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Attendees of Elliot Masie’s TechLearn 2000 and World eLearning Congress were surprised at how much the conference had grown—this year over 3,200 elearning enthusiasts from 40 countries descended on Orlando for the event. Attendees were also surprised at how sharply the conversations had swung from “what” to “how.” This annual meeting indeed had plenty of “how to” sessions, as well as the expected hob-knobbing, vendor discussions, and learning community networking. A few events, however, rose above the usual fray, in particular a plenary panel discussion of leading CEOs and senior executives.

Moderated by Elliot Masie, the panel members included Dennis Bonilla (Oracle), Duncan Lennox (WBT), Jon Levy (Harvard Business School Publishing), Bernie Luskins (Global Learning Systems); Kevin Oakes (click2Learn); Greg Priest (SmartForce); Alan Todd (KnowledgeSoft), and Bobby Yazdani (Saba). A special guest on stage was Hilary Pennington, Co-chair of the eLearning Liaison Committee to the White House. 

The thrust of Elliot’s questions were to uncover the views and assumptions of leaders driving this new industry, and to lay out a conversation about where elearning is generally headed. Like all such events, the discussion combined some great insights with a potpourri of platitudes and dangling or unfinished thoughts. What follows here are not verbatim quotations, but rather this reporter’s synthesis of the key perspectives, either those particularly interesting or strongly held.


 


Q: What generally lies ahead in this marketplace?

  • Increased demand as more companies up their investment in training; more demand driven by line managers, and exploding growth of customer training; the elearning industry will nonetheless consolidate around big players
  • Learning models will increasingly become “blended,” combining training with other forms of learning, development and knowledge management
  • Learning object revolution will continue, with increasing granularity in object size
  • Platforms will migrate to standards, and proprietary will yield to more open and independent models
  • We’ll see ecosystems of partners, integrators, and content providers forming, and these will provide the most important thrust in the marketplace. This development will be complemented by increasing use of elearning across the supply chain of companies

Q: How will products/services be different in a year? 

  • Learning will be an “always on” utility with the ability to personalize it, and link to specific gaps and competency needs
  • Barriers will erode between learning, collaboration, facilitation, and access to marketing and other information—all will become available via internet and be combined in integrated environments
  • The industry will be further ahead in technical and content standards and there will be richer understanding reflected in products/services of the overall learner experience
  • We’ll see an increasing network effect of companies publishing their own content across boundaries and accessing the learning catalogues of other companies

Q: What barriers do companies have to overcome to pursue elearning?

§  Many need to first figure out how to become an e-business in general, and work on elearning as a subsequent subset of that

§  Increase the understanding about the difference between e-content and e-infrastructure; many organizations don’t yet get that

§   Most of the barriers are cultural or mental: realizing the whole way of imparting knowledge and learning is different; recalculating the role of content providers in light of their potential to achieve scale and thus demand more equity; confronting the rapidly evolving importance of people as the true source of value

§  We still lack clear cases of value created based on business drivers such as speed to market, innovation, talent retention, etc. The game is still early, but these will come over time

Q. How will the advancing growth of “Generation X” people in the workforce affect the elearning market?

§ Expect to see increasing use of simulations and collaborations, building off the video-game experience of Gen Xers

§ Learning environments will become more “immersive”

§ Demand and expectations will increase for more personalization, customization, and speed of availability of learning: immediate gratification

Q. Is there danger of elearning content becoming “Napsterized” (i.e., traded and exchanged peer-to-peer across ad hoc networks of users)?

 §  Perhaps, but much will depend on the business model for the development and sale of content going forward

§  It may well be that elearning will evolve as a set of customized process applications and not prepackaged content; to use a metaphor, not “off the rack” suits, but rather cloth and tailors, for personalized and customized clothing on demand. If that’s true, companies that try to “lock up the clothing store” will be missing the real opportunities

Q. What are some of the emerging public policy implications and recommendations you industry executives can suggest to the government?

§  In general, stay out of the way!

§  Work first on providing universal access, break down the digital divide; also subsidies for promoting development and distribution of elearning content to audiences unable to afford it, e.g., Third World countries

§  Lead by example; make the government an e-government

§  Certify teachers in elearning capabilities and foster the career development of educators. The fastest way to extend elearning to the educational system is through teachers themselves.

Brook Manville, a frequent conference attendee, is the publisher of LiNE Zine and Chief Learning Officer at Saba. Reach him at brook@linezine.com.

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