As the demand for e-learning grows, can training organisations afford to share free of charge?

In the fast moving world of technology the opportunities for knowledge and skill development are exciting, but sometimes daunting. However, not venturing into this brave new world is a mistake!

For those organisations who have already taken the step to source and offer online training, doors have opened to opportunities that have previously been denied to them. No longer do training organisations and learning development managers have to face the traditional challenges of location, cost and lack of flexibility of training. What is surprising however is that many are yet to realise just how profitable this now well established delivery model can be.

With further education colleges being asked to improve their sustainability by becoming more commercial, and businesses driving cost efficiencies it would seem a natural move to embrace training that is cost effective and leads to new revenue streams.

It’s not surprising, with some predictions saying that e-learning is set to grow to £19 billion by 2015, that large numbers of e-learning authoring companies are springing up, offering bespoke and off the shelf e-learning to meet business needs.

Producing e-learning is a labour intensive process with many stages of development required from first scoping a project, then instructional design, the course creation followed by repeated reviews and testing, making a bespoke course a significant investment. Whether it is a college employing staff to develop e-learning or relying on staff to create innovative resources, or a private or public company commissioning the creation of a course from a developer, it would make sense for revenue to be generated from that investment. Of course I’m not talking about courses covering processes unique to an organisation or those that include trade secrets, but there are many generic skills required in specific industries or across all business types, and then there are those courses that relate to qualifications. This type of e-learning has many potential customers who for one reason or another are not in a position or interested in going down the bespoke route, but as an individual they understand the benefits of on-line learning, or as a business has strategically moved to online learning for flexibility and cost effectiveness. This has led to demand for a broader range of easily accessible e-learning materials.

There has been a call for public funded training organisations to share their development of digitally created learning resources, including online courses. It is suggested that through collaboration there should be greater development and usage of such online learning as ‘MOOCs’, massive open online courses, which as the name suggests are free to use. There can be huge value in joining forces with another organisation and increasing collaboration, especially when your objective is to attract a large, perhaps global market. However, the majority of these organisations are in competition to attract learners and employers to enable them to maintain and grow their funded and commercial contracts. So, much that I’m all for sharing, it can fly in the face of commercial sustainability, particularly for smaller training organisations that are looking to extend their work beyond their local community and are looking for revenue streams to ensure that they are still around into the future. Sharing online courses free of charge is perhaps a luxury that many cannot afford?

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