Wednesday, January 21, 2009

E-Learning: Into The Future

A friend asked me a question : What are my views about where e-Learning is heading in the next five years. I, as always, chose to give a fairly public reply through this blog.

But, before I comment, I must also remind myself that this is indeed curious timing to talk about e-learning into five years in future. Nero playing violin while Rome was burning probably would have been an apt analogy, but I am no Nero and can not do much to stop the mayhem. But, one thing for sure, there is very little certainty in the economic climate right now, and it is hard to see much ahead at this time.

Having said that, one can safely project a significant change in e-learning usage, in Academia as well as in Businesses, over next few years. There are a number of reasons behind such assertion:

(a) The business climate is not going to improve any time soon and there will be increased pressure of cost cutting across businesses. Training usually bears the brunt of cost cutting very severely. However, tough business conditions also mean that competitiveness will be critical, and the need to send executives to a luxurious retreat to be 'trained' will lose its importance in the agenda. All of this point to a big spread of cost-effective ways of doing training.

(b) There will be a big bandwidth boost and significant investments in network infrastructure in different countries. In fact, in current economic climate, the ego projects like WiFi across the city will take a hit, and investment will go into making available fat pipes, notably in America. This will make possible two things - one, more engaging content with videos etc, and two, the e-learning as a service model, where the learning content sits in a rented server.

(c) Because the e-Learning as a service concept will spread, the capital costs of deploying e-Learning will drastically reduce. The expensive software ad hardware will go, and open standards will be on demand. In time, a training manager in an organization will be able to deploy e-learning programmes like they purchase training programmes today - just enrol a few participants on an online portal, without incurring a huge upfront cost. Similarly, that training manager will also be able to design engaging content, as they do PowerPoint presentations, and will be able to integrate that content seamlessly on the learning platform, without having to call in an army of consultants and IT people.

(d) The demographics of work will change. Consider this: Roughly, we finish education and start working when we are 22. We assume senior management positions, in matured industries, at about 40. We retire at 65. If these are correct [and if you disagree, put your own numbers], the oldest workers in our workplace today passed out of college in 1966. In another five years time, the cohort will have passed out of college in 1971, when computers appeared in many campuses in the Western world. [In another ten years, it will completely change with the post-PC generation coming to retirement] More importantly, however, most senior managers today would have passed out of school in 1980s. In five years time, the generation which encountered a computer in the school room will enter senior management. There will be a whole new way of looking at computers and Internet.

So, e-learning will change and will become more ubiquitous, but what will it change to? Would we say more video? What form will the interactivity take? Answers to these, and many other similar questions, will obviously depend on the breakthroughs in hardware, software and networks. This may also be influenced by the social trends. As TV loses its grip on media, and we start believing our net friends than we do our daily newspaper, what works may completely change. We may not see more videos in e-Learning, but may see more YouTube. Citizen's video will possibly come to dominate learning, though it is unlikely that it is going to replace the professional content on TV. This is because costs will be critical, and people just love to create content on their personal experience. I shall not be surprised if YouTube starts a learning corner, but if they don't, someone else will. It will be a cool idea to let people upload videos on their experience - at work, travel or life. Interestingly, there is this theory that people do not act creatively if they are not paid for it. Call it the Traders' theory of creativity, this has been proved wrong many times over by things like blogs and YouTube. In history, people never created, or invented, for money; patronage was a much better system for fostering creativity than royalties.

Also, before we ponder about the future of e-Learning, we need to think where Learning will go, in a few years time. Obviously, the learner participation will increase - more and more we will see people using collaborative tools to disseminate experiences and learning. I did talk about crowd-sourced learning, but obviously this is a bit blasphemous for the L&D professionals, who wish to keep training as a black art. But the trend is clearly towards more collaboration, and participatory learning, than one way training. This is actually good news for e-learning practitioners; but like practitioners of other dead arts before them, they don't particularly like it.


ajupresident said...

Very good post, and I agree with most of it - especially the ending about how learning will change. Personally, I am excited about that change. A great resource for anyone who is interested in the future of education would be "Disrupting Class" by Clayton Christensen.

Don Kassner
Andrew Jackson University

Supriyo Chaudhuri said...

Thanks Don for the comment and the reference. It will be the next thing on my reading list.

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