The E-Learning Industry
With the cost of implementing e-learning tools falling, more governments, businesses, and schools have added online courses and other forms of distance learning to their organizations. By keeping an eye on the top trends in e-learning, meeting some of the most influential experts in the e-learning field, and asking critical questions about your own strategy, you can make important decisions about how you use e-learning tools in your own life and at your own organization.
Top Ten Trends in E-Learning
Based on research from the Gartner Group, the University of Pennsylvania, and other prestigious think tanks, we can identify ten vital trends that will influence the growth of e-learning over the next ten years.
1. Application Service Providers offer more quick start options. Governments, companies, and learning institutions that don't want to reinvent the wheel can lease or purchase turnkey e-learning systems. As e-learning processes become more standardized, clients benefit from shared research and development expenses, lower costs, and fast deployment. Even organizations on low budgets can implement open source e-learning platforms like Moodle on third party servers in a matter of hours.
- IBM E-Learning Systems
- KnowledgeAnywhere Corporate Solutions
- Moodle Hosting Providers
- Overview of E-Learning and Course Management Software
2. Companies integrate e-learning into their infrastructure. As more organizations deploy departmental or company-wide intranets to increase communication and productivity, savvy managers use the same tools to release e-learning programs into the wild. Professional development directors can easily integrate learning modules into staff communications, while human resources directors can add similar tools to web-based benefits and payroll systems. Not only does this emphasis on learning encourage workers to participate in more training, the modular nature of e-learning content allows employees to learn at their desks in smaller chunks.
3. Churning skill sets require e-learning initiatives. With job descriptions and daily tasks evolving faster than schools can produce qualified job candidates, many employers rely on constant, on-the-job training to remain competitive. E-learning programs help companies push new skills and critical improvements to line-level staff members quickly and efficiently, without the lag time of classroom or retreat-based training.
4. E-Learning cuts the cost of high quality content. Ivy League institutions like the University of Pennsylvania once traded on their exclusivity to justify the high cost of enrollment. Today, even the Wharton School of Business understands the value of repurposing classroom content for distance learners around the country. By developing classrooms without walls, e-learning programs can reduce the costs of participation without negatively affecting the compensation for renowned lecturers, researchers, and presenters.
5. E-Learning levels professional playing field around the world. Workers in niche industries once had to travel to specialized learning centers to discover the best practices in their field. Today, e-learning connects students in rural communities to urban experts, and vice versa. We are only starting to see the effects that quality education is having on business and industry in developing countries. Likewise, small businesses can access the same caliber of high-level information and insight that was once only available to Fortune 500 companies with large human resources budgets.
6. Gamers bring interactive skills to e-learning. Human beings love to learn through experience. Many e-learning providers have discovered that they can use video game technology to develop fun, engaging, effective simulations. Industrial employers can train workers to handle sophisticated tasks without risking injury or production quality. Other types of teams can grow skills and learn best practices by participating in simulated quiz shows or treasure hunts. Fun e-learning programs help boost staff morale while reducing the time it takes for team members to integrate new skills and ideas.
7. Governments deploy e-learning at all levels. In addition to the obvious business uses for e-learning, governments around the world have discovered that e-learning programs can dramatically improve the quality of life for citizens while reducing the financial burden on taxpayers. Local schools in underserved rural areas or dangerous urban neighborhoods can rely on e-learning to offset the lack of skilled teachers in their districts. State university systems can keep talented students from crossing borders by importing highly specialized programs from other schools. Governments in developing countries have invested heavily in e-learning programs to build eager, talented, work forces.
8. Partners and collaborators use e-learning to get everyone on the same page sooner. As conglomerates unbundle themselves into smaller, more tightly focused companies, the connections between these operating units determine the success or failure of projects and products. Strong e-learning systems allow team members at collaborating companies to understand shared objectives. Workers can quickly learn about the inner workings of technologies and techniques. As a result, outsourced call centers and repair facilities can serve customers transparently, while parts manufacturers can respond to end user demand with dramatic turnaround time.
9. Wireless technology helps e-learning initiatives "cut the cord." Until distance learning programs brought specialized skills and best practices to far-flung corners of the world, professionals often had to travel to urban centers to benefit from innovative research. Today's wireless technology allows educators and development specialists to reach even further into rural areas, farms, deserts, and rainforests. With radio, satellite, and Wi-Fi signals beaming two-way information from distant locales, people can participate in an almost endless array of learning opportunities.
10. E-Learning's Movers and Shakers. Brian Alger wrote "The Experience Designer," one of the first comprehensive guides to modern e-learning, in 2002. Alger explores the connections between the way we learn through storytelling and experience and the kinds of technologies we can use to emulate the learning process online. To keep readers and colleagues up to date on current developments in e-learning research, Alger posts new findings and links to his Experience Designer Network weblog.
Amy Jo Kim has spent more than two decades of her career studying effective online community design. As the founder of her creative studio, NAIMA, Dr. Kim has collaborated on many of the e-learning industry's groundbreaking products and platforms. In addition to lecturing at e-learning conferences around the world, she continues to develop innovative new community systems for clients in the public and private sectors. Dr. Kim comments on her work and her industry on her weblog.
Kevin Kruse wrote a number of successful books about professional development and training in the 1990's before establishing himself as an expert in e-learning. After building and selling his own e-learning company during the dot-com boom, Kruse toured the country as a featured speaker and highly sought-after e-learning consultant. He chronicles the e-learning industry on his website, E-LearningGuru.com.
Launching Your Own E-Learning ProjectBringing e-learning to your own organization doesn't have to wreck your budget or your schedule. Ask yourself these questions to determine the right solutions for your needs.
- What Outcomes do I Expect? If you want to measure incremental changes in your staff, you can use more informal solutions based around bulletin boards and weblogs. If, however, you require your team members to achieve an official standard or a certification, you may require a system that offers built-in testing solutions.
- How Do My Team Members Learn Best? Different members of your team will respond to different kinds of e-learning experiences. Take a poll or do a study to figure out some of the most common learning skills among your workers or your students. If many of the people you want to train learn more effectively through interaction than through lecture, you might want to avoid one-way e-learning solutions like videoconferences in favor of chat rooms and simulators.
- Where Will the Learning Take Place? When your team members work on their own computers, you can easily integrate e-learning into their daily routines using intranets, e-mail, chat, and other familiar tools. Otherwise, you might consider setting aside a space in your facility where workers can participate in conferences, complete assignments, or hold discussions.
- How Often Will Our Needs Change? If your organization emphasizes effective initial training for new hires, you could invest in a simple system that meets your needs and doesn't require a lot of care and feeding. On the other hand, if you work in a fast-paced industry that requires constant innovation, you may need a more flexible solution. Consider integrating news feeds, discussions, and interactive elements into your e-learning plans.
- Where Will We Get Content? If you already face headcount challenges in your organization, you can easily get quality e-learning material from outside your organization. Some colleges and universities can help you integrate their existing classes and curricula into your e-learning initiative. With such high demand for professional development, many solo entrepreneurs and specialty businesses now offer highly customized learning content that can be delivered by videoconference, telephone, or online chat.