The Big Box Shelf is No Place for Learning

As a family of four, we are card-carrying members of Costco. Say what you want about the Big Box and its attack on the micro-economy and the “Mom & Pops. There are real conveniences, practicalities, and savings that come from being able to stock up on enough toilet paper, peanut butter, and beer to get you through winter for the same amount of cash you’d throw down at the supermarket for a week’s supply. It comes with some trade-offs. Not the least of which is the painful slog through the throngs of starry-eyed shoppers who are really only after a visit to each and every free sample station. The lines suck. There’s the added effort of having to freeze three-quarters of the chicken breasts that come in each package – unless, you’re a family of 15¦or a fox. And the variety and choice? Not so much.


Costco’s model is based entirely on three pretty simple principles:

1) stock-in-mass from few suppliers,

2) standardize the product offerings as much as possible,

3) turn around and sell in large quantities to consumers.

These principles work for batteries and frozen fish sticks. They don’t work for Learning Programs. Yet too many organizations – and their HR teams – are duped into thinking they can feed and fuel the minds of their people in big-box fashion. They think they can buy content in mass quantity from one provider; they think they can sacrifice variety and choice for streamlined administration and maintenance; and they think that if they just put it out there on the shelves, their employees will gobble-it-up with voracity. This approach used to work when digital learning was new. And then the workforce matured, became more dynamic, and began to experience the joys of customized experiences versus commoditized ones.


Today’s workforce demonstrates increasingly discerning behaviors. Employees are far more in-tune with who they are and what they need; they have mad skilz – mad enough that someone somewhere is more than willing to give them what they require in return; and those employees are confident enough to ask for it. Are you prepared to listen? Are you prepared to assess and understand their unique needs? And once you’ve done so, could you even come close to responding? I don’t know if you need to be ready to do this with each aspect of your career offering. But if you were to prioritize, I’d focus pretty heavily on learning and development. Nowhere are the needs of your people more dynamic. And for you to suggest your organization’s needs aren’t just as dynamic would be a big mistake.


Do you want those learning programs sitting on the shelf to have been developed for your beautifully intricate business (product, service, strategy), or are you o.k. with them having been massed-produced for any business? Do you want your people to have the variety and choice that will speak to their individual interests, or are you comfortable with giving them the one-size-fits-all package? How you answer those questions will say a lot about not only how much dust your learning programs will collect, but also how important finding, attracting, and keeping the right people really is to your success.

Mitchelle Boyle

Digital Marketing Specialist at Learnkit
Learnkit works with industry leading businesses and top academic institutions to create innovative custom elearning that delivers measurable, real world results
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