Xebec McGraw-Hill's survey results: has the e-learning bubble burst?

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16th Oct 2000
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At the beginning of this month, Xebec McGraw-Hill released the results of their third annual survey, Corporate Foundations for E-learning Success, which was conducted into the use and take-up of online learning in the UK.

Managing Director Michael Smith spoke with TrainingZONE at the WOLCE event and was keen to explain why this survey was important: "There are currently two sets of data available - market growth figures, which seem to increase all the time, and anecdotal information, often relating to best practice. We felt it important to get objective information, and linked up with Training magazine to reach a bigger audience."

The survey gives some interesting insights into the factors affecting the success or failure of e-learning programmes within companies. While the results show 28% using the intranet to deliver training and 18% using the internet to do so and the figures likely to at least double in the next three years, some critical issues become evident when looking at the reasons these figures are not higher. "Cost", "poor planning of the implementation process" and the fact that "on-line training is not part of the overall business strategy" are key barriers for 37% HR staff. whereas MDs give "cost" as the main barrier similar problems are cited within organisations who have already implemented some e-learning.

Michael thought that the survey confirmed some of what was already thought, but also flagged up new issues: "What it does highlight that if anyone wants to implement e-learning, they really need to have buy-in from senior management. Implementation is pretty straightforward, but post-implementation is more complicated - when the novelty wears off, you really need to invest all the way down the line. If senior managers think e-learning doesn't work, it's because of cost or 'it's not the way we do things round here', they don't think it's to do with them or that they have a role to play." Smith cites Unipart and the House of Fraser as good examples of companies where CEOs have got behind and championed the concept of e-learning.

The survey reveals that although IT training still dominates the market - of those using online training, 2/3rds are using it for IT training, there is an increasing trend towards a growth the use of e-learning for soft skills. Interruptions at the desktop are a problem for 40% of those with access to e-learning. Michael added that the DfEE and QVC had both noticed this happening and had created separate learning zones where e-learning could be undertaken.

The survey also reveals some interesting insights into the view of trainers on the topic. It's often quoted that the training profession as a whole is concerned that online learning may mean that traditional training methods will become less and less important, and as a result the role of the trainer will start to become redundant. The survey finds that there is generally a positive outlook however - two-thirds feel that online training will add to their role, with only one in ten fearing that it will undermine it. Although trainers do expect their role to change, the survey found that they don't on the whole expect to need to acquire more technical skills to create online training. Xebec says they underestimate what is required, but it's not clear how many trainers are actually contemplating a move towards authoring material for the web anyway.

Knowledge management is a closely related issue, and one which has been put forward as a way of helping to get senior management buy-in to the use of new learning technologies. Michael said that when talking to companies who had never used e-learning before, "the biggest issue is knowledge transfer...the perception is that there is a reduced opportunity to share. Actually what it does let you do is capture 'jungle knowledge', e.g. finding out how the parcel is tied up before the parcel-tier leaves and no-one knows where the string is."

The discussion moved to talk about SMEs - given that large organisations are currently the main beneficiaries of new technologies for learning, because they have the time and money to invest, TrainingZONE was interested to know whether Michael thought that portals were the way forward for SMEs to make the most of e-learning. He agreed it was an important issue,as there are currently around 2 million SMEs which are registered in the UK, but felt that UfI's LearnDirect project would be the answer "if they get it right. To provide a genuine e-learning experience, you'll need to be able to log onto a website and begin learning there and then." The survey had revealed that Learning portals were "not a major consideration."

Another interesting development which Michael had become aware of was the interest banks had started to take in online learning, "borne of a desire for customers. They'll provide access to learning as a marketing experience as part of an overall package...hopefully the SMEs will get good rates on training as a result, although they'll have to decide whether to sign up to the bank's rates!"

He also notes an uptake in interest in CDROMS, which was unexpected, as there is hardly any demand for them in America: "it could be that moving to web-based training is too much to do in one step. We didn't anticipate this happening, it was envisaged generally that transfer would be more immediate. Our experience of the US is that it will be at least another 2 years before online learning is simply another channel of communication."

TrainingZONE has heard the message from several quarters now, but common sense is definitely starting to influence the e-learning hype that's been emerging over the last few years. Michael says the most interesting finding of the survey is that enthusiasm for it appears to have halved over the last year. "It is never going to replace the training experience - we would always say that. It is just better suited for some situations, such as induction programmes.

Xebec McGraw-Hill are about to start a series of Autumn roadshows around the UK, where those interested in the potential of e-learning will be able to try out some of the courses and hear about case studies. The roadshows will visit Bristol, Edinburgh, London and Manchester, with a maximum of 35 places on each session. Some places are still available - contact Susanne Staddon to book (tel: 01453-837641).

Xebec McGraw-Hill's new professional learning division is offering a number of packages to help companies introduce and implement online learning, with varying degrees of support available from £1,000 to £10,000, according to the scope of the project. For further details visit their website at

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