For an industry that prides itself at being in the forefront of technology, the e-learning world is extremely conservative.


For many years it was reluctant to move on from ‘e-learning 1.0’ – indeed, some cynics might say that the advent of rapid authoring tools has enabled subject matter experts to re-invent and perpetuate ‘e-learning 1.0’ through brain dumps of ‘information’ and ‘lecture notes’, rather than let instructional designers produce more ‘creative’ e-learning materials.


There has been some reluctance to move away from talking about e-learning ‘courses’ and ‘programmes’ to the less prescriptive term, ‘e-learning materials’. Even though ‘granularisation’ of learning materials – into ‘learning objects’ – was possible several years ago, it was the advent of the latest versions of learning content management systems (LCMSs) and digital repositories (DRs) that have finally allowed not only the granularisation but also – importantly – the ‘de-siloisation’ of e-learning materials. These technologies allow anyone who is compiling any piece of e-learning – and that includes performance support materials – to draw any granularised piece of learning (a learning object) at random from a large database of learning objects and use/ re-use it in a different context.


Yet again, the e-learning world is in danger of letting its inherent conservatism hold back the development of its offerings.


E-learning guru Elliott Masie recently commented that ‘small, yet very significant changes have happened in the world of learning, collaboration and technology over the past year.’ He singled out the development of Skype in real time interaction, often internationally, and the ‘apps phenomenon’. He commented: “Last year, we would be talking about ordering a box of software. This year it was a simple click and download [to iPhones and Tablets] – for a new publication and for a photo editing app. I can’t wait for apps for the desktop, which are coming in few weeks. [These offer a] lower cost of ownership, higher rate of experimentation and continuous updates versus disruptive updates.”


Already there are Dale Carnegie training/ learning apps for mobile phones and UK producers such as Paul Wareing – formerly of Becta and now involved with Abel Learning – are beginning to build a portfolio of mobile learning apps. Meanwhile, mainstream ‘traditional’ e-learning content developers are still concentrating on e-learning courses and programmes.


Maybe the buyers of e-learning are similarly conservative in their preferences but, years ago, there was a view that the advent of e-learning allowed learners to take control of their own learning. The availability and flexibility of e-learning would empower people to learn what they wanted, as and when they wanted and where they wanted.


To some extent, this has happened but the arrival of mobile devices and, with them, apps are likely to have a radical effect on the e-learning industry, making yesterday’s dream (or, if you’re cynical, hype) reality.