E-Learning Market Review Part II: Mergers and Acquisitions in 2012

By Glynn Jung

Back at the start of 2012 I attempted to make sense of the jumble of mergers and acquisitions across the digital learning market.

At that time I commented on the convergence of education and corporate sectors using Bluedrop and Serebra as illustrations. This trend continues including, for example, the high volume of Moodle implementations in the public and private sectors – away from their education sector heartland. This is helped no doubt by the emergence of commercial wrap-around  solutions but there is also the factor that Open Source is now trusted by major organisations (and ISVs including Microsoft) as well as interfaces and plug-ins for .NET technologies. We are also seeing IWB specialists SMART and Promethean increasingly penetrating the corporate market.

The social media sector similarly continues to show an appetite for growth, demonstrated by the recent acquisition of Yammer by Microsoft.

I also commented previously on the inexorable growth of big organisations in the Talent Management market by acquisition of niche players. In January the wedding of Kenexa and Outstart (respectively Talent Management and LCMS giants) was announced. Since then the resulting combined organisation has been bought by IBM. The earlier acquisition of Plateau Systems LMS by SuccessFactors, to contribute SuccessFactors Learning to the whole Talent Management Suite, was followed at the end of 2011 by SuccessFactors themselves being swallowed up by SAP … with the whole integration process still under way it seems.

So what we are witnessing is the continuing battle between Oracle (with their PeopleSoft and Taleo acquisitions), IBM and SAP for the Enterprise Software market including HCMS and Talent Management.

On the plus side it seems as though every major acquisition (there are few genuine “partnerships between equals”) leaves doors wide open and rooms empty for niche players to step into. The LMS market, for example, continues to witness mergers and acquisitions across all sectors but to stay steady at the 250 – 280 suppliers level. Why so many? Well possibly it’s to do with increasing digitisation of learning, training and assessment, with increased volumes and complexity of different regulatory and compliance systems and, particularly, the variety and sophistication of Open Source communities and their work.

Across the road in classroom world, the traditional classroom model has been successfully disrupted as commented upon by Clayton Christensen in “Disrupting Class”, which in 2008 was seen as somewhat heretical or hysterical. Nowadays the digital campus and classroom are a reality, as are Open Content and services such as the phenomenal Khan Academy. I am currently working on networked digital classrooms for manufacturing and assembly workers … an unimagined concept until very recently.

Consulting and classroom training companies continue to acquire what they see as eLearning companies but they are frequently disappointed and frustrated by the difficulties presented by moving into product markets, by the sales cycles and most tellingly by the price pressure driving down margins.

And so it goes … and will probably continue…

Push or Pull E-learning – Which is Better?

by Maresa Molloy, Instructional Designer 

I recently came across an article by Tom Kuhlmann of the Rapid E-learning blog entitled “Are Your E-Learning Courses Pushed or Pulled?” Although a few years old it got me thinking, because the issue is still completely relevant today. Is it better to push content onto learners or is it better to let learners decide what learning content they want or need to learn? And isn’t there an inherent risk in letting the learner make such an important decision?

The push approach to e-learning

The push approach to e-learning is very traditional. Like a school curriculum which is laid out module by module, traditional push e-learning programmes follow a similar cycle:

Learners work through each module in sequence and take the assessment at the end to test their knowledge. Each module is compulsory and while learners might encounter knowledge checks as they work through the content, the final assessment tests their learning on the entire programme.

A push type e-learning programme has its advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages Disadvantages
It’s a traditional style of learning which most learners are familiar with. Learners must complete all modules, despite the fact that they may already be familiar with some of the learning content.
You can ensure that your learners have at least seen the entire programme. It assumes your learners approach the programme with the same amount of prerequisite knowledge and need to acquire the same amount of new knowledge.
It can enlighten learners to new information they would not have otherwise read. Learners may not be motivated to learn all of the content, especially if they feel they already know it.

The pull approach to e-learning

The pull approach to e-learning is based on what the learner wants to learn. It recognises that some learners don’t need to take the entire programme and that different learners enter the e-learning programme with different levels of knowledge.

As with the push approach to e-learning, you provide learners with all the learning content, but you arrange it in a way that the learner gets to choose which modules they want to take in order to fill in their knowledge gaps.

You also create a reason to use the content (objectives). For example you could present learners with a real-life task or question they would typically encounter in their work or role, and allow them to choose which modules they want to take to be able to complete that task or answer that question.

For example, a pull type e-learning programme on improving the Customer Service skills of Waiting Staff would typically begin with the following question:

“It’s a busy Friday night at the restaurant, how would you serve your customers to ensure that they have a pleasant and satisfactory experience?”

You then provide the learner with modules on Customer Service such as Communication Skills; Preparing and Serving Food; and Etiquette and Complaints Handling.

The learner accesses the modules that they  believe will help them to answer the question satisfactorily and skips the learning content that they already know.  At the end of the programme, they take an assessment which allows them to answer the original question on how they would serve customers satisfactorily.

This type of e-learning programme is illustrated below:

A pull type e-learning programme has its advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages Disadvantages
Learning is interactive and engaging. Learners skip modules which may enhance their knowledge.
Learning is set in context, i.e. it replicates real-world scenarios. The non-traditional format may not appeal to all learners.
Learners have autonomy over their learning and are more motivated to learn. Some learners may need more guidance in their learning.

Push or pull?

So which approach should you use in your e-learning – Push or Pull?

Push type e-learning programmes are more suited to delivering compliance-based programmes and when you want to ensure that your learners have at least viewed all of the learning content.

On the other hand, pull type e-learning programmes offer instructional designers more of a challenge but at the same time more flexibility. They’re more suitable for when you want to give learners real-life scenario-based challenges to complete, opportunities to improve their performance, and autonomy over their own learning. They are ideal for non-compliance training and just-in-time learning.

Knowing which approach to use requires an understanding of your learners and what will best serve their needs.