eLearning Exhibition - It wasn't there!

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9th Jun 2000
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Contributed by David West:

Did you go to the eLearning Exhibition at the Business Design Centre in Islington? What did you think? You may have felt like quoting Shakespeare in Love, 'It’s a mystery.’ The problem was that the product wasn’t there.

Go to the Motor Show or the Boat Show, and you can see, touch and (if you have enough money) choose. You buy a car or a boat partly on the claims made for it and partly on press reviews – and I suspect mainly because you fall in love with the one whose tyres you kick and which you see fitting your lifestyle and enhancing your self-image.

At the eLearning Exhibition, there were claims and demo’s aplenty. It would seem that just about everything is teachable via the web – almost no subject untouched. One company offered well over 100 programmes. But what is the training like? It is the quality of the training, the learning technology and the content, that matters and while brochures and demo’s are all very well, neither answers the basic questions:

  • Does this programme teach the right things?
  • Will the students stay awake during it?

On reflection, there were three companies that struck a chord – all for different reasons. In only one case was the reason connected with technology. I have no use for the programme but I really loved a simple and elegantly produced eLearning package on how to use a micrometer, from Unipart Advanced Learning Systems. Why did I love it? Because I could immediately see how it worked and more importantly see that it would work – how people would learn from it. It was the closest I came to kicking tyres.

Using a micrometer is important – indeed very important – but it is a limited subject. With larger scale topics, the ability to touch and feel disappears, which is why the other two companies struck a chord. Just about all the exhibitors claimed to offer sales training. How good is their content? I have no idea - but I do know that PrimeLearning.com have derived their content from Xerox. That is something the buyer can appreciate. Xerox have always had a good record for sales training and if PrimeLearning.com uses their stuff, you know it will teach the right things. One assumes that their learning technology is adequate - and quizzing them, it seemed pretty impressive – but what gave them the edge was the third party reference. I couldn’t see the car but I did know what garage it came from.

The third company that got me excited, did so for no reason at all connected with technology or even content. It was e-zoo people solutions. Why? Simple really. Sheree Axon had a unique ability to make personal contact, to talk to the buyer as a person and not as an audience.

So what is the message? Except in the case of programmes that you can appreciate immediately, like Unipart’s micrometer, there is no way that the customer can buy eLearning on the basis of (what turn out to be in many cases identical) product claims. It would take far too much time to evaluate the offerings - experiencing them, comparing content, evaluating learning technology. So how does the buyer connect? Well, in two cases at least, it will be a real assurance that the content is good, as with PrimeLearning, or the old fashioned fact that people actually buy people and Sheree knows this! (Perhaps this fact should appear in all the eLearning sales training packages.)

Dr David West is a partner in Behavioural Science System Ltd. He was just visiting.

About the contributor

David West BA, PhD
Dr David West was educated at Sir Joseph Williamson's Mathematical School and at the Royal Liberty School. He took a degree in Philosophy at the University of Exeter and later obtained his doctorate in Social Philosophy at the University of Leicester. He taught Philosophy there and at Acadia University in Canada. He has served as Special Adviser to a Cabinet Minister, as Director of Research for Work & Society and on BIM committees on new forms of work. His early business career was in the motor industry. He spent 12 years in a hi-tech multinational in Marketing and Sales, as Head of International Training and as Director, International Personnel and Public Relations. He was for a while a partner in an accounting firm and for the last 10 years has been Managing Director of Behavioural Science Systems Ltd.

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