What Will 2004 Bring?
Industry consolidation will accelerate. Last January Microsoft acquired PlaceWare, and by the fourth quarter we were inundated with TV advertisements for the “new” Microsoft Office Live Meeting. In between, a major content developer, CognitiveArts, was acquired by NIIT, and two of the leading LMS companies—Docent and Click2learn—orchestrated a merger of equals. The year 2004 will bring more Darwinian times as the strong get stronger and the weak disappear. Advice to CLOs: Make sure your financial due diligence is up to date on your key suppliers and escrow the source code of your critical applications.
Offshore e-learning development will become common. With new demands for cost-cutting and a high-speed global network in place, the off-shoring of white-collar jobs to lower-wage countries has become a hot topic in executive circles. This job shift is impacting software engineers, call-center professionals and, yes, e-learning developers. Five years ago, vendors and training executives alike dismissed offshore development over perceptions of quality and management problems. Today, many content developers have offshore partnerships in place. Advice to CLOs: Keep an open mind and read “The New Global Job Shift” from the Feb. 3, 2003 issue of BusinessWeek.
Instructional design will get worse (but cheaper). Death by PowerPoint is becoming even more common as it gets easier and cheaper to create and deliver talking slide shows with limited interactivity over the Internet. A variety of tools are now available that enable subject-matter experts to convert PowerPoint presentations into narrated online modules. Advice to CLOs: Don’t confuse information with instruction. Show-and-tell definitely has its place in the toolbox for performance improvement, but don’t let it be the only tool you use.
Instructional design will gets better (but more expensive). Think simulations. The industry will begin to value the difference between tell-and-test design models and often more effective, but costly, simulations and instructional games. When lives are on the line, simulations have long been a staple in the training curriculum. Advice to CLOs: Read “Simulations and the Future of Learning” by Clark Aldrich, and spend an afternoon with your teenager playing PlayStation 2.
M-learning (i.e., mobile learning) will grow. Though the term itself has been around for a few years now, it is only recently that the reality has begun to catch up to the hype with the introduction of smaller and more powerful computer devices (e.g., Pocket PCs, Tablet PCs, Web-enabled phones) and the rapid spread of wireless access points (Bluetooth, WiFi and 3G). Advice to CLOs: Invest $150 and four hours on a Saturday to install a WiFi network in your home, and see how it changes your use of the Internet.
E-learning will get smaller, timelier and more perishable. The first wave of e-learning consisted of a lot of big, static catalogs. Now the attention is finally shifting to job performance, where it belongs. The characteristics of workflow e-learning include real-time access to information, tutorials, tools or other knowledge objects, truly at the time and place of need. With advances in mobile technologies, instructional design methods need to shift toward rapid authoring of bite-sized modules. Advice to CLOs: Shadow your mobile workers for a few days and see where they get stuck. Look for opportunities for task support, not knowledge transfer.
All of these topics live on different phases of the technology hype cycle and will no doubt be replaced before year’s end with the new “new thing.” The most valuable advice I have to offer to CLOs is: Don’t follow trends or listen to gurus too closely. If you keep your focus on the business challenge and the learner, the design and technology will follow.