Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ 1998 TechLearn Annual Report on Learning & Technology

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Nov 04, 1998

Posted to WWWDEV 05 November 1998

Editor's Note: the archive program butchered the indents. However, for the most part, the bulleted comments are Masies, while the non-bulletted points are mine. -SD

TechLearn Trends, from the Masie Centre, has just released its 1998 report of trends in the online learning industry. Most of what they report is consistent with my recent paper, "The Future of Online Learning". Thus, I forward their summary to you, with annotations (always indented).

FROM: Elliott Masie, The MASIE Center RE: 1998 TechLearn Annual Report on the Learning & Technology Industry

Each year we issue a "bullets of importance" summary on the key trends, issues and technologies at the core of the learning and technology field. These bullets will be at the core of the TechLearn '98 Conference to be convened in 11 days in Orlando, Florida ( We will issue a manuscript expanding on these bullets in December 1998.

1. Major Trends in Learning & Technology

* 92% of large organizations are implementing some form of network (intranet, internet) training in 1999.

* 41% currently have placed at least one course, mainly from external content vendors, online for employees.

(My annotations are always indented, like this.) In my opinion, this first trend highlighted by the Masie centre is the key trend of 1998. It points on the one hand to the privatization of education and especially training. But it also points to the much more diverse market for education. Institutions - such as my own Assiniboine Community College - will feel a push to cater to corporate clients for in house training. Failure to do so will leave a growing market segment to private interests.

* 516 products, systems and new service offerings are now on the market for on-line and technology mediated learning.

And only a few of them are complete course solutions. Course content is 'plugged-in' to these systems; others of these products are in turn 'plugged-in' to course content.

* Collaboration (real time and asynchronous) capability is rapidly growing as a component of learning technology and content offerings.

The need for interaction has been highlighted over and over again in essays and list server postings.

* Organizations are focusing on two parallel tracks: technology for administration of training and technology for content delivery and process. These two tracks are often separate and unrelated projects.

They are separated mostly for security purposes, and also because the people creating the courses are generally not directly related to the institution's administrative function.

Watch for the development of an instrument - such as Firefly's 'passport' - which acts as a mediating agent on behalf of users between these two elements.

* Knowledge Management is on the radar screen of most major corporations.

* The conversation has shifted from content delivery and management rather than authoring, reflecting an increasing outsourcing of the authoring process.

By 'authoring' they mean the rendering of content into a computer format, such as HTML, or Flash/Shockwave, etc (because systems which produce these formats are called 'authoring systems').

This is consistent with my prediction that fewer and fewer instructors will be producing their own courses. Authoring systems, such as Director, require a major investment in time and effort to master, and most teaching faculty are unable to commit the resources needed to produce a high quality product. This is especially the case in view of the comparative cost of hiring an external contractor to do the work (or, in larger institutions, hiring an authoring specialist).

* Content is the highest desire of major organizations. They are waiting for large collections of technology mediated and delivered learning from suppliers. Demand is ahead of supply in November 1998, particularly outside of the IT zone.

Because content is the scare resource, (a) companies will begin to produce content which can be plugged into a wide variety of course delivery systems, and institutions will begin buying it.

Although there will be an initial market for out-of-the-box packages, similar to those produced on CD-ROMs, corporations and institutions will prefer over the long run content which can be customized.

* Workers are starting to have higher computing and on-line learning capacity at home than they do at work.

This trend reflects the increasing availablity and lower cost of computer and bandwidth capacity.

* IS groups are continuing to place serious internal blocks to mounting on-line learning on corporate networks, with challenges ranging from bandwidth fears to unreasonable demands for charge-backs and centralized control.

This is a trend which I had *not* discussed in my paper, however, I can vouch for the accuracy of this statement. Everybody has their own favourite horror stories: eg. posted to all staff, "The help phone line has been discontinued. If your computer is not functioning, please email computer services for help".

Institutions which learn quickly that the online environment is a *distributed* environment, one in which a fair measure of independence and control must be devolved from central administrations, will be the institutions which move ahead most quickly in the field.

* Business units are developing independent and often competitive expertise (to the training department) in the technology and learning arena.

Again, this is an indication of distributed design. Just as IS groups are under pressure to cede control, so also are training departments under a similar pressure.

A key question: What do trainers do when everyone manages their own learning?

* Core training processes are now emerging as components of learning systems and technologies: mentoring, coaching, continuous assessment, diagnosis, needs analysis, contracting, remediation and collaboration.

Yes. A radical fragmentation of the learning function is under way, though oblivious to the vast majority of training staff. It is important to note that while we are seeing the leading edge of this trend in the corporate arena, that it will permeate the entire educational arena.

It would not be unreasonable, for example, to see a student select his or her own mentor from a world-wide pool of potential mentors, and to not depend on his or her own educational institution to provide that. Additionally, the coaching role will be filled by people in one's own community, and not by a professor or lecturer. Assessment and teaching will diverge into separate functions. &c.

Educational institutions will have to see themselves playing the role of *service* agencies, providing these supports for learning, rather than as repositories and dispensers of knowledge and wisdom.

2. Drivers in Organizational Approaches to Learning and Technology

* Reduction of cycle time.

Yes. This theme will recur. Next year's meme in online learning could well be RAD - 'Rapid Application Design'. It is not unreasonable to expect course design to occur in the space of weeks, even days (rather than the months or years it now takes) and for the sehlf life of a course to be months, not years. As techniques improve, course development will occur on the fly, on an as needed basis, and shelf life will cease to be a useful concept.

* Globalization and enterprise wide delivery of consistent training content.

With local or regional customization.

* Addressing the non-instructional costs of training (travel and lodging).

* Greater modularization and just-in-time capacity for the delivery of learning to the workforce.

See RAD, above.

* Extending the reach and time impact of instructor led sessions.

* Desire to choose from best of breed training and learning suppliers on a case specific basis.

Again, this harkens back to the idea that learnbing resources will be purchased from suppliers and plugged in to course materials.

* Need for performance support capability at the point of work, shifting learning to work environment.

In high performance customer support areas (eg., an airline registration desk or corporate switchboard), data retrieval and learning will essentially merge into something analagous to today's 'HELP' function in computer programs.

It will occur to someone at some point in the near future that one does not need a computer program in order to have a HELP function; that the techniques and technologies of HELP functions could as easily be applied to world geography as to Microsoft Word.

The topic-specific HELP function will in turn connect to more comprehensive learning modules, learning communities, and educational resources as were listed above, with learning and the provision of resources provided (and paid for) on an as needed (and as desired) basis.

* Learners are experiencing training alternatives outside the workplace.

We used to call that 'reading'. But reading is entering the age of multimedia.

* Financial officer support for alternative approaches to allocating training investments.

* Desire to drive most training transactions to browser based processing.

Because it is platform independent. A browser can connect to learning materials from any number of sources. Beware, and do not build proprietary learning systems, either at the server end, or (especially) at the client end.

3. Technologies on the Learning and Training Cutting Edge and Radar Screen

* Content Production: Template based development

Part of RAD.

* Content Production: Shifting content "authoring" to subject matter experts

This contradicts a point above, and I will stick with the point above. Subject matter experts will produce content, yes, but the rendering of that content will more and more be handled by authoring professionals.

* Content Production: Rapid development (hours and days vs. weeks or months) * Content Production: Reusable and redeployable content in object format * Content Production: Learning "clip art" from suppliers * Content Formats: Streaming video and audio * Content Formats: Annotated books for learning processes * Content Formats: Learner input or control of scope and sequence * Content Formats: Multi-language and learner tracks

The content formats listed here are all of the 'build-once,plug-in, and re-use' variety, essential for rapid development.

* Management Systems: Linkage of training management to enterprise wide systems * Management Systems: Complete on-line training registration, marketing and administration

Yes. But watch for such functions to operate as distinct entities with mediating systems in between.

* Management Systems: Single storefront for corporate learning

And for community learning.

* Technologies for 1999: Form factors such as handheld (palm) computers and hybrid * Technologies for 1999: Increased push to browser based and push components * Technologies for 1999: Collaboration and communities of practice supported * Technologies for 1999: Voice and speech recognition and input * Technologies for 1999: New fixed media formats and hybrids (e.g.. DVD)

These technologies assume increased bandwith and processing power, reasonable assumptions.

* Business Models: Component reselling of content from training providers


* Business Models: How to develop on-line training in a profitable fashion

Well, it's *not* going to be by spending development money on courses or course components which can only be used once. An institution which spends eight months and $80,000 developing a course which can only be offered in one format, for a limited time, will find itself out of the online learning game.

Build course *components* first. Build courses from components.

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

* Business Models: Advertiser supported learning

This model is iffy.

* Business Models: Emergence of consolidators and reseller channels

Yes. Today's traditional institutions, such as colleges and universities, will follow this model, because most of them will not have invested in the technology and techniques required to produce content.

* Topic Areas to Watch: Linked use of on-line learning for customers with e-commerce

Yes. The Masie centre is *especially* astute to have picked up this trend (I haven't seen it in wide currency at all).

Let me explain this concept by means of an analogy:

As a personal project, I developed a site about the City of Brandon. As part of this site, I provided links to every website in the city. As there are more than 500 websites, I began to agonize over how to organize these links.

Most such sites arrange their links sectorally. For example, they would place government under one heading, education under another heading, industry under another, and so on.

I decided to arrange the links by *topic*. Thus, for example, I put all the links about hockey in one area, all the linkas about coffee in another, and so on.

The reason I did this is that I wanted to produce topic-specific cross-sectoral interest areas. Thus, residents of Brandon who were interested in hockey could go to one place and find the Brandon Wheat Kings page, the Brandon University hockey page, local arenas and community centres, a local hockey pool site (sadly discontinued), hockey equipment dealers, a hockey-based newsletter, and so on.

Online learning will integrate itself more deeply into such sites. It will be seen as desirable to provide learning opportunities side-by side with commercial interests, hobbyists, fan sites, and general chatter related to a given topic. Such a site will be of more value to advertisers, who would be thus ensured of a steady stream of interested viewers. And advertising revenue (and advertising itself) will be an advantage for online education providers.

* Topic Areas to Watch: Explosive growth of K-12 homework sites

This is an interesting observation.

* Topic Areas to Watch: Virtual association and communities of practice models

Yes. I call these 'online topic-based communities'.

* Topic Areas to Watch: Social interfaces for learning * Topic Areas to Watch: "Zero-Latency" role for on-line learning and training * Topic Areas to Watch: Performance Consulting and Knowledge Management

4. Questions on Corporate and Government Learning Managers

* What should be our 3 year plan for adding learning technology to our organization?

The Masie centre is right is recommending that organizations look a bit further into the future than they would otherwise. Planning for online learning today should attempt to plan for technologies which are 3-5 years down the road.

* How do we choose the most appropriate content for each training topic or project?

One of the primary roles of instructors in the future will be in the area of content selection. Just as instructors are faced with an array of textbooks in a given field, so also will they be faced with an array of online learning resources. It would be useful to have a resource selection matrix.

* With technology changing so rapidly, what is a relatively safe investment strategy?

Don't invest in a single, massive system. Buy in exchangable components.

* When will we have industry wide standards for learning content to protect our investment?

Within two years.

* How can we integrate our training management systems with HR enterprise wide databases?

Don't. Plan on interfaces or user agents. Stay away from the monolithic corporate-wide system.

For example: Assiniboine Community College recently introduced Colleague, by DataTel, as its Management Information ystem. Colleague will handle student records, registrations, and the like.

At the same time, it also developed an independent web-based online learning platform called OLe to deliver online instruction.

It would be the height of foolishness to attempt to merge these two systems. Colleague was not designed for (and could not attempt) course delivery, while OLe would be a particularly bad platform for College finances.

Rather, the best plan is to have these two systems communicate with each other. In my own mind, I envision Colleague, on accepting a student registration in a course, sending a (coded) email to OLe containing that student's registration information. OLe would receive the email and perform the appropriate set-up for that student.

Alternatively (and perhaps as well), Colleague could write the student's registration information into the student's own user agent. The student's user agent would then present that information to OLe.

In a similar fashion, course delivery systems such as OLe will interact with remote educational content providers.

Really: plan on stand-alone systems, with mediating agents. It's the *only* way to go.

* What can be done to allow learners to operate in a high interruption environment?

Heh. Earphones?

* Are we going to need to provide technical support for learning technologies? Who provides it?

Yes. Absolutely. Especially at the beginning.

I have stated over and over - often with limited effect - that online learning *must* be supported through community learning centres. The results keep coming in, unambiguous and unanimous: if a learning centre is provided, the success and satisfaction rate is high; take away the learning centre and success is reduced while frustration increases dramatically.

* When will we be able to see highly motivating, simulation based corporate learning content?

Today. Try the learning module in Macromedia's Director.

* Show us best of breed examples of learning that we can use as role models!

As decided by whom...? There's no short cut here. Institutions wanting to do online learning are going to have to look at the models and make the hard decisions themselves.

* With the learning marketplace at high volatility, which providers will make it, merge it or disappear? * When will be able to deliver high quality video and audio to our desktops over our corporate networks?

Today. The emerging standard for corporate LANs is 100 megabytes/sec, more than enough for streaming video.

* If we build it, will they come? * Who should drive and lead the push to technology mediated learning? * What are the role, skill and attitude changes needed for training professionals?

These "bullets of importance" are not meant to be all inclusive. We will expand on them at TechLearn '98 and through TechLearn Trends in the coming months. Our industry is rapidly changing and we invite you to be at the center of the dialogue.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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