As it is January we are looking ahead to see what might happen in the world of e-learning in 2012. Unlike many of the commentators who start with technology changes, we have started by looking at what businesses need to do and how they may deploy e-learning to help.
2012 will be a tough year for many businesses and those in the government and not-for-profit sectors. At a basic level businesses will need to:
- Ensure compliance
- Improve operating margins
- Differentiate their offerings
- Grow their business;
- Enhance their brand
What does this mean in practice and what does it mean for e-learning?
The world is increasingly regulated and 2012 will see no let up in this. Across the globe we are seeing new employment legislation and a whole raft of new regulations surrounding products, financial services and pharmaceuticals.
This means there will be an ongoing demand for compliance training and e-learning will be an important part of any blended compliance solution.
Improve operating margins
There will be increased pressure on margins as the market looks to punish those with low profitability. There are a number of ways to improve operating margins but improving productivity, streamlining processes, sourcing lower cost materials and ensuring quality are typical routes to improved margins.
Thus we can expect to see more support for staff around new systems and processes. This might increasingly take the form of just-in-time job aids and performance support. Learning will increasingly be a service to help people do their job better and faster. Getting learning and support to learners efficiently will be increasingly important, which means learning departments will need to focus on content curation and recommended materials to support people in their role. Learning management systems will need to create recommended learning paths and have good search facilities.
The old school approach of learning as an event is finally coming to an end. Learning has to be a continuous process and systems need to support this approach where learning is integrated into the business whether through systems, coaching or job aids.
Managers in 2012 will need to manage more with fewer people. This means ensuring they recruit, develop and retain good people. They will need good coaching skills. The pressures though will be great as they need to maintain morale, communicate effectively and weed out poor performers. There will be few hiding places for poor performers in 2012 and we can expect to see a greater focus on managing poor performers and having difficult conversations.
Improving operating margins will also mean being flexible and agile. Resources will need to shift and staff will need to be retrained as companies look to increase their flexibility to respond to changes such as reductions in demand or increases in different areas. E-learning enables companies to improve their flexibility and ensure a fast response to events.
Companies will also have to respond to the nature of their workforce becoming increasingly mobile and staff working more frequently from locations other than an office. They will need to provide learning to staff outside the office and often to staff outside their immediate employees such as resellers and contractors. Thus we can see a demand for learning available outside the office and a growth in hosted external systems or software as a service.
New systems have to deliver value and do so quickly, so we can see an ongoing demand for systems training.
Differentiate the business
It is a very competitive world, which will become more so with greater globalisation, easier comparisons via the internet and flattening of demand in many areas. How companies differentiate will be important. This can be done in many ways but includes product innovation, quality and customer service. Customer service in particular is an area where we can see companies investing in more training and support.
In our view, great design is critical to any successful business. This is not just about visual direction, but about all aspects of design from functional products to easy to use websites. We all know great design when we see it. We can expect our clients to increasingly demand well designed e-learning, which is a pleasure to use.
Grow the business
You could argue whether companies should seek to grow their business. These are difficult times and just to stand still is hard enough. However, in almost every market there are ultimately only five or six winners. The reality is that the future for companies not in the top five or six in their sector is not likely to be a happy one.
What does growth mean? It will mean new products and a faster pace of product innovation. Nokia and BlackBerry failed to keep pace with the developments in smart phones and have lost market share substantially in a very short space of time. New product innovation is a must and we can expect to see a demand for training in new products as they are launched in 2012.
Growth also means looking beyond national markets. To consistently manage growth will mean a global strategy to take advantages of opportunities in different markets. A recession in Europe can be balanced by growth in Asia. Thus we can expect to see a greater demand for e-learning that is delivered globally and in multiple languages. Importantly, this is not just about delivering in multiple languages; it is about having people on the ground in various countries who understand the cultural context to tailor e-learning and support its implementation.
Enhance the brand
The importance of brand cannot be overstated in these tough times as it means you can command more loyalty, better margins and higher market capitalisation.
In these days of the internet, social media and mass communication brands that have been built up over many years can be destroyed incredibly quickly. Protecting brands will be a major task in 2012. There will be increasing recognition of the role of social media in both promoting and damaging brands. Companies will need to train staff to understand social media and how to engage and importantly not engage in public forums such as Twitter and Facebook. We will see more demand for social media e-learning courses – at Kineo we’ve seen quite an increase of late in this area.
There will also be a growing demand for e-learning, which reflects and reinforces the company brand experience.
So what does 2012 hold for e-learning?
If you believe the hype the future of e-learning is augmented reality, serious games, social learning, mobile learning and HTML5. We are not convinced these naturally align with the needs of businesses as set out above.
There is a place for serious games, but they are expensive to design and deliver, so their use will be limited to where they can deliver proven results significantly greater than other forms of learning.
Social learning has come to mean any form of collaboration and has had a lower impact inside organisations than many suspected. Whilst social learning is happening in a big way this is often outside the formal workplace networks. Most is taking place in public and semi-public networks such as LinkedIn and Twitter. Maybe businesses should be encouraging people to build their own personal learning networks and highlighting best practice in the use of LinkedIn, Twitter and web feeds.
Mobile learning is still in its infancy. The explosion in the number of smart phones provides a further delivery option for learning as part of the overall blend. Some people talk of mobile learning replacing most other forms of learning, but this is just hype. There is clearly a place for mobile learning, but we tend to agree with the recent Elearnity research that highlights four main potential uses of mobile learning in a corporate learning context, namely:
- Refresher Learning
- 'Just In Time' Performance Support
- Workflow Support
Linked to mobile learning developments is the debate around Flash v HTML5. There is a growing need for businesses to deliver to mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads, which do not support Flash. In these cases there is a need to look to HTML5, native apps and web apps. HTML5 fills some of the original gaps such as video support, but it is unlikely it will replace Flash in the short term. What will happen is that the authoring tool companies will ensure their tools provide an option to develop HTML5 content and increasingly to develop good web apps.
Our expectations for e-learning in 2012 are more modest but positive. In summary:
- Increased demand for e-learning in the areas of:
- manager training in areas such as managing poor performance
- customer service
- product knowledge
- social media
- new systems
- A need for learning professionals to be content curators, enabling fast access to just-in-time learning and aligning learning with job roles and recommend learning paths
- A greater focus on continuous learning, provided as a service to enable people to adapt as their roles change and to do their jobs better
- Increased need to provide learning as a service outside the office and across multiple platforms
- A growing demand for well-designed e-learning, which is consistent with and reinforces the company brand experience
- Increasing need for global support on the ground and an understanding of the cultural context to help implement and support e-learning initiatives
It should be an interesting year ahead; we are looking forward to it.
By Steve Rayson