According to research by analyst and consulting company Ovum Holway, the UK IT training market will grow by 6% by 2004, bringing its worth to £650m. However, the report shows that e-learning will only constitute 20% (£130m) of this, writes Ross Bentley.
Primarily depicted as a cost-saving tool for IT training, e-learning was also seen as a way to reduce the inflexibility associated with classroom training and the time spent away from the workplace. But the figures show that e-learning remains a complementary way of imparting information.
"E-learning refers to training that is delivered through electronic means - be it from a CD-Rom or from learning modules downloaded from the Web," says Jon Suttriss, director of market development at e-learning specialist NetG.
"E-learning has to be integrated as part of a company's training policy and used when appropriate," he says. "For example, if you were teaching someone how to use a Powerpoint package they could learn about the key facts from their PC, as well as how to use it. They could also carry out some self-test routines but when it came to practising how to use Powerpoint as part of a presentation this would more than likely take place in a classroom environment.
"Then, when the employee wanted to go back and recheck some details they could access the Web-based directory once more."
But doesn't training have to engender enthusiasm?
"It has to be engaging," acknowledges Suttriss. "Part of our on-going philosophy has been to combat the boredom factor. We have endeavoured to make our courses like a simulation of an actual task - a safe place to make a mistake."
He says that so far the subject areas delivered by e-learning have concentrated on IT skills such as supplier certifications and programming languages as well as people management skills.
"But," he says, "there is almost no limit to the type of courses that can be delivered via e-learning.
"While e-learning is still a relatively new concept, the generation who are now entering the workplace have been brought up using PCs. Completing all sorts of tasks via a workstation is second nature to them."
Suttriss says the approach an organisation should take to introducing e-learning is the same as if it was adopting a new technology or business process.
"A company looking at e-learning should be crystal clear about what it is trying to achieve," he continues. "There should be buy-in from senior management as well as end-users - both should be kept informed about what is being done.
"It should not come as a sudden change to a company but should start off with a pilot scheme. You have to give e-learning a chance to establish itself in the culture of a company so that people slowly but surely get used to learning in this way.
It is also important to assess its success at regular points in the proceedings and get feedback from those involved," he says.
Suttriss says that ultimately he hopes e-learning will be seen as a part of everyday worklife. For example, someone who might be going into an appraisal he could quickly look up some details that may help; or someone working with Cisco routers could call up the specifications and use e-learning as a collaborative tool.
"We are already looking at the idea of incorporating handheld devices with e-learning so that people have vital information at their fingertips as they move around the workplace. In this respect e-learning and knowledge management can be seen as two sides of the same thing," he concludes.