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Elearning for dummies


With so many elearning solutions on the market finding the right one can be a minefield. Bob Little gives us the low down on what's hot and what's not in the world of learning technology.

Being some 20 years old, the elearning industry is relatively young as industries go. There are few, if any, barriers to entry for suppliers and the industry exploits leading-edge technology that, by definition, has little or no pedigree. This means that buyers have the problem of deciding - with confidence - what elearning to buy and who to buy it from.

‘Elearning’ is an umbrella term that includes online and ‘stand alone’ (CD/ DVD-based) learning materials, the tools needed to produce them and the systems that relate to them. This includes not just the increasing range of delivery platforms – featuring iPods, BlackBerrys, notebooks, laptops and desktop computers – but also systems that monitor learner usage of these materials.

In searching for ‘credibility criteria’ for potential suppliers – of authoring tools, courseware and systems such as learning management (LMS), learning content management (LCMS) , talent management and others – a novice might apply three tests.

The three tests

One test of an elearning supplier’s reliability is its quality – evidenced through customer testimonials; its adoption of key quality standards such as those put forward by IMS (systems), ISO (processes), SEI (people) and others, and its continued membership of prestigious industry bodies such as the eLN, a non-profit organisation run by the elearning community for the elearning community and now numbering over 1,500 members.

"When it comes to choosing an elearning solutions supplier, it is important to find one which has a proven track record of success."

Alistair Morrison, Echelon Learning

Phil Green, managing director of consultants Optimum Learning and a long-standing eLN member, commented: “Quality can be an essentially subjective concept. The only valid way to assess the true quality of elearning resources is to determine if the learners making up the target audience have achieved the learning objectives set for the programme.

“Since elearning development is fundamentally a team-based activity, the effectiveness or quality of an elearning programme depends on the weakest link in the production chain,” he added. “Superb instructional design poorly executed will not achieve its goals - nor will poor instructional design perfectly executed.”

Another test for potential elearning buyers is a producer’s track record, indicated by its longevity in the market and performance over that period. Although ‘elearning’ is relatively new, there are a number of ‘elearning’ companies that can claim 20 or more years of trading profitably. Of course, this is complicated by a number of individuals, who have some 20 years experience in the industry, joining – or even starting – companies which do not have a similar pedigree. So it would be a good idea to check out not only the potential supplier’s history but also that of those at the company with whom you could be working.

Alistair Morrison, CEO of organisation development consultancy Echelon Learning commented: “Customers need to feel confident that their suppliers are competent and able to supply what they are contracted to supply. When it comes to choosing an elearning solutions supplier, it is important to find one which has a proven track record of success; has developed competence in a wide range of elearning-related disciplines, and is large enough to withstand the vagaries of today’s marketplace.”

The problem for potential buyers is that what was a technological state-of-the-art elearning application even, say, nine months ago is likely to look ‘pedestrian’ today in such a fast-paced industry. That is why it is important to keep up with contemporary applications of elearning – through, for example:

  • attending eLN conferences and/or the annual Learning Technologies event
  • regularly reading the trade media for news and case studies, such as E-Learning Age and Training Journal magazines, allied to online sources, including and Training Press Releases

The third test is to determine the producer’s reputation – for producing a quality, reliable product; collaborating with customers to deliver what they want rather than supplying a customised version of a templated product, and so on.

"Thanks to new technologies, employees are increasingly mobile and geographically dispersed."

Adam Miller, Cornerstone OnDemand

In terms of systems, this latter test is being helped by the emergence of software-as-a-service (SaaS). This means that the supplier hosts the system software for the customer – and this should ensure that customers always gain access to the latest version of the software; there are no IT-related ‘upgrade’ issues; the software meets current industry standards, and so the customer can concentrate on using the system to provide learning materials rather than worrying about whether and how the system can be used.

Changing business dynamics

There is no doubt that elearning is proving valuable to organisations as they adapt to changing business dynamics. According to Adam Miller, CEO of integrated learning and talent management specialist Cornerstone OnDemand: “Globalisation presents more than new markets and the economic downturn has challenged business leaders with having to develop and retain top talent while reducing budgets and workforces. Moreover, thanks to new technologies, employees are increasingly mobile and geographically dispersed - and they are operating within flatter managerial hierarchies.”

This is prompting elearning to move into new areas – not just delivering mobile learning materials that allow ‘real-time’ interaction between people and applications over a service orientated infrastructure (SOI), to produce ‘extended geo-learning’, delivered ‘in-class’, ‘in-house’, ‘in campus and ‘in building’ on an urban, suburban and global GPS basis but also using social networking, via blogs, wikis and so on, to provide just-enough, just-in-time performance support.

Running Europe’s largest private research laboratory, the learning and mobile content management solution provider, Giunti Labs is in the forefront of developing the next generation of elearning. Fabrizio Cardinali, Giunti Labs’ CEO, commented: “Today, we’re not thinking about ‘elearning platforms’ but, rather, about an ecosystem which knows – or discovers – who the learner is, what language s/he speaks, the learner’s background, learning delivery preferences and so on. This is helping to produce true personalised learning.”

For over 20 years, Bob Little has specialised in writing about, and commentating on, corporate learning – especially elearning – and technology-related subjects. His work has been published in the UK, Continental Europe, the USA, Singapore and Australia. He blogs at and you can contact Bob via

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