Canada ripe for e-learning

With thousands of miles separating many of its major cities and an often unforgiving climate gripping the country, Canada is well-suited to enjoy the benefits of electronic learning. And despite a deployment rate that hasn’t lived up to all analysts’ expectations, all signs point to the Great White North being one of the world’s most progressive adopters of this steadily growing technology infrastructure.

“In some sense, Canada is well-suited towards [e-learning],” says Greg Ambrose, program manager, e-learning and skills management, IDC Canada in Toronto. “Canada is a geographically dispersed country, so [corporations] are going to want to offer solutions that cut down on travel and can get information to the field as quickly as possible.”

IDC’s numbers, Ambrose points out, indicate an upward trend of e-learning adoption in Canada’s corporate environment. “Our latest forecasts predict strong growth over the next five years as the solutions become more robust and as the barriers to implementation come down and as the economy gains more momentum. All of that is working in its favour.” According to Brantz Myers, director of enterprise marketing for Cisco Systems Canada Ltd. In Toronto, Canada is on the advanced part of the curve in terms of worldwide deployment.

“Given the size of the country and the mean winters that we have, these are good tools for us,” he says. We also have good service provider networks to layer these sorts of advanced content-rich applications onto.”

Pieces of the puzzle

While e-learning can encompass anything from a CEO delivering a quarterly update speech to employees via videoconference to an entire university-level course being conducted over the Internet, a number of components typically make up most e-learning technology architectures. Advanced routers and switches, videoconferencing software and effective security measures are but a few of the elements involved in an e-learning environment.

However, one of the most important pieces to this pedagogical puzzle, as Myers points out, is the service provider network running outside the company’s confines. Recent improvement in this area has been one of the key factors in the growth of e-learning in Canada in recent years, Myers says.

“Things have changed in the last couple of years because broadband networks have really gotten a lot better. You can now get broadband at a good price in Canada to connect all your branches together.” In terms of what future e-learning innovations Cisco is working on, Myers says the development of a new video camera with the company’s new Call Manager capabilities is ongoing. Video will become more broadly available and easy to use as a result because it has the same directory service as the phone network, he says.

“(In the past), to set up a videoconference you had to have a separate directory. It was often the case that video calls weren’t even made because no one knew how to establish a link due to the directories being different….This new video camera…makes making a video call as easy as making a telephone call.”

Point of return

While Ambrose points out that the e-learning sector has enjoyed steady if moderate growth during the last few years where other application markets have not, the path to widespread adoption still has some boulders strewn across it. One of the biggest challenges for e-learning providers, he says, is answering prospective customers’ return on investment (ROI) concerns.

“(They’re saying:) ‘I’m going to spend this money, and how can I get as close to immediate results as possible? I’m not interested in something that’s going to help me three years from now.’”

Another corporate-world reality challenging e-learning providers, according to Ambrose, is related to the problem of getting approval from multiple departments throughout an organization to go ahead with a deployment. What might look like gold to one arm of the organization could appear to be dead weight to another.

“You have to have buy-in from different departments,” Ambrose says. “You have to have your IT department and your training department (on the same page), and they might have different perspectives on what is critical and how to go about it.”

Despite such obstacles to adoption, Ambrose says the benefits of e-learning are still clear to see.

“The basic benefits haven’t changed. You’re still ultimately going to save on training and will ultimately increase productivity.”

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.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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