since change is generally unpleasant and takes us out of our comfort zone, our inclination is to keep doing what we are doing. The danger of this—to paraphrase Clayton Christensen—is that in periods of disruption we may be doing a great job but it’s the wrong job. To successfully transform, we need to counter our inclination to stay the course and instead, adopt an alternative method.

Perhaps you recall the Seinfeld episode when George ‘goes opposite’. He laments that all his decisions turn out badly, so he decides he will do the exact opposite of his inclination. For example, George orders the exact opposite sandwich that he normally orders:

George: “Yes, I will do the opposite. I used to sit here and do nothing, and regret it for the rest of the day, so now I will do the opposite, and I will do something!”
…(He goes over to the woman)
George: “Excuse me, I couldn’t help but notice that you were looking in my direction.”
Victoria: “Oh, yes I was, you just ordered the same exact lunch as me.”
(George takes a deep breath)
George: “My name is George. I’m unemployed and I live with my parents.”
Victoria: ”I’m Victoria. Hi.”

Senfield image of George

I want to suggest that corporate training organizations also counter their inclination and, like George, “go opposite” in three areas as they develop their learning innovation strategies.


1. Go Opposite: Think Digital First.
One inclination for corporate training organizations is to view the transition beyond their 2nd Platform learning as business as usual. Let’s call this approach being platform-agnostic; there is no major difference among platforms. In this view we leverage existing courses and design new learning for our cloud-based platform based on the same principles we use for 2nd Platform blended learning. I’ve talked about this as a pipe strategy. In the news business, this platform-agnostic strategy is called shovelware and refers to making print stories available digitally.

The problem with shovelware in the news business and education is that it is ineffective. As the New York Times learned, new multi-media and social strategies were required to grow readership online. Success involves telling digital stories exploiting the capabilities and new tools made possible by the 3rd Platform including commenting, sharing, video, graphics, archival info, backstories, with active promotion and tweets. Those that exploit the tools and resources of the new Platform to create purpose-driven content connect more effectively with readers.

eLearning is fundamentally different on the 3rd Platform – well-designed eLearning is intensely social and dynamic. Learning interactions personalize the content and learning experience. The best MOOCs, for example, pivot and adapt based on learner needs. 3rd Platform design skills are different and crucial.

2. Go Opposite: Connect Learners to Content.
Counter the inclination to believe that content is king and if you build it they will come. On the 2nd Platform, a pervasive mindset is that we do not need to compete for learners. However, content means nothing if learners don’t know about it and if it is not competitively superior. Internet learning is ubiquitous. It is vital that learning organizations develop new capabilities in market analysis, online audience acquisition, learner experience, and connecting with learners to drive participation and loyalty. In an increasingly digital world, an active social media marketing strategy needs to be incorporated as part of learning offerings.

3. Go Opposite: Do a Make-Over for your 2nd Platform Learning.
Discard the inclination to maintain the status quo for your current blended learning development.

MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) and ALFA reviewed viewing habits of more than 100,000 learners in over 6.9 million video sessions. The team found that brevity is critical and viewers tune out videos after 6 minutes. They also found that web-enabled lessons—“existing videos retroactively broken into shorter chunks”—are less effective than lessons designed for digital learning.

The new modular learning on the 3rd Platform changes expectations about how all learning is delivered. Big Data analytics is accelerating brain science findings that can be used to create greater learner engagement and retention. The Learning as a Service mindset of the 3rd Platform should be applied in 2nd Platform ecosystems. Create an ambiance on the 2nd Platform that feels like consumer-grade, modular cloud-based learning.

If you agree that “going opposite” makes sense, developing a digital business plan and skill set is crucial. This includes:
• Instructional Designers who can choreograph modular and ‘digital first’ learning experiences and can implement Learning as a Service (LaaS)
• Marketing and social media specialists who can find and help engage your audience
• Business and market analysts to identify competitive opportunities for learning
• Data Scientists who can analyze and make sense of trends and patterns
• Finding a business partner that can help you accelerate the process

In short, consider the skills needed to develop and manage an Internet store for learning and apply them to your future and current business plan.

I urge you to resist the inclination to simply stay the course as you transition to 3rd Platform cloud-based learning. Be like George, take a deep breath, and…

About Ernie Kahane

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