Rapid ascent, rapid fall

Four years ago at Online Learning 99 in L.A., on my signal, Gloria Gery announced that CBT Systems was changing its name to SmartForce, the eLearning Company. We put up new logos up in CBTs 10x10 booth and distributed bushels of brochures.

At Online Learning 2000 and 2001, SmartForce had a 20x20 booth manned by swarms of sales people. One year we invited everyone to a Little Richard concert. Worlds Largest eLearning Company, read the banners.

At Online Learning 2002, the 20x20 booth was a deeper shade of red, and the logo had changed from SmartForce to SkillSoft. SmartForce stumbled in a down market, SkillSoft purchased the firm, headquarters moved from California to New Hampshire, and most of the management team was invited to walk the plank.

This year at Online Learning 2003, things had come full circle. SkillSoft had a 10x10 booth with one person on duty. Former SmartForce competitors like Element K, NETg, and Digital Think were nowhere to be seen.

Posted by Jay Cross at September 24, 2003 03:49 PM | TrackBack

This is certainly representative of what I saw as well, but I'm wondering how much of the decreased presence across the board was due instead to the announcement that there would now be two shows a year (one east coast, one west coast). Could also have been the result of a decision to go to TechLearn's new expo instead of OLL. Would love to hear any vendors verify or deny these hunches. I do know that ElementK and NETg are doing just fine, although I was expecting to see them there.

Posted by: Chris at September 25, 2003 01:56 PM

As a "vendor" of e-learning services, my company (MindRise) used to exhibit at all the prominent conferences. One of the reasons for exhibiting (often given by regular exhibitors) was that having a "presence" was somehow important, and if you failed to put up a booth potential customers and competitors might think you had gone out of business. Not good for credibility.

But the commercial reality was that as the shows got bigger, their productivity in terms of actual business done did not. In the early days of e-learning, senior decision-makers would attend to get up to speed on new approaches and strategic opportunities, but later trade shows became orientation grounds for lower level staff. Trade shows were, for us, just a poor vehicle for marketing the company compared with other alternatives. Then we just decided to stop doing expos altogether, and direct that budget elsewhere. I still do the occasional platform gig, and enjoy any related networking, but have no delusions that I am engaging in a serious marketing activity.

Our industry is not like, say, the motor industry or the electronic games industry, where in-your-face competitors vie to get attention for the latest cool stuff. Innovation and improvement is a lot more ephemeral and conceptual in the learning world. It often takes time and focus and grounding to "get" the difference between one vendor's approach and anothers. Progress or differential advantage is not easy to show off in a booth because it is not visual. The medium is inappropriate, and the audience is not ideal.

Posted by: Godfrey Parkin at September 25, 2003 04:03 PM

Chris, as a five-year veteran of both TechLearn and Online Learning, I am confident in saying that TechLearn's expo will hurt, not help, its attendance. The cognoscenti expect Elliott to withdraw from TechLearn as his non-compete agreement with Advanstar expires. Rumor says TechLearn will ditch Disneyworld after their five-year contract with the Coronado Hotel expires this year. Most expect him to be reborn with a new gig soon thereafter; it would not be the first time.

I concur with Godfrey's take on the lifecycle of eLearning conferences. It seems to me that the conversation is moving on, heading to vertical conferences (e.g. pharma, government) and tech specialty events (e.g. web services, XML, enterprise apps).

That said, what's old hat to some is new to others. Change is not evenly distributed. Some participants at Online Learning talked with serious prospects about LMS buys and contract development work. No one is predicting that technology-assisted learning is going away. Rather, it may pop up with a new name.

Posted by: Jay at September 25, 2003 10:39 PM

i like it

Posted by: download paris hilton at June 28, 2004 11:54 PM

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