BLOG – Has The UK eLearning Sector Got Complacent?

pip_smileFresh from picking up the Outstanding Learning Organisation Award at the 2013 eLearning Awards, Unicorn CEO, Peter Phillips, asks has the UK eLearning sector got complacent?

Renowned eLearning guru, Craig Weiss, seems to have put a few cats amongst the pigeons with his assertion that the UK e-learning industry suffers from a ‘holding steady’ mentality.

Certainly chatting to industry colleagues about Craig’s assessment at the eLearning Awards earlier this month there was the feeling that the WOW factor was very much still in evidence in British eLearning but are we doing enough to promote it?

It would be foolish and arrogant for us as an industry to bury our heads in the sand and just dismiss Craig’s observations as moot. After all he is considered one of the eminent voices on the global platform and is an outside observer looking at the UK scene from afar. He is arguably better placed than we are to make such judgments. But likewise we shouldn’t all hit the panic button.

In this our 25th anniversary year, we have been looking closely at the economics of our industry, including in this article for our special eLearning Age birthday supplement, where I suggested that over the past quarter of a century the British eLearning industry has grown from a small fragmented cottage industry into today’s much larger fragmented cottage industry.

Never was this more evident than at this year’s eLearning Awards where the ‘traditional’ eLearning companies won practically nothing. Instead it was new or little known names that excelled, highlighting the low barriers to entry that entice some truly innovative companies into our sector each year. There could be no better incentive for the established players in the British sector to shake off any perceived complacency.

Most particularly, Unit9 working with the Resuscitation Council, scooped up a remarkable five awards, including four golds, for their Lifesaver App. This App blends high-production value video, interaction and innovative use of mobile features like the accelerometer in the phone to help simulate doing compressions to resuscitate people. It really is an impressive piece of work. Have a look and see here.

Does this evidence support Craig’s view or contradict it?

Informal learning and mobile delivery have continued to be demand-based drivers for most of us, which require different skills and technologies from the fields that most eLearning companies have traditionally dealt in. Because most eLearning companies are ‘small’ by nature, this development has occurred alongside companies’ core business, for which there is still a high demand and the need to service.

Some companies, like Unicorn, have grown our workforce to meet this demand on both fronts. But speaking from experience in the financial sector we are dealing with firms and businesses who in-house don’t always have the technology to support the innovation that individual employees take as read on their personal devices.

It would take an extraordinarily brave – or reckless – eLearning company to abandon its core client base altogether to focus solely on informal, mobile and social learning.

While much of our industry is still feeling its way, there is a certain inevitability that the pace of change may not be so rapid within the traditional eLearning companies compared to companies who specialise purely in digital trailblazing.

Does this leave the traditional eLearning companies in a perilous position? I don’t think so. While such digital and creative companies and agencies may be able to produce outstanding one-off learning examples, the experience and expertise that so many companies in our sector have in fully understanding their clients’ needs, and developing appropriate learning and development solutions , cannot be underestimated.

That is where traditional eLearning companies still have a huge role to play, and I believe UK eLearning firms are very open to developing innovative and engaging learning solutions that incorporate a wide range of technologies.

I’m really looking forward to hearing Craig discuss this and many other issues when he visits the UK for the ‘E-Learning 2020 – The future of eLearning’ seminar that we’re hosting in conjunction with eLearning Age next Wednesday (27 November).

If you haven’t signed up yet it’s not too late. Click here for full details and booking information. It would be great to have as many voices contributing to what I’m sure will be a fascinating debate on the health of our industry.

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2 responses to “BLOG – Has The UK eLearning Sector Got Complacent?”

  1. benbetts03 says :

    I think Craig is part right, part wrong. Having spent a good deal of time in the US recently, the industry is different. Fundamentally so. But I’m not sure this shows innovation or maturity. Overwhelmingly the US has a focus on build, not buy. You don’t see many companies in the £10m turnover region doing custom E-learning. Why? Companies do it in-house. They employ instructional designers. It’s a career. Many people have a masters level qualifications. I don’t think there is a masters degree course in instructional design in the UK. And so they have a rich eco-system of tools and platforms to support this. In the UK the L&D department is being rapidly outsourced. For many companies it’s a procurement activity. Now I’m not going as far as to say which model shows maturity, but it is fundamentally different.

  2. peterphillips535 says :

    That’s an interesting perspective Ben. It maybe helps to explain why there are no big bespoke e-learning companies in the US. Instead you have firms like eLearning Brothers and Allen Interactions more focused on producing templates and widgets to support those in house teams.
    The lack of a qualification path for ID in the UK is very noticeable. There are a couple of projects going on at the moment to try to address this. City & Guilds are involved in one and a consortium of educational establishments in another http://comingsoon.designelearn.com/
    You also make a good point about the trend for outsourcing e-learning in the UK as a procurement activity, which I think has led to too much focus on low price, and too little on high quality. The classic confusion of cost and value, and definitely not a trend to encourage innovation.

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