Thursday, November 11, 2004

E-learning recovery predicted

Information Week is previewing a report due to be released by IDC next week which forecasts an upturn in the fortunes of "the e-learning industry". Without seeing the actual study it's hard to judge the conclusions, but quoted remarks from the analyst concerned make me suspect it's going to be another one of those annoyingly superficial studies that have characterized e-learning since day one.

According to the article the global market for corporate e-learning will grow 27 percent a year over the next four years. That means that the e-learning market will grow world-wide from an estimated $6.5 billion last year to over $21 billion by 2008.

According to IDC the main drivers of e-learning growth will be compliance training, particularly in areas such as Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA. You have to wonder where they get comments like that from. Surely the real growth in the worldwide market will take place outside of the US in those countries just now hitting the internet penetration levels the US was at a few years ago? And I don't see Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA being applicable outside American borders (unless IDC is privy to some secret invasion plans).

I have come to take forecasts such as this (as well as the market size estimates) with a pinch of salt. No two companies in the forecasting business have ever agreed on a definition of what e-learning is, let alone a definition of what "the industry" includes. Not long ago, forecasts for e-learning's growth included predicted growth in the sales of routers and internetworking hardware. It was John Chambers at Cisco who produced the nonsensical statement, much touted by e-learning systems vendors, that e-learning was going to be such a killer app it would make e-mail look like a rounding error. I guess it sold him a few more routers, though.

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