The participants to your training, development or educational opportunity can either be consumers of the information (and the opportunity) or they can be products of the impact of the information (and the opportunity).

Consumers or products.

You can argue with this perspective all you want, but fundamentally, this is the distinction. And it comes with a difference:

Consumers are always right—even when they’re wrong. And you, as the provider of the learning experience, will move mountains to keep them happy and avoid the friction that comes with unpopular ideas, perspectives, and approaches to learning.

Products are always proof—even when they are negative proof. And you, as the provider of the learning experience, will move mountains to make the results of the education you are giving more relevant to the world they are going to interact with based on the information you give them.

Consumers or products.

You may object and ask “Well, can’t a participant (or attendee) of a training, development, or educational opportunity be both a consumer of the opportunity, and a product of the opportunity?” And the answer is, yes and no. The person paying for the participant (or attendee) to take advantage of the opportunity may be a consumer. But the attendee (even if they are paying directly) is always the product of that interaction.

Consumers or products.

What matter so much is not the distinction (although it is important to be clear in your own mind about what’s exactly on offer in an educational interaction); instead what matters is the posture you take toward the participant.

If they’re a consumer, you’ll reduce friction, give easy answers, and hand out “A’s” (or the industry equivalent) without worrying too much about the outcome.

If they’re a product, you increase friction, give Socratic answers, and not bother with the extra approval and permission associated with credentialing a learning experience.

If they’re a consumer, you’ll make sure to say nothing controversial in your marketing, close sales at the mass level, and not be too concerned about outlier ideas, research or approaches to learning.

If they’re a product, you’ll make sure to be pointed and direct in your communication, you’ll close sales at the individual level, and you’ll be really concerned with what’s happening at the edges of the idea, information, or education universe.

Consumers or products.

It doesn’t matter what you decide, but be clear in your own mind about what’s on offer, so that the participant isn’t confused about the experience, and the education, that they’re paying for with their time, their attention, and their money.