The Top 5 Business Learning Models

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As I previously discussed in Introduction to the Learning Model Canvas (LMC), a successful learning model is similar to a successful business model. The proper model provides clarity, maximizes resources, and delivers outstanding value.

As a result, the majority of learning organizations today operate in one of five business learning models depending on business needs; Mass Customization, Innovation, Multi-Sided, University, and Open.


It should be noted that a large company may have multiple learning organizations, each having a separate model, while other companies may operate within a single model. In any case, a successful learning leader will execute a primary learning model depending on their scope of responsible and specific business objectives. Here are the 5 most used learning organizations models I seen in use:

Mass Customization – One size fits all learning. A mass customization model focuses on creating learning experiences for the masses.

  • Learning Example: E-Learning module on time management or a product specification document developed for multiple job roles and functions.

  • Value: Cost efficiency in development and delivery of information and basic skills practice.

  • Characteristics: Company and content centric, lower technology requirements, lower costs driven by ability to produce a distributed learning experience efficiently too many people.

Innovation – Experiential, technology-assisted learning. An innovation model focuses on developing knowledge and skills through learning experiences like simulations, virtual environments, and games.

  • Learning Example: Flight simulator, advanced mobile application, adaptive learning environment.

  • Value: Skills development, deeper knowledge and understanding.

  • Characteristics: Learner and experience-centric, high technology requirements, higher costs driven by technology and customization for specific learning outcomes.

Multi-sided – Connecting learners with learning sources. A multi-sided model focuses on connecting information and learning experiences produced by on one party (e.g. company, 3rd party vendor) with another interested party (i.e. learners) in a timely manner. “Performance support” is a term often related with this model.

  • Learning Example: Help function embedded in a workflow system, marketing documents posted to a community in response to questions.

  • Value: Performance support, self-service access at the moment of need.

  • Characteristics: Learner and content centric, varied technology, costs driven by maintaining and updating the platform (i.e. community software, workflow system updates).

University – Breadth and depth of learning experiences. The university model focuses on in-depth learning experiences for direct job related core competencies as well as providing a wide range of “electives” (e.g. time management, presentation skills) for niche learning.

  • Learning Example: Leadership training through a Corporate University or continuing education classes.

  • Value: People development through just-in-case information and learning experiences.

  • Characteristics: Company centric, low tech, cost driven by developing or sourcing large volumes of content and high touch delivery methods.

Open – Targeted learning experiences through partnerships. The open model focuses on a centralized group providing company-wide learning experiences (e.g. compliance, critical issues) while smaller sub groups (e.g. regions, channels) have primary responsibility for specific learning-related experiences relevant to their business needs.

This is often seen in “decentralized” learning organizations where business units or sub-groups have a learning function and use partners to help source and deliver targeted learning experiences, or in a smaller business where there is no central learning organization and employees often use self-directed learning.

  • Learning Example: Regional trainers delivering a sales workshop on “Overcoming Objections” or an individual taking a self-directed 3rd party course on “Managing Team Conflict”.

  • Value: Targeted learning experiences through ad-hoc development and/or shared resources.

  • Characteristics: Learner centric at group level, low tech, costs driven by customization or 3rd party resources.

Key Insight: A significant source of frustration is the result of operating in a legacy learning model while the customer preferred learning experiences require operating in a different model. Knowing the models prepares learning leaders to have tough conversations when requesting resources for adopting new resources, technologies, and processes to meet new learning needs. One of my favorite statements in Executive conversations sounds something like this:

“The L&D department is currently budgeted and operating in a Mass Customization model, however what you are asking for requires operating in a multi-sided (Performance Support) model. Let’s talk about what this looks like and how we can make that work (i.e. resources)”.

The most impactful learning model for an organization depends upon the customer segments being served (see my blog on why the Customer Is Not The Learner). The proper model provides clarity, maximizes resources, and delivers outstanding value to the customer. Choosing the right model for your organization requires not only understanding the current model in use today, but what will be necessary to support your organizational objectives. The results are well worth the effort!

How have you used an organizational learning mode to provide focus and deliver outstanding value? What models have I missed? Please share your thoughts below.