Today I caught up with my old pal Josh Bersin at a coffee shop in Oakland. Eighteen months ago, Josh went independent after healthy stints with IBM, Sybase, Arista, and Digital Think. You’ve probably seen the Bersin & Associates logo on the web, announcing the firm’s market research findings.
I asked Josh a few questions and jotted down his replies. Like the cool colors? Go here.
Jay: You talk with a lot of people in eLearning. Who’s calling you these days and what do they want to know?
Josh: “The market seems to fall into two broad categories. A surprisingly large number are people new to eLearning and they need help getting started.
They’ve purchased some courseware from SkillSoft or NetG, and they think they’re doing e-learning. Although it’s a good start, it’s just the first step. Once they expand, they struggle trying to figure out which LMS to buy, where to find specialized content, and how they should build content on their own. The second group is people who have built e-learning programs but are growing to do more. They ask us how to do blended learning, when to use simulations, how to manage development teams, what tools to buy, and how to optimize their LMS. This group is growing in size every day, but at least half our clients are still relatively new to the whole space.”
What’s new and important today?
“One hot trend is something we call Rapid eLearning. In the early days, (only a few years ago) developing eLearning was an elaborate, expensive, and time-consuming affair. We have found that e-learning programs fall into four natural categories – and two of these are what we call “informational” and “knowledge transfer.” For problems in these two categories it is not necessary to build elaborate, expensive courseware. It’s more appropriate to use Rapid eLearning to slash development time to a week or two.
Rapid eLearning is typically based on PowerPoint and uses audio and maybe one short assessment. You push a button and it is published to the web, in a trackable AICC format. A great tool set for this solutions is Macromedia Breeze – which is a complete “rapid e-learning tool.” Others which fall into this category are Webinar tools like Centra, Interwise, and Webex. In this model the SME can do much of the authoring, and the program can be built quickly and edited easily. Small is beautiful and simpler is better.”
What should people watch out for?
“People often say that Content is King, as if that’s the only tough nut to crack. We agree that it’s vital to have content that’s interesting and on the mark. But in our research we find that success requires much more. Content goes nowhere unless you have an entire program around it — (we call it “program management”). This means worrying about program launch, marketing, infrastructure, audience motivation, manager motivation, change management, and business process integration. These processes are unique in e-learning because of the scale and technology issues involved. We find that the total cost and investment in e-learning is probably only 20% content. A king is not much use if you don’t have the kingdom to go with him.”
You and Chris and Karen are busy as beavers. When we’ve met recently, customers are inundating you with calls. In contrast, with the recession I’ve found myself with open spaces on my dance card. I have “excess capacity” for promoting products and ideas. How are you positioning Bersin & Associates?
“Well the simple answer is that we focus on what works™. Our goal is to continuously identify, research, analyze, and communicate best practices. ”
“The eLearning world is evolving so rapidly that you won’t find best practices in a book. Books are obsolete the day they are published. We talk with practitioners all day. We’re all former practitioners ourselves. We find out about best practices from the people who are inventing them and we analyze the impact. Then we share what we’ve found.”
There’s still a lot of confusing and hand wringing over LMS. You’ve developed them. Any advice for buyers?
“Caveat emptor. LMS systems are complex – far more complex than order processing or financial systems. Why? Because training is a very custom application from company to company and problem to problem. As a result, LMS’s are riddled with features which most companies do not use.
It’s vital for both buyer and LMS vendor to understand the business requirements – meaning the specific application workflows which you need the LMS to enable. Because of the history of the vendors, the products are wildly different from one another. Some grew from a “for-profit” training background, some grew out of “assessment systems,” others grew from “classroom management systems,” and others grew up focused on “content management.” The list goes on. We advise buyers to think through the business applications they are solving (not just “publishing a course catalog”), consider the features and workflows that enable those applications and then come up with a short list of providers, three or four. If the vendors don’t have at least fifty customers, cut them. Walk through business process with them. Ask whether they can do this or that. Then get hands-on demos and see if the product does what you need.”
Help us understand some of the differences. What’s the DNA of the prime LMS vendors? Where are they coming from?
“Well I want to be fair and equitable here. Click2learn comes from a content development background; they’re strong in content management and deployment. Plateau is strong in certification and flexible technology architecture, this has been their focus. Saba was originally designed to deliver for-profit training, which by definition is not behind the firewall – and they have added features for corporate universities over time. Docent’s legacy is in the assessment area, and now are heavily focused on analytics and measurement. In our recent surveys we asked more than 5,000 people “what was the business issue that drove the purchase of the LMS” and for the first time the #1 answer was “centralizing information about all of our training so we can make decisions.” This means that one of the critical value propositions of the LMS is reporting and analytics – an area I am very focused on. Saba and Docent each have strong analytics, and this will become increasingly important over time.”
What advice do you have for eLearning practitioners?
“Don’t get too far ahead of the curve. We advise companies to use what’s tried and true. Let the other guys take the arrows from pioneering.”
“Figure out how to integrate live eLearning in a big way. Bandwidth is getting cheaper. If someone’s not doing in-house webinars, they’ve missed some low-hanging fruit.”
“Centralized training units must figure out how to provide exactly what their business units need and no more. Otherwise, they’ll hear the frequent refrain that ‘We’re not using any of this stuff. Let’s outsource the entire function.’”
30 Poppy Lane
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