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Trends in e-learning

By Dr. Amy Finn, Ph.D, Chief Learning Officer, Centra Software

In the 21st century we have come to expect delivery of information at light speed. We accept no excuse for even a few seconds of delay in searching for information on the Internet and we expect information to be available around-the-clock. The power of technology allows us to reach out into a universe of information we would never be able to reach otherwise. It allows us to expect education and knowledge on demand and e-learning makes this expectation possible.

The need to define e-learning

This article is about trends in e-learning. Yet, just a few years ago, no one had ever heard of the term “e-learning.” Many people have heard of terms such as distance education or distance learning, yet with the introduction of eLearning, distance education took on a whole new meaning. With eLearning, the possibilities for getting knowledge and information out to the learner at an accelerated pace opened a whole new world for knowledge transfer.

What is e-learning? In recent years definitions and terminology changed in the rapidly growing field of education, training, and learning. A short evolution of terminology might be as follows. The industry went from using such terms as “technology-supported learning, distance learning and distance education” to “online learning and Web-based training” to “e-learning.” This change happened within months.

The category of live e-learning evolved for a number of economic and technological reasons. It became possible, by in large, out of need. Yet the roots of live e-learning are deeply embedded in the understanding people have with all forms of learning delivery methods such as conferencing, email and web-based training for example.

Today, e-learning allows us to train and develop our workforce continuously, to capture, share, and manage knowledge and skills of the professionals who work in our organisations, colleges, and universities, and to get the right information to the right people, when and how they need it.

Trends in e-learning

Given that e-learning is here to stay, we need to examine some trends to help set the stage for 2004 and beyond. These trends help us to understand why and how eLearning will continue to become a driving force in business and industry, as well as in the arenas of education.

Trend Number 1: e-Learning as a Business Strategy

Smart organisations know that e-learning is a strategic solution that must be deployed throughout their organisation. It is no longer a question of “if,” but “when.” e-learning is becoming and will continue to be a part of organisational infrastructure, similar to mail packages and other suites of products used to increase organisational productivity.

Organisations deploying e-learning for one set of business reasons are finding it to be an integral part of their operating strategy. Deployments of enterprise-wide eLearning are used for increasing sales effectiveness, improving organisational competency, and building richer customer relationships.

Trend Number 2: Integrated e-Learning Suites

The e-learning universe is large and diverse, consisting of three major categories: content, technology, and services. In many cases, a comprehensive e-learning solution consists of components of each, integrated into eLearning "suites" aimed at solving a particular business problem, such as sales or product training.

Relative to content, think of the vertical areas where you would apply content, such as business skills, technical skills, soft skills, and specific areas related to various functions in your organisation. Also consider what format you can best deliver the information whether it is simulations, games, mentoring, or various other methods.

In the area of technology, you need to think of your needs today and tomorrow for learning management, content management, knowledge management, content distribution, competency management, collaboration, assessments, reporting, workflow and localisation.

In the area of services you may need to think about change management, customisation, strategic deployment, project management, and other areas related to the successful implementation and deployment of technology within your organisation.

Trend Number 3: Blended Learning

An emerging trend in eLearning involves blended learning programmes, designed to integrate eLearning with traditional training methods to increase overall effectiveness. No longer is one delivery method alone sufficient to handle enterprise-wide training needs. The construction of true blended learning programmes moves learning itself into a new age.

Blended learning preserves the necessary consideration of how people learn, offers options for learning, improves learner retention, increases completion rates for learning programmes, and has been shown to produce measurable savings in learning offerings.

Trend Number 4: From Discrete to Integrated Learning

If there is a trend towards blended learning, there is also a trend towards a seamless transition from one learning activity to another. Instead of point learning activities that stand alone, such as a physical classroom training session, or a Web-Based Training module, the trend is towards the integration of these activities or delivery mechanisms.

Look for seamless transitions from live group activities to individual exercises, from self-paced learning activities to live and back again, from activities in smaller groups to activities in a larger learning community and back again. e-Learning makes this possible with great ease!

Trend Number 5: The Disappearing LMS

A few years ago organisations looked to Learning Management Systems (LMS) to solve their business problems. The LMS strategy was a reasonable one, but one that involved a corporate commitment in time, cost, resources, and energy that few organisations could afford or be successful at. Learning Management Systems were said to be able to "do it all" for the internal workings of an organisation. The fact is that no one product can do it all, and it is not reasonable to assume one would be able to do so. True knowledge delivery solutions need to work internally as well as internally. They need to connect suppliers, business units within your organisation, and customers external to your organisation. They need to work in a world that joins your suppliers, your internal organisation and your customers in such a way that the knowledge and information needed by everyone in your supply chain is there for them when they need it. The LMS is only part of any solution. The trend is to look at the bigger picture of knowledge delivery solutions that address enterprise-wide learning needs from the inside out.

In summary …

These 5 trends in e-learning are intended to provide you with a framework to consider the e-learning needs of your organisation. In the months and years to come, smart organisations will bring together executive decision makers from all corners of their company to understand the corporate needs for e-learning and make purchase and buying decisions based on an understanding of today's business needs and tomorrow's requirements for growth and evolution.

Finally, think about how your organisation will handle the change. Clearly, how your organisation will accept the new paradigm of eLearning is key. Make sure you work with suppliers who do more than just "drop the box at your door." Only work with vendors who speak to you up front about the changes your organisation may experience with e-learning and how it can be managed. Remember, if your employees don't know what to do with it, or can't or won't use it, even the best product, technology, or service won't provide the returns you are looking for.

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© 2004 Centra Software. Reproduced with permission. Any opinions or views contained in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Training Reference.

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