Online learning & Netflix

Peter Filius

Online learning & Netflix. They are often compared, but why? And what can we as L&D learn from Netflix?

You increasingly hear that people connect the functioning of an LXP (Learning Experience Platform) with the model of Netflix. We stood on the Next Learning congres with Hubper in April. When we were giving a demo, our library feature was often correlated with the 'Netflix model'. Looking at the success of Netflix, this is of course a compliment. Still, it gets me thinking, for I doubt if the Netflix model is what we want to achieve within learning.

What education (tech) can learn from Netflix

Netflix's vision is offering an alternative to illegally watching films and series. This is an interesting starting point, for the platform takes up the fight against 'free' content. Netflix must therefore develop something which is better than something for free. It's not only about ease of use and/or image quality in this, but also about the quality of the content (Reed hastings, CEO Netflix). Personally, I think the core is in the last piece "the quality of the content'. In principle, users already have 24/7 access to free content and knowledge through Google. The quality of this isn't really guaranteed and the right context is missing. By being aware of this during developing or curating content within your learning platform, you will increase the value for your users. In my opinion, some contenct suppliers (LXP's) miss the mark and put quantity above quality. More on this later.

Pushing suggestions to users

We can also learn from the way Netflix pushes suggestions to users. Netflix often knows how to seduce me as a user to watch a certain movie or film. I don't know how the algorithm of Netflix determines this, but I can imagine lots of variables play a role in this. They definitely look at my viewing history, perhaps the instants, the seasons, possibly even the weather forecast and who knows what external data they further collect. The moral of the story: the algorithm works perfectly. Learning systems can learn from it. The suggestions learning systems give at the moment are quite one-dimensional and look more like an echo chamber. Something which irritates me quite a bit. When I receive similar or quite adjacent suggestions it feels rather limiting instead of valuable.

Where does the comparison end?

I once spoke to the founders of a big Dutch LXP company. He stated litteraly that Netflix was their biggest competitor. What he meant was that they both 'fought' for the time of their consumer. This competition is already present between big (social media) tech companies for years. They all want to claim as much screen-time from the user as possible, for two reasons; screen-time can be transferred into advertisement revenue or it justifies the subscription costs. The latter is the case for LXP's. As a supplier you need to be able to prove to your customers - so not your users - that the subscription the customer pays has generated return. In my opinion this is the heart of the problem, because I truly question what I get out of it as a user.

Claiming as much time as possible

Of course I want to develop myself continuously as a person, consciously and unconsciously. When you look at the offer of most of the LXP's you'll see they are relatively generic modules. This can be useful, possibly usefuller than a night Netflix. But there are other platforms from which I can find more deepening, such as fora or Youtube. Irrespective of the deepening or quality of the content, I personally think that claiming as much time as possible may never be a goal as a whole within learning. The focus in this results too quickly in form, or even addiction within a platform and not in content or efficiently deploying learning resources. In my experience it could still improve here.

As a user I want to learn as efficiently as possible with tools that give me as quickly and easily as possible insights in what I need at that moment; the next step. Perhaps even more important: I want to have access to what I need, the moment I need it (read: performance support).

Increasing the success of LXP

In my experience there are three improvements to make in order to increase the success of LXP:

1. Smaller learning units

Make sure the content can easily be searched. As a user I want to start with the theme as quickly as possible. Present smaller learning units. This means that a user doesn't need to follow the whole course at once, but only uses what's needed at that moment. Hereby, the content should connect better to the " learning need". 

2. Lower the barrier for users

This means that the LXP should be integrated as good as possible within the (possibly) existing LMS (Learning Management System), the intranet, etc.

3. Give tips

Lastly, as a user I would like to receive more tips. What's the next step for me or through which themes should I really go in order to develop myself?

In short: An LXP can certainly be cool, but the finishing touch does need to be added.