It is very informative to read the excellent publication from UfI Charitable trust:  Scaling Up – Achieving a Breakthrough in Adult Learning with Technology where a team of researchers have interviewed a great number of influential individuals in this world of e-learning and learning technology.

The report opens with the following rather disappointing, but probably quite realistic  statement DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES are altering the way we work, trade, buy things, play, communicate, arrange holidays, pay taxes and have a social life, but so far – despite subsidy and encouragement – have made a disappointing impact on how we learn in formal contexts.”

Indeed in a recent post made by one of the UfI reports authors Seb Schmoller, who takes to task the levels of funding made available to the then UfI managed Learndirect organisation and the limited results achieved we can see the scale of subsidy and partial disappointment illustrated. On a micro scale this charge could also be levelled at Learning Light (2006-8).

Another of the UfI reports authors Clive Shepherd recently posted an interesting blog piece entitled “Why is e-learning so unpopular” again giving rise to the concerns that after a 30 year legacy e-learning is still struggling for mainstream acceptance from L&D departments and learners.

Both Clive and Charles Jennings….another of the UfI reports authors both identify a failing to promote and showcase e-learning effectively to quote Charles “We just haven’t been bold enough and shouted our successes from the rooftops.”

The report puts together a series of well thought through actions that need to be taken to deliver on the promise of digital technologies or learning technologies or e-learning (take your pick) and learning. However, when we compare them to the ideas put forward by Learning Light in 2005, not a lot is new….sadly.

Two questions therefore have to be answered, why hasn’t the e-learning industry addressed the issue of shouting from the rooftops? And why hasn’t the thinking as to how to stimulate the demand for e-learning moved on either?  Indeed neither have advanced as fast as the technology that has become available (and very effectively used) to the industry in the last 6 years.

Learning Light wrote its first piece on this topic and the state of the e-learning market in 2005 and we have to ask what has changed other than the technology.

Steve Hill the Author of “A Dose of Reality for Healthier E-learning: Value from e-learning – a national perspective” put forward a series of challenges as to what was then believed to be the second coming for e-learning!

The paper also shares a small survey undertaken by Learning Light into the barriers to e-learning’s second coming in 2005!

The challenges identified then and now are really not that different, and Steve Hill puts forward a well thought through set of actions that could be undertaken.

The challenges to the industry in 2005 (for the record) where:

Challenge 1: To change current perceptions of quality and relevancy. Learner-centred design and better models for interactivity and engagement have considerably improved the quality of e-learning solutions. However, UK employees with some exposure to learning technologies are negatively influenced by the first-hand experiences of legacy e-learning. They are influenced by experiences, anecdotes and war-stories of page-turners and electronic books that are no-more interactive and engaging than their paper counterparts. The need for learner-centricity is even more important given the UK governments legislation on accessibility. However, experiences of the past perpetuate a myth that all computer-based learning is sub-quality learning. A perception also remains that investments in e-learning are only driven by cost-cutting agendas; that e-learning is about taking people out of learning rather than bringing them closer to learning. In addition – among organisations that are not advanced innovators and leaders in the use of e-learning – there is little evidence of an emerging and intrinsic belief among management in the effectiveness of e-learning – even with high levels of investment.

Challenge 2: To develop greater understanding of employees as learners. Defining ‘learning needs’ and designing them into e-learning solutions is not the same as understanding ‘needs of learners’.

Challenge 3: To improve capacity and impact on performance. There is growing interest in e-learning among larger organisations, but those that have invested in it have some way to go to deliver the capacity to learn that the organisation needs in the workplace, and then to ensure impact on performance

Challenge 4: To implement new learning paradigms. There will always be demand for instructional and interventional training, and likewise classroom delivery. However, an inhibitor to generating value from e-learning is the tendency for organisations to maintain systems of training based upon limited and ‘old-world’ educational paradigms. There is growing evidence that transporting learning technologies into traditional models of training does not reap the best value from e-learning and blended learning

Challenge 5: To build the right structures and capabilities. E-learning tends to evolve in organisations in one of two ways (or in extreme cases, both at the same time): The first is the bottom-up ‘grass-roots’ evolution which is organic and nurtured locally. The second is a top-down, organisational approach that is managed and championed centrally Where e-learning is just one component of a bigger organisational transformation of learning and development, e-learning can often be seen as adding to the pain of change – because it is new and unknown – rather than being part of the solution to a more effective and efficient organisational learning

The UfI report addresses the issues faced by this industry in 2012 in 4 themes as follows, and you can judge how much further things have evolved:

Capability-building and advocacy: The need to develop the skills of learning professionals in general and learning technologists to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by new technologies. Also the need to increase awareness among decision-makers of what it is possible to achieve. This is the shouting bit!
New models for the organisation of learning: The possibility to break-away from centuries-old educational practice and to take advantage of techniques such as peer support and assessment, ‘flipping the classroom’ and separating learning from assessment. This is the really interesting bit, and the work we have done here at Learning Light to align e-learning to regulation (red tape) and qualifications at the same time is quite innovative.

Interaction and immersion: The potential to exploit the power of computers to provide increasingly immersive, engaging and personalised learning experiences. Absolutely!

The learning infrastructure: The opportunity afforded by major technological advancements, including cloud computing and the increased sophistication of mobile devices. We must just be a bit careful here….let’s not scare the buyer off with the next set of fads!


Perhaps the most interesting comment in the UfI report, though unproven as far as we can tell was the view put forward by Laura Overton as to the impact of relentless technology advancement:

The willingness of learning professionals to try new things has probably tripled since 2008. But what has also been noticeable for us is people’s confidence in trying new things, which appears to have halved in the same period – and I think one of the reasons is that technology’s been changing so much.”

This industry is a “fad driven” industry and leaps from exciting idea to exciting idea with great rapidity, we have been through Blended, Rapid, Informal, Workflow, Social, Mobile, Handheld learning as well as Simulations, Serious gaming, MOOCs and Gamification, not to mention e-learning, Learning 2.0, on-line learning and CBT in about a decade!

This industry has been hugely innovative in taking new technologies – devices, genres and connectivity and using them to support learning, and does have some fantastic examples of all of these being used with fabulous results. But maybe, just maybe we do sometimes scare or more accurately in our view confuse and unsettle the procurer with this perceived level of rapid technological change “faddery” and the logical corollary is therefore sometimes real concern of rapid technical obsolescence, but more often just a feeling of not knowing where to start in this confusing world of e-learning and learning technologies.

Learning Light has interviewed over 90 senior heads of L&D in a wide range of organisations and a cohort of interns working in many of the companies we interviewed to understand what the buyer wants. This work was undertaken on behalf of a client, but we hope to share it in the coming weeks, along with our update on the overall market size and growth levels across Europe.