There’s no doubt that learning management is a growing market in certain areas of the globe, as well as within specific industries. And with more and more information available at our fingertips, many organizations are beginning to understand that adopting some type of learning platform, whether it’s classroom training, virtual classrooms, or a combination of the two (blended learning), is no longer a nicety, but a necessity for today’s learning workforce.
The availability of today's mobile and collaborative learning devices and tools, as well as the wider adoption of Web 2.0 technologies, is opening up a whole new world of opportunities for people to learn in an effective and efficient manner.
In this article, we will look at some statistics on the interest in learning management and learning management systems (LMS), as well as discuss three major trends in learning management for this coming year.
Learning Management Systems: TEC Statistics
Organizations and individuals that visit Technology Evaluation Centers’ [TEC’s] Evaluation Centers in search of information on learning management and related software provide us with a good indication of the level of interest in learning management and LMS solutions.
Using data from TEC’s Evaluation Centers, we compiled information about end-user trends (looking first at users by geographic location and then by industry). The percentages in the figures below were derived by taking the total number of end-user inquiries from each location or industry type and dividing that by the total number of users for a given year.
If we look at statistics over the past three years, we see a growing interest in learning management in specific geographic locations (such as Africa, Latin America/Caribbean) from 2009 to 2010, and more notably in North America (see figure 1). By the same token, in certain countries, interest in learning management has decreased since 2009 (including Europe, the Middle East, and Oceania). The percentages in the Asian region have not changed significantly (at least from 2009 to 2010).
Figure 1: Percentage of End Users Using TEC's Evaluation Centers by Geographical Location (2008–2010)
If we look at the end users by industry for the same timeframe, we can see that growing interest in learning management is more evident in the areas of manufacturing and other industries (e.g., life sciences, non-profit organizations, etc.), while learning management interest in the services industry (both financial and non-financial) has decreased over the past year (see figure 2).
Figure 2: Percentage of End Users Using TEC's Evaluation Centers by Industry (2008–2010)
Now let’s take a closer look at three specific trends surfacing for learning management. The following trends are based on market observation and not on TEC’s statistics.
Trend #1: Collaboration Tools
E-learning has been around for some time now (in its various iterations, including computer-supported collaborative learning [CSCL] and more recently E-learning 2.0), allowing users to learn via the Internet and collaborate with others—to a certain degree. However, today’s collaboration tools, such as Adobe ConnectNow, Google Docs, Facebook—to name a few—have expanded on the earlier e-learning concepts, enabling users to not only view spreadsheets and presentations, but also easily share project files, collaborate on documents, and more.
These tools can be leveraged for collaborative study with other employees or students. For example, students can set up a Facebook Group for a particular course and send it to everyone in their school's network, creating a virtual study group where students can log in, post their questions, and help each other find answers. This real-time collaboration provides a virtual world where learners engage in a common task and individuals are not only dependent on each other, but also accountable for their actions.
At the corporate level, this collective intelligence opens up a whole new world of learning possibilities. Not only can users connect and collaborate on a variety of topics, across many platforms, but they can also do this on a global playing field. Online learning–related discussions engage people from all over the world, dissipating geographical—and cultural—boundaries. With more companies expanding their operations across the globe, the need for collaborative learning tools is even greater. A global workforce, however, needs the support of global learning capabilities.
Trend #2: Learning through New Social Media Channels (aka Web 2.0)
Today’s global workforce can access the tremendous amount of available information through its ability to network, communicate, and learn via many different social media outlets. As more people look outside their own company’s training department to meet their professional learning needs—via social media, new services will inevitably emerge to meet the greater demand.
Web 2.0 is all about helping users participate more actively in their own online experiences. This is known today as “informal learning.” Users have vital knowledge to share and know that others have specific knowledge that they seek. We’ve all become accustomed to the terminology of business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C). It’s now time to realize the new concept of “learner-to-learner” (L2L). Today’s organizations are beginning to recognize the value of this two-way knowledge, as it is within the grasp of their own employees. They are also beginning to understand that the use of Web 2.0 technologies can help them unlock that value.
Micro-blogging and text messaging, conducting research, and analyzing trends are just a few of the things we can do today with this type of technology. The rapid access to data, available wherever and whenever questions arise, is certain to forever change our learning landscape and alter the way we solve problems.
One concern that organizations may have with this type of learning is that it’s difficult to gauge the return on investment (ROI) in Web 2.0 technologies. While businesses can track page views and click rates, it’s difficult to determine whether the information that was obtained had a positive or negative impact on its readers.
While some of today’s LMS vendors are offering Web 2.0 technologies, they’re often not as robust as power users would like them to be. With the availability of more social applications, computer program developers must learn a growing list of site-specific application program interfaces (APIs). Programs such as Google’s OpenSocial and OpenCourseWare (OCW), however, are helping vendors—and users—alleviate that need.
Trend #3: Mobile Learning Apps
Mobile learning (or m-learning as it is now called) focuses on the mobility of the learner—allowing him/her to interact with portable technologies and take in bite-size portions (called nuggets) of content, learning bits at a time. M-learning is convenient, as content is accessible from virtually anywhere. And the lightweight portability of the various available devices removes the need for learners to carry around books and notes.
Mobile devices can also be ideal for a blended-learning strategy, where chunks of learning objects (LOs) push new skills and knowledge to employees as needed, making training available without the need for an instructor, or even a wireless connection—for that matter. And many organizations that have adopted this type of learning strategy will agree that the ability of their employees to work from anywhere at any time via a mobile device helps increase their productivity.
M-learning, like e-learning, is also collaborative. Learners can easily share advice with or ask questions to others using the same content. This leads to instant feedback from peers, co-workers, managers, etc.
Today’s mobile devices, such as Blackberry and the iPhone, are becoming more readily available and affordable to the mainstream. This has led to a significant increase in the number of users looking to expand their knowledge. Google Apps for Education alone is used by more than 10 million students worldwide. With new mobile applications hitting the App Store daily, there’s an endless realm of learning content available for download.
Mobile users now expect a lot more functionality, increasing demand for mobile access to critical learning-related applications. LMS vendors too are recognizing this demand and beginning to deliver more learning applications for mobile devices to compete with their social network counterparts—e.g., the Apple App Store.
While some challenges with mobile computing still remain (see my article on Mobile Learning), the advent of new technologies has resolved many critical issues. Today, manufacturers of mobile devices are delivering broader feature sets with greater capabilities, while mobile network service providers are providing more support with enhanced performance.
See for Yourself
If you’d like to start your own research or do a comparison of the different learning management systems available on the market, use TEC Advisor’s Express Comparison. See what LMS vendors are offering and gain further insight into how learning management can help your company’s future growth.