What kind of edge does specialist-level know-how give you in the workplace today? In the age of nearly instant and virtually limitless content discovery, it’s gotten more complicated.
Today we’re seeing a shift from the old concept of “knowledge worker” to the newer model: the “learning worker.” We no longer hire people for their skills – we hire them for their potential. This shift is helping to support a multibillion-dollar e-learning industry, spawning tons of opportunity for people to build viable side careers – and to add to their authority at their primary jobs – by commodifying their knowledge.
That isn’t to say that the people who build personal brands through online courses and content have it easy. The new generation of “knowledge brokers” face several key challenges. Let’s take a closer look at what’s happening in the industry and how to avoid the associated pitfalls.
The End Of The Knowledge Worker
Until a generation ago, specialized knowledge workers had the ability to amass a vast deal of information on a particular topic, and that knowledge became a marketable asset for employment.
One of the clearest examples of this can be found in the apprentice concept, which was a powerful force in people’s careers. Toil under the guidance of a master, learning all the ins and outs of a particular field, until you reach the status of journeyman. It was only at this point that you could strike out on your own.
This idea carried over to the idea of entry-level positions in offices, leading to increasingly specific knowledge-based roles. Lately, though, companies are saying goodbye to knowledge workers and embracing “learning workers,” those people who can learn, in real time, the technical aspects of the job they are assigned to do. In other words, your ability to quickly learn something new is often more important to your career than your existing body of knowledge.
Futurist Jacob Morgan, the author of a highly popular career newsletter I follow, notes that in today’s business world, there’s no need to be an apprentice and work your way up, since “all you need to be the smartest person in the room is a smartphone.”
Knowledge Brokers And The ‘Imposter Syndrome’
With all those workers seeking e-learning opportunities, an entire industry has sprung up to deliver. And it’s all fueled by the new knowledge brokers: online course creators who commodify their knowledge and use it build an authoritative and monetized personal brand.
In 2015, the e-learning market was worth an estimated $165 billion, and the latest predictions claim that the e-learning economy is set to grow by 5% per year for the next seven years. That puts the market at nearly $240 billion by 2023. Corporate e-learning has grown 900% in the last 16 years, with over three-quarters of U.S. companies offering online training for their employees’ professional development.
As I started looking more closely at this industry, I was impressed with what Kenny Rueter, co-founder of Kajabi, was doing. I reached out to Rueter and learned that Kajabi’s customers have collectively made more than $400 million selling online courses.
People from all over the globe are making money by selling their knowledge using any number of platforms, and yet Kajabi’s impressive growth rate has landed the organization on the Inc. 5000 Fastest-Growing software companies for two years running.
What’s the key to their success? Rueter believes that it all comes down to the way he helps content creators get past that first huge roadblock – what Rueter and others call the expert trap, or the imposter syndrome. “Almost anyone who has achieved success or mastery at some level has likely read and learned from others along the path,” Rueter told me. “This results in the view that those sources are ‘experts,’ and feeling like an imposter at the idea of teaching others.”
In my experience as a coach, I see this all the time. I recently came across the writing of Sarah Cordiner, who offers knowledge brokers insights and technical advice. The best way to avoid feeling like you’re a faker, notes Cordiner, is to remember that no one’s know-how is without gaps altogether. “Here is a simple fact: It is impossible to know everything about a topic,” she recently wrote in EdTechReview.
“Remember that you do have a message,” she counsels, and that your knowledge does have “the power to transform lives, businesses and industries.”
Planning For Success As A Knowledge Broker
As learners absorb these vast amounts of knowledge content, there’s a second potential roadblock for course creators. Sites like Udemy, LinkedIn’s Lynda and others are popular places to create online courses, but they aren’t necessarily ready to help course creators scale and leverage success in the long term.
Building your business on any platform with a “marketplace” business model is bound to have its drawbacks. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met an incredible course creator who’s lost the audience they built when they found out they couldn’t migrate it off of a course marketplace they didn’t own,” says Rueter. “Or worse yet, they create their life’s work, their magnum opus, only to be told it’s now $7 for the Memorial Day Sale. Ouch!”
That’s why Rueter recommends that knowledge brokers make the commitment to success early on, by creating course materials on a platform that they can control, manage and market themselves.
The growing e-learning market is creating almost insatiable demand for online learning. Industry expert and analyst Andrew Fayad calls it “the Netflix effect” and counsels content creators to create “binge-worthy” digital learning, starting by building a solid library of content.
The growing market for e-learning really is creating an almost insatiable demand. The more information we have at our fingertips, the more we want. In this environment, we see a perfect opportunity for the new knowledge brokers to thrive.