A job like mine

A job like mine
E.learning Age, Mar 2008 by Carruth, Jenny

Each month e.learning age talks to people who are carving out a career in the industry. This month Jenny Carruth speaks to Jay Cross, CEO of Internet Time Group.

“I’ve been doing this for what seems to be forever,” said Jay Cross, when asked how he got into the e-learning industry. As the first person to have used the term “e-learning” on the web, his reply is pretty open-ended.

Nevertheless, the e-learning icon can pin-point the beginning of his career to the day in 1976 when a former colleague asked for his help with a client in need of an assessment of the market for a new service. The offering was to be an accredited university business degree programme designed for adults. Studies would take place after hours at the workplace.

Cross interviewed the major tech companies of Silicon Valley and banks of San Francisco and found they loved the idea. The client, the Institute for Professional Development, forerunner of the University of Phoenix, asked him to coordinate developing the curriculum. “I had a freshly minted Harvard MBA and was confident I could do just about anything,” says Cross. Working with both practitioners and college faculty, he developed fourhour workshops in finance, marketing, organisational behaviour, managerial economics, operations management, international business, accounting, and business law.

The programme was a runaway success. Bank of America, Fairchild, Ford Aerospace, Memorex, NASA, Atari, Stanford, McKesson, and others signed on. Cross had discovered that adults learn differently from children and became interested in instructional design. When the Institute moved to Arizona, becoming the University of Phoenix, for regulatory reasons, Cross chose to stay in San Francisco.

He joined a new venture developing training for commercial bank loan officers. In time, more than half of the hundred largest banks in the US signed on as customers.

“Then the web came on the scene. I fell in love. I foresaw a convergence of learning and networks that would change the world,” says Cross. His firm, along with most of the training community, had a different vision: interactive multimedia CD-ROM. Cross left that company to found Internet Time Group. As he developed his concept of web-enabled learning, he posted his findings on the internet. There weren’t many takers until CBT Systems, the largest and oldest provider of IT training CDs, became interested in online delivery. They searched the web for experts, and Cross was the only name they came up with.

Cross became an e-leaming evangelist, writing white papers and making presentations about elearning. He became CEO of the eLearning Forum and advised Smartforce, Cisco, and other e-learning pioneers. A blogger long before it was popular, Cross shared his ideas about what’s right and what’s wrong on his well-read Internet Time blog. When he and consultant Lance Dublin became frustrated with customers who had the mechanics of e-leaming but had no clue how to implement it, they wrote Implementing E-Leaming, which is still available on Amazon.

Five years ago, an influential white paper entitled Informal Learning – the Other 80% appeared on Internet Time blog. Most learning in corporations is informal; it results from conversations with colleagues, observation, trial-and-error, and asking questions. Surprisingly, corporations invest almost exclusively in formal learning: workshops and instructor-led classes. It’s as if they are putting their money where it will do the least good. Cross talked with more than a hundred organisations about this; his findings were published in the book Informal Learning, Rediscovering the Natural Pathways that Inspire Innovation and Performance.

Cross has become the authority on informal learning. He helps corporations take advantage of this “simpler, better, natural” way of learning. He works at the intersection of learning, performance, and Enterprise 2.0.


Jenny Carruth is a reporter on e.learning age.