Here we interview global eLearning expert David Patterson of Learning Light Ltd based in Sheffield, UK. He’s one of the leading authorities in online training technology and best practices, and as the elearning market size is estimated at $165 Billion USD worldwide and expected to exceed $240 Billion by 2023 – it’s easy to see why his knowledge and expertise are in high demand.
Many businesses and education providers are looking to maximise elearning in order to save time and money, and improve learning outcomes. Let’s talk to David about what it’s all about and where this important field of tech is heading over the next few years.
What was your path to work in eLearning?
After gaining a degree from Manchester University, I joined one of the UK’s leading wholesalers on a graduate scheme. I gained over 16 years experience in retail and logistics, mainly in business and marketing management roles. It was in the mid 1990s that I started to see a fast growing influence of IT, then the Internet in speeding communication and knowledge management across all areas of business.
My fascination with emerging technologies led me to study a Master’s Degree in Information Systems at the University of Sheffield. From there I took a role developing online learning resources for in local government, while staying on with University of Sheffield for about 4 years part-time as an e-Learning Tutor.
What drew you to this field?
In the 1990’s I was heavily involved in rolling out a POS and MIS system and that was one of the reasons for my interest in elearning. As the training to support an IT roll out was so poor, it struck me that IT should be used to make that IT training better!
I guess some of my interest was influenced by the principles at play in wholesale management, which is a lot about finding ways to maximise profitability by reducing costs and increasing margins. eLearning can offer big advantages in that respect, but it is also able to create big wins in terms of enhancing performance – especially when it comes to enabling any time, anywhere learning for your staff.
Plus I’m a general technology geek and enjoy looking out how it can improve our ability to learn and do better business.
What is Learning Light and what is your role there?
We are an elearning consultancy and training provider. Since 2005, we’ve created online resources guiding people and organisations in making the most of the latest learning technologies and techniques to maximise the effectiveness of training.
We’ve helped public and private sector bodies by consulting with them to understand their needs and goals, then support them with independent, impartial procurement advice and development strategies.
Over this period we’ve created over 400 industry resources and market research pieces, and as a Director and Lead Consultant, I’ve been lucky enough to travel to and present as a speaker at major industry events around the world, such as IADIS in Germany and DevLearn in the US.
What are the keys to Learning Light’s success? Many elearning businesses have not survived for so long…
Well, from the outset we’ve been impartial, offering clients advice on the best solutions for their needs, rather than whatever solutions we’ve developed and need to push to market. This means we can be completely flexible and we don’t go out of fashion when new tech comes along.
We have also been good at looking ahead – we have our own evaluation tools for assessing the suitability of online courses, while we have solid methodologies for analysing market data and trends. We have ideas, but in advising clients, we focus on data, rather than just opinions, on what works and what is around the corner.
Where do you sit when it comes to Open Source vs Proprietary?
We’re genuinely technology agnostic and that goes for the closed source vs open source elearning solutions debate as well. If you want plug and play or if a company offers, say a learning management system that has all the functionality you need now and can imagine needing for the next 5 years, then go for it – especially if they are a reputable provider and you have limited tech expertise in-house.
If you have a strong in-house IT team with the time and expertise to work with an open source elearning solution, then maybe the likes of Moodle or Sakai could be a good long term solution for the flexibility and lower cost of ownership. You do need that development time and expertise though!
What gets over-hyped in eLearning?
Everything when it’s new! What we’ve consistently seen across elearning technology is that there is a gestation period of about 5 years, from when something is ‘New’ to when it comes ‘Mature’ and truly ‘Useful’. For example, it was DevLearn in 2009 when the idea of Learning Analytics was first being talked about with enthusiasm as the new big thing. However, it’s only now that tools for learner analytics are making a big difference and forming a key aspect of the HR and L&D toolkit.
So what eLearning trends and tech are you excited about?
Many of the same developments being widely discussed in business – and in fact all areas of our lives. Namely, VR and AI. Virtual reality probably won’t mature as a learning tool until 2020, but artificial intelligence is already an important influence – it has really crept in, relatively under the radar, without us noticing. Think about how Google intelligently suggests the rest of your search query as you start to type words in, while perhaps without us noticing it also serves up search results based on our location and preferences or search habits. Some learning platforms are now exhibiting similar intelligence.
A few companies are creating very useful elearning resources that suggest and serve content based on their existing knowledge and skills – driven by AI and user interactions.
Collection of vast amounts of data – ie ‘Big Data’ is fundamental to many of these emerging technologies, like AI and the Internet of Things (IoT). That’s why we’re seeing fast growing demand for data science training and elearning courses.
Tech savvy students or professionals looking to enhance their employability might find that data science training – perhaps through elearning courses – proves to be a wise investment.
Interested in talking with David about the elearning needs of your organisation or a research project related to online training? You can connect with David on LinkedIn to start a conversation.