labels: nasscom, it features
E-learning: the acorn begins to grow news
K C Meera
03 December 2002
Mumbai: When Sir Isaac Pitman invented distance learning in 1840, he could not have imagined that it would evolve into something called e-learning. The ‘e’ of ‘electronic’ had not been invented yet. Thomas Alva Edison came closer when he predicted in 1922 that movies would replace textbooks and perhaps teachers in the classroom.

 

 



 

Thomas Alva Edison predicted in 1922 that movies would replace textbooks and perhaps teachers in the classroom.

What is e-learning? A straight-forward definition by Mark Rosenberg, author of e-learning: "E-learning includes the use of a variety of media and techniques for learning, including text, sound, graphics, photography, animation, video, email, discussion forums, chat rooms, virtual meetings or tutorials, simulations and much more."

Although e-learning includes forms like desktop video conferencing and distance learning via broadband transmission, the most popular types are computer-based training, or CBT, where students sit on a computer and use a CD-ROM, information stored on a network, or the Internet.

In all these cases, CBT tutorials are carefully prepared, keeping learning standards in mind. This type of e-learning is ideal for corporate training. Research firm International Data Corporation believes that in the next three to five years more than half of all corporate training is likely to be delivered via technology. It is easy to see why companies have taken to CBT in such a big way:

  • CBT is standardised.
  • Employees can learn at their own pace.
  • Saves money and time.
  • It is easy for supervisors to check whether learning has actually happened.
  • Employees are usually computer-literate and mature enough to learn without the prompting that younger students are likely to need.

E-learning is not just an exciting new way to learn - it''s big business. The worldwide IT education and training market is estimated to reach $28.6 billion by 2006, according to IDC. Over the same period, the US corporate business skills training market is estimated to reach $18.3 billion.

A large proportion of these markets is expected to go to e-learning. According to research firm Gartner, e-learning is on the agenda for nearly every enterprise in the US. IBM and Microsoft, for example, are even launching workplace-based learning programmes that allow their employees to gain degrees.

Where does India fit into this paradigm? A recent IDC report said the countries that will lead the e-learning industry in the Asia/Pacific are Australia, Korea, China and Singapore. India is not in the list. However, this may change, as India is really a no-brainer when it comes to outsourcing e-learning projects. With a highly educated workforce, strong in English, India is a natural choice for e-learning projects.

"In India we run up against a price point, because Indian companies rarely have training budgets, and e-learning hasn''t been absorbed into the Indian corporate culture." Maurice Haeems, President and CEO, Mentorix

In e-learning, language is in focus, which is why countries like China will have a struggle catching up, because of their lack of English literacy. Maurice Haeems, president and CEO of e-learning firm Mentorix says, "India has a huge talent pool of highly educated people, who are extremely adaptable and learn quickly, mainly because of the focus on education in India."

In India e-learning has been rather low key, till now. Tata Interactive Services is the most venerable company in the field, with one decade, 500 projects and over 200 clients to its credit, including publishers such as McGraw-Hill and Pearson, and leading companies such as American Airlines, Barclays, British Petroleum, British Telecom, Citibank, Deutsche Bank, Ford and Unilever.

IDC believes that in the next three to five years more than half of all corporate training is likely to be delivered via technology.

Computer education leader NIIT launched NetVarsity.com as early as 1996, when the Internet was only beginning to grow in India. In 2000, it launched NetVarsity.com globally. In the same year, the group hived off a fully owned subsidiary, NIIT Online Learning Ltd. NIIT Online mainly focuses on Web-based training.

Recently several new players have entered the market, the foremost among them being Mentorix, which has expanded to a 500-person operation within a matter of 18 months. Mentorix has more than 100 clients worldwide, has completed over 200 projects and has over 1,100 person-years of expertise.

Mentorix has recruited 300 people in the course of the past few months and is in the process of recruiting 200 more, taking the lead in making e-learning a new career option for educated Indians.

The total market in India employs more than 10,000 persons, according to industry insiders, with NIIT, Tata Interactive and Mentorix having the lion''s share. Several smaller organisations throng the market with smaller numbers. Insiders say the industry could easily go to 3,00,000 employees in ten years.

Analysts see bright figures

In India, the e-learning market is estimated to grow at 20 per cent compound annual growth rate (CAGR), and to be worth approximately $ 4 million - IDC

The worldwide IT education and training market will reach $28.6 billion by 2006, increasing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.1 per cent. - IDC

Over the same period, the US corporate business skills training market will grow at 13.3 per cent CAGR, reaching $18.3 billion by 2006. - IDC

Twenty four per cent of US organisations are now using e-learning to train their employees - E-marketer

In the United States, the number of corporate e-learning clients is 9.5-10 million and growing. - Washington Post

By 2005, over 27 per cent of business skills training in Europe will be via e-learning, which would entail a CAGR of 108.2 per cent for the European market alone. - IDC

Corporate e-learning content in the US will grow at nearly 37 per cent CAGR for the period 2001-2006. - IDC

The Asia/Pacific (excluding Japan) corporate e-learning market is expected to be worth almost $233 million by 2005, growing at a CAGR of 25 per cent. - IDC

The main categories of options are: writers, who are employed using a copy test, and need literary and writing skills; designers, who have to be Commerce Arts graduates with knowledge of graphic applications like Photoshop; and integrators, who are programmers with knowledge of HTML, Flash, and 3D Max. The pay is slightly above industry standards. Experience in instructional design is not asked for right now, since it is still a new field.

The process of making CBT courses involves three groups working together. Writers do the detailed script, which is called a storyboard. The visualiser decides on the look-and-feel of the whole course. Graphic designers, illustrators and animators bring the visualiser''s concept to life. Integrators merge the graphic elements with the content to make the final product.

Maurice Haeems of Mentorix says, "The average courseware package takes 6-8 weeks to produce, with 25-30 people involved. But more complicated packages can take longer, even up to one year, and employing far more people."

Most e-learning firms, including Tata Interactive, NIIT and Mentorix, follow the e-learning standards set by the Advanced Distributive Learning Initiative, an initiative started by the United States'' Department of Defense to develop e-learning standardisation. The ADL initiative defined high-level requirements for learning content, such as content reusability, accessibility, durability and inter-operability to leverage existing practices.

In January 2000, ADL released the first version of the Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM), which has become a standard of reference for all e-learning content.

In e-learning, language is in focus, which is why countries like China will have a struggle catching up, because of their lack of English literacy.

Much of the market for e-learning is in the United States, which heads the field in corporate training. In India, the e-learning companies face an uphill task, since the same paradigm does not apply here. Indian employees come in for training in their off-hours without being paid overtime, unlike Americans. Training itself is not looked at very seriously, and most learning is “on the job”, which makes it extremely non-standard, with some employees managing to learn and others lagging behind.

According to Mr Haeems of Mentorix, "In India we run up against a price point, because Indian companies rarely have training budgets, and e-learning hasn''t been absorbed into the Indian corporate culture."

Despite this, in India the e-learning market is estimated to grow at 20 per cent CAGR, and to be worth $ 4 million, according to IDC.

An indicator of its size is likely to come from the success of "Vidyakash-2002", global conference on online learning to be hosted by National Centre for Software Technology from December 15-17 at Mumbai.

The e-learning market is wide open now, allowing smaller teams to compete, but with the ripening of the market, size could become an issue. A more mature market could see a shakeout, with smaller players being bought over by the bigger players, for their readymade talent and client lists.

Mentorix has recruited 300 people in the course of the past few months and is in the process of recruiting 200 more, taking the lead in making e-learning a new career option for educated Indians.

Another component of e-learning is application development for schools and corporates, which involves hard-core programming.

Mentorix is producing a learning management system called Mercury, an off-the-shelf product for schools, which keeps track of students’ progress and even their leaves and payment of fees.

With the sheer size of the market worldwide and India becoming such a popular destination for outsourcing, e-learning could well become a huge industry in India soon.


 search domain-b
  go
 
E-learning: the acorn begins to grow