Jul 1, 2020

If e-learning & advertising had a baby

The sum of these two industries could be incredible!

Both advertising and education — and by extension e-learning — have been around for ages. Both have an enormous influence on society and on what we as individuals think and believe. Let’s choose to focus on the positive in this article. Both seek to inform and equip people using the tools at their disposal. Having some experience in both industries, I think that harnessing the overlap between the two could shift the way that we do either.

Let’s begin with advertising

What I love:

  1. The relentless pursuit of novel, creative concepts.
  2. The inherently collaborative culture across specialised departments.
  3. At times, the freedom to not take things too seriously and license to be irreverent.

What I don’t love:

  1. The fact that creative ideas are often used to push superfluous, expendable products and services.
  2. The often baseless claim to legitimacy without real best-practice and expertise (e.g. this piece about Cannes Lions winners).
  3. The lack of innovation in the creative process within agencies.

Advertising can be a lot of fun. Most of the time you get your brief on the back of a brown envelope, with a deadline and some guiding words. Then it’s brainstorm, write, draw, argue and pitch until there is a final ‘big idea’ that concisely represents the message that will get the audience to care about the product or service that you want them to care about. Whether it’s all based on political jokes, or the new definition of success, the idea is to get people to buy in and that can be powerful.

Now for online learning:

What I love:

  1. The impact. You get the chance to literally equip people to be their best selves.
  2. The wealth of theory and best-practice that guides really good work.
  3. The way it changes the internal business environment. It ruffles feathers to make way for something better.

What I don’t love:

  1. The lack of industry collaboration and appreciation. E-learning companies tend to play their cards close to their chest and I think we all suffer for it.
  2. Creating online programmes is complex and it takes a lot of time and effort.
  3. Creativity and delight is not a focus. Learning is a serious endeavor but it needn’t be joyless.

So what if we combined them?

It would be like a child prodigy that inherited all the exciting creative ability from advertising and the impact-focused, analytical know-how from e-learning. That’s some child!

I would love to see creative, multi-disciplinary teams brainstorming ways to solve complex, real-world problems (creative directors, videographers, copywriters, art directors, illustrators, and that sort of riff-raff). And instead of shoe-horning learning needs into the same old learning solutions, I wish there’d be blue-sky thinking in which the only guiding force is what’s best for the learner (I’m talking to you instructional designers). Every business has its own method for creating solutions, and I don’t intend to lump everyone into the same basket, but I do think some self-reflection is in order. What processes, practices, or people need to be reimagined? What are other industries doing right that you could graft into your business? The answer to these questions could fuel your competitive advantage.

So what’s holding us back? In both cases, I think it’s an unhealthy attachment to tradition and stories of ‘the good old days’. It’s safer to hold on to the past than to have to engage with the future. In a lot of ways it seems that there is still a reverence in the advertising world for the ‘Mad Men’ era of advertising. It was certainly a time when new ways of thinking where explored and the creative mavericks of the day were heralded for their brilliance. But time has passed and a new age of innovation within the industry is needed. In the age of machine learning and artificial intelligence we can’t still be clinging onto the old ways (see reference to brown brief bags above).

The same is true for e-learning. It is a growing industry and educating clients on what it is can be challenging enough. But what is next for the industry? We’ve been using the ADDIE model for decades, and the SAM model is about as dubious as its cousin, AGILE. Making learning programmes is difficult, but maybe it’s time for some mad men and women to shake things up?

The point is that both industries, or at least companies within them, should be liberally stealing, borrowing, and copying as much from other industries as they can! Both are due for disruption and I for one will be first in line to learn from the change that comes in its wake.