An Informal History of ELearning

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An Informal History of ELearning


An informal history ofeLearningJay CrossThe authorJay Cross is the Founder of Internet Time Group, Berkeley,California, USA and CEO, eLearning Forum.KeywordsLearning methods, Computer based learning,Workplace training, InternetAbstracteLearning: snake oil or salvation? Changes in the world areforcing corporations to rethink how people adapt to theirenvironment. How do people learn? Why? Whats eLearning?Does it work? This paper addresses these questions and recountsthe history and pitfalls of computer-based training andfirst-generation eLearning. It traces the roots of CBT Systems,SmartForce, Internet Time Group, and the University of Phoenix.It takes a person to five years of TechLearn, the premiereLearning conference, from dot-com euphoria to todays real-time realities. The subject-matter here is corporate learning, inparticular mastering technical and social skills, and productknowledge. The focus is on learning what is required to meet thepromise made to the customer. While there are parallels tocollegiate education, the author lacks the experience to drawthem.Electronic accessThe Emerald Research Register for this journal isavailable current issue and full text archive of this journal isavailable capital has become more valuable thanhard assets. Networks are replacing hierarchy.Time has sped up. Cooperation edges outcompetition. Innovation trumps efficiency.Flexibility beats might. Everythings global. Thepast no longer illuminates the future. We needfresh thinking. eLearning was supposed to be theanswer.Some of the material ahead is controversial. Itsprobably better to skip around than to plodstraight through. Id prefer that you take away afew things than that you read all the words. Theresno test at the end. That reminds me of a story.A group of Harvard students was given a paperon urban sociology and told, Read this. You willbe tested. A matched group across campus wasgiven the same paper and told, Read this. Itsquite controversial and may be wrong. You will betested. The second group did much better on thetest. Why? Because uncertainty engages the mindand the senses.When you come upon an outrageous claim ormisspelled word, I may have done it on purpose tohelp you learn. To engage your mind.An informal history of eLearningForget about college, classrooms, courses,curricula, credits, and the campus. Were going tochat about eLearning. This is corporate.What is learning?We really know very little about the process oflearning, how the mind works when learning.Were very good at pointing and naming, so wehave parts of the brain labeled synapse, neuron andcortex, and theories about how it all somehowworks together and enables us to learn, butlearning remains one of the lifes great mysteries.That aside, in more practical terms, learning is thatwhich enables you to participate successfully inyour life and in the environments that matter toyou. Learning involves meshing new material intowhat you already know. Learning creates neuralconnections and rewires your brain. Successfulconnections build knowledge to help you prosper.Learning is a series of course corrections to keepyou headed in the right direction. Try, fail,succeed, and try again. Learn. It doesnt stop untilyou die.On the HorizonVolume 12 Number 3 2004 pp. 103-110q Emerald Group Publishing Limited ISSN 1074-8121DOI 10.1108/10748120410555340Deep thanks to David Grebow, a visionary incorporate learning, for suggesting numerousclarifications and additions to the originalmanuscript.103The same goes for organizations. When youstop to think about it, organizations are no more orless than a loosely-knit collection of brains. In avery real sense, corporations have a corporate IQ.It goes up and down (and is just waiting forsomeone to come along and measure it!).Regardless of the number, the organization learnsthe same way you learn. Hopefully, the successesoutnumber the failures, and the corporate IQincreases every year.How do people learn?One of the best ways to learn is social; we learnwith and from other people. We learn by doing.Aristotle said, What we have to learn to do, welearn by doing, and Einstein echoed, The onlysource of knowledge is experience. (Aristotleadded, We cannot learn without pain.)Confucius said, I hear and I forget. I see and Iremember. I do and I understand. And Ill addthat if I hear and see and do and then practice andteach, I understand even better.Why do people learn?People learn because they have an innate desire toexcel, the promise of reward, the fear ofpunishment, the lure of advancement, socialpressure, peer pressure, curiosity, a quest forunderstanding, the satisfaction ofaccomplishment, status, pride and more. You haveyour own reasons which Im sure you can name.Corporations fund learning because they wantemployees and partners to perform faster andbetter, to create value through innovation, to beatthe socks off the competition and to make moremoney. The value of learning is in the eye of thebeholder.What was eLearning?Before anyone called it eLearning, in late 1997,learning guru Elliott Masie said, Online learningis the use of network technology to design, deliver,select, administer, and extend learning. In 1998, Iwrote, eLearning is learning on Internet Time,the convergence of learning and networks.eLearning is a vision of what corporate training canbecome. eLearning is to traditional training aseBusiness is to business as usual. In 1999, Ciscotold us, eLearning is Internet-enabled learning.Components can include content delivery inmultiple formats, management of the learningexperience, and a networked community oflearners, content developers and experts.What is eLearning?Today, five years after I coined the termeLearning, we live in an e-world. Networksfacilitate virtually all learning. Most corporatelearning today is at least in part eLearning. It hasbecome trite to point out that the e doesntmatter and that its the learning that counts.If you ask me, I dont think the learning countsfor much either. Whats important is the doingthat results from learning. If workers could do theirjobs well by taking smart pills, trainingdepartments would have nothing to do exceptorder the pills and pass them out. Executives dontcare about learning; they care about execution. Imay talk about learning with you, but when Imin the boardroom, Ill substitute improvingperformance. You can tell Ive been away from thecampus for a while.Heavier than airThe world you experience, the things you know,the people you love? Thats your story. Its all inyour head. Its your reaction to the pulses andwaves your senses pick up. I dont mean to debunkthe minds internal interpreter, for without itsintermediary filters and pattern recognizers, lifewould resemble the lightshow sequence inKubricks 2001, a jumble of incomprehensibleoverload and static.Writing this, Im in Seat 42G on Air FranceFlight 083 from San Francisco en route to Nice. Ilook forward to long flights. My seat is a sensorydeprivation tank, a great place to be alone withoutjangling telephones, social obligations, onlinetemptations, or even a dog pleading for a walk. I domy most creative work while strapped into a seat inone of these ateliers in the sky.I am ecstatic about going to Nice. A free staywith friends in an exotic locale. Fresh sites, cultureshock, thinking in a different language, new tastes,intriguing odors, bargaining in the markets, andthe joy of pushing outside of the complacency ofhome. I expect to learn a lot. I always do when Ipush outside my comfort zone.Thats how learning happens. Outside onescomfort zone. Exposed to new things.Incorporating them into ones experience. Takinglifes lessons and adapting them to make the worlda better place, and to lead a happier life. Challengeyourself and your brain gets heavier with newneurons.My flight is lifting off. Preparez-vous pour ladecollage. French comes before English on AirFrance. Another opportunity for reflection. Andfor remembering that learning is a whole-bodyexperience. Hormones had me thinking that I wasto prepare for the decolletage, but thats somethingdifferent entirely.The woman to my left, Denise, and I conversebriefly. Shes off to Barcelona, where her husbandsattending a business meeting. I tell her BarcelonasAn informal history of eLearningJay CrossOn the HorizonVolume 12 Number 3 2004 103-110104beautiful, that Spanish waiters regard a heart-feltEstupendo! more valuable than money, and that Icourted my wife just south of Barcelona whileFranco was still in power. Denises only other tripto Europe was last year. To Nice. And she tells methe walks above the town where restaurants clusteralong tiny, twisting streets, were superb.Conversation gets right to the heart of thematter, no matter what the matter is. Its awonderful way to learn. To bad it has beenbanished from teacher-student dialog, stuntinglearning and making schooling dull as dishwater.But Im getting ahead of myself. Id like to share abit of the history of eLearning.The pre-history of eLearning1984. George Orwell. The Mac debuts. CBTSystems is founded. (CBT computer-basedtraining).Bill McCabe, an extraordinary Irishentrepreneur, had come to America to pursue hisdream. The Irish tiger had not yet awakened, andIreland was too conservative to support venturecapitalists, IPOs, or entrepreneurs. So McCabe,having failed to become European manager of asoftware classroom-training firm in the UK, struckout on his own and set up shop in entrepreneur-friendly northern California.His vision was to train computer professionalswith computer-based training, at the time a radicalidea. Customers no more thought they should payfor training than todays cybercitizens expect topay for content on the web. IBM and UNIVACand Honeywell and NCR and DEC gave awaytraining with the software they bundled with theirhardware. It all took place in a classroom. In themainframe world, you paid your entry fee and gotwhat you needed. There was no incentive to payfor training. McCabe had been turned down byevery major hardware vendor and was ready toreturn to Ireland when he met someone who hadcomplex software but no hardware andcertainly not enough people to satisfy the need forfolks to learn how to use it.Lotus Notes in Cambridge, Massachusetts(pre-IBM) became the first CBT Systemscustomer. Most of CBTs software was written inIreland, the India of its day in terms of wages.Training without the cost of instructors andclassrooms captivated the imagination of thecyclical computer industry. Other vendors signedup. After a while, CBT Systems offered computer-based training for every major vendors software.Because the vendors needed skilled customersthe day a new release appeared, CBT got an insidelook at new developments before they werereleased in the market, a clear competitiveadvantage. The firm fielded a superlative field salesforce. When CD-ROM became the new trainingtechnology of choice in the mid-1980s, CBTSystems converted all of its courseware to themedium and set up a human factory for churningout new titles. As the 1990s closed, CBT Systemsoffered the broadest array of CD training titles ofany company in the world, more than a thousandall told, more than 95 percent focused on IT(Information Technology).Corporations snapped up CD-based trainingbecause CDs were dirt cheap compared to liveinstructors. And IT was suddenly appearingeverywhere, an indispensable part of doingbusiness and staying competitive. The knowledgeof how to do it was in great demand.In the late 1990s, rumors began to circulate thatthe CD-based training courses werent living up toexpectations. You could visit the IT shop of acompany that had licensed the entire CBTSystems library and find no-one who had taken acourse! Dropout rates were incredibly high. Mostpeople simply werent interested in learning alone,sitting by themselves in front of a box that was acheap substitute for an instructor in a class. If theygot stuck or made a mistake, there was no one toturn to. They missed fellow learners to coax themon. The workshops they used to attend fended offinterruptions. That worked better than learning attheir desks (amid continual interruptions) or athome (which was generally resented and oftenaccompanied by the distractions of kids, television,and dogs to walk).eLearning makes the sceneGreg Priest had become President and CEO ofCBT Systems in 1998 when the first cracks in theCD model began to appear, and CBT Systemsmissed its revenue projections. Greg is an off-scalebrilliant man, a former Wilson-Sonsini attorneywho had graduated top in his class at Stanford LawSchool and clerked for Supreme Court JusticeThurgood Marshall.Greg had a vision of what would followcomputer-based training. The Web would replaceCDs. His model for the future was a project CBTSystems had done for UNISYS. UNISYS hadfigured out that it could boost revenues $10million a year by accelerating the certification, andhence the billing rates, of its computer servicesstaff. CBT Systems helped create UNISYSUniversity, which not only delivered content overthe Web, but also provided a personalized learningportal, tracking systems, online newsletters,discussions groups, and just about every other bellAn informal history of eLearningJay CrossOn the HorizonVolume 12 Number 3 2004 103-110105and whistle one could imagine at the time. It waseight years ahead of IBMs Learning On Demand.Greg figured everyone would migrate to this formeventually, just as e-commerce was morphing intoe-business in the larger business world. More andmore people in Silicon Valley were coming tobelieve that it would be a web, web, web world.Greg hired an EVP of marketing who hadstarted and sold a successful software companyand later managed major marketing efforts forNovell. Luckily for me, the fellow knew nothingabout eLearning, so he entered eLearning intoAlta Vista, the search engine of choice five yearsago, and my name came up nine times, followed bythat of Cisco, whose chairman, John Chambers,had just told the audience at Comdex thateLearning was going to be so big that it wouldmake email look like a rounding error.My careeras an eLearning consultant was launched.Internet Time GroupIn the late 1970s, having graduated from businessschool in the East and migrated to California, Itook on a market research project for an outfit inSan Jose named The Institute for ProfessionalDevelopment. They asked me to assess thedemand for an off-campus business degreeprogram. After talking with Foremost-McKesson,Fairchild Semiconductor, Memorex and others, Ireported back that such a program would sell likehotcakes.The Institute hired me to develop thecurriculum and then to sell it. I took a self-directedcrash course in instructional design, adultlearning, and small group process. I learned aboutexperiential learning and put together a series of 30weekly workshops, the senior year of an accreditedBSBA program. The responsibility gave menightmares.The program was adopted by Bank of America,Fairchild, Ford Aerospace, NASA, IBM, Atari,Stanford, and others. We were so successful thatwe were run out of California by the WesternAssociation of Schools and Colleges (whichdisdained for-profit institutions). I refused to moveto Arizona and left soon after we morphed into theUniversity of Phoenix. Id learned a lot aboutpragmatic education and experiential learning.Today more than 200,000 students are enrolledwith UoP; annual tuition revenues exceed $1billion.In San Francisco, I joined a couple of friends inthe training business. We became quite successful,capturing 80 of the nations largest banks and all ofthe regulators as customers, winning awards, goingglobal, and thinking big. Like many a trainingcompany, in the mid-1990s, we were seduced bythe lure of CD-ROM. We began pouring ourenergy into building CD-based courseware.Its difficult to overestimate the impact ofCD-ROM on instructional designers. CD broughtrealistic video to the desktop. You could immerselearners in a mock scenario, branching to differentsituations based on their decisions. Developmentwas costly but after that, variable costs were almostnil. Our firm undertook millions of dollars ofdevelopment projects.Then theWeb came along. For me, it was love atfirst byte. My intuition told me this was wherethings were headed. I made a nuisance of myselftrying to divert some of our companys limitedresources to the Web. There are some things youcan change, and some you cannot change, andafter 12 years, I had the wisdom to know thedifference, and left the firm.I was still drawn to the Web as a moth to theflame. I talked with Netscape, Cisco, Intel, andanyone else who would listen. I wrote about thecoming convergence of learning and the Internet. Icoined the word eLearning (although I think anumber of us did so simultaneously; it was in theair. Weboholic that I was, I posted my thoughtsabout eLearning on the Web. Information wantsto be free, said Stewart Brand. Thats how CBTSystems found me in the top nine slots on AltaVista.The early daysCBT Systems had about 250 employees in early1999, but aside from the Board and a few seniorofficers, only a handful of us knew that we werepreparing to re-orient and re-name the company.We drew the drapes in the conference room whenwe met and used code-words. I was writing whitepapers, FAQs, and positioning statements. A teamwas prepping PR and logos. We wrote and re-wrotebrochure copy. I converted Gregs initial visionpaper into a customer-ready overview ofeLearning.In October 1999, Greg announced to theanalyst community that CBT Systems wouldhenceforth be known as SmartForce, TheeLearning Company. Simultaneously, customersand employees at our offices around the worldlistened to Gregs webcast and popped champagnecorks. New signs went up. At the Online LearningConference in Los Angeles, I signaled the masterof ceremonies, Gloria Gery, who read the news totwo thousand participants. We distributed cartonafter carton of brochures and gave demos fromCBT Systems tiny 10 10 booth in the exhibitAn informal history of eLearningJay CrossOn the HorizonVolume 12 Number 3 2004 103-110106hall. SmartForce was the only eLearning game intown.Learning/trainingIm always ready to learn but there are many timesI dont want to be trained. Training is somethingsomeone does to me; learning is something I do formyself. To illustrate the difference, I sketch atypical training situation with the trainer in thecenter with the trainees aligned around him. Weknow who makes the rules, manages the activities,chooses the subject matter, and administers thetests. In the corporate eLearning scenario, theworker sits at the middle, surrounded by an arrayof tools, or learning opportunities: Web, peers,instructor, CBT, mentor, FAQ, help desk, etc.The shift from trainee to worker was longoverdue, and would probably have come aboutwith the e-phenomenon. Democracy championsthe individual and rules the world. RememberBrand You and Free Agent Nation and theArmy of One and the near worship ofentrepreneurs? All these are about promoting theindividual. People matter.Learning isnt content. Learning isntinfrastructure. Learning is a process of forgingneural links. Its new thought being wired into thebrains network. Hard to believe, given that thebrain is a chemical soup shot through withelectrical charges, more closely resembling a haggisthan a sophisticated network processor. eLearningcame along at the right time to embrace thelearner-centric view.eLearning spreadsCome November 1999, Elliott Masie was relatingbest practices of online learning at hisTechLearn Conference at Disneyworld. Elliott is amaster at cultivating and listening to good sources,adding a bit of common sense, and playing backthe message in a convincing, some say charismatic,fashion. Also, hes a truly nice guy, almost as niceas his wife Cathy.TechLearn1999felt likeWoodstock.Wekeptourclothes on, but everyone was entranced.Wewere inonthesecretknowledge. Itwasas ifourdrinkshadbeen spiked with dot-com euphoria. There was nolimit to what we could do. Training would finallygarner respect. Thats R-E-S-P-E-C-T. No longerthe flea on the wagging tail of the corporate dog.Weregoing tochange theworld,man.Elliott tolduseverything would be delivered via portals.Flash forward to the ASTD InternationalConference in Dallas in May of the following year.From the signs on the bustling floor of the Expo,youd think every vendor was in the eLearningbusiness. In reality, most of them had invested inlittle but new signs. The most tenuous connectionto the Internet was defined as eLearning. Somevendors sent email notifications to people takingCD-based training and called it eLearning. Othersoffered a simple discussion board, called itmentoring, and stuck on the eLearning label.Dot-com delusions filled the air. Times were crazy.In retrospect, so were we . . .A year later, TechLearn 2000 brought togethersome people whod actually tried to makeeLearning work. Theyd found that unlikeclassroom events, where you can tell who showedup and give them a test at the end of the week,learning in cyberspace was a little tougher to getyour arms around. Unless you were usingsomething like SmartForce, which was a hosted(Web-based) service, tracking was tricky. People atTechLearn wore buttons that read Looking for anLMS and Strategy Anyone? An LMS is alearning management system. LMS come in a lotof flavors. Some are simple registration systems.Others track, deliver, score, bill, bookmark,personalize, and wash the kitchen sink. Fees runfrom $250 to $2,000,000. Everyone felt theyneeded an LMS. Many spent their entire budgeton the LMS and found themselves with nothingleft over for training programs.LMS madness (I think of it as the last gasp ofcommand-and-control organizations trying tokeep tabs on the unruly Web) covered over an evengreater difficulty. In some quarters, eLearningwasnt doing a whole lot better than CD-ROMtraining before it. Learning at the desktop wasnerve-wracking because the phone didnt stopringing, colleagues interrupted, and to the boss,learning looked like goofing off. Companiessuggested taking the learning home, even givingemployees computers as encouragement, but thiscreated more resentment than learning. Samewine, new wineskin.It was high time for evaluation. A fellow with noreal-world experience had written his doctoralthesis years earlier on evaluating educationaleffectiveness. His four levels went from smilesheets, which are worthless in assessing outcomesto impact on the organization, which is out of thehands of the training organization. Nonetheless,people were fixated with these four meaninglesslevels.TechLearn 2001 featured lots of hand-wringingover ROI. If youre going to blow hundreds ofthousands of dollars, maybe millions, on learningmanagement systems, courseware, more robustAn informal history of eLearningJay CrossOn the HorizonVolume 12 Number 3 2004 103-110107networks, and big bills from Andersen Consulting,your CFO will want to know whats up. The ROIdiscussions at TechLearn were inane.The only ROI people talked about wasaccounting, the set of rules originally cooked up tocount merchandise being unloaded from ships inRenaissance Venice and still doggedly holding on,despite the fact that accounting values humancapital at zero and counts training as an expenseinstead of an investment. Conference speakers,some of whom I know to be otherwise brightpeople, counseled trainers to go to their financedepartments to get an understanding of the Rs andthe Is. After that it was a simple matter of division.What spectacularly bad advice!Its not as if eLearning had become a complexcapital budgeting exercise. Has any decision makeranywhere ever bought something on the strengthof an ROI number, especially one presented by astaffer? ROI is a hurdle, not a race winner.Convince a decision maker you can deliver theoutcome at a reasonable price. Its the likelycost/benefit, not the ROI that counts. Ive sincewritten a book on the topic (Cross, 2003).9/11 cast a pall on TechLearn 2001. Some of theMasie staff drove from Saratoga Springs toOrlando. Only half the expected crowd showed up.My personal opinion is that 9/11 put businessdecision making on hold. It gave every potentialbuyer a reason to defer. America went from shockto mourning to indecision to procrastination.eLearning thought its strategic role importantenough to protect it in stormy times. Not true.9/11 derailed the eLearning train.Jack Welch, recently retired from GE and on hisbook tour, took the TechLearn stage. Whats thebusiness case for eLearning? Building people,increasing the organizations intellectual capital.Its the ultimate competitive advantage. Whatdoes it take for an organization to be successful?On a scale of 100, having the right people is worthabout 95 points. Learning technology isimportant, too, but counts for maybe 3. FewCEOs followed Jacks lead, adopting eLearning asan investment in intellectual capital. Acrosscorporate America, People are our mostimportant asset was poppycock to write about inthe annual report, not something to act on.Cautious corporations began to evaluateeLearning expenditures with business metrics.After all, the travel and salary savings of virtualtraining and meetings were a one-timephenomenon, money that was cut fromsubsequent years budgets. A research study byMasie and ASTD found that two-thirds ofemployees offered voluntary eLearning neverbothered to register. One third didnt register forcompulsory eLearning. Many of those who didregister dropped out early on. eLearning left a badtaste in their mouths. It was boring. Many peoplehave told me, I tried eLearning; I didnt like it.Theyre assuming that all eLearning is the same.This makes no more sense than if Id said, I read abook once; I didnt like it. I dont intend to readany others.A lot of eLearning was and is boring, rigid,and irrelevant. People didnt appear to be learninganything. This is nothing new. A lot of schooling isboring, rigid, and irrelevant, too. The yardstick ofsuccess in school, grades, is not correlated to laterwealth, health, success, or happiness. This issuccess? Ha!In mid-2002, Blended Learning begancropping up in conversation. At first, blendedmeant computer learning + classroom learning.People who had short-sightedly defined eLearningas computer-only learning talked of combiningeLearning with live workshops. Some peoplecontinue to define blended learning as a sandwichmade of alternating slices of computer learningand live learning. More sophisticated practitionerswere saying the blend might contain chunks ofcomputer-mediated learning, classroom, lab,collaboration, knowledge management,apprenticeship, case discussion whatever mix isthe best way to accomplish the job.TechLearn 2002 grappled with recession. Thetech sector had always been a mainstay ofeLearning, usually accounting for more than halfthe business. Software evolves rapidly; you learn orbecome obsolete. The world faced a shortage ofprogrammers and systems engineers. Computerswere great for teaching computing itself; whatcould be more natural? So when the tech marketcratered and techies were no longer in demand,tech eLearning faltered right along with it.Ethics popped up on the TechLearn stage as agroup of Chief Learning Officers talked aboutwhether good training could have eliminated theshenanigans at Enron, Tyco, Arthur Andersen,and A senior learning officer from alarge bank said everyone had taken a refreshercourse on ethical behavior. The CEO of acommunity software company pointed out that, atmost, ten people at Enron had lied; the remainderwere among the most innovative, pioneering,hard-working people in the nation. Paul Hersey,the sage who invented Situational Leadership,garnered a standing innovation when he observedthat people learn ethics at home, not in a course.Designers deem a dress a success if people saythe woman wearing it is beautiful, rather thancomplimenting the dress. Similarly, eLearning willbe successful when it fades into the woodwork andis no longer noticed. Thats what were goingthrough now. Monolithic library publishers areAn informal history of eLearningJay CrossOn the HorizonVolume 12 Number 3 2004 103-110108dead or dying; SmartForce is no more. Companiesare pulling eLearning in-house, weatheringgruesome economic conditions by using whattheyve got, even if it requires a lot of patching withduct tape, rather than buying new stuff. Thedoctrinaire, formulaic approach that mandatedtotal control with an LMS is loosening up.Elaborate multimedia programs have been joinedby quick-and-dirty courselets and narratedPowerPoint presentations. Is anybody learningwhat they need to learn?As I prepared to head back to Disneyworld forTechLearn 2003, eLearning was in the doldrums.The economy was down, the tech sector waydown. Attendance at eLearning conferences wasoff 50 percent or more. eLearning magazinedecided to issue six issues a year instead of 12. Twoweeks later, they said they would become aquarterly. I havent received an issue in four or fivemonths. Online Learning magazine has ceasedpublication. Vendor revenues have declined.Nonetheless, corporations are creating andimplementing more eLearning than ever before.Many success stories arent reported by industryanalysts because they are Home Depot learning lots of in-house projects and do-it-yourself jobs.Some organizations are finally putting theeLearning software bought in previous years towork.TechLearn 2003 was more upbeat than 2001and 2002. IBMs Nancy DeViney said, Learninghas become mission critical. Learning mustsupport overarching business goals. Learning ispart of the overall package IBM offers.Elliott Masie told his audience that learning tech ischanging faster than its customers and businessunits are making more training decisions. Wevebought a lot of LearningManagement Systems buthavent done that much Management ofLearning. IBMs DeViney again, said We believework and learning will become indistinguishableover time.eLearning is joining an array of tools to improvebusiness performance. Business metrics arereplacing training metrics. The success of aneLearning initiative is measured in customersatisfaction, quicker time-to-market, higher sales,and fewer errors. eLearning is proving useful fororganizations:. accelerating business processes;. making mergers work;. improving the productivity of sales channels;. helping customers become smarter buyers;. enabling vendors and partners to work moreclosely and quickly;. accelerating the orientation of new employees;. bringing new leaders up to speed faster;. aligning the workforce with current strategy;. launching new products and services globally;. rolling out enterprise systems such as CRMand ERP; and. documenting regulatory compliance.As author William Gibson has noted, The futureis already here. Its just not evenly distributed.Many concepts in America start in New York orBoston, San Francisco or LA and hop to theopposite coast. Slowly, they migrate to the centerof the country, often taking years to make thejourney. eLearning follows the pattern. On thecoasts, e is a consideration whenever trainingissues are discussed. In the middle of the country,many companies are skeptical of the world beyondthe firewall, and doling out generic coursewarepasses for eLearning.Executives who cling to yesterdays haphazardmeans of developing their people suffer fromcorporate dyslexia: they cant read the handwritingon the wall. In the age of information, learning isthe ultimate survival skill. Bright, knowledgeablepeople with the mental agility and tools they needto find out what they need to know and do are thekey to corporate success. In some ways, the morethings change, the more they stay the same. Itshow we survived the predators on the savannah,the ice ages, the shifting economic eras and moreto get here. Learning has always been humanitysultimate survival skill. Corporations and industrieshave replaced yesterdays villages and tribes.eLearning promises better use of time,accelerated learning, global reach, fast pace andaccountability. Its manageable. It cuts paperworkand administrative overhead. But before you signthe contract, remember that at least half the time,eLearning fails to live up to expectations.Skeptical executivesYour budding 16-year old daughter says shesgoing to take sex education at school and yourerelieved, but she tells you she plans to participatein sex training and youre unnerved.Why? Becauseoutside of the world of education, you learn bydoing things. Even college is just academic: Iwould have changed my major if Id known the bigphilosophy companies wouldnt be hiring thisspring.Small wonder that executives hear the wordlearning, think schooling, and conclude notenough payback. We need models to describelearning that dont dredge up the bad baggage ofschooling. This emperor needs new clothes. Weneed to cross the chasm between schooling andlearning in the workplace.An informal history of eLearningJay CrossOn the HorizonVolume 12 Number 3 2004 103-110109NextIn researching my book Implementing eLearning(Cross and Dublin, 2002), I interviewed dozens ofcompanies and concluded that the best bestpractice of them all is to treat learners likecustomers. This turns the tables on the traditional,more formal and less personal, school model.Imagine the teacher serving the student.Knowledge is co-created, so we must keep theindividual an equal partner, not a recipient.Thats the direction in which were headed.In the next issue ofOn the Horizon, well addressthe future of eLearning . . . and its customers.ReferencesCross, J. (2003), Metrics, Internet Time Group, Berkeley, CA.Cross, J. and Dublin, L. (2002), Implementing eLearning, ASTDPress, Washington, DC.Further readingAdkins, S. (2003), Workflow Learning, Internet Time Group,Berkeley, CA.An informal history of eLearningJay CrossOn the HorizonVolume 12 Number 3 2004 103-110110


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