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Elearning: Is it time to party?


CandlesElearning has grown up – it's more real-time, more rapid and more collaborative, says Clive Shepherd. He looks back to the drum roll of elearning's birth 10 years ago, it's faltering progress and predicts successful teenage years.

It's about 10 years since the term elearning was first coined. At the time anyone who had a product or service that was looking a little tired would prefix their offering with an 'e' and gain some reflected glory from the growing dotcom frenzy. Now we all know that the dotcom boom ended in tears, but then only for the shareholders of the dotcom enterprises, not the consumers. Every forecast made optimistically at the time about the future popularity of the internet has since been exceeded – the problem wasn't the concept, just the over exuberance of the financial analysts and the marketing people. The same can be said for elearning: over sold before it was ready for the mass market, it entered a brief period of depression, but has since grown quietly and steadily along the lines that were first predicted.

Photo of Clive Shepherd"Over sold before it was ready for the mass market, elearning entered a brief period of depression, but has since grown quietly and steadily along the lines that were first predicted."

Certainly the internet has grown over the past 10 years, but it has also shifted in character, with its increased emphasis on user generated content, collaboration and networking. Elearning would not have happened without the internet and continues to share the same tools, technologies and trends. So where is elearning 10 years on?


According to Bersin & Associates: "A whopping 72% of all training challenges are time critical". Formal elearning development processes are fine when the content is relatively fixed and the requirements are not urgent, but are simply too cumbersome when an organisation needs to respond to rapid change. Formal elearning may also be uneconomic when audience numbers are low or the content has a short shelf-life. Bersin defines rapid elearning as "web-based training programmes that can be created in a few weeks and which are authored largely by subject experts."

Rapid elearning uses a new generation of easy-to-use tools and a streamlined process, which shortcuts many of the phases normally associated with formal content development. And rapid elearning is evolving beyond interactive tutorials to include online video, software demos, podcasts, narrated slide shows and downloadable PDFs, with development being shared by generalist trainers, subject experts and specialist contractors. According to 'The Global e-Learning Market' (Books24x7, 2008), "rapid elearning accounts for over 50% of the market and its growth is far outpacing all other categories of elearning."


Elearning is usually associated with self-paced learning, but according to recent surveys by the ASTD and Training Magazine, some 10% of all formal training in the USA takes place in real time, using web conferencing technology - or virtual classrooms as they are usually termed when used in a training context. The UK, while not suffering the same geographic constraints as the USA, is catching up – the eSkills UK Towards Maturity survey of 2007 predicted a 33% growth in the use of virtual classrooms over the next three years.

"Although the general trend in usage in elearning is up, the composition of what makes up the figures is changing – less protracted periods of self-study; elearning is more real time, more rapid and more collaborative."

Live online events can be relatively low-fi, using simple chat rooms and instant messaging, progressing through the use of webcams and voice-over internet protocol (VOIP), to the fully interactive environments found in virtual classrooms. And this technology is versatile in that it can accommodate all forms of learning interaction, from one-to-ones to small group workshops, to webinars.


Self-study is certainly flexible but for the majority of learners it is not going to constitute a preferred option for anything more than a few hours of study. The longer or more complex the requirement, the more learners need interaction with tutors or coaches and with their peers. Collaboration certainly increases delivery cost but it also significantly increases completion rates and levels of enjoyment. In the eSkills survey, two of the largest predicted growth areas over the next three years were the provision of tutor support (+28%) and online collaboration between learners (+24%). The survey also found that those organisations experiencing the greatest impact from elearning were those who made the most use of collaboration.

The numbers

According to a report by Ambient Insight (2007), the global market for elearning products and services was worth approximately $17bn in 2007, 15% of which can be attributed to Europe. This total is forecast to rise to $50bn by 2010. A 2007 study by Epic showed 18% year on year growth in revenues in the UK at a time when general training spend was static or declining. Now numbers are not everything and can be misleading; as the saying goes, 'statistics are like a bikini - what they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital'. And what these numbers conceal is that, although the general trend in usage in elearning is up, the composition of what makes up the figures is changing – less protracted periods of self-study; elearning is more real-time, more rapid and more collaborative.

Clive Shepherd is an independent elearning consultant and current chair of the eLearning Network. He blogs at

For more information on the eLearning Network go to:


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