Fads generate millions of devotees, deliver results for a short period and then suddenly fail, leaving fans dejected and disenchanted. The Atkins diet, boybands, even the dotcom bubble have all fallen by the wayside. Now it's the turn of e-learning.
In the late 1990s e-learning was the darling of the training market. Employees loved it for its flexibility, and finance directors loved it for its low cost. It was the perfect way to learn, suited everyone and had no obvious drawbacks.
The selling point was the ultimate flexibility offered by an online course. You could choose where and when you studied and learn at your own pace. Employers liked it because training could be squeezed into lunch breaks to make the best use of employees' time.
But are you really going to retain facts and figures crammed in between a half-eaten sandwich and a quick flick through a tabloid? And do you really want to wait for a year or more before you become certified?
Learning in the classroom in close contact with an instructor can offer real benefits. Humans are designed to learn from one another using both verbal and visual clues to process and retain new information. Discussions and Q&A sessions will often stoke up new insights into subjects and help students to grasp a new concept.
On the other side of the desk, instructors look for visual clues to confirm that students have understood what they've been taught. A wrinkled nose, a furrowed brow or a glazed expression can instantly indicate that further explanation on a topic is needed. It is not easy to detect a change in facial expression when you're looking at a dozen or more webcams on your screen.
Although e-learning often appears to be a cheap option, the total cost is greater than you might think.
First you need to factor in the number of paid hours spent out of the office and the time it takes to put the new skills into practice.
There is also no real incentive to complete e-learning courses quickly. IT managers have to wait far longer for their staff to be trained up on new technology, and in some cases, have to send them straight back out to retrain, because their skills have been outdated by the next wave of technology.
We decided to put this notion to the test and compared the costs involved with e-learning services with our own instructor-led courses. Our calculations show that the sums for e-learning simply do not add up. All it takes is basic maths to show that virtual training courses provide little return on investment for IT professionals.
For example, one of the many low-cost MCSE online courses advertised on the internet charges £1,359.15. The course takes a year to complete.
On average, an IT support engineer who completes the course can expect his or her salary to jump from £16,000 to between £20,000 and £30,000 once they are certified.
But by spreading the training out over a year through an online course, the support engineer will have to wait 12 months to enjoy a pay rise. When this is factored in, together with the £840 cost of examinations, the true price of completing an online course, compared to an intensive classroom course, rises to over £10,000.
Robert Chapman is managing director of The Training Camp