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EMEA Reporter: Is Crowd Sourcing the Answer?

by Nic Laycock

February 7, 2013


by Nic Laycock

February 7, 2013

“This is only the first stage. Kate and Martin have an impressive development plan for; their motto is, ‘Take a course. Make a course. Change the world.’ This is a venture worth tracking through 2013.”

It has been described as “disruptive,” and I am sure that is exactly what Kate Graham and Martin Belton intended when they conceived and launched at the end of 2012. Crowd sourcing had arrived in Europe with a high-profile event at the Google Campus in London—but let us step back a bit.

Who are Kate Graham and Martin Belton? Well known in UK eLearning circles, both are specialist communications experts passionate about raising the profile and performance improvement potential of technology-enabled learning. Since forming Ascot Communications in 2011, they have developed a profile synonymous with some of the latest thinking in learning. Kate has become one of the best-known back-channel coordinators working in the UK conference circuit.

How did come about? Since leaving the corporate world a few years ago, Kate has become increasingly aware of a number of shortcomings in the ways people create and access learning.

First, like many of us, she has become frustrated with the tortuous methods we all have to use to find information and content to enable skills development. Google, YouTube, and the other major repositories all contain the information—somewhere! But there is a whole skill set needed to find it in those giant unclassified repositories. It is time consuming, and the information has no form of ratification. Places like YouTube do not assist content developers to ensure quality.

Second, Kate and Martin discovered a huge difference between the way employees in large corporations access learning content compared to individuals and those employed in small businesses. In the corporate world, the prevalence of the LMS, run by a professional L&D team, makes it easy to find a range of learning content relevant to the skills required by the organization. If the syllabus is well defined and relevant to business, and if the content is available through media and platforms that are in sync with learners’ preferences, then that is hugely effective. However, it is “push” methodology where the organization decides what to make available to its people. Contrast that with the non-corporate world where there is no L&D function or LMS, and where the cutting edge of business requires the urgent acquisition of new skills as needed. This world is dominantly a “pull” world. (That is not to discount the many corporations now implementing “pull” methodologies to increase the relevance of and engagement with learning as a key business strategy.)

This is where crowd sourcing comes in. Experiments like BT’s Dare2Share demonstrated in the corporate field that allowing and empowering employees to develop their own content and make it available to colleagues led to huge performance and motivational gains. But could someone translate that into the wider world … and what breadth of scope could this achieve?

Kate and Martin conceived to occupy that space. The service gathers curated content from individuals and groups wishing to share their expertise, whether for free or at low cost, and through the provision of software, a portal, and expert support, makes it possible to turn it into attractive and accessible content available to the wider world.

The site provides the space, and through its expert advisory team (called the Foundry—because that is where things are made!) it provides the support for anyone to create learning content by means of an easy-to-use engine. Access to the content is completely open, with the only requirement being registration to the portal and payment for materials where the author requires it. takes a royalty from sales.

The start-up has been exciting, with wide interest from individuals and small business users, novice content developers, and even, to Kate and Martin’s delight, some enlightened corporations. The portal already contains a wide range of content, and, as result of the launch event and other publicity, much more is in development.

Is this just another content house? That might be the initial reaction. What is different is that content is crowd-sourced, leveraging the skills and knowledge of everyone involved. The scope of the portal is not limited or limiting. There is no fixed financial fee structure other than the royalties. New developers have access to a team of experts ready and willing to support them in making their insights available. The costs are low, making quality learning available even to those with a very limited budget.

This is only the first stage. Kate and Martin have an impressive development plan for; their motto is, “Take a course. Make a course. Change the world.” This is a venture worth tracking through 2013.

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