“Netflix for learning” - don’t be fooled!

Vinit Patel Feb 19, 2018


Tl;dr - there is more to software than meets the eye. Don’t be fooled by marketing hype in the form of comparisons to popular consumer products. Those analogies only go so far.

Product elevator pitches are often filled with comparisons to already-successful products and businesses. Very often in the format:
“[Startup’s name] is [fast growth business] for [yet-to-be disrupted sector]”
E.g. Learnyflix is Netflix for workplace learning.

It’s tempting to tread this path. It tells the audience in a snapshot what this business is most like without having to go into all the detail. But there’s a problem.
We often assume that these successful products are defined by one killer feature and if that feature is replicated in a new domain, its success will translate. In other words, we rely on survivorship bias. Edtech entrepreneurs (like most startup owners) are particularly guilty of this. (Read: 5 Common Mental Errors That Sway You From Making Good Decisions; 6 mins.)

But those killer features are often just...a feature. In the main, the majority of Spotify / Amazon / Netflix users remain loyal and rave about those products for a whole gamut of reasons: price, access, variety of services and content, network (social) effects, interoperability (think Alexa)... heck even for FOMO (think Alexa!).
We have ourselves been tempted by this form of simplistic pitching, writing website copy or producing marketing collateral. Indeed, we often hear these back from the industry: so you’re like “google / skyscanner / netflix / spotify...for learning”. But ultimately we’ve decided against it.

In most popular tech product examples, recommendations are a nice-to-have. It’s rarely the main feature; Google (for search) is a glaring exception. And that makes sense: the majority of music listeners, shoppers, internet surfers or TV viewers have a strong idea of what they’re after. The value of picking out a true gem - an unknown unknown - is useful but limited. (Read: Why We Don't Need a 'Netflix for Education'; 5 mins.)

It’s different in corporate or workplace learning. Who has time to browse their LMS (if they even know where it is) to find that title (course/video/article/document) that might not even be there? Noone. That’s why picking those gems is of paramount value.

As workers, managers, CEOs and apprentices, we do not have the time or capacity to consume hundreds of online learning videos from a vast library in the same way we might, say, Netflix and...relax! It’s a behaviour which is unique to successful, consumer tech and seldom translates to the business world. (Read: Human Intelligence; 3 mins.)
Though a product may look like, or say they are like, Netflix, press hard and really question it.
Though a product may look like, or say they are like, Netflix, press hard and really question it. And even if a product is like Netflix, it may not be used like it. Especially when transferring a successful consumer product to the more serious, less sexy business world. (Read: Not AI; 3 mins - great checklist for buying AI technologies)
What do you think? Is this obvious and common? How do you see it? Tell me below! Or email me at vinit@filtered.com. We’re fascinated by this.

* Learnyflix is a made up name and bears no resemblance to any existing learning technology company.
This post is part of a series that my colleagues and I at Filtered are working on. It’s broadly about how recommendations help us to make sense of all the content clutter, especially in learning. Have a look at our other posts here.
Also, we’ve recently launched a free new tool to provide personalized learning experiences for L&D and HR professionals called globalfilter for L&D. It's an online recommendation engine with over 180 high-quality learning assets to read, watch, practice and apply for our industry. Click on the link above to try it out.


About Vinit Patel
Vinit is a co-founder of Filtered. He leads on product management and operations, working with a talented team of software engineers, designers, data scientist and learning experts to deliver an outstanding product. He has a background in management consulting and is a seed-stage investor in two UK-based tech startups.
Read more by Vinit Patel

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