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The roar of an emerging market

For most of us, it's work harder, smarter, faster. We're expected to acquire more skills and hone those we've always had. We've got to learn more, keep up or get left behind. Broadening the talents of today's workers--from C-level executives to sales staff to cubicle-dwelling knowledge workers--is absolutely mission-critical. As the digital age comes in like a lion, it's getting harder and harder to push paper and pass the buck.

E-learning and training was spawned in the IT revolution--and it's roots probably started forming with simple "help" functions in the earliest versions of the software we now take for granted. Although IT still accounts for more than half of the e-learning space, the space grows every day, says Pam Stanford of IBM MindSpan. "Lots of people are coming at the market from their own perspective--traditional content providers and trainers. And then there are the firms that create, publish and package the content. They're trying to come up with new business designs to transform the way that they get value for their content." Further, she estimates, "88% percent of institutions of higher education have some sort of e-learning initiative."

So, as traditional training declines, "distributed learning" (satellite, video, Web, etc.) is growing about 34% annual, according to IBM studies; and the Web component of that figure is growing at 90% a year. And though the technology is becoming more sophisticated and pervasive, the market is highly fragmented. IBM Learning Services has the lion's share with 2%, says Stanford. Customers find the market is, if fact, confusing. They tend to want an integrated solution rather hassle with different software platforms. There is tremendous pressure to develop an e-learning initiative up and running quickly.

Business Transformation

There are two fundamental classes of e-learning buyers, she says. One group, which represents about 80% of the market, is focused on improving training or getting increased efficiency and may simply want to save money on travel. The other concentrates on transforming business processes. They see e-learning as a true competitive advantage.

Typically, the latter group has two things in common. First, they have very short product lifecycles--the product or service they offer turns over and get more and more complex with each introduction. A good example would be the wireless industry, in which a company will introduce a new every three months. Compounding matters is employee turnover and multiple locations. Companies can't bring all those people in, train them, send them back and repeat the process 12 weeks later.

The pharmaceutical industry is another one in which e-learning proves to be of real value when it comes to introducing new products. Companies invest heavily in research and getting approval, and there is a fixed period of time before the drug goes generic. The sooner they get more people aware of the drug's benefit, the sooner they can fill their pipelines.


One arena that is sure to grow will be customer-focused e-learning. Already, software providers are seeing profits coming in from its corporate customers. According to Clark Aldrich, a senior research analyst with the Gartner Group, SAP see 11% of its revenue from training and it recently introduced an online training course that enables it to deliver real-time training without the travel.

But employees won't be the only "students" to derive the benefits of the new teaching paradigm. Consumers of high-tech devices are just beginning to get their feel wet--and savvy manufacturers should jump at the opportunity to service them. The Gartner Group estimates that by 2003 one in 10 buyers of high-technology products will have learned how to use them before purchasing them, so the customer-focused e-learning space will be huge. Aldrich figures it will garner 40% of the market within three years.

Here's a sampling of solutions and news items in the e-learning space:

*** Online education destination Bigchalk.com has signed a $750,000 agreement with Excalibur Technologies, integrating RetrievalWare WebExpress into Bigchalk.com's line of e-library products. WebExpress provides an advanced search and retrieval component to eLibrary, enabling researchers to find information on a topic by searching through a database drawn from hundreds of magazines, journals, newspapers and reference works, plus thousands of TV and radio transcripts, photographs and maps.

An education site for the K-12 learning community, Bigchalk.com enables students to conduct research, access curriculum and collaborate with peers. The site gives teachers access to research and instructional tools for curriculum integration and a large collection of staff development information available on the Internet. It provides parents with communication tools to feel connected to their children's schools, and information on how they can best participate in their children's education. Currently, Bigchalk.com’s core learning products are used in more than 40,000 schools across the country.

*** In what it calls a $3 billion e-learning market, Cenquest provides accredited, web-based business courses and graduate degrees, working with corporations to provide employees with educational opportunities that are easier and cheaper than traditional brick-and-mortar classes. Cenquest takes traditional courses from accredited institutions and breaks them down into short (typically two-week), one-credit or more classes, which are offered on a rolling schedule throughout the calendar year. Classes are targeted to meet specific learning objectives and designed to be taken individually or applied to a certificate or degree program.

Rather than simply slapping content up on the web, Cenquest's classes and content are redesigned specifically for a student to learn online.

*** JCPenney adopted a distance learning program in 1996 but needed additional support for training, because its satellite classes still used text-based material. The company decided to use Centrinity's FirstClass Intranet Server (FCIS) to build the online learning community it wanted. FirstClass provides network communities for centralized digital data sharing via wireless and wireline telephony, e-mail, fax and Internet.

FCIS was adopted as the core complement to other distance learning elements that JCPenney had in place, providing the retailer with enhanced educational programs, as well as a knowledge management system.

*** Corpedia, a web-based, corporate e-learning company, has released Dr. Peter F. Drucker's second e-learning course suite, "Business Strategies Essentials." In May, Corpedia announced that Drucker had joined its faculty under an exclusive agreement to develop a series of e-learning management suites. Drucker is a widely known business thinker whose 31 books have been translated into more than 20 languages.

The second in the Drucker's Executive Management Series, the suite focuses on the strategic challenges facing the modern executive. Each course features a different aspect of how organizations must change their strategies to prosper in today's business climate. The courses included in this suite are: The Successful Acquisition, Alliances: The Rules for Successful Partnerships, The Five Deadly Business Sins, In Permanent Cost Control: Beyond Simple Cost Cutting, and Entrepreneurial Strategies.

*** E-learning solutions provider DigitalThink and KPMG Consulting recently announced a contract with GE Capital to create the "GE e-Awareness Curriculum," which will provide a worldwide audience of GE employees with a common understanding of e-commerce and e-business models. The curriculum is being delivered via the Internet in four languages to 40,000 employees worldwide. GE Capital will use DigitalThink's hosted e-learning environment, and KPMG is working with DigitalThink's Learning Solutions team to create the curriculum content, and is providing curriculum planning, instructional design and project management services. DigitalThink and KPMG will work together to create curriculum content. The initial phase of the training was successfully deployed in 30 days. The companies expect to complete the entire curriculum deployment in 120 days.

"The curriculum is an exciting new tool our employees can use to fully understand how the Internet can improve everything from supply chain coordination to customer interactions," said Denis Nayden, president and CEO of GE Capital.

*** EdShop.com, a new online store and education complex, offers HR professionals the option of either web- or computer-based training for employees. The store has more than 4,500 training titles, from Microsoft Office 2000 to advanced programming languages such as Java. EdShop Education Complex features customizable training courses based on student or company needs, as well as the ability to web-enable in-house training procedures.

EdShop.com allows students who know the basics of a computer program to use that knowledge as the foundation from which to learn; they don't waste time and energy relearning what they already know.

Students learn at their own pace, and courses are automatically bookmarked, allowing them to stop and start as often as necessary, without the frustration of manually skipping through the program to find where they were.

*** Geo Learning Center is a new 3-D concept in online learning delivery, designed like a multistory building. Users can move around and visit the various levels, seminar halls and classrooms; check out the resource center or stroll into the student lounge to chat.

GeoLearning University offers hundreds of Internet-based courses in a variety of areas, including computer and soft skills. Courses are priced for individual subscription by credit card or can be purchased in bulk. Many are also available for intranet installation. Companies can also customized their own learning universities.

Among the offerings is Geo3System, a performance tool for leaders, combining evaluation, expertise and education, which is sold as a hybrid CD-ROM/Internet product.

*** gForce Systems has released eLearnCentral, a software suite that allows a company to create a custom e-learning portal with its own training materials, courseware and corporate materials, and also gives employees the ability to publish at the desktop. According to the developer, the software can be installed more quickly than traditional e-learning software and builds on the promise of "just enough learning, just in time."

With gForce Author, and gForce Studio, a company's "experts" can write and add content to the portal, including high-quality multimedia presentations. gForce Publisher is a content management system for tailoring knowledge to diverse learner groups. gForce Manager helps business executives assess learning material use and employee performance against corporate objectives and programs.

*** By developing hybrid programs that use web links, CD-ROM and live instructors, Electronic Learning Facilitators says it has created e-learning with a media richness conducive to learning. The company maintains that few e-learning programs capture the essence of live instructors, and that users are not completing such programs because they are confusing, boring or take forever to download.

ELF invites potentials users to test its e-learning design and techniques at its web site.

*** Arizona State University has licensed e-learning solutions from KnowledgeNet to provide training to its faculty, students and staff.

"We've been conducting training for several years in the traditional instructor-led format," says the ASU Vice Provost for IT, Dr. William Lewis, "but realized that technology-delivered training solved several problems: Our students couldn't always find the three-hour blocks of time demanded by classroom training and wanted to pursue classes in a time- and place-independent format; classroom space is at a premium; and we couldn't cost-justify the time commitment to send people offsite to a training provider."

According to Lewis, one reason that ASU chose KnowledgeNet was because its technology is designed from the ground up for web-based delivery.

Some of the company's offerings include KnowledgeNet Live, which features a team of instructors and mentors who deliver real-world scenarios and hands-on applications; Express, a web-based training system that combines personalized, expert-led instruction with the anywhere, anytime access capabilities of the Internet; Interactive, a self-paced learning program that allows the user to obtain technical skills through the convenience of the Internet; Custom, which updates existing training methods to web-based training, or designs a customized e-learning program from scratch; and Campus, an online community of students, instructors and subject matter experts.

*** Mentergy represents the merger of three e-learning companies: Gilat Communications, Allen Communication and LearnLinc, offering clients a large range of e-learning tools and expert services. Those include live e-learning, video-rich broadband delivery, custom courseware development, step-by-step consulting and an integrated suite of e-learning development and delivery tools.

Designer's Edge is an instructional tool for trainers with a visual, task-driven interface to help determine learning needs, analyze the target audience, establish clear goals, outline content and select learning strategies.

Through NetSynergy, developers can distribute cross-platform learning through a web browser across the Internet or intranet.

Quest is a 32-bit authoring system that provides a visual authoring environment for novice and expert learning developers.

Manager's Edge helps trainers organize and deliver e-learning activities and collect critical performance data.

I-Discover capitalizes on the power of e-learning to deliver information at the precise point of need.

*** The New York Institute of Finance has launched NYIF Online, web-delivered financial knowledge for professionals. The courses have been developed by the NYIF in conjunction with experienced instructors, many of whom are also out in the financial market daily.

In the totally interactive lessons, flashcards flip, animations illustrate complex points and real-life instructors provide support and feedback. Information is "chunked" into small, usable pieces, and quizzes and final exams test comprehension.

The courses are developed from the latest findings about how financial professionals learn, and are designed to help the self-directed learner tackle and grasp solid financial concepts and information.

"We are seeing more people from more industries and countries who need to be financially savvy to do their job and get ahead," says Robert W. Gulick, NYIF president. "It used to be that our financial training was almost exclusively for Wall Street. "The web is where these students are and where the New York Institute of Finance is going."

NYIF Online also has developed programs that can be delivered through intranet connections or externally hosted sites to complement corporate internal training programs.

Four courses are now available on NYIF Online: Fundamentals of the Securities Industry, Brokerage Operations, Equities and Fixed-Income. Other courses will include Derivatives, E-Commerce, Financial Statement Analysis, Wealth Management, Hedge Funds, Short-Term Trading and T+1.

*** Peer3 provides software and services for building enterprise knowledge and learning systems. Its eLearning Solution supports open standards for data exchange and interoperability of educational content, providing flexibility for business application integration and e-commerce transaction capabilities.

Key components of the eLearning Solution are: reusable learning object library, adaptive web-based course delivery, component-based authoring, scheduling and reporting tools, progress tracking and skills inventories and flexible implementation options.

Booz Allen & Hamilton recently evaluated e-learning software products that could support the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) initiative sponsored by the Department of Defense. According to Dianne Jordan, senior associate at BA&H, "Peer3 has a commercially available authoring system that could quickly meet version 1.0 of the Shareable Courseware Object Reference Model (SCORM) specification."

The goal of SCORM is to standardize XML-based learning objects and metadata so that e-learning content can be indexed, searched, retrieved, assembled and reused in other contexts.

*** Saba provides an e-learning infrastructure that consists of Internet-based learning management systems, business-to-business learning exchanges and related services.

Saba says its Learning Enterprise automates the learning provider business process with simple administration and easy implementation of sophisticated features like business rules and security, and provides a complete solution for managing extended enterprise learning. Its applications automate all aspects of the learning provider business processes so organizations can concentrate on developing content rather than on administration.

Saba Learning Enterprise includes learning management, competency and certification management, simple web-based access, financial and HRIS system integration, and access to Saba Learning Exchange, a global business-to-business marketplace..

*** SmartForce e-Learning provides a learning environment that integrates everything from career planning to Internet-delivered courseware, instructor-led workshops and mentoring. It leverages the web and immerses e-learners in a continuously updated learning environment with access to a variety of events and resources, including online seminars, mentoring, news, white papers and peer-to-peer collaboration. It also proves users with access to the company's library of IT titles, business and interpersonal skills offerings, and learning interventions from other vendors. User experience is personalized to interests, career objectives and job profiles.

Recently, SmartForce signed a multiyear agreement with Humana, a large managed healthcare organization, to provide e-Learning. The solution will include IT and related skills training for as many as 5,000 Humana employees.

Through MySmartForce.com, workers can access a multitude of e-Learning events including SmartCourses; 24/7 live, online SmartMentoring from certified professionals; skills assessment; business simulations; online discussion groups and other resources.

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