E-learning is back again, and this time with a vengeance. To illustrate what I mean, let me first provide a little history.
Back in 1999, when the Internet was young, a group of pioneering companies believed that education, learning and professional development would be disrupted by the Internet. Outgoing Cisco CEO John Chambers was famously quoted in January 2001 stating, e-learning will “make email look like a rounding error.”
Many big companies at that time told me, “brick-and-mortar universities are dead;” they said virtual universities were going to take over. Many of us believed this, just like we believed that companies like Webvan were going to take over brick-and-mortar grocery stores.
Big vendors at that time included DigitalThink, Click2Learn, SmartForce, NETg, SkillSoft and Ninth House Networks. There were hundreds of others — most of which have disappeared or been acquired.
The concept was simple: Freed from the cost and time of travel, we could learn online and save our companies millions of dollars. Education would be done virtually, and even live instruction would be done online.
E-learning received a huge boost during the recession of 2000-01. Companies trimmed learning budgets significantly, which fueled the market for learning management systems, online content and content development tools.
In the ensuing decade, we all learned a lot. First, we learned that online learning as defined in those years was not enough. At first, people enjoyed the page-turning, somewhat slow flash-based content at first, but it got boring fast. Soon people realized e-learning should be blended with other educational experiences, leading to a decade of work in blended learning development.
Several important changes took place. First, the Internet got faster, and we all got Web browsers on our computers, so media like video and audio was easy to publish. In the early days, video was nonexistent, and we used flash-based animations to mimic it. Second, we all got smartphones, opening the door to pure video devices. Third, tools like Google and Twitter made it easy to find small pieces of content, and we didn’t need to build multihour courses to teach things.
The Internet shifted from a platform for content to a platform for people. Social networking turned the Internet into a medium for individual self-expression, letting subject-matter experts — or students — post their ideas, ask and answer questions and self-publish whatever they felt was interesting.
The $130 billion corporate training market continues to grow, and companies are still experimenting with content. Since the 2008 recession, we have seen a proliferation of exciting e-learning companies. We now have disruptive companies coming to market. For instance, massive open online course providers such as Khan’s Academy are redefining what university education means. Companies such as Udemy General Assembly now offer high-fidelity e-learning for technical training, creative professionals, leadership and soft skills. Companies are embracing these solutions as fast as they can.
In the first era of e-learning, content was hard to complete and didn’t offer much interactivity. Today, we can watch an expert, jump from topic to topic, interact with the teacher, and submit real exercises and exams for evaluation online. Most community colleges and universities offer accredited courses online, and my personal experience shows they work extremely well.
What does this all mean to us in corporate training? E-learning is back with a vengeance. Digital learning today is more exciting, dynamic and relevant than ever. Video, social experiences, gaming and online accreditation are all common.
And this time, e-learning really works. Our research shows that most large companies today are in the middle of a digital renaissance; they desperately need to re-engineer their employee learning experiences to accommodate this new, refreshing, exciting market.
You should take e-learning seriously. It will disrupt many of the systems you have. It will force you to shift to learning experience design. It will put stress on your learning management system and infrastructure.
But its value has increased, which is why being a CLO or learning leader is more exciting now than it has been in years.