Leading the Learning Revolution: The Expert's Guide to Capitalizing on the Exploding Lifelong Education Market

Leading the Learning Revolution: The Expert's Guide to Capitalizing on the Exploding Lifelong Education Market

by Jeff Cobb


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The lucrative market of lifelong learning is one author Jeff Cobb has gained decades of experience working in as an entrepreneur and adviser. In this book, he explains how to tap into this growing market, which rewards the most forward-thinking training firms, professional associates, continuing education programs, and entrepreneurial speakers and consultants. Leading the Learning Revolution also showcases how to use technology to create high-impact learning opportunities, how to develop content that is faster and better than the competition's, how to convert prospects to customers by building connections, and how you can benefit from the bottom-line results of the multibillion-dollar lifelong learning business. With more than sixty million adults currently engaged in webinars, webcasts, in-house training, continuing education classes, and more the opportunities are endless for individuals, companies, and organizations in the education business. But this means there’s also more competition than ever—and it’s not uncommon for newcomers to topple the old guard. Learn how to keep pace with the need for instantly accessible learning materials and flexible delivery methods, discover new ways to help your students experience community and connection, and become a leader in your market. Leading the Learning Revolution provides a complete guide to starting or advancing an online education business that will put you in the forefront of your field.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814432259
Publisher: AMACOM
Publication date: 01/04/2013
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 9.10(w) x 6.20(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

JEFF COBB is the founder of Tagoras, a research and consulting firm focused on continuing education. A frequent speaker and a vocal advocate of lifelong learning, Jeff has nearly two decades of experience in the world of learning technology and innovation.

Read an Excerpt


I’VE CHOSEN TO FOCUS this book on lifelong learning partly because that is my background—it is a market in which I have worked for well over a decade—but also because I think it has received surprisingly little attention in all of the excited and often heated discussion about education in the past several years. I take the term “lifelong learning” literally—it means learning that occurs throughout the life of an individual—but for the purposes of this book, I will focus on what I think of as “the other fifty years.” So much of the broader public discussion about education focuses on the K–12 sector and higher education. But the reality for most people is that they will exit these systems with at least another fifty years ahead of them. To say there is a significant—and growing—need for learning during these years would be a vast understatement, and yet you rarely hear politicians, trade and professional association CEOs, college and university presidents, or other potential learning leaders articulate a compelling vision for how we should serve this huge market.

It is clear, however, that this market is changing—indeed, already has changed significantly—and part of what inspired me to write this book is the efforts I have seen by entrepreneurial thinkers over the past several years to fill in the gaps left by traditional approaches to continuing education and professional development. In this chapter, I examine five forces that I think are driving these gaps and discuss their impact on the business of lifelong learning. By their nature, the five forces are:

1. Economic

2. Educational

3. Technological

4. Neuropsychological

5. Generational

I believe these forces ensure that the market for lifelong learning will continue to grow dramatically and dynamically in the coming years.


The study of economics has offered many important lessons over the past two hundred years, but the one I find most important to education providers as we make our way into the twenty-first century is this: The nature of work changes with increasing speed as economies mature. To

not recognize and actively address this fact is to wind up in a situation in which there is a significant gap between what businesses need and what the labor pool can provide. Indeed, that is where we find ourselves a both in the United States and many other developed economies a as I write this book.

A September 2011 article in the Economist argued that even as unemployment surges, businesses are having a difficult time finding people with the types and levels of talent they need for open positions. “[A] minority,”

the article suggests, “is benefitting from an intensifying war for talent. That minority is well placed to demand interesting and fulfilling work and set its own terms and conditions.”1 This minority, of course, is very well educated and highly capable of adapting to changing circumstances.

In retrospect, we have been evolving toward this point at an accelerating rate for centuries. In the early 1800s—a mere two hundred years ago—the vast majority of the U.S. population lived and worked on small farms or ran businesses that served the needs of farmers. The nature of work, even given a range of technical innovations, was not terribly different from what it had been for thousands of years before.

Plant, harvest, process, sell, or do things to support these activities.

Only a hundred years later the majority of the population lived in cities a and manufacturing had become the engine of our economy. The demands of this economy—both to do the work of manufacturing and to provide a food supply to support large numbers of people who no longer worked on farms—meant that a wide range of entirely new jobs were created and that the nature of the old jobs had to change significantly.

As manufacturing grew and farming evolved, both became increasingly less labor intensive and more specialized in the types of labor involved. Just as important, with the spread of public and higher education and continuing advances in technology, there was a dramatic increase in the pace at which new types of jobs emerged, became increasingly specialized, and then either disappeared or adapted to yet more change.

Skip forward another hundred years, and both rural and industrial life are distant memories for most of us. For decades we have lived in what the prescient Peter Drucker dubbed a “knowledge economy,” one driven by service- and information-based businesses. But just decades later, even Drucker’s term no longer seems quite on the mark. “Knowledge”

sounds too finite: Master a body of knowledge and you are on your way. There are professions where that still works, at least as a point of entry, but as any recent college graduate can attest, those professions and those points of entry are becoming harder and harder to find. We

now live in what is not so much a “knowledge” economy but rather a

“figure it out on a daily basis” economy. Or, more formally, a learning economy.

Many of us, even those who remain in the same jobs, see the nature of our work change from year to year, and sometimes much faster.

Technology is one key driver of this continuous change; globalization is another. Most of us are now all too familiar with the idea that a software program or a lower-paid worker in another country may be able to do our work as well or better than we can. This knowledge, in and of itself a creates a perpetual uncertainty in the labor market. And most of us recognize that we are unlikely to remain in any one job for our entire careers or even for long stretches of time, as was the norm for previous generations.

Indeed, the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor indicates that the “average person born in the later years of the baby boom held 10.8 jobs from age 18 to age 42.”2 There is little, if any a reason to believe that this number will decline—unless, of course, the drop is driven by the grim fact that so many in the younger generations will be starting work later given the current lack of entry-level job openings. In addition to shifting jobs, many of us may also shift careers at least once during our working years. Either situation creates significant new learning demands.

Increasingly, for individuals, there are two options. One is to stick to the path of traditional employment, but to be as fully prepared as possible for the less secure environment that this path now offers. This is a particular challenge in professions in which the work lends itself to being codified and systematized, as is the case in a growing number of midlevel a white-collar positions. The process of off-shoring or computerizing any job that requires straightforward information processing—from insurance claims to bookkeeping to routine legal tasks—is already well under way. Assuming that robotics finally makes the leap that seems inevitable, the situation will become only more challenging. As technology futurist Kevin Kelly puts it, “Productivity is for machines. If you can measure it, robots should do it.”3

While creativity, critical thinking, and leadership are often cited as aptitudes needed for combating this trend and securing coveted “hightalent”

jobs, I’d argue that these are not enough. These aptitudes, valuable as they are, require continual replenishment through learning.

Individuals who hope to survive, much less thrive, in traditional employ-ment in the learning economy must actively pursue educational opportunities that maintain their value to their employers. In many cases, if not most, this will mean seeking opportunities that fall outside of whatever education and training the employer offers.

The other option is to throw off the reins of traditional employment and set out on your own. This is no silver bullet, of course: Individuals who choose this path need all of the same aptitudes and the drive to learn that their more traditional peers need, but they must also have the courage and the discipline to be self-reliant. Whether by choice or force of circumstance, an increasing number of individuals are, in fact, choosing this path. A 2011 series in the Atlantic points to a surge in freelance workers and goes so far as to call it “the industrial revolution of our time.” Sara Horowitz, the series’ author and founder of the nonprofit

Freelancers Union, describes what she calls the “freelance economy,” in which “over 42 million Americans are working independently—as freelancers a part-timers, consultants, contractors, and the self-employed.”

Horowitz goes on to argue:

We haven’t seen a shift in the workforce this significant in almost

100 years when we transitioned from an agricultural to an industrial

economy. Now, employees are leaving the traditional workplace

and opting to piece together a professional life on their

own. As of 2005, one-third of our workforce participated in this

“freelance economy.” Data show that number has only increased

over the past six years. Entrepreneurial activity in 2009 was at its

highest level in 14 years, online freelance job postings skyrocketed

in 2010, and companies are increasingly outsourcing work.

While the economy has unwillingly pushed some people into

independent work, many have chosen it because of greater flexibility

that lets them skip the dreary office environment and focus

on more personally fulfilling projects.

Because workers in this freelance sector of the economy are not employed by typical companies, Horowitz argues, they fall outside of many of the protections that were put in place by the New Deal, a legislative agenda that was driven through by Franklin Roosevelt as an implicit acknowledgment of the dramatic shift in work from the farm to the factory. These workers, whether solo practitioners or operating within small business, also do not have corporate human resources and training departments.

Given economic realities at the time I am writing this book, there is little indication that the situation will change for traditional employees a and there is every indication that the ranks of freelancers will grow. In their promotional efforts as well as in the types of content and learning experiences they offer, smart educational providers have a tremendous opportunity to find innovative ways to target and support one or both of these audiences.

Table of Contents


Acknowledgments xi

Introduction: Your Opportunity, Should You

Choose to Accept It 1

Are You a Revolutionary? 5

Chapter 1: The New Learning Landscape 9

The Learning Economy 10

From Remedial Education to Learning 14

Five Tech Transformations 16

Mind Matters 22

Generational Bookends 24

The Sum of the Parts 26

Chapter 2: Finding and Understanding Your

Lifelong Market 29

Who Are Your Potential Fans? 31

Broad Strokes with Search 35

Tune in and Listen 41

To Learn More, Ask 48

Test to Succeed 51

A Word of Caution 61

Chapter 3: Business Models for the New

Learning Landscape 63

The P2 Community Model 66

The Flipped Model 73

The Virtual Conference Model 76

The Massive Model 8

Chapter 4: Standing Out and Delivering Value 87

Positioning and Differentiation 87

The Value Continuum 98

Versions and Derivatives 101

Pricing 102

Chapter 5: Learning by Design 105

Integrating Learning and Business Objectives 106

Seven Rules to Teach and Facilitate By 108

Everyone, Everywhere, Always Learning 116

The Social–Mobile Shift 118

Terms of Engagement 123

Chapter 6: Tools and Competencies 129

Manage a Home Base 130

Shoot and Edit Digital Video 132

Record a Screencast 133

Capture and Edit Audio 134

Do Basic Image Editing 136

Host a Webinar or Webcast 137

Create Nicely Formatted Documents 141

More Sophisticated Tools 142

Sourcing and Outsourcing 147

Chapter 7: Cultivating the Content-Context Habit 151

Staying Tuned In 152

Curating Value 154

Conducting Rapid Research 156

Interviewing 162

Writing It Together 164

Chapter 8: Promoting and Converting 169

From Attention to Action 170

Tools of the Trade 173

Search 178

Social Tools 183

Video 186

Converting with Landing Pages 187

Chapter 9: The Best Laid Plans: Executing,

Measuring, Innovating 193

The Beta Mentality 194

The Dabblers Downfall 196

Measuring—and Learning—As You Go 198

Evaluating Impact 200

From Impact to Innovation 203

Chapter 10: Taking It to the Next Level:

Leading Learning 207

From Catalog to Platform 207

Shifting Power to Learners 209

Leading Learning, Leading Change 214

Appendix: Creating an Action Plan 217

1. Fully Understand Your Market 217

2. Determine Your Business Model and Positioning 218

3. Design and Develop Learning Experiences 219

4. Stay Connected, Promote, and Convert 220

5. Execute for Impact and Change 221

Index 222

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