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E-learning hype: A help or hindrance? – opinion


This article was provided by Bruce Duff of Pathlore.

A few years ago, one well-known CEO in the high-tech industry told the world that education over the Internet would be so big it would make e-mail ‘look like a rounding error’. It was a bold statement and, with the clear vision of hindsight, a largely inaccurate one.

Statements like this often typify the nature of the high-tech industry. The Internet, software, personal and business computing, and nearly every other high-tech sector have ridden wave after wave of hype over the past few years. Even major players in technology are often guilty of exaggerating the benefits of their products. But is all this hype a bad thing?

For the e-learning industry, the rounding error comment added fuel to an already bright fire of sensationalism. Several new players jumped on the bandwagon with what appeared to be ‘new’ solutions looking for problems to solve; further stoking the flames of sensationalism with new forms of hype.

At first, the market itself was hyped, attracting investors. Then, as the capital dried up, companies turned their marketing machines toward customers in an effort to drive sales. Talk to a dozen e-learning vendors today and you will hear a dozen different stories from a dozen different ‘market leaders’ whose products are, somehow, the only ones that can possibly meet your unique needs. They’ll tell you it’s ‘easy’ and ‘fun’ and ‘can happen overnight’. With all this marketing noise, it can be difficult to discern which vendor’s offerings are for real, which ones are proven, and which ones still have issues to be worked out.

But all that noise has had another effect: it has attracted people’s attention. The promise of e-learning has people talking about training again as a strategic issue, a business issue - and a board-level one at that. For all its drawbacks, the hype helped to prime the pump, keeping the industry afloat long enough for products and technologies to mature, and long enough for real players to establish their value.

Today, effective e-learning programmes are rightly seen as a differentiating competitive factor. And those whose programmes work best can reap the rewards of higher productivity and a more skilled, competent work force.

Despite the hype, this is the fundamental promise of e-learning. But, perhaps, in part because of the hype, the e-learning industry is strong enough today to deliver on it.


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