Surveying the future of workplace e-learning
the rise of blending, interactivity, and authentic learning

By Kyong-Jee Kim, Curtis J. Bonk, TingTing Zeng / June 2005

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E-learning is becoming a dominant delivery method in workplace-learning settings across organizations of various sectors and of varying sizes. Although many organizations are recognizing the potential of e-learning to bring learning closer to employees, there appears to be some issues to be addressed in delivering e-learning. Learners still face some barriers to e-learning, such as situational, organizational, and technical barriers (Mungania, 2003). Managers are also concerned about cost and technology requirements for implementing e-learning (Ellis, 2004). Moreover, there is a plethora of emerging technologies that have implications for workplace learning. Clearly, e-learning presents training professionals with both potentials and challenges, thereby creating a perfect e-storm with countless emerging technologies, enormous learner demand for training when needed, and ever present erased or significantly reduced budgets (Bonk, 2004) through which one has to navigate to deliver e-learning that truly impacts our work and lives. To effectively navigate through this monsoon of e-learning, an understanding of the current state and the future directions of e-learning is warranted.

To this intent, a survey was conducted of training professionals (e.g., chief learning officers, training managers, trainers/instructors, and e-learning developers) on the current status and future trends of e-learning in workplace learning settings. These survey participants belonged to various types of organizations in the United States, including government, business, and not-for-profit organizations. This 49-item survey was completed by 239 individuals most of whom were active in e-learning conferences or knowledgeable of the e-learning field. This survey took place in January and February, 2004 using SurveyShare, a Web-based survey tool.

In terms of respondent demographics, 67 percent of the respondents to our survey were males. The respondents were employed in organizations of various sizes; for instance, 62 percent of the respondents worked in organizations with fewer than 5,000 employees and 25 percent worked in organizations employing fewer than 100 people. Respondents also varied in their industry types, including communication, consulting, health, IT, government, and non-profit organizations. In terms of the respondents' job functions, about 20 percent were executives (e.g., CEOs, chief technology officers, and presidents) and about 22 percent were at the management level (e.g., e-learning managers, HR managers, or training managers). In addition, 15 percent of the respondents were instructional designers, performance technologists, or trainers/instructors. As indicated above, the survey respondents were highly active in e-learning; 68 percent of those surveyed responded that they attended an e-learning or training conference during the past 24 months.

Findings from the Survey Study

The survey asked 49 questions about the current status of e-learning in respondent organizations as well as their predictions on future directions of e-learning. In the sections below are some findings from this survey study.

Respondents' Perceptions of E-learning
A large majority of respondents of this survey study indicated that they had a positive outlook on the future of e-learning. About 90 percent of the respondents described themselves as being supportive of or optimistic about e-learning. Also, they currently embraced e-learning or blended learning (e.g., typically viewed as a combination of face-to-face and online instruction, though some definitions discuss the combination of technologies or instructional methodologies) to a varying degree; over 80 percent of those surveyed responded that they were using e-learning or blended learning to train their employees. Interestingly, there were additional indicators that the respondents' organizations were making investments in e-learning. For instance, a majority of the respondents indicated that in 2003 their organization spent between one and 60 percent of their total training budget on e-learning. Moreover, 60 percent of those surveyed responded that their organization had a strategic plan for e-learning. When projecting the impact of e-learning by the year 2025, a majority of the respondents predicted that e-learning would have a positive impact on learners in many ways.

Future Growth of E-learning and Blended Learning An earlier survey on workplace learning by the first author (Bonk, 2002) found that most respondents' organizations still relied on conventional, instructor-led training. Our current survey shows that e-learning has become an increasingly important delivery format and may even dominate training in the near future. In fact, 25 percent of the respondents to this survey indicated that in 2004 e-learning was already the dominant form of training in their organization, while another 50 percent predicted that e-learning would become the dominant form of training within their organization by 2010 (see Figure 1).

Interestingly, more than 30 percent of the respondents predicted that their organizations would focus most on the creation of e-learning content in the next few years. Additionally, more than twenty percent of the respondents felt that their organization would primarily focus on the delivery of e-learning and another 13 percent suggested that the focus would be the evaluation of e-learning outcomes, as shown in Figure 2.

Our survey results also project future trends in the delivery method for workplace learning. Respondents predicted that blended learning would become the dominant delivery method in their organization in the next few years, followed by self-paced e-learning, instructor-led classroom learning, and multimedia. More than half of the respondents predicted that the use of blended learning within in their organization will increase in the coming decade (see Figure 3). Another interesting survey result was that not all corporate training has moved to the Web. A vast majority of those surveyed responded that less than 40 percent of their organization's training budgets were spent in e-learning, possibly suggesting the vibrancy of blended learning as well as traditional classroom learning in the present and in the foreseeable future.

Future of Online Trainers/Instructors

Online instructors play roles that are significantly different from those in traditional classroom settings. How will the roles of online trainers/instructors change in the future? Respondents of this survey predicted that among e-learning job areas, the course designer/developer role would grow the most during the coming decade, followed by online mentor/coach, e-learning manger/director, and e-learning trainer/instructor. Also, more than half of the respondents predicted that the typical online trainer/instructor would receive extensive internal or external training in order to teach online. In terms of skills required by online trainers/instructors, a majority of the respondents predicted that by 2010, online facilitating or moderating would be the most vital skill for online trainers/instructors, followed by online mentoring, lecturing, and evaluating or assessing skills.

Quality of Future E-learning In order for e-learning to thrive, there needs to be an online learning environment that builds success for learners (Hofmann, 2003). Yet, 70 percent of those surveyed responded that current e-learning courses were not as engaging or motivating as face-to-face courses. Similarly, almost 20 percent of the respondents said that boring, low-quality content was the most significant e-learning issue that must be addressed during the next few years. These findings illustrate the need to design more engaging e-learning in order to create a more successful learning environment for online learners. What aspect of the learning process needs to be focused on to improve success for online learners? Those surveyed thought that online learners' achievement and satisfaction needed to be evaluated better, followed by clearer reward systems and incentives for e-learning completion, and training that helps learners self-regulate their learning.

Future E-learning Technologies and Instructional Strategies There is a plethora of technologies that can be used in e-learning; therefore, it is important to think about what is ahead. The respondents predicted that knowledge management tools, online simulations, wireless technologies, and reusable content objects would impact the delivery of e-learning most greatly during the next few years (see Figure 4). Such results seem to indicate that e-learning can impact human learning and performance by providing learners with more engaging learning experiences, just-in-time learning, and performance support. Advancements of e-learning technologies such as mobile, wireless, and wearable technologies may further enhance such possibilities.

When asked about instructional approaches or strategies for e-learning in training settings, respondents answered that authentic cases and scenario learning, simulations or gaming, virtual team collaboration and problem solving, and problem-based learning would be used more widely in the coming decade (see Table 1). Our survey respondents were also asked how future advances in Internet technologies (e.g., extended bandwidth, wireless Internet) could affect instructional strategies for e-learning. Not too surprisingly, they predicted that use of interactive simulations would increase the most during the coming decade due to advances in Internet technologies, followed by multimedia presentations, authentic learning experiences, and global collaboration and perspective-sharing. Of course, respondents felt that effective and authentic content must be created, then delivered and finally evaluated.

Conclusions

It is clear that e-learning and blended forms of e-learning are on the rise in corporate training environments. Also obvious is that there is a growing demand for more authentic learning opportunities and simulated experiences which e-learning can provide. Fortunately, the web can bring the teaming, collaboration, problem solving, and coaching or mentoring that is required by all firms competing in the twenty-first century. To respond promptly with these changing times, there is a tilting of training toward using online technologies, at least as a supplement to face-to-face training.

References

1. Bonk, C. J. (2002). Online training in an online world. Bloomington, IN: CourseShare.com.

2. Bonk, C. J. (2004). The perfect e-storm: Emerging technologies, enhanced pedagogy, enormous learner demand, and erased budgets. London, UK: The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education.

3. Ellis, R. (2004, November). Learning Circuits e-learning trends 2004. Learning Circuits.

4. Hofmann, J. (2003, July 7). Building success for e-learners. Learning Circuits.

5. Mungania, P. (2003). The seven e-learning barriers facing employees. Retrieved November 18, 2004, from http://www.masie.com/researchgrants/2003/Mungania_Exec_Summary.pdf

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