Thursday, October 11, 2007

Why e-Learning is dying.... (Adrian Snook)

e-Learning now plays a significant part in the learning and development (L&D) strategies of most major organisations in the United Kingdom and this part is growing bigger every year. Learning technologies are certainly seem to be going mainstream.

But paradoxically, as we are approaching full maturity in the use of learning technologies more internal e-Learning Managers seem to lose their jobs every month. Internal e-Learning Development teams are almost literally melting away in front of my eyes, swept away by waves of restructuring.

- We used to have two major specialist e-Learning Conferences and Exhibitions every year in the UK, attended by many thousands of people. Now we have none.

- Even the small scale sector specific commercial conferences on the theme of Implementing e-Learning are almost extinct in the UK.

I hate to say it, but judging from these symptoms e-Learning seems to be dying...

There - I've said it now. And at a major European e-Learning convention as well. Sorry to spoil the party!

Why is this so?

- Because learning technologies are rapidly becoming integrated into the mainstream world of learning and development. Organisations now take it as read that e-Learning works and are not that worried or concerned about the technical nuts and bolts. They are certainly not that interested in obsessing about the technology for its own sake. They want to get on and use it to improve their business performance without fuss or fanfare. And exactly how they use it is no-one else's business!

And of course learning and development generalists are changing too. They are more IT-Literate, more self-confident and prepared to play with technology. They embrace the web and live by Google.

Since the year 2000 thousands of generalist Tutors and Trainers in the UK have have had access to courses that teach them the new skills they need to develop e-Learning content, support learners on-line and use virtual classroom technology effectively. These individuals have 'primed the pump' and showed their more conservative L&D colleagues the way ahead.

So many of the the things that once seemed so new, complex and so challenging are now commonplace, tried and tested, and increasingly user-friendly. Week by week what were once cutting edge learning technologies are quietly being adopted as mature tools and techniques by learning and development generalists.

As fears over technology recede, organisations are more concerned about getting down to the job of producing effective learning outcomes by blending the full range of learning techniques.

And these organisations are now realising that operating an internal e-Learning team and an entirely separate traditional face-to-face training team is not a good recipe for blending learning effectively. What gets taken to the e-Learning team as a challenge simply emerges as e-Learning and what gets taken to the face-to-face training team simply emerges as classroom sesssions! Structural separation between e-Learning specialists and L&D generalists is like plumbing your bathroom with two sinks with a hot and cold tap each when what you really need is a single sink with a thermostatic mixer tap...

So the e-Learning Managers are disappearing and what were formerly e-Learning Teams are either being displaced or falling under the management of L&D generalists, working hand-in-hand with the IT function and an increasing range of outsourced suppliers offering hosted solutions and rapid content development tools. And of course in a small industry, the former e-Learning Managers pop up with regularity working as freelance consultants to their former employers and others.

Today mainstream Learning & Development events in the UK have excellent stranded themes on the application of learning technology, given equal billing with other key L&D issues like coaching skills tips, sales training masterclasses, classroom delivery techniques and so on.

Which is, of course how it should be...

Soon e-Learning will be dead...

- But learning lives on...

Adrian Snook

The Training Foundation


Pedro Alves said...

As far as I can see e-learning in Portugal hasn’t yet delivered what is has in other countries. Maybe that’s why e-learning is still the trend… Maybe as we get more and more e-learning proficient’s we truly understand that people learn in different ways and that e-learning is definitely not a standalone solution… yet I still have a question - Don`t we need to have the skills to understand the methodology limitations? Or can we just rely on what is happening elsewhere and step into the “blend”?

Joao said...

Dear Adrian, I am a bit surprised by your views. Let me briefly comment on those. I've been to BETT both in 2006 and 2007 and it does not seem to me that it was showing any signs a deceasing. On the contrary. The exhibitions were heavily attended, and the number of industry presence was very impressive. I am already registered in BETT2008 already showing signs of becoming a similar success... Unless you are not considering BETT as a major elearning exhibition? Can you comment?

Adrian Snook said...

Dear Joao,

I understand why you are surprised.
You need to understand two things.

Firstly, my comments related specifically to the integration of e-Learning into mainstream learning and development practice within major organisations whose primary business is not organisations. e.g. banking, retail, healthcare etc.

These organisations attend mainstream events like Human Resource Development (HRD 2008 15-17 April 2008, ExCeL London) or the World of Learning Show in Birmingham (14-15 November 2007). These events simply treat e-Learning as another tool in their trainers toolbox.

In the UK there is a very stark divide between this world and the world of education, which is served by BETT.

BETT is strictly an educational information and communications technology (ICT) event , which has been running 20 years. It therefore long predates the creation of the word 'e-Learning' and will probably long outlast it.

Someone once joked to me that there is only really one customer at BETT and that is the state! This is obviously not true, but the suppliers that attend BETT primarily want to reach schools, colleges and universities and to sell them techology which is learning related.

Incidentally, as a school governor myself I should point out that the e-Learning Credit scheme for schools mentioned with yesterdays. in yesterdays conference has hardly been a huge success...