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The learning technologies curate’s egg

golden_egg

The corporate elearning world is displaying some confusing and, at times, conflicting trends, reports Bob Little.

The last 15 years or so have seen learning technologies not only become generally accepted as a valid part of the learning delivery mix but also become the learning delivery mechanism of choice for a new generation of learners.
Often called 'Generation Y', these people – born in or after 1982 – have grown up using the internet, Facebook and mobile phones. They are not only adept at using technology as a key part of their social networking, they have also been taught via a formal educational system that, for the first time in centuries, prizes collaborative working above individual effort. This generation - and the ones that will come after it – has no problem in seeing the value of using technology for learning; benefitting from its flexibility of delivery, and having the skills to exploit it.
Yet all is not rosy for those in the learning technologies sector.
 
"This generation - and the ones that will come after it – has no problem in seeing the value of using technology for learning; benefitting from its flexibility of delivery, and having the skills to exploit it."
In the current economic climate, many of these young people are unemployed. So, while they have the will to learn and the skills to do so using technology, the opportunity does not exist for all but the most generic of business-orientated learning. Meanwhile, industry and commerce are still run by those who are 'digital immigrants' rather than 'digital natives'.
Nonetheless, the UK's corporate elearning sector turned over some £472m in 2009/10, according to 'The UK elearning market 2010', a report by Learning Light.
This was Learning Light's third in-depth report on a sector which everyone else – with good reason – has been cautious to define. Its only competitors are two US-based market analyst firms. One of these, adopting a wider definition of 'elearning' than Learning Light accepts, values the UK elearning market at some £750m a year, while another believes the UK market to be worth some £250m. So, exhibiting true British compromise, Learning Light's figures are 'somewhere in the middle'.
It has always been difficult to estimate the overall size of the UK elearning market – principally because companies such as Accenture and IBM don't separate elearning from other revenues in their financial reporting and, in some cases, outsource elements of their elearning to boutique providers, thus providing a risk of double-counting. Furthermore, many UK elearning companies are privately owned; registered in the UK but owned overseas, or their revenues fall below the Companies House threshold.
The debate about what constitutes 'the elearning sector' in the UK will continue, legitimately, for ever.
This report suggests that in the next 12 months, the UK market will be 'squeezed'. The market is becoming more competitive. It is growing but the rate of that growth is slowing – from 8% in 2008/09 to no more than 4.76% on the 2009 figure.
"What is curious is that, based on past experience in recessions, the economic slowdown should be driving demand for elearning – but we're not detecting that in the UK," David Patterson, Learning Light's operations director, observed.
The report concludes that the UK remains the largest but not the fastest growing European market for elearning. Its analysis indicates that, while France will enjoy considerable growth (7.64% on a market size of £375m), as will Germany (7.75% on £242m), the elearning markets in most Scandinavian countries will grow faster, albeit from a lower base. The fastest growing elearning markets are identified as those in Eastern Europe - notably Slovakia – which will be driven by government and EU funded projects.
 
"The fastest growing elearning markets are identified as those in Eastern Europe - notably Slovakia – which will be driven by government and EU funded projects."
One of the report's co-authors, Gillian Broadhead, said: "While few of our interviewees failed to see the potential for growth in the corporate elearning market, many also felt that the present economic downturn and the large reductions in Government expenditure in the UK will dampen demand."
David Patterson added: "In terms of technology trends, we see considerable innovation and potential disruption to business models driven by open source technologies, mobile and smart devices, e-books, the Cloud and software as a service (SaaS). We retain our fundamental belief that this industry is evolving and will continue to do so, its appetite undiminished in its wish to exploit new technologies, devices and approaches to deliver effective learning."
"The 2010 report leads us to several conclusions," said Patterson. These are:
  • The roles of HR and L&D are changing – for example, decisions about learning and development activities are tending to be business-led and so are being taken by operational managers rather than by learning professionals
  • There is downward price pressure in the elearning market
  • The market is seeing a shift from 'courses' to shorter bursts of learning – using 'less learning to achieve more'
  • The speed with which learning materials are made available is increasing – for example, the speed of communication is increasing, as is the amount of learning-related social networking
  • The arrival of new open source technologies and content devices is causing some disruption to the elearning market
For over 20 years, Bob Little has specialised in writing about, and commentating on, corporate learning – especially e-learning – and technology-related subjects. His work is published in the UK, Continental Europe, the USA, Australia and (remarkably) elsewhere too. He blogs at http://www.hotdigits.co.uk/cgi-bin/diary8/journal?user=bob His website is http://www.boblittlepr.com You can contact Bob via [email protected]

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