Area9 Lyceum Blog

The ‘Netflixization’ of Corporate e-Learning: Good or Bad Idea?

Posted by Nick Howe on Mar 13, 2019 9:00:00 AM
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The “Netflixization” of corporate e-learning – the explosion of video-based content and microlearning, combined with ratings and recommendations – has received a lot of attention lately. Is it a step forward for corporate learning, or is it a distraction?

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) described Netflixization of employee training as “using portals to access different training modules, available as bite-sized, on demand services.” Microlearning (or “chunking”) breaks content down into smaller and presumably more digestible parts. Netflixization as a learning approach, however, raises an important issue that few are talking about: Does something that is clearly valuable in entertainment actually generate value in education? What is the value of a user recommendation for streaming e-learning content — a “thumbs up” for a video on, say, time management, customer service, or any topic? How does that value compare to other teaching approaches?

The apparent appeal of the “Netflixization” buzzword, without thought to the value generated, smacks of another gimmick in e-learning: gamification. Entertain users and they’ll stay engaged, the thinking goes; but it’s a faulty argument, since games can easily distract the learner and waste valuable time. As a learning strategy, gamification does not make the grade in my book.

In streaming entertainment, users may gravitate toward a movie or television show that isright-1712994_1280 highly rated by others. With educational content, however, that thumbs up or thumbs down could be irrelevant at best and misleading at worst. Maybe someone “liked” a video because it was entertaining, the graphics were cool, or they could tell their boss that they watched some training content online. Or maybe it really was useful and helped them learn something new.

Even if multiple people found a course enjoyable and useful, it will be irrelevant to someone else who is already competent in the outcomes that the course addresses. Learning must be far more personalized to be meaningful, especially in corporate education.

Rather than recommending the “what” of content, the far better recommendation is for the “why.” Take the example of two people performing similar jobs: Person “A” identifies the skills which helped her perform better; Person “B” then assesses his own skills against that recommendation and becomes more proficient to improve his performance as well. Problem, solution, outcome. This type of recommendation would be far more relevant for others who have similar deficits, and the feedback would also inform employees who have already mastered specific skills and, therefore, understand that this content won’t advance them. Instead of merely recommending, taking, and completing courses, we move to recommending, building, and maintaining proficiency in a job-relevant competency.

The stakes are high, since our research shows people may be 20 to 40 percent “unconsciously incompetent” (they think they are competent, but are not) in areas critical to their performance. In the ideal world, what works best is a systematic way to identify gaps and misconceptions, and develop competencies in a time-effective and engaging manner. Advanced adaptive learning platforms can help people target what they need to learn and build specific skills, while skipping over what they’ve already mastered. The result is highly individualized learning that cuts the time to proficiency by as much as half.

A three-minute video, no matter how accessible or highly rated, is still a waste of three minutes if not relevant. (It is also questionable whether passive consumption of 3-minute videos would produce sustainable outcomes any more effectively than longer videos when it comes corporate education.) There’s also the issue of who is generating the material: user-generated content, while seen as a cost saving, often results in large repositories that are difficult to manage, not easily accessed, and viewed by few if any.

Netflixization may be catchy as a term, and 3-minute videos are better than “nothing.” But let’s not pump it up to be something it’s not. In order for Netflixization to have any meaning, user recommendations and commentary must help others determine how a particular resource addresses particular skills (which assumes that people know what they need to develop), improve competence, and build confidence. For any learning strategy, that is the real test.

Nick Howe is the Chief Learning Officer at Area9 Lyceum.

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Topics: Corporate E-Learning