L&D future – crystal ball gazing

31 Jul
July 31, 2014

Making a prediction by staring into a crystal ball is always a dangerous thing to do.  But do those L&D predictions come true, and more importantly, does past research inform future practices?

In this post I’ll be taking a look at an article I wrote which was published in Open Learning Today [July 2002, Issue 61], the journal of the British Association of Open Learning, to see just how close reality actually is to our crystal ball predictions.

The original article is published verbatim below.

“The future of e-learning

The last few years have generated an exceptional amount of hype within the industry. Statements such as those from John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, indicating that ‘education over the Internet is going to be so big it’s going to make email look like a rounding error’ are exceptionally misleading to the casual observer.  As some 600 billion emails are sent in the US each year alone, I don’t think e-learning is quite going to reach those levels just yet! But let’s look beyond the hype to what’s really happening.  E-learning is now becoming a widely accepted method of training and education within schools, colleges and organisations. The UK Government has invested heavily in the University for Industry [Ufi] and according to Trainingzone, the proportion of companies using various forms of online learning has increased from 61% in 2000 to 85% in 2001. 45% of e-learning enabled organisations reported that they had increased their use of online learning formats during 2000, and 75% predicted that they would make increased use of online learning in 2001.  Market research firm Taylor, Nelson & Sofres found that 94% of organisations are aware of e-learning and of these, 45% have an existing implementation, while a further 40% plan to deploy within two years.  Of firms using e-learning already, 93% intend to increase their scope over the next year. Such surveys suggest the outlook is good; however, there are crucial lessons to be learned from many of the early adopters which suggests that good e-learning is much more than just putting a program on a server.

E-learning is here to stay, there’s no doubt about that. It will increasingly become a staple item in the training portfolio. However, like all training media, we must learn how and when to use it to its best advantage.

Organisations are becoming more sophisticated with their use of training delivery and over time I believe there will be a blurring at the edges of many current recognised approaches. There is much talk from the US about blended training, where various media are combined to provide a powerful intervention, and it is this approach, which I prefer to call appropriate, or a-learning, that I believe will dominate over time.

On the technology front things are hotting up.  Wireless technology is beginning to appear in many more devices and this marks the start of a physically independent way of staying connected.  Some of the predictions for wireless internet users are stunning; with Ovum estimating that the number of wireless internet users in Europe will rise from 0.9 million in 2001 to over 170 million by 2005.  The ability to access and participate in learning without the need for a physical connection will bring immeasurable benefits, with learners truly being able to learn at any place, anywhere.  Combine this with the future roll out of 3G and the increased take-up of broadband services and we are set for a wonderfully media-rich future.

There is also the development of various peer-to-peer [p2p] approaches, aimed at providing a Napster-style solution for the training and development community.  Whilst the technological issues are well understood, the practicality of sharing learning materials is still some way off. Issues such as IPR, copyright, quality, appropriateness and business sensitivity all need addressing before we can assemble courses from easily available online content.

The type of training supported via e-learning is also changing. While in the past, training in information technology (IT) skills was the mainstay of corporate e-learning, accounting for 76% of the market in 2000, the industry is moving quickly into other areas.  IDC predicts that by 2005, some 53.8% of the market will be focused on business skills and other non-IT skills. This shift is exceptionally significant. Business skills are far more complex to teach, practise and measure, and this will require new levels in the sophistication of the processes and production values to ensure excellence for the learners.

For learners embarking on business skills e-learning programmes, content and not razzmatazz is the key. In a survey by a US-based e-learning magazine, 56% of training executives say that content is their primary consideration when deciding to purchase e-learning technology.  Price and instructional design are the next most important factors (both ranked at 44%), followed by technical support (40%) and self-paced courses (33%). It’s no longer a case of “nice design; what about the depth?”  With business skills the content and where that content has come from will bear a significant impact on the success of the course.  Whilst Harvard and other notable institutions rightly guard their content, it’s interesting to note that MIT have declared that in the future all their content will be freely available. This may well herald the beginning of the free content revolution.

Let’s just summarise for a moment: Firstly, e-learning is here to stay, although it must be used correctly in order to ensure success. Emerging technologies such as wireless and 3G will certainly enhance the penetration and flexibility of the medium, and the quality of content must be of superior quality. It’s an exciting industry and certainly one to keep watching!”

Where are we now?

The article above was written 12 years ago, so where are we now?


According to research, here are some of the top e-learning statistics for 2014 

  • In 2011, it was estimated that about $35.6 billion was spent on self-paced e-learning across the globe. Today, e-learning is a $56.2 billion industry, and it’s going to double by 2015.
  • Corporations now report that e-learning is the second most valuable training method that they use. This is no surprise, given that e-learning saves businesses at least 50% when they replace traditional instructor-based training with e-learning.
  • e-learning is also eco-friendly. Recent studies conducted by Britain’s Open University have found that e-learning consumes 90% less energy than traditional courses. The amount of CO2 emissions (per student) is also reduced by up to 85%.
  • Over 41.7% percent of global Fortune 500 companies now use some form of educational technology to instruct employees during formal learning hours, and that figure is only going to steadily increase in future years.
  • According to a report released by IBM, companies who utilise e-learning tools and strategies have the potential to boost productivity by up to 50%. For every $1 that company spends, it’s estimated that they can receive $30 worth of productivity.


According to research:

  • 91% of all people on earth have a mobile phone
  • 56% of people own a smart phone
  • 50% of mobile phone users use mobile as their primary Internet source
  • 80% of time on mobiles is spent inside apps
  • 72% of tablet owners purchase online from their tablets each week

You can also catch up with some great research here and here.


Free learning, eh?  It seemed a pipe dream 12 years ago.  Now, however, with the explosion of MOOCs  we have access not to hundreds but to thousands of quality courses.  Sure, some of them are far better than others but remember it’s FREE.  Yes, FREE education available to all and according to the research over 5 million learners are currently taking advantage of this.


It’s never easy to try and predict the future – but what a future it’s been.  What do you think will be the massive changes we’ll be experiencing in another 12 years?

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