April 25, 2014

The State of E-Learning in Australia in 2012

The State of E-Learning in Australia 2012Question from a client:

We’re an organisation of about 1000 people and we don’t have any e-learning. How far behind are we?

This question led me to think about a much larger question – the state of e-learning in Australian organisations in 2012. Now, before you read on, please be advised the following is my opinion, based on five years of consulting in Australia across about 80 clients. My experience is not exhaustive and my opinion will have inherent biases. But, here it is:

The divide between the e-learning ‘have’ and ‘have not’ is widening: Australian organisations who started in the early 2000′s tend to have a mature e-learning strategy, mature e-learning operations and the Chief Executive on side. Those who are just beginning are looking for agile, cost effective models. But these models are hard to find from reputable e-learning providers, or are prone to budget blow-out. While organisations with a mature  e-learning strategy are experimenting with new delivery modalities, those who are new to e-learning are getting ‘stuck’ with cumbersome Learning Management Systems and e-learning that costs a fortune to update or is such poor quality that it mares staff experiences of e-learning.

Systems before agility: E-Learning in Australia has been biased towards solving the auditing requirements of compliance training. Learning Management Systems for ‘just-in-case’ learning have taken preference over more agile and less expensive ‘just-in-time’ performance support platforms that support workplace learning and productivity improvement. This is a shame.

Lack of education opportunities for learning professionals: I don’t know of any diploma or degree that delivers education in e-learning design and management for organisational contexts i.e. not VET or tertiary learning design, but organisational-focused e-learning strategy and operations. The best ‘real’ development available for organisational trainers and learning professionals are workshops, conferences and coaching, but these don’t really satisfy the immersion into e-learning design and development required to become an expert. Fortunately, a few experts in organisational e-learning are consistently sharing their skills and opinions for others to learn from. One excellent example is Ryan Tracey and his blog E-Learning Provocateur. And, I hope our blogs and YouTube channel help too.

Lack of career e-learning experts: Learning and Development has long been plagued by transient staff who use their time in L&D as a springboard to management or marketing. Additionally, L&D budgets are vulnerable to cuts. It is very difficult to develop and nurture staff into long-term careers in e-learning. In fact, it is difficult to evolve e-learning position decriptions from operational tasks to strategic learning architecture. And then, when e-learning practitioners leave, so do their experience and lessons learned.

Lack of industry accountability: There are a couple of e-learning industry bodies in Australia, ElNet and the E-Learning Industry of Victoria. Within these bodies is leadership from a small group of e-learning providers, usually those in long-term relationships with organisations of a ’mature’ e-learning strategy, such as financial services and telecommunications. The differences in expertise, professionalism and quality of e-learning providers in Australia is huge, and many organisations who are new to e-learning are caught between not being able to afford the big providers, yet not knowing how to ensure quality from small providers.

I think the industry needs a voluntary Code of Practice that outlines guarantees in quality, confidentiality and copyright. A Code that welcomes collaboration between client and provider, and provides a process if the customer’s experience is not favourable. A Code whereby e-learning providers become a member based on merit, and which helps organisations choose providers of a minimum standard.

I’d be happy to debate this idea with anyone…

Is my client ‘far behind’?

I’d say the majority of organisations 400-1000 employees are just thinking about e-learning now. It is up to the e-learning industry to provide agile options to this client group, through cost-effective LMS, quality rapid authoring and providing clients with more than typical e-learning courseware options. Yes - video, webinar,  mobile apps and social media platforms should be part of the mix being offered or advised by providers. And, it is up to organisations to get educated, upskilled and smart about e-learning options. Use your networks and ask questions before committing to an e-learning strategy based on ‘best guess’.

Comments

  1. Many thanks for this excellent post Alison that sums up the challenges of eLearning within industry in Australia. I share exactly the same sentiments after having seen the evolution of learning within the workplace for major corporates but also within the eLearning industry itself after working for some years with Omni Asia Pacific Pty Ltd, a custom elearning courseware provider.

    I believe we’re going to continue to find organisations across the spectrum of learning solutions and it may also be dependent on how ‘open’ their IT systems are for implementing these solutions. Certainly when these systems like LMS came out in the market, only major organisations could afford them but nowadays, with open source this is going to change matters.

    Do you think the divider may not be cost in the future for implementing these solutions (as it was in the past) but how open the organisation is using the open source software and systems to create their own blend of customised learning centred around informal learning approaches?

    At the moment, organisations baulk at the idea of using social media for learning because of the IT firewalls, privacy and security implications but they can easily create their own learning through programs that are sitting on their laptop or computers today. I believe they equate Social Learning to ‘Twitter’ and ‘Facebook’ but social can also be a suite of learning assets created by programs that are currently sitting on their laptops and computers today and then shared on a central site like Sharepoint or Yammer (if they have it) to be discussed and collaborated on. This type of learning will then also provide a new challenge for eLearning companies who have to explain their value and benefit to the clients. I don’t believe that major organisations have yet to explore this new medium either so this too will be interesting for a debate on the future of L&D professionals within industry but also the potential squeeze for the provision of expensive customised eLearning courseware to industries.

    Thanks for your posts and your podcasts. I have used them for my own professional development and value them greatly. I respect that you have done so much for inspiring other people in the L&D field to learn and develop their skills in the industry.

    • Alison Bickford says:

      Hi Helen. Thank so much for taking he time to provide such a thoughful comment.

      Just in relation to open source for organisations, I’m not yet convinced open source is approporiate for many organisations. From the anaedotal stories I have heard, open source LMS are cheap, but the expense is in customising the platform for specific organisational requirements. Not only is this an ongoing cost, but it means when a new version of the platform is out, there is a big cost recreating the customisation in the new version. I’d be interested in whether you have seen this ongoing cost as an issue.
      As a comparison, you can pick up a proprietary enterprise LMS for, say 500 people, for under $20K a year, including training and maintenance.

      In relation to social media for learning, I agree with you that there are often enterprise options already available inside organisations. Sometimes it just takes someone to make the connection between the tool and the learning design or opportunity. I prefer enterprise social media solutions for organisational use. The issue of security of public social media platforms is real. Other enterprise options include Bloomfire, Yackstar and Brightcove (for video).

      Thank you for your feedback re the blogs and podcasts. I really appreciate it. It inspires me to continue.

  2. MissScriptID says:

    Alison I couldn’t agree more regarding a Code of Practice!

    As an ID out there in the world, and a contractor at that, I rely very heavily on word of mouth to verify my credibility (as you know!) I find it increasingly difficult to walk into a company cold with no previous introduction, particularly one that has been previously burned by an e-learning provider or a poor quality contractor.

    I’m all for a system that creates accountability within this industry. We can’t collectively and collaboratively raise the standard of e-learning in Australia if there isn’t an agreed benchmark in the first place.

    • Alison Bickford says:

      Hi Nic. Thanks so much for your comment. Let’s see who else is in agreement. Maybe together we can evolve the industry in Australia for the benefit of all.

  3. Great post Alison and many of these issues we have discussed within ElNet, especially around qualifications but also advocacy to Government and research on the depth of skills and knowledge in our sector. Just on ElNet we are a group of mostly independent Learning Consultants with some acadamic and enterprise L&D representation such as yourself – we have no allegiance nor “long-term relationships with organisations of a ’mature’ e-learning strategy, such as financial services and telecommunications.”

    Currently ElNet is partnering with Toward Maturity to collect data about the use of Learning Technologies with L&D sections of Australian enterprises. Each participant will get a free report with suggestions on improving their performance along with a measure to compare themselves with Enterprises across the world. The survey is free and is at http://elnet.com.au/index.php/benchmark

    Through my own consultancy I have begun to see RTOs adopting a more flexible approach to eLearning beyond the whole LMS front running to more flexible Web 2 systems backed by in-house rapid elearning and facilitation skills so there is a bit of hope there. I think a big part of the problem is the breadth of possiblity as to what elearning (or blended learning) can offer as well as the tecnhology it requires. Its hard to market such a diverse range of confusing options – often enterprises will buy it off the shelf with all that implies in terms of lack of engagement, learner isolation and lack of customisation to specific contexts. We are such a diverse sector.

    Part of the problem I see (and one that will be addressed slowly as we see some generational movement) is that enterprise staff often have no experience personally or professionally with elearning to further their own careers and so come to any implementation with no understanding of its possibilities apart from the notion of needing to stay competitive. As you mention there is little in the way of personal learning networks in our profession. We at ElNet run webinars on issues such as NBN, Instructional Design, Learning Transfer, Video in E-Learning and struggle to get a crowd. There just isnt the professional dedication to being part of a broader network of practitioners to learn from in the L&D sector as there might be with there core business. I am associated with a mentor program in Victoria with ACPET where we work with private RTOs to implement E-Learning. We don’t muck around with LMS – we start with rapid elearning and understanding blended learning. Then we decide what tools we require once we’ve designed the course and go and get them. We support them to design, develop and deliver an instance of elearning that helps thier business, compliance and sustainability. Understanding the networks out there to help them is crucial. We’ve helped around 120 RTOs over the past 9 years of this program.

    I’m not convinced on a voluntary code of conduct mostly as I have a few issues with:
    - who would oversee it (Certainly ElNet would be interested in being part of a consortium to define and review it)
    - how you audit it (A code of conduct needs credibility in terms of what to do with a signatory who breaches or who has breached in the past)
    - how you standardise the understanding of service is between the two parties (probably audit)

    I can however see how components of such a code might be useful for inlcusion in a MOU or service contract.

    Love to hear more about mechanics.

    cheers, Michael

    • Alison Bickford says:

      Hello Michael
      How kind of you to respond on a Sunday, and thank you for your valuable points. Perhaps if I spent more time being an active member of ElNet I would have known the issues I raised have been debated by the group. Just on the point of allegiance that my post appears to have suggested, my comment was simply to suggest that those e-learning providers who are servicing smaller organisations who are just starting out in e-learning may be under-represented in the leadership of industry groups. As you also suggest, the experiences and issues are vastly different between clients of larger ‘e-learning mature’ organisations and those just starting out.

      Towards Maturity has valuable whitepapers that are freely available to people who are interested – thank you for remining readers. What I would like to see more of are the “How do I’s” i.e. the practical advice that can help those new to e-learning to get up to speed in the process of engaging e-learning providers or building e-learning themselves.

      I really appreciate the approach you described re your experience with ACPET. I totally agree e-learning can come before LMS (see http://connectthinking.com.au/lms_or_elearning_first/), and often high quality rapid e-learning is the right decision – especially when the content is rapidly changing and our own understanding of learning design and how it fits as part of a ‘blend’ evolves.

      I’m delighted ElNet has thought through a Code of Practice/Conduct, and would think ElNet the obvious body to take this on. However, I can appreciate how much time is spent by ElNet volunteers just offering what you do. I do think it is possible to articulate such a standard – I think we have the language and experience now-adays to understand what happened when things go right, and what happened when things go wrong. All I want to ensure is that organisations with small budgets can find reputable providers that can work within the budget constraints and still provide quality…and can educate the client along the way.

      Thank you again, Michael. Alison

  4. Ryan Tracey says:

    Thanks for the shout out, Alison :0)

  5. Jo Richards says:

    HI Alison,

    I’m an ID with about 9 years experience in large organisations and I couldn’t agree more with the lack of education opportunities for learning professionals you mentioned. I find it hard to build my profile, experience and ePortfolio with the current opportunities available.

    If there were an organisational focused eLearning course (above the basics) available I would certainly sign on! Though blogs, discussion boards, articles, books, workshops, conferences and Industry bodies are great resources they have no meaning to potential employers.

    I am still lamenting the loss of the UTS Diploma of eLearning, facilitated by Anne Bartlett-Bragg, in 2007. While it didn’t have an organisational focus it was still by far the best course outline I have seen (and was a great experience despite it being culled in my first semester).

    Thanks for sharing your views on the state of E-Learning in Australia.

    Warm regards
    Jo

    • Alison Bickford says:

      Hi Jo

      Thanks so much for your comment. Yes, I did my MA (e-Learning) at UTS and am familiar with the diploma (and the wonderful Anne), and the diploma was a very practical and useful program. UTS stopped the e-learning specific MA as well, just when I finished. I understand one of the arguments was that the e-learning industry was mature enough to not require such specific courses, and most of the subjects were absorbed into other MAs. But, I think we still have a long way to go to reach maturity as an industry and in organisational learning as a whole.

      I’m really glad the organisation you work for has your experience to draw from. Thank you again for your comment & best wishes in your endeavours. Alison

  6. RebeccaOGM says:

    Hello,
    I’m a budding ID with 6 years experience in International Education and a PGCert in use of technology in education – online learning. I’m doing freelance work online but find it difficult to get relevant work here in Australia (I’m a Kiwi). Perhaps this is because of a benchmarking expectation.

    It seems a lot of organisations are looking for experience in specific areas or applications when I believe they should be looking at what they want to achieve before the tools to achieve it with. Perhaps expectations are misaligned.

    MissScriptID says she hardly ever walks cold into an organisation and a system of accountability could support the standards of elearning, perhaps the same kind of system could support people trying to get into the elearning system and businesses to find out what they want to achieve.

    I’m thinking of a framework that is open to change rather than set guidelines, as well all know how rapidly learning can change.

    Rebecca

    • Alison Bickford says:

      Hello Rebecca
      Thanks so much for your comment. It reminded me of my observations about blended learning. I find many learning professionals new to learning technologies find ‘blending’ a struggle because they focus on one technology they know instead of thinking abut the learning activity required to help the learner understand and embed the new knowledge/skill back into he workplace.
      Thanks again, Alison

  7. Jenny Yang says:

    Hi Alison,

    Thank you for a highly valuable article. A few of your comments from your blog I want to touch on:

    “The best ‘real’ development available for organisational trainers and learning professionals are workshops, conferences and coaching, but these don’t really satisfy the immersion into e-learning design and development required to become an expert.” and

    “I think the industry needs a voluntary Code of Practice that outlines guarantees in quality, confidentiality and copyright. A Code that welcomes collaboration between client and provider, and provides a process if the customer’s experience is not favourable. A Code whereby e-learning providers become a member based on merit, and which helps organisations choose providers of a minimum standard.”

    I am by no means claiming expertise on this topic, just my observations from exposure and having researched briefly around this topic. have just recently produced a e-Assessments in Tertiary Education conference due to be held on the 22nd &23rd August 2012 which looks at ensuring quality and redefining standards for assessments in e-Learning technologies for higher education. Part of the apprehension to adopt e-learning technologies that I have been told from practitioners, apart from the highly relevant barriers you highlighted in your article, is the lack of guidance, sharing and training around quality assurance for the measurement of learning outcomes from e-learning. Your suggestion toward a community code of practice would be a welcoming topic to explore at the conference amongst like-minded individuals at the conference as many of the speakers and delegates alike, are interested at establishing a community of practice and to foster network and conversation that will continue beyond the two-day conference.

    Further information can be found here http://flexibletertiaryeducation.com/ or feel free to contact me directly. I look forward to hearing from you and keep up the great work you’re doing.

    Best,
    Jenny

  8. Christopher Johnson says:

    Re Lack of education opportunities for learning professionals:

    The University of New England offer a post graduate course through OUA in eLearning.
    eLearning

    Curtin University of Technology Humanities Department have a BA and Master course in Internet Communications that will give anyone the skills in eLearning. I have this Degree and studied on line through OUA. The course teaches you content creations and Internet sociology. I am sure any one who wanting to get the skills required would find this qualifications valuable.

    OUA Internet Communications

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