The FLATMAGS: that’s Facebook, Linked-in, Apple, Twitter, Microsoft, Amazon (and) Google, who are changing the way the world learns.

Does this term work for you….it does for us as a shorthand for the companies that are in some way coming to dominate how and where we are increasingly likely to learn (and live our lives) as we go into the second decade of the 21st century.

These are the companies that are going to provide us with the majority of the learning devices, the infrastructure and learning environments in which we will learn. They will also be dominant in how content is created, curated, indexed, exchanged and delivered across the world.

So who are the FLATMAG’s

Facebook, Linked-in, Apple, Twitter, Microsoft, Amazon (and) Google.

All competing and often collaborating organisations and with quite different but overlapping business models, there is however little doubt that the 21st century learner, (either in education or the workplace) will be influenced by all these organisations and equally little doubt that their training and education will be provided or facilitated in some way by some or all of these organisations.


Facebook is huge – 850 million users, and as a social networking environment has changed the way we live our lives, and its impact upon learning is profound. The simple premise of “I did this” is becoming the new bedrock of the e-learning industries approach to standards of how learners record their learning! See our posting on this post SCORM world!

However, its impact on how and where we learn is of greater significance again. In 2010 we used Desq’s  David Squire’s term “Fear and Fascination” to sum up the impact of social networking on learning  and education.

This impact has not gone away, and unlike many of the web2.0 – learning 2.0 innovations (blogs, wikis and podcasts), the fascination with its potential as a learning environment has not diminished, – but the fear is beginning to diminish and we will see much more meaningful learning taking place in this learning ecosphere as it is integrated willingly by organisations and educational establishments or integrated by the sheer overwhelming  demand of learners bringing their own smart devices (BYOD) into the learning place. Facebook will also very likely add “bring your own content” (BYOC) to the learning mix.


The social networking environment for business, – for those of us who would see that Facebook is for fun and Linked-in is for work! Linked-in is a powerful knowledge and learning exchange or market. Its usage levels are impressive, 135 million users, (still some way behind Facebook). Never the less, its role in corporate learning and development, especially its ability to build self- managed virtual communities of practise – with great speed is very impressive. The value of these knowledge and learning exchanges and the “informal learning” undertaken in these groups is huge, and is the envy of many organisations that struggle to create such vibrant environments within the corporate intranet. Maybe only a junior member of the FLATMAG’s – but from our learning perspective: a significant one. The value for businesses of the virtual network was first predicted in the late 1990’s by John Hagel and Linked-in certainly has exploited that opportunity. We recently wrote about Linked-in and intentional networks.


Apple and e- learning is not new, i-tunes U has been in the market several years offering a range of learning resources through the i-tunes channel, providing podcasts and with an App allow for  video streaming of lectures.

iTunes U also complements the newer 2012 launched iBooks Author app, which is also available for teachers and publishers for creating interactive, dynamic iBooks as textbooks. The launch of Apples book publishing initiative caused a huge sensation in the education and publishing world.

This is of course not to mention the huge impact the i-phone and i-pad had on the m-learning element of the market– with both rapidly becoming the learning device of choice for many in education and the corporation.

The i-phone and the i-pad have delivered the long longed for mobile learning revolution, with the network operators (so long the gatekeepers and “frustrators”) effectively by-passed by the Apple eco-system.

The very nature of these devices cannot be underestimated – the tactile screen touching that is so appealing to the user now has significant impacts upon how e- learning is designed. The screen quality and resolution on these devices for e-learning content is also very significant – is the content of high enough resolution for i-pad learning? The” lock out” of flash and the focus on HTML5 is also of consequence to the e-learning industry.

Apple generates the greatest levels of conversation amongst learning professionals (corporate or education) with its every move, we have never seen blogs and discussion threads light up as much as when Apple makes an announcement. This is one hugely significant organisation for the education, learning and the training world – no doubt, but one that is quite standalone and maybe even a little threatening toward a desire for open learning ecospheres.

Our observation is that the Apple eco-system is a controlled and relatively closed eco-system, and quite how this impacts with other eco-systems to create the new learning ecospheres we desire remains to be seen. How Apple sees itself in the learning and training market is interesting, a disrupter and innovator without doubt, but where is the focus (other than making money obviously) is it as a publisher of e-learning content?  a learning devices  vendor? a provider of learning Apps to create- learning content?  Well all three and more….that being the creation of a quite restricted apple centric walled and hugely profitable garden.


Another hugely important social networking environment and an invaluable channel for all us “Curators” of the webs vast pool of knowledge, (as well as being an exchange of chatter and gossip, hints and tips etc.). Twitter appears to have a somewhat different demographic to Facebook. There however is no doubt that Twitter (and quite possibly Yammer) will play an important role in the new e-learning ecosphere that is emerging. Quite if Twitter is developing or indeed considering a strategy for learning and training remains unclear, but its value and significance to new e-learning ecospheres remains huge. Quite how we measure its impact is even more interesting.


Microsoft has and will continue to be a big player in the learning and training market – both in corporate and education. Sharepoint gives Microsoft a solid platform in both markets. The move into mobile with Nokia is of great importance in the m-learning market, and we feel Microsoft has yet to really fully exploit the potential of Skype in learning. The x-box console and the x-box Kinect is of great interest, as serious gaming or “gamification” of learning is a fast growing trend.

Quite whether we see X-box (or play station) as real learning environments or just as a niche part of the new e-learning ecosphere is a difficult question to answer. It is a cost comparability issue between education and entertainment – the budgets available bear little comparison, and perceived poor quality learning on a hard core gaming platform could be bad practise. There are however a new generation of low cost tools for the creation of gaming emerging onto the market, which we watch with interest.

We have seen Ninetendo “handheld gaming devices” (what ever happened to the term “hand held learning”?) used to deliver learning programmes in the last few years, but these could now be effectively delivered on smartphones or i-pads and other tablet devices. So will Microsoft leverage x-box and Kinect in this market?

The investment of Bill Gates into the Khan academy, a wonderful open learning resource with over 3000 learning videos is of significance, but we are unsure if it is part of Microsoft’s strategy to rival Apples –i-tunesU or a piece of pure philanthropy.

The recent partnership with Barnes and Noble to use the e-reader Nook indicates the desire of Microsoft to spread its reach and move (possibly successfully this time) into new markets.


e-books and the Kindle device have in many ways changed the face of publishing and delivery of entertainment and educational reading. Our 2010-11 report highlighted this trend and it is set to continue. The e-book will have a considerable impact on the market and the on-demand nature of the Amazon provision of books and e-books, with their user ratings and opportunity for discussion around learning. The self-publishing opportunity (along with Lulu) is also of great interest.

The opportunity to create focused digital leaning market places – see the DLM with e-learning or digital learning content beyond e-books is very real indeed – an area we worked in advising on this very proposition.

While Amazon seems focused on being the largest shopping mall in the virtual world, the impact on how we learn through books in their paper or digitised form cannot be underestimated.


Google has had, and will quite possibly continue to have the greatest impact upon how we learn. Much of the work around the new generation of informal learning is predicated on the Internet and Google’s dominance of information retrieval as it has very effectively indexed the Internet. As the owner of Youtube Google owns the world’s largest learning resource.

As we noted in our review of BETT the Google stand was the busiest amongst the education professionals attending the show, and there is no doubt that Google’s attitude and ambitions towards learning and training are watched closely over many years…see our review of Learning 2009 when Google’s presentation was a major draw to delegates.

We note Pearson’s work with Google integrating Google Apps into their LMS offer in the US education market, and here in the UK – Europe’s largest Moodle partner is integrating Moodle and Google very effectively into the UK education market.

Google is also heavily into m-learning with its Android smart device operating system, creating a much more open eco-system which will allow the embedding of smartphones into new e-learning ecospheres. Google to the surprise of many has not launched its own Cloud based LMS, and as far as we can see remains content to partner and embed its Apps and search technology into existing players. Google + is adding social networking to the overall offer, making Google the most integrated but still open eco-system of the FLATMAGs.

Those were the FLATMAGs, but we are tempted to add to create the FLATMAGS, why…….


Perhaps not as widely known as the above companies, and not one in the consumer market, but very well known in the corporate market Salesforce certainly has ambitions in the e-learning and social learning market. The partnership with Blackboard is of significance as is the purchase of Rypple.  So Salesforce has done just enough in our view (a learning perspectives view) to put the plurality into our shorthand – FLATMAGS.

FLATMAGS – these are the BRICS who are the CIVETS?

There are another group of companies – the CIVETS to the BRICS if you wish, that play a significant role, or could yet choose to do so in this world . Candidates would be Sony, Samsung and Blackberry – all with smart devices and tablets as well as ambition and or issues! Other candidates with interests in e-learning are Oracle and SAP (both providing e-learning platforms aligned to their ERP offers) with Oracle active in acquiring Taleo recently,  which  indicates an interest at the corporate talent management end of the market. Both IBM and HP have had long standing interest in e-learning and learning technologies, as has Intel of course, with then CEO Andy Grove announcing the importance of e-learning over 10 years ago. To this mix we would also add Moodle see our recent post, – with its impressive number of learners and high levels of usage in the education market, into which Blackboard (another large learning technologies vendor) has just bought into – see our comments . We should also note that there are many other open often video led learning resources such as TED, so it is not just Youtube, the Khan Academy and i-tunesU. And last of all Wikipedia provides the world with wondrous amounts of information that provides a bedrock to much learning.

Does FLATMAGS work as a term?

Well on a light-hearted note these organisations are flattening all that comes before them and more interestingly flattening out our world as the horizon is no longer our limit of site, and secondly like Magpies they are all very acquisitive!