Tom Graunke, e-learning industry pioneer and CEO of KnowledgeNet www.knowledgenet.com
, has applauded the merger of SkillSoft and SmartForce as an important catalyst for market expansion.
"While e-learning vendors continue to be fiercely competitive, I think that we should remember that the most important competition in the e-learning industry is not between vendors, but is rather between e-learning and classroom training," Graunke said. "According to IDC, the 2001 corporate training market worldwide is a $60 billion business today. Yet e-learning is only $2.4 billion, a mere 4% of the total market.
"My view is that the industry has been held back by too many vendors making overly-complex claims regarding their content, technology, and services -- claims that customers don't understand and don't care about. What's been overlooked in the rush to sell technology to enterprises and government institutions is that it's often non-technical people who are confronted with the task of sorting out the differences between a veritable alphabet soup of techie acronyms.
"And, when faced with confusion and too many choices, people often choose not to act. They wait and see. And the result manifests itself in a reluctance on the part of training managers to dabble in e-learning because its true benefits have been obscured by all the techno-babble and grand talk of unrealistic results. As an industry, we have been fighting ourselves with specmanship instead of fighting the real battle with proof that the best e-learning is better than classroom training in terms of results; better knowledge transfer, in less time, and at lower cost. KnowledgeNet has studies that prove this, but few other companies have invested the time and money to do the same."
Graunke suggests that the SmartForce/SkillSoft merger will create a content mega-store, a "WalMart of corporate e-learning. "For some people, breadth of content at a low price is the main buying criterion," Graunke added. "In which case, SmartForce/SkillSoft e-learning is a good solution. However, if the quality and results of the learning is the hot-button, then the right choice is a blended solution of best-of-breed e-learning, live classroom over the web, and technology that facilitates rapidly deployment.
"In either case, the delivery, scheduling, and tracking technology needs to be transparent, easy to turn on and off, and be as reliable and secure as the corporate network. And someone, not the customer, needs to be responsible for the whole system, not just his or her piece of the puzzle. Unfortunately the first wave of e-learning has earned a black eye with early adopters as being too hard to implement, too unreliable, and quite frankly, closer to web-based e-reading than to the vision of quality e-learning. It has over-promised and under-delivered, due in large part to the practical reality that technology vendors are software people, not training and development people.
"Our research, and our customers, tell us that they are ready for a second wave of e-learning - one that was created from the beginning with web-optimized delivery technology and web-friendly (low-bandwidth) audio, graphics, animation, and even video. The market is looking for e-learning that is engaging for the learner, and fast and easy to implement for the company.
"If the SmartForce/SkillSoft merger is consummated, it will simplify the buying process for corporations, and this will help the entire industry. And if the rest of us do our part to document the success of e-learning versus classroom training, make the learning itself more engaging, and improve the ease and speed of technology implementation, there is plenty of room for everyone to play in the same sand-box."