Why you should pay attention to online learning

A game changer for education?

When any technology enabled industry is showing growth rates as high as 25% in certain countries it is time to sit up and take notice. In a report by Docebo the world wide market for self paced e-Learning is growing at a compound rate of 7.5%. The highest growth rates are between 20-25% and are countries in Asia and Eastern Europe, closely followed by Africa and Latin America. Even in the most mature markets like the USA, a solid growth of 4-6% per annum is being observed.

Online training

Technology game changers

Fuelled by technology advances in SAAS (software as a service), investments in broadband infrastructure, mobile access to rich media content; self paced online learning is now becoming mainstream. This is being accelerated by a changing dynamic in the need for vocational training and short specialised courses for working professionals to meet the fast changing skills requirements of corporate employers.

Online learning market expected to explode followed by consolidation

With low barriers to entry and many low cost (or even free) platforms to use, there are a proliferation of new e-Learning companies forming all the time. In Europe alone there are estimated to be over 3000. With any technology led innovation will come an inevitable period of consolidation as these smaller companies are acquired and merged with the larger established players.

So who are going to be the winners?

  • Are our traditional education institutions like Universities under threat from a new game changer?
  • Will the big media houses who produce educational content (such as MacMillian Publishers) become the dominant players?
  • Or will the big brands like Apple manage to leverage their tools like iTunes University and iBooks to start providing “Apple Brand” quality vocational training programs?
  • Or will the Microsoft type organisations extend their already recognised micro certifications such as Microsoft Certified Professional beyond just technology courses and offer quality training in other professional skills and certifications?

Outsourcing of training and development

As organisations cut budgets the training and development budgets are sadly often the first to come under scrutiny. The result is outsourcing of those training programs which previously were an in-house responsibility.

Companies are therefore moving steadily towards online learning to replace many in house programs. There has been a steady shift to technology based training in companies; so that by 2011 on average 41% of formal training in corporates was online (Docebo report);  and this is still on a strong upward trend.

Follow the money

Venture capitalists have noticed the trend too.

Over the past 5 years about $5Bn VC capital was injected into technology based education startups.

Much of this missed the University segment because educational institutions prefer to embrace non-profit models.  This might ultimately be to their detriment;  free online resources such as MOOCS driven from the education sector have not been as successful as initially envisaged.  One reason is that when something is offered free;  it is perceived as having low value and customers consuming free products are always less invested themselves.

Venture Capitalists are not particularly interested in non-profit ventures for obvious reasons and much of the new investment has been directed at online alternatives to corporate training where customers are already used to paying for good quality programs.

Online learning – an opportunity or threat to educational institutions?

Later today I am presenting a session on the future role of technology in Education to a group of higher education specialists in Cape Town.

This has been one of the most invigorating areas of research that I have ever undertaken for a presentation.

The strong currents of technology driven change that presents a threat to established institutions offer a simultaneous opportunity to leverage a limited education budget to reach more deserving learners.

But it will take strong leadership in the institutions to make this a reality and support from stakeholders.  Education institutions are not known for rapid change; there has arguably been very little change in decades if not longer in some modes of teaching.   Fortunately there are visionaries that see the opportunity and who are working within the system to change things.

Smaller business opportunities a-plenty

The ability of companies to reach more customers with value added information products is also being enhanced by pervasive technologies that can deliver rich media (video and audio) through the web to a mobile device. In this regard I have become involved with two companies in the past few months where online learning has become a key strategic enabler of business growth.

In both cases we are creating online training programs targeted at working professionals that consist of short micro-lectures that address very specific problems in industry.

I have learned that the barriers to entry on the technology level to offering online courses have now almost disappeared – you can get started for no investment other than the time you spend creating the content.  This makes it possible for retired professionals to now capture their expertise to a younger audience hungry for expert practical knowledge that only comes from experience.

The next challenge for both the teams I am working with is the need to design courses and programs in accordance with best instructional design and pedagogical practices; and to create content that properly utilises the powerful medium of video and multimedia.

We are on a fast learning curve and will get this right; and soon be well positioned to take advantage of these trends.

For more information

If you are interested in the Docebo report on eLearning trends 2014-2016 you can find it here: https://www.docebo.com/landing/contactform/elearning-market-trends-and-forecast-2014-2016-docebo-report.pdf