Interview of the month: Ian Clague, founder, BlueU

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12th Mar 2000
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BlueU.com are one of the UK's new e-learning companies. Founded only a year ago, BlueU.com has already created significant market awareness, created a substantial content portfolio and pioneered a number of new developments. This week, TrainingZONE interviewed Ian Clague the man behind the company.

TrainingZONE: Ian, BlueU.com has made quite a splash already. How does BlueU.com differentiate itself from the dozens of other e-learning companies which have sprung up recently?

Ian Clague: We think that BlueU.com is unique. We launched the company in April 1999 as the UK's first specialist e-learning company. Many other training and technology companies were moving towards e-learning, but few entered the marketplace as specifically e-learning companies. We've built ourselves from the ground up as a dedicated e-learning organisation. BlueU.com is deliberately designed for maximum ease of use: it uses low bandwidth, no firewalls, and minimal graphics so that it operates at reasonable speeds whatever the users' means of access. Wherever possible, we avoid downloads and plug-ins. Many of our e-learning competitors started by adapting CD-ROM products or other TBT; they've not had the advantage of being able to design their content deliberately for a web environment.

TrainingZONE: A criticism of many e-learning companies is that their content is primarily focused on IT subjects. How diverse is the BlueU product?

Ian Clague: Today, we offer 153 IT-related courses and 200 business skills courses. We have an intensive release schedule, adding around 25 new courses each month. We working to develop further relationships with content partners in specific vertical sectors which will add steadily to the content range. I'm now able to announce a new partnership with Global Investor, the leading European finance publisher, to provide new and specific finance modules aimed at the banking and investment sectors. These are significant new products which will extend e-learning opportunities for these important sectors.

TrainingZONE: Learner support is an obvious problem for e-learning companies. How have you tackled this problem?

Ian Clague: It's an important issue and we're currently assessing the market's demand for support. There's an inevitable trade-off between the cost of such support and the level of tutor involvement demanded. We already have a framework in which tutors interact with students, and we can increase or decrease the level of this support in response to our current evaluation of need. Support can be offered by email, chat or web-video. As these systems develop, BlueU will be there at the front edge.

TrainingZONE: As with e-commerce, there is still a reluctance on the part of many people to commit themselves to e-learning. What do you think will change attitudes?

Ian Clague: Ultimately, business pressures will move it forward. With the speed of modern business, companies can't afford the down-time, travel or other costs associated with traditional training. There is huge demand to make training more immediate, quicker and in smaller packages. Eighteen months ago, there was no press coverage of e-learning; today, the IT training press is covered with e-learning stories, and the broader business papers will follow. There's an avalanche of comment about the internet and e-commerce, and this too will expand to embrace e-training platforms.

TrainingZONE: So how do you see the future, both for e-learning and for BlueU, Ian?

Ian Clague: There are several issues which are coming to the fore. First, within e-learning, the quality of tutor support will be a crucial factor for companies operating in this area. We need to keep developing responsive support services in line with our customers' demands. Second, e-learning needs to expand into other sectors. There is already good penetration in the IT training field. The same technology can be transposed to other vertical sectors of business. I would highlight telecoms and finance as two sectors which are ripe for e-learning expansion: their training product is technical and the business pressures for greater efficiencies are high. BlueU is moving into industry specific divisions and partnering with industry experts to provide content and tuition support. Finally, there is a wider e-commerce revolution going on. Demand for advanced web-programming skills far outstrips supply and staff retention is a major problem for many companies. Providing e-learning will be an important element in the development plans of many such businesses.

TrainingZONE: Thanks, Ian. There's plenty to think about in this fast moving area. As always, we'll be interested in the views and reactions of the TrainingZONE membership.

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