This caused us to have a good exchange. Beth tells us:
I'm thinking of "topics" as anything that an organization's people would want to learn about for their jobs. I'm not limiting that to the "traditional means" training topics, but I do limit that to things that are job-related, which is why I think the tail has a limit.If I think about myself and my current and future information needs that relate to all aspects of my job, these are continually changing and growing. So, even if there was a way to define my current tail, tomorrow there's more. And when you talk about all people within an organization, well it seems clear that it's very, very large - effectively infinite. So, I'd want to make sure that we don't delude ourselves:
I'm thinking that the scope of the demands from our learners are finite and still within the means of a training department (with the help blending training programs and of the social knowledge of the company properly harnessed), rather than requiring the power of an Amazon-sized retailer to meet a near-infinite long tail of interests.
- Long tail learning is effectively infinite
- There is no way for an individual to keep up (see Kathy Sierra's The Myth of Keeping Up) much less learning and development.
- Trying to "keep up" and putting ourselves in the producer role is not going to work.
We have to face up to the reality that information needs are shifting and our role can either only focus on the shrinking tall end of the long tail or we can look at how we can play in the long tail where smaller audience sizes, rapidly changing content, etc. makes it such that traditional "topics" kind of approach doesn't really fit.
There's quite a bit more on the size and shape of the long tail through my post on Long Tail SEO - 60+ Articles.