Inform. Perform. Transform. What do your educational products do?
In our recent Webinar on pricing I highlighted three broad levels at which educational products and experiences deliver value: inform, perform,* and transform. I thought it might be valuable to provide a bit more detail on these categories in writing as I think an appreciation of them is essential not only for pricing, but for formulating a successful education business strategy.
Educational products at this level primarily communicate information. They speak to the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy: knowledge and comprehension. When well-designed, they help learners acquire knowledge efficiently and effectively, in a manner that supports retention. When not well-designed, any learning that happens is driven mostly by the learner’s own motivation and ability to draw connections and apply the information.
These experiences are not without value, but they are inherently of lower value than experiences that are designed to drive higher level learning outcomes and create substantive change. This is true even if the information is timely and delivered by a recognized expert.
The vast majority of Webinars, as an example, fall in this camp. As most organizations recognize, it is increasingly difficult to charge learners very much, if at all, for experiences in this category.
Experiences in this category are designed to drive not just a change in knowledge, but in the ability to actively apply that knowledge. They support learners in acquiring new skills and behaviors. They are about performance.
Perform experiences tend to align with the middle levels of Bloom’s taxonomy: application and analysis. They achieve Kirkpatrick level 2 (learning) and have the potential, when well designed and facilitated, to achieve level 3 (behavior).
Perform experiences are of inherently higher value than Inform experiences. They also tend to be more time and labor intensive to design and deliver than Inform experiences, but the design can be leveraged, and much of the work involved in delivery can and should be shared with the learner. Organizations can charge significantly more for these types of learning experiences, they tend to be more shielded from competition than Inform experiences, and the ROI for all involved in much higher.
Project-based learning and workshops that involved significant hands-on application are examples of Perform experiences.
Experiences at this level drive deep, long-term change in the learner. By extension, they tend to impact the context in which the learner performs – e.g., the organization and even the entire field or industry in which the learner works.
You might think of transformational learning as akin to transformational leadership, which goes beyond telling (instructing) people on what to do and taps into the motivations they have for leading themselves. Transform experience inspire and equip the learner to become a catalyst for further learning – both for herself and for others with whom she interacts.
Transform experiences can be “epiphanic,” meaning they happen quickly, through a flash of insight. But even these flashes of insight are usually long in coming, and Transform experiences, in general, tend to take time and tend to be cumulative in nature. More often than not, they are built upon well-designed Inform and Perform experiences that are united by a common vision and strategy. But they also allow for a significant degree of serendipity and outright chaos – plenty of opportunities for learners to experiment, practice, take risks, fail, and try again.
To stay with the Bloom’s connection, these are experiences that align with the synthesis and evaluation levels. In Kirkpatrick, they are experiences that reach the Behavior and Results levels.
In theory, degree programs and certification programs should offer opportunities for transformational learning, though it is certainly questionable whether most do. The whole move towards practice improvement and quality improvement in the medical field, I would argue, falls in the Transform category, at least to the extent that it is executed well.
Why it matters
How your educational products are perceived and how much you will be able to charge for them is directly related to the categories of value into which they fall. Most organizations at this point are starting to realize, for example, that it is harder and harder to charge significantly, if at all, for products that fall in the Inform camp. Simultaneously, many are realizing – if they are really honest in their assessment – that most of their products fall in this camp.
Not that there is anything wrong with Inform products. They may be particularly appropriate for novices, for example, or for any learners who are capable of and motivated to run with the information provided.
In general, though, organizations should aim to create a portfolio of learning products that offers options in each category. By doing this, you offer ways for prospective learners to engage with your offerings at varying value and price levels – as suggested by the Value Ramp. You also ensure that you have groups of products that are less susceptible to the significant downward price pressure that is common in the Inform category.
So, it’s worth getting the right group of people in the room at your organization, throwing these three categories – Inform, Perform, and Transform – up on a whiteboard, and asking “How are we doing in each of these categories of value?” I guarantee the discussion that follows will be interesting and productive.
* – While I don’t want to imply they would agree with the way I use it here, I am indebted to Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard Mayer for the “inform/perform” distinction. These are terms they use to distinguish between different types of training experiences. I have referenced this distinction before in Webinar Strategy – The Inform/Perform Distinction. The addition of “Transform” is my own.