Fall 2000


Link to related sites.

Visit the Online Learning 2000 website

Go to e-LearningHub.com

Learn more about LearnEze.com

Broadbent also teaches a course about elearning at eSocrates.

Subscribe to his free monthly elearning newsletter.

Brooke’s Pre-workshop session at the Online Corporate University Week.

Brainshark presentation about elearning




Sitting in the airport, returning from a conference, suitcase and computer in hand, my mind conjures up images of people I met over the three days. Bright people. Inquisitive folks. Innovators. Leaders. Vendors. Thinkers. Doers. Folks who want to see elearning work, as a commercial success and as a way to train effectively. Together they are making progress. There is, however, room for improvement.

Seven thousand instructors, developers, managers, entrepreneurs, writers, and consultants descended on Denver for an elearning conference from September 23–25, 2000. The conference: Online Learning 2000 from Bill Communications. The conference had 200 sessions (often over thirty to chose from at any time), five keynotes, plus an array of pre- and post-conference sessions. There were 250 Expo booths; and if there was an average of three people at each booth that makes 750 vendor representatives.


I attended the keynote presentations by Gloria Gery and Brandon Hall on the state of elearning. Hearing a long-term thought leader like Gloria point out some elearning imperfections is reassuring. She lamented that elearning is still seen as an event; some elearning materials are books formatted in html; and many online events look like online versions of classroom courses. From the mother of performance support systems, it is not surprising that she said elearning needs to be more closely integrated with performance. And she’s right.

I also agreed with her that elearning needs to be transformed from the current one-size-fits-all approach to an individualized performance-driven process. I did not agree with her, however, when she chortled hallelujah in response to the Forester report findings that 75% of elearners don’t finish their courses. Gloria might be right when it comes to in-house self-study elearning. However, as an online instructor, I feel we need to develop online courses that are flexible, dynamic, and individual-performance-oriented, which will consequently minimize dropping out. Besides, it’s expensive to enroll in elearning courses. I want to be sure that my students get full value for the course I teach on line.

While Gloria fits well into the we-can-do-it better guru role, Brandon positions himself as an industrial analyst—the J. D. Power of elearning. What Power has been doing for 30 years, collecting feedback from consumers about products they own, especially cars, the ubiquitous Mr. Hall is beginning to do for elearning consumers. You can read much of what Brandon Hall said in his presentation in a special advertising supplement to Forbes magazine sponsored by 16 leading elearning companies. Prefer to see a video of Brandon? Oracle has posted an 18-minute online video of an interview with him.

Brandon’s basics

Brandon Hall works hard to keep us posted on what’s new in technology-assisted learning. For people who like easy-to-remember numbers, if you dig around Brandon’s pronouncements, you will find 50-50-50-50. eLearning is 50% faster, 50% cheaper and 50% more effective.  And in a few years time, he says it will constitute 50% of training.

Brandon makes a most interesting case writing and talking about IBM, where four types of elearning and conventional learning are being combined to train new managers. In this diverse clicks and bricks approach, participants start with a leader-led online course, proceed to self-study with online simulations and discussion groups, followed six months later by a one-week classroom course. Throughout, knowledge management and performance support materials are available.

The IBM example

Elearning Conventional 





In the first phase, groups of participants take courses over the company intranet. These courses deal with the skills involved in becoming an IBM manager.

The second phase uses simulations to give learners an opportunity to work through business problems, deal with compensation and benefits issues, and build management skills.

In the third phase, partici­pants use Lotus Team Room and Lotus Learning Space to solve problems as a group. At any given time, hundreds of small groups will be learning simultaneously

Throughout, participants have access to commonly asked questions and answers.

Participants in the first phase have access to a database of scenarios about issues such as handling conflict and retaining employees.

In the second phase, participants receive coaching from second-line IBM managers. In the fourth phase, after six months of elearning, each class meets for one week of class­room activities. They do teamwork activities and use the information they have learned in other phases of the program.

The IBM example illustrates how elearning can and should be adapted. IBM is apparently conducting a serious evaluation of their program. I hope they make it available to all of us so we can learn more from this example.

eLearning reaches adolescence

eLearning is reaching a point on the maturity scale where candid presenters feel comfortable outlining challenges they face when implementing elearning. They told us the following. Technology is testing everyone’s patience. We need to remember that technology is only a tool, not an end in itself. Going with the latest technology is a recipe for failure when the host organization cannot support the technology. This was well summed up in a presentation by Eric Parks of Ask International, Why Online Learners Drop Out And What To Do About It.

Consulting skills are tested in elearning projects. Ethan Edwards of Allen Interactions gave an example of activities taking much longer to complete than planned. This occurs mostly when clients realize part way through the development of elearning materials that content from conventional training needs to be tightened up before it can be used in elearning. (What else is new?) As a result, deadlines are missed.

Selected software

As elearning matures and we begin to reap the benefits from automation, we’re going to need a smorgasbord of solid software to help develop and deliver elearning. Here are some examples of the products that conference organizers selected from among 250 exhibitors. Brainshark provides a quick, self-service method of adding voice-over to PowerPoint slides and making them available over the Web. GuruWizard automatically generates training materials. The Intelligent Essay Assessor is a web-based learning tool that evaluates written essays. Learnstream delivers full motion video over a 28.8 modem. The OnDemand Personal Navigator of Global Knowledge provides just-in-time, in-application training and performance support to users of ERP applications.

Caveat emptor

I am convinced that today’s elearning is just a taste of what we will have with broadband, wireless computing, artificial intelligence, and other yet-to-be discovered innovations. The showcased software and others demonstrated at the conference may lead us to Software Shangri-La. Their products looked super, but as I watched their short presentations my skeptical mind flashed back to the translation software I bought a few years ago. I tested it out and broke out laughing at the results as it translated from English to French. Caveat emptor is the order of the day. Software, like good French wine, improves with age—and with new versions.


On the lighter side, and unexpectedly, Little Richard’s rock and roll show helped to put some elearning issues in perspective. His performance serves as a model for how to engage an audience. He demonstrates what educators need to do in the elearning field: energize, surprise, entertain, master technology, and get your audience to participate.

Little Richard’s gig is a grand example of showmanship, entertainment, and engagement. But let’s not go too far! To my tips learned from Little Richard, you need to add three things: accurate needs analysis, clever design, and solid content. Quality content provides the sustenance that learners need to do their job right. It builds from the basics to more complex material and is accordingly easy to follow. It is communicated clearly and succinctly and is therefore easy to digest. Quality content is linked to situations that learners understand and therefore learners can make the bridge from the training experience to the world of work.


The Online Learning Conference in Denver was a rich source of information about elearning. The anecdotes from folks with hands-on experience were illuminating. The keynote speeches were inspirational. Software products were interesting. What we need now are more examples of how companies have implemented elearning. We need more stories like IBM’s. We need to learn the practical lessons. We need to see the big picture of elearning—a mosaic composed of many different approaches. And as we saw with IBM, these approaches are strongest when they are combined, merged, dovetailed—blended.

And we need to take research to the next level. We need practical, validated research of the results of implementing elearning in workplaces, large and small. I don’t mean for this to replace the anecdotal information that we hear from conference presenters, nor will it replace reports from actual learners. We need all the information we can get. And when we have the information, we need to think critically about it. We will move ahead with elearning and do it right if we challenge gurus, demand results from software developers, and question our own thinking and observations. It’s an exciting prospect. Don’t you agree?

Brooke Broadbent is an e-learning consultant, author, and trainer. He is also the founder of e-LearningHub.com and the VP of Learning at LearnEze.com. He can be reached at brooke.broadbent@ottawa.com.

Jay Cross snaps up ideas and photos for the Internet Time Group. Invite him to your next event at jay@internettime.com




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