projected growth chart

The End of eLearning?

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In this article, Leo Doran takes us through a new market report which has been released saying that the eLearning industry is expected to shrink precipitously over the next few years.  The report tracks market forces and demographic changes, as well as the spending patterns of various countries around the world in the eLearning sectors.

At first glance the report appears positively terrifying.  We are told that, “the recent steep declines in the e-learning industry essentially mean that the e-learning era is effectively over.  The product has reached the end of its product life cycle”.  Harsh words for sure.  Perhaps it is time that we all gave up on this eLearning fad and simply returned to scratching on clay tablets in order to pass along our knowledge.  

But do not fear, all is not actually lost when it comes to eLearning.  Upon closer inspection, we find that e-learning has been defined in a particularly stringent manner.  The report Doran references defines e-learning as, “being accessed on a desktop or laptop and spanning the K-12, higher education, corporate training, and privately marketed software”.  This is an important definition because it is also placed in contrast to, “mobile learning, simulation-based learning, game-based learning, and ‘brain-training’ software”.  So according to the report, eLearning does not include learning based around mobile technology, games, or simulations.  

At first glance one might be tempted to wonder what exactly eLearning which does not include mobile, game based behavior, and simulations might look like.  Perhaps a digital edition of a book which students can peruse at their leisure with the occasional digital multiple choice test to track their progress might be an example.  But if this is what is meant by eLearning then it is no wonder that the “eLearning industry” is projected to continue to shrink.  Just like the VCR industry continued to shrink after DVDs came out, “eLearning” in the very specific sense meant by this report will continue to shrink, while eLearning more generally will continue to grow.  

In fact the report makes an important point about the power of the newer forms of eLearning.  Typically learning is broken down into two main stages.  First, there is information transfer, when the learner is first exposed to something new, and second there is learning transfer where the learner puts that knew information into practice, and thereby displays mastery.  Traditional learning, and the eLearning the report derides, keeps these two steps separate: read the book or web page, then take the test.  However, the new forms of eLearning combine the two steps, allowing a learner to acquire new information and put it into practice simultaneously, which not only provides a richer learning environment but a more enjoyable one.

What this report is really saying is that the eLearning industry is in the midst of a transition.  With the advent of better video, mobile, and simulation technologies the eLearning industry is beginning to put those new advances into practice and is starting to leave behind old modes of delivering content.  So is this the end of eLearning?  Hardly.  If anything this is the beginning of the eLearning Renaissance, when we begin to really start to see just how we can use technology in all its varied forms to help people learn what they need to learn.