E-learning passes test

In the late 1990s, when it started to become apparent just how prevalent Internet Protocol (IP) was going to be in the typical enterprise network, enthusiasm abounded over what kind of impact IP-enabled applications would have.

Perhaps the biggest enthusiasm was reserved for electronic learning applications. Through IP, content-rich features such as video traffic and robust presentation materials could be delivered worldwide to employees’ desktops. An obvious advantage was the newfound ability to conduct learning seminars in a virtual manner, which would cut down on training and travel expenses.

Looking back at that time, it’s easy to see that such grand visions for e-learning have not been fully realized. The concept, however, is one whose growth has not abated and is indeed transforming a key component in the life of an enterprise.

The growth of e-learning was stunted primarily by — surprise, surprise — the downturn in the IT economy that began to set in shortly after the hoopla around the Year 2000 crisis evaporated. Funds for core equipment upgrades suddenly dried up in most IT shops; the drought was even more acute for fancy e-learning equipment such as videoconferencing gear which carried no guarantee of that nagging little detail known as Return on Investment (ROI).

In the face of such a frosty economic climate, the inroads that e-learning has made actually constitute a success story. The fortunate aspect for vendors selling e-learning wares is that a good number of large enterprises are making the leap to IP infrastructures.

For many, the cost savings involved with such a switch, coupled with the chance to replace their aging networking and telecom gear, makes the IP transition a no-brainer. E-learning, along with other nifty IP-based apps, often piggybacks its way along with such deployments.

Looking further out, one of the bigger challenges for e-learning equipment vendors will be what to do once the low-lying fruit is picked. One obvious target right now for such wares is the post-secondary educational sector, whose institutions are able to more cost-effectively offer courses by way of the Internet and also offer new courses that can conceivably attract more students. Another is large corporations which have deployed IP networks and are eager to find ways of better training staff located in offices scattered around the country or the globe.

Selling to smaller businesses, where employees are not dispersed and education is often carried out in a haphazard, one-on-one manner, will prove more difficult.

Nevertheless, the market for e-learning deployments looks healthy for the next five years at least, during which time the technology will most likely continue its steady if unspectacular growth.

For more information on e-learning including a primer plus more articles, case studies, white papers, industry links and more, be sure to visit our currently featured e-learning Spotlight.