The Great E-Learning Debate is On(line)

On 30th September 2009, an invited audience of over 300 leading thinkers from HR, skills, training and education joined eight eminent speakers at the inaugural E-learning Debate at  the Oxford Union. great_e-l_debate

The motion for the debate was:

“This house believes that the e-learning of today is essential for the important skills of tomorrow.”

Eight speakers took to the floor:

Debating For The Motion:

  • Prof. Diana  Laurillard
  • Maj Gen Tim Inshaw
  • Andy McGovern, Reuters
  • Kirstie Donnelly, learndirect

Arguing Against The Motion:

  • Dr Marc Rosenberg
  • Claire Little, SHL Group
  • Wendy Cartwright, Olympic Development Authority
  • David Wilson, Elearnity

Clive Shepherd summarizes the pro and contra speakers’ arguments here. In my view, Clive’s post is essential reading for anyone professionally interested in training, technology in education, HR, and organizational development.

I like Clive’s closing blog post remarks:

I agreed with every speaker, which was quite possible given the different ways in which the motion could be interpreted. I changed my mind eight times but ended up voting for the motion.

At the end, the motion was defeated: the participants voted 90 FOR and 144 AGAINST.

However, this is not the end of the debate, only the beginning. Whether you attended or not, there is still an opportunity to contribute. From 1st October 2009  the E-learning Debate continues online, and you can read a summary of the arguments, view the highlights on Flickr and YouTube, add your comments, and vote.

Click here to navigate to the Great E-Learning Debate website, and to add your contribution.


  1. The fact that the debate did not take place initially online indicates to me that the audience was skewed against elearning. I find it interesting that the idea of elearning is still being debated rather than there being a debate about the best way to deliver elearning.

  2. And that, my friend is the elephant in the room. I’m minded of the child who pointed out that the emperor had no clothes…

    Sorry, I’m being a little frivolous.

    Is getting 300 people to attend an event in one of the world’s leading academic institutions a good place to engage a community of practice, or is it elitism?

    Interestingly, the debate is being sponsored by Epic, a British e-learning vendor. Is their involvement altruism, or an attempt to raise their profile? This same company is hosting the online side of the debate on their website http://www.epic.co.uk/elearningdebate/.

    If I’m really cynical, I could suggest that this will enable them to track every contributor – have a look at the granularity of the info you are required to submit to register – all prospects for the sales team potentially.

    Equally, I would suggest that harvesting the ideas and suggestions of those motivated to contribute (who are probably the best, brightest, and most insightful thinkers on the subject) would give a company a pretty substantial strategic advantage when it comes to positioning themselves in the technology-in-education market in the medium and long term.

    Cynicism aside, I *do* think that this is a debate that needs to happen in the wider professional learning and allied trades community; the ways we teach and learn are changing before our eyes. We need to figure out how to use the technologies and methodologies at our disposal to educate effectively and to provide opportunities for learners.

    Hmmm… I think that there’s a blog post in this!


  3. Hi Michael,

    I know this post is from a while ago, but I just watched the webinar on corporate e-learning from Expertus and Bersin & Associates linked below, and two facts stood out, that even in 2010, only 1 in 5 companies feel expert in e-learning and collaboration, and that almost 80% of e-learning professionals believe that younger employees have significantly different learning needs than traditional programs.

    As a college student, I have always been surprised at how infrequently e-learning is used in a university environment, but I guess it is no surprise considering the difficulty encountered by those in the corporate world.


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