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Online Learning 2001
September 29 - October 3
Los Angeles


In light of the World Trade Center catastrophe, VNU, the Conference host, had considered calling off Online Learning 2001 entirely. I’m glad they didn’t. On balance, I got more than my money’s worth.

At times the aisles of the Expo were nearly empty. Less that half of the participants expected showed up. This was not all bad – conversations were less frenzied and more meaningful than in the circus atmosphere of past years. Those who did come had a reason to do so and were better prospects. Many vendors had time to find out about one another, and I expect some new eLearning babies will be born as a result.

"What we learned from Online Learning 2001" is the topic of the October 15 meeting of the eLearning Forum.

L.A. Convention Center

Empty aisles

The main message I took away from Brandon Hall’s remarks at the State of the Industry keynote was that not much has changed. “eLearning has arrived.” “Vendors are consolidating.” “Customer satisfaction matters.” Military-style instructional design is dead. Wow. I thought these horses were out of the barn last year.

Brandon noted that eLearning could now deliver CD-quality programming. Unfortunately, he followed this with a sample of a Home Depot training event that featured dorky cartoon characters.

Brandon & Home Depot sim

Traditional eLearning


Broad, theory

Deep, nuances

Learning what

Learning when

Easy metrics

Difficult metrics

Fat pipes

Fast machines



Close to standards

Standards nowhere near

Clark Aldrich described emerging forms of eLearning content. In the old days, most eLearning was extended lecture (sync) or extended books (async). In the future, we’ll see more extended community, where all are authors but quality is iffy; extended access to experts, which is immediate and deep; imbedded help; and simulations. (Here's his PowerPoint.)

As you may be aware, Clark left his role as Gartner Group’s eLearning analyst to found a company to build a new order of simulations. Some people in the audience complained that his keynote was too much an advertisement for his venture; I saw a true believer trying to make big changes. (His first product is about a month away from release.)

Clark and I talked for an hour the next morning, and I'm convinced he's onto something big, I'll be writing more about this in the future.

Strange but true: Bill Clinton and I were born in the same room in Julia Chester Hospital in Hope, Arkansas. He lived a block and a half away. No, we never met.

President Clinton filled the hall Monday night for a talk keyed to global interdependence.

Our war with bin Laden is for hearts and minds. For them to win, we have to give them permission. We won’t give them permission (tumultuous applause).

The Taliban are creating a repressive, sexist, fanatic world. People want to leave there and come here. Theirs is a dismal existence. He advised everyone to see the movie Behind the Veil for a glimpse.

Sun Microsystems tossed its hat in the eLearning ring with a large booth, a loud magician, an in-your-face attitude, and contagious enthusiasm. Sun’s feistiness will certainly enliven the marketplace. The magician joked about Intel’s forthcoming “Pretendium Chip” and Microsoft’s blue screen of death. To demonstrate Dynamic Reconfiguration, he divided a comely Sun lass into nine pieces (I wish I knew how he did that one).

Sun’s LMS entry is “Learntone” – it’s always there when you need it. It has the newest buzz-phrase, three-tier architecture.

Presentation layer

Business logic


Let Sun help you escape from that other company's straight jacket.

Ellen & Cushing

IDC's Ellen Julian and Cushing Anderson on the Sun stage, presenting their white paper on Sun.

  Maybe it goes along with the seriousness of the new eLearning mantra of being businesslike, but the vendors were handing out far fewer gimcracks than last year. I am flying home without a new supply of flashing rubber balls, Frisbees, magic tricks, and stuffed animals.
Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, delivered the closing keynote on “social epidemics.” If you read the book, you already know about mavens, those rare people with gigantic personal networks. Mavens make word-of-mouth memes viable. Gladwell is a funny, authentic speaker. He told me he’ll be writing another book soon but on a new topic: no Chicken Soup for the Tipping Point series.
Some eLearning companies have the lifespan of a butterfly. Two years ago, at Online Learning 1999, I remember giving Gloria Gery the signal to announce that CBT Systems was at that very moment morphing into SmartForce, the eLearning Company. “eLearning” was still an unfamiliar term. In the two intervening years, hundreds of companies have hopped on the eLearning bandwagon. Some have crashed and burned. Several big-name players lack the cash to make it to Christmas.

Today's survivors.

When I saw usability guru Jakob Nielsen walking across the lobby, I couldn’t resist. (Jakob is a favorite whipping boy at Internet Time Group; check this parody.) I asked his opinion of eLearning usability.

Jakob feels eLearning developers don’t accept the limits of current media and are not taking advantage of what they could do. He was appalled by the lack of progress incorporating multimedia into eLearning. I told him this was a surprise, for I’d always considered him to be against the use of pictures, for example in his all-text web site or his dense-text books. No, he said he’s in favor of multimedia when it’s used correctly. (That’s only 1% of the time, however.)

Bryan Chapman

I joked with Bryan Chapman that Online Learning should be renamed the Bryan Show, since he was leading four or five sessions every day. I’ve loved Bryan’s work since he first showed me the Designer’s Edge product he created for Allen Communications.

Among other things, Bryan conducted a shootout among these simulation-authoring programs.

  • Macromedia (Authorware)
  • XStream Sofware (Rapid Builder)
  • X.HLP (X.HLP Designer)
  • Qarbon.com (Viewlet Builder)
  • Knowledge Mechanics (Knowledge Mechanics)
  • Click2Learn (ToolBook)
  • AMT Learning Solutions (CBIQuick)
  • LearningEdge (IST Author)
  • MindLever (Simulator)
  • MaxIT (DazzlerMax)
  • Global Knowledge (OnDemand)
  • RWD (Infopack Simulator)

I hope we see more comparisons of products by third parties.

Bryan reports that "the winners of the shootout were:

1st Place -- IST Author (LearningEdge)
2nd Place -- InfoPac Simulator (RWD Technologies)
3rd Place -- RapidBuilder (XStream Software)

Special Award -- Fastest Finish Time -- InfoPac Simulator (RWD
Technologies) --- 4:03 minutes (Development times ranged from 4:03 minutes to 19:39). Interestingly enough, the 1st place finisher was 5th in development speed (with a time of 7:44). To make a long story short, I think it's great that robustness of the output still counts for something."

Late Tuesday, Clark Aldrich and Bryan Chapman conducted a special session on E-learning for the Enterprise: Why Learning Content Mangement Matters Most. The audience overflowed the room. Ten minutes late, I couldn't wedge my way in. Here is Clark's PowerPoint from the event.

Wednesday morning Bryan chaired a panel of LCMS vendors talking about “Advanced Learning Object Repositories.” Honchos from Outstart, Logic Bay, Aspen (Intelliprep before being acquired by Click2Learn), Knowledge Mechanics, and WBT Systems. “Do you need both an LMS and an LCMS?” Outstart’s John Alonzo said the only LMS features an LCMS might lack were the concepts of time and place – an LCMS neither schedules events nor reserves classrooms. You might think of an LMS as a storefront and an LCMS as back-end fulfillment.

My takeaway was that most customers will not need both an LMS and an LCMS. An LCMS can roll up information into reports; an LMS can’t get into this level of detail. I asked if this would even be an issue if Saba and Docent didn’t have an installed base. Many people didn’t seem to think so.

Bryan provided some pricing information from his recent survey of LCMS. Assume a five-year implementation for 8,000 learners, five servers, and 40 authors. The average price tag was $537,000 (about $65,000 more than for an LMS). The median price was $430,000. Lowest price was $150,000, highest $1.9 million.

How to justify these lofty prices? Well, it is enterprise software and less than $10,000 a month ($537K/60 months) is relatively cheap. The returns come from retaining and maintaining content, faster learning thanks to personalization, and ease of implementation.

The LCMS Vendor Council was formed last November to increase industry awareness of Learning Content Management Systems and to promote the value they deliver to enterprises and learners. Current members of the LCMS Vendor Council are Global Knowledge, Knowledge Mechanics, LeadingWay Knowledge Systems, Online Courseware Factory, Vitalect, Vuepoint and WBT Systems. Larger players with LCMS capabilities (Avaltus, SmartForce, Click2Learn's Aspen, Centra's MindLever, and others spring to mind) are not members of the LCMS Council.
After dropping by several dozen presentations, I’m convinced I could write a generic eLearning presentation. Hey, folks, it’s all about results, business results. You’ve got to tie your eLearning initiatives to your company’s strategic objectives. Get management buy-in. Invite the CIO to sit on your project advisory board. Decide what will constitute success. Figure out how the system will capture in-house expertise. blah, blah, blah.

“Lifelong learning is like lifelong eating. You can’t stop either one and survive,” said a Swedish professor from Lund University who, appropriately enough, was sitting at an adjacent table at Café Pinot.

A panel of financial analysts looked into their crystal balls and found that the next big things in eLearning are high-bandwidth content, mobile access, simulations, industry-specific content, LCMS – to create in-house content, and distance communication.

Wayne Hodgins and I kibitzed for an hour.

The terrorist attack forced us all to reflect on our priorities. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if those reflections were to become the inflection point for increased productivity, more enlightened thinking, and accelerating prosperity?

As learning becomes strategic, Wayne finds himself drawn more and more into conversations with CXOs and other top leaders.

Lance Dublin lays out the art and science of implementing eLearning. There are no pat answers.

Future impediment to eLearning: people wearing VR goggles look like dorks.


Where are the people?

Do you agree? Disagree? What else did you learn? Add your voice to the discussion.
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"What we learned from Online Learning 2001" is a topic of the October 15 meeting of the eLearning Forum. The session will be webcast via Centra.

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Pleasant memories.

Los Angeles has great charm. We Northern Californians usually regard Southern California the way Yankees view the Deep South: bunch of yahoos with little culture or taste. The stereotype is wrong. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) had a marvelous retrospective of David Hockney photographs. Dinners at The Water Grille and Café Pinot were heavenly. I enjoyed myself.


The bright colors of my B&B’s Latin neighbors made me feel like I was south of the border. Parrots inhabit the neighborhood.

Black and white and black and white. Franz Kline at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Thick and thin. Alberto Giacometti at MOCA.

Los Angeles Library

Renovated Union Station

Architectural whimsy

I'm cool

Advertising for KM

Olvera Street



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