ELearning Market Update (March 2008)

This month the Financial Times published a special supplement on online learning and business education. The supplement was headed “Distance learning boosted by downturn.” It seems in all the doom and gloom of the credit crunch that the e-learning market could be a major beneficiary. We have highlighted some of the key messages from the Financial Times research and set out below why we have reason to be optimistic.

Increasing demand for online learning
The FT recently conducted a survey of senior staff from 700 companies. The survey found that companies “prefer online or distance learning not just because it is cheaper ..but in equal measure because it is convenient and flexible.” “It allows more people to study at a time convenient to them and that suits their work pattern.”

Of those surveyed 67% felt their company would use more e-learning in the next three years. The Financial Times noted that “technological advances mean more content can now be delivered online rapidly, flexibly and cheaply.” It seems that the general economic downturn could lead to organisations to explore more online options.

Enhancing the learner experience
The paper interviewed a number of leading business schools about their use of online learning. Professor Holtham of Cass Business School in London argues that there is strong demand from students and that online learning is being developed in ways that enhance the learner experience. This means a combination of online and classroom activities. At Warwick Business School whilst courses are rarely exclusively e-learning they state “online methodologies play an increasingly pivotal part.” In particular the Business School argues that one of the key benefits of e-learning is “the ability to help people apply to the workplace lessons they learn in the classroom.”

Adam Honea, Dean of University of Pheonix, has argued that delivering lectures to students on MP3 players is no longer strange as students are used to downloading music and in fact these forms of learning increase engagement. This is echoed by Huw Morris, Dean of Manchester Metropolitan University who says “we have found that novel technologies massively increase the engagement that students have with what they are learning…With podcasting, we have seen marks go up by 10 per cent on average.”

Online learning – Developing skills for the 21st century
Universitas 21 Global, the online graduate school, attribute the success of online courses to changes in the style of education with a move away from teacher-centric study to learner-centric study. Interestingly Helen Lange, Dean of Business Programmes, believe that whilst students may miss out on face to face social interaction they develop important global skills on how to manage global relationships and interact online. Students have to deal with different cultures and mentor each other online. These virtual management skills will be increasingly important in the future.

Nigel Banister, CEO of Manchester Business School Worldwide argues that new forms of learning reflect the modern corporate workplace “blending individual research with face to face learning, online collaborative learning and virtual learning technologies.”

The future is collaborative
All of those interviewed predicted growth in collaborative learning using web 2.0 technologies such as wikis, blogs and social networking. Many of the universities already use sites such as Facebook and YouTube for video sharing. At Henley Management School they encourage students to use LinkedIn social networking site. Cranfield School of Management uses YouTube.

The future is not what is was
The developments in technology continue apace and new online learning technologies and applications emerge every year. For example, Judge Business School at Cambridge University now use LiveEcon (live economics) interactive textbooks. Another business school is delivering short 10 minutes guest presentations to students via mobile phone. Adobe have also launched their new product called Air (Adobe Integrated Runtime) which enables students to click on desktop icons to access all their course materials when online or offline.

The next few years could be a pivotal time in e-learning, when due to a combination various factors (cheap new technologies, changing work patterns, web 2.0 developments and increased pressure on costs) we could see a surge in e-learning adoption. It should be an interesting few years.