Prologue: Today’s post was meant to be a short piece about how the e-learning industry is faring in current market conditions, but as I carried out my research for the article, something a little more worrying emerged from the source information.
Now read on…
About a year ago, I began commenting on the affects of the current financial crisis on the e- learning industry; it’s been a while, so I guess that it’s about time I revisited the subject. In my post Recession and the Challenge to E-Learning in February 2008 I remarked that:
Historically, when a slowdown or organization rationalization occurs, the first against the wall are the folks in the PR, marketing, and training departments. Typically, individuals and organizations revert to previously-learned behaviors in tough times; this usually means going through the process of carrying out tried-and-tested, though not necessarily logical responses to the problems put in front of them. Outcome: tea and sympathetic chat, and the Training team get their pink slips / P45s. …I reckon that this will be strategy undertaken by a significant number of organizations over the next year or so.
Sadly, it seems that my prediction was correct.
According to a recent Expertus/Training Industry, Inc. report: for 2009 over twice as many training professionals who responded to their survey said that they expected budget decreases rather than increases. Forty-eight percent expect their budgets to decrease in 2009, up from 41% in 2008. Less than one-fifth expect their budgets to increase in 2009, down from 31% in 2008. Similarly, since 2008 budgets were first approved, far more saw decreases (38%) than increases (11%) in funding and capital.
These data are reinforced by the findings of a 2009 Bersin & Associates study: B&A’s Karen O’Leonard indicated that the U.S. corporate training market shrank from $58.5 billion in 2007 to $56.2 billion in 2008, the greatest decline in revenue in over a decade.
In a 23 January 2009 press release, Josh Bersin himself stated that
…to reduce costs, companies are switching from e-learning [my italics] to coaching, collaboration and on-the-job training methods
The press release also states:
Today’s business world demands a combination of formal and informal learning with an emphasis on collaboration, knowledge sharing, social networking, coaching, and mentoring. While formal, instructor-led training is not going away, it is becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of training budgets.
This shift in organizations’ thinking and strategy merits discussion in it’s own right, so I will return to the topic once I have given it more consideration.
However, I have to say that I’m not encouraged by the inaccurate terminology Mr. Bersin used in the press release: I want to know – how do Bersin & Associates define ‘e-learning’? Based upon the above statement, collaboration and knowledge-sharing in particular, but also mentoring, coaching, and OTJ training are not categories of e-learning.
I’m sure you have your own favorite definition of e-learning – I’ve included mine below – but regardless of how you define it, you are in the e-learning domain if the learning materials are
- delivered to end-users via a computer using standard internet technology
- focused on the broadest view of learning
I would suggest that by “e-learning”, Bersin & Associates actually mean “e-training” – those superannuated, expensive page-turner style self-paced courseware libraries provided by a number of e-learning vendors. You may argue that I am merely fussing over semantics, and that such terminology is unimportant. Tomayto / tomahto and so on.
However, when hypotheses are investigated using quantitative analysis, the Scientific Method is invoked. Contingent with the Method is a healthy skepticism of the assumptions and conclusions made by the investigator. This is the essence of progress, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning and criticism.
In this context I would assert that precise categorization of terms is an essential part of communicating meaning accurately. If you consider that e-learning is
The continuous assimilation of knowledge and skills by adults stimulated by synchronous and asynchronous learning events – and sometimes knowledge management outputs – which are authored, delivered engaged with, supported and administered using internet technologies,
(Morrison, D. 2004, p.4)
then we must say that the Bersin statement contradicts itself.
Based upon the Bersin & Associates data (see Table 1), what seems to be occurring is a contraction in the use by organizations of one e-learning modality (the self-paced page-turner – in a sense the methodology most aligned with traditional instructor-led workplace learning), and the growth or expansion of a range of other modalities of e-learning, based upon non-formal and informal structures, Web 2.0 principles, and the removal of intermediaries in the workplace learning & development supply chain.
Table 1 Distribution of training categories (after Bersin & Associates, 2009)
Bersin & Associates (2009) 2009 Corporate Learning Factbook Reveals 11% Decline in Corporate Training Spending [Internet] Available from: http://www.bersin.com/News/Content.aspx?id=8438 Accessed 24 January 2009
Expertus (2008) Measuring Learning as Budgets Tighten [Internet] Available from: http://www.trainingefficiency.com/system/files/Survey+Results_Learning+Measurement_+Expertus_Nov08.pdf Accessed 12 January 2009
Frauenheim, E. (2009) Training Is Taking a Beating in Recession, Studies Find Workforce Management. [Internet] Available from: http://www.workforce.com/section/00/article/26/12/95.php Accessed 23 January 2009
Morrison, D. (2004) E-Learning Strategies: how to get implementation and delivery right first time Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.