Making Business: Promoting eLearning in Enterprises
© Ari-Matti Auvinen
Senior Partner, Human Capital Investment Oy and HCI Productions Oy, Helsinki
Making Business: Promoting eLearning in Enterprises
(24th EUCEN Conference, Vienna University of Technology, 19 October 2002)
One of the expected trends in recent years has been the rapid growth of the eLearning market. However, many cases show that most market expectations have been by far over-optimistic. It is also obvious that the successful players in the eLearning business must have a number of various operational modes and thus various ”earning logics” – to be successful in the eLearning business requires several methods of earning. However, several different methods of earning also require a number of different competence areas of the eLearning providers.
In this paper I will examine the various opportunities for higher education institutions (HEIs) (HEIs in my definition include all the tertiary education: universities, polytechnics etc.) to ”make business” with eLearning especially with corporate customers. I will approach the issue based on my experience in three different roles, which are:
- a private learning solutions consultant – the work I have been undertaking since 1993 in various Finnish, European and U.S. companies
- a lecturer in a polytechnic teaching New Media Business and, in particular, a course on eLearning as business
- a eLearning platform provider – based on the work in our company providing an eLearning platform by ASP (Application Service Provision).
I will concentrate to discuss the various business opportunities (or ”earning opportunities, if you like) of the HEIs in eLearning and explore some critical choices.
Various models of the eLearning business for HEIs
One could claim that in the business of eLearning for HEIs at least the following opportunities exist:
- eLearning technology provider (provision of eLearning platforms and solutions)
- eLearning technology-service provider (provision of eLearning platforms and solutions by alternative methods – such as ASP)
- eLearning consultancy provider (provision of consultancy in the design and implementation of eLearning solutions)
- eLearning content provider (provision of content – courses, materials etc.)
- eLearning support provider (provision of teacher support, tutoring, mentoring, technical support).
As we are exploring the various opportunities for eLearning as a business, we should also remember the role of the HEIs. The market of eLearning is in most of the European countries first developing and thus it is even more important to enable the market to form to its healthy direction. It should also be stated that the eLearning market is dominantly a market of institutional players – the so-called ”business-to-consumers” market is still missing and it is likely that this consumer market of eLearning will first be attractive in financial terms in a decade.
My principal view is that HEIs should not ”cannibalize” the eLearning market. In practical terms this means that they should not compete in such markets in which there already exist other actors - at least not with subsidised prices. It means also that HEIs should concentrate on such markets in which they are both by their content provision as well as their service competence unique.
So what could the HEIs do themselves and where should they build partnerships? I will explore in more detail three different aspects which are:
- HEIs as providers of eLearning technologies and platforms
- HEIs as content providers
- HEIs as support providers.
HEIs as providers of eLearning technologies and platforms
The market of the eLearning technologies and platforms has been quickly growing. At the moment it is obvious that in eLearning platforms there is no single market leader (which could claim to have a market share over 10 % of the market, let alone the dominate the market). The various estimates of the numbers of the various eLearning platforms on the market vary, but a common guess in that there are 5000 – 7000 various eLearning platforms.
This is – of course – far to high a number. The basic requirements for a good, working eLearning platform do not legitimate such a number of various products –good eLearning platforms include nearly always same or similar features. Most of these platforms have one or a handful of customers and are not viable in the long run. However, most of them have been developed by educational institutions often with direct or indirect public support. Unfortunately the NIH syndrome (Not-Invented-Here) seems still to be dominating many eLearning projects and much effort is wasted in developing new platforms instead of concentrating on the content and support of the learners.
My suggestion is that the HEIs partner with commercial eLearning platform providers in their business activities. Most of the eLearning platforms on HEIs will never reach market maturity and thus it is not likely that corporate customers would by services, which would be based on marginal technological solutions. This is not to undermine the role of HEIs in research and development work regarding eLearning technologies and platforms. However, when delivering courses by the eLearning method, the natural division-of-labour would be that the HEIs would use to already existing platforms and concentrate on other functions.
HEIs as content providers
The one area in which the HEIs really have a strength is the content and the content provision. The HEIs have in this area huge advantages: the professional, qualified staff, the wide reservoirs of learning content in various formats, the reputation on the market etc.
In any area – also in eLearning – ”content is king”. The content of an eLearning course and material (in this case content includes not only the information and knowledge embedded in the course materials, but also the design of the course, routing of the students etc.) is the key success factor.
The earning by content has been a particularly difficult business in the whole Internet commerce and only few areas of content have been able to create at any point even reasonable revenue based on the content. Some HEIs have developed a strategy of free provision of the course content – the users would pay only for the credits (and thus exams), but the content per se would be free.
However, the content alone is not sufficient. Although the good, high-level content is the key and absolute prerequisite for successful eLearning business, the success requires also other elements, such as the provision of support and a service approach.
HEIs as support providers
There is a reasonable amount of research in distance education and also in eLearning showing that the real success of eLearning lies in the support functions. The support is understood in this context to cover not only ”content-driven, academic” support, but also study progress support, technical support etc.
The HEIs are well qualified in providing the ”content-driven, academic” support. In many cases the HEIs have also a good competence in study progress support, although it might be provided by other persons than the academic staff.
The eLearning Business is A Service Business
My experience leads me to judge that eLearning business is fundamentally a service business. Would the HEIs want to be successful in this business and serve the corporate world, they must take the comprehensive service approach. This is due to a number of reasons.