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BCS e-learning league table shows strength of technology supported learning market

John Helmer reviews the state of the technology supported learning market in reaction to the British Computer Society’s annual league table.

I was surprised, recently, to hear one of LINE’s clients tell me that the company isn’t seen, within his organisation at least, as an elearning supplier. This is probably because LINE’s initial involvement with this particular client had been as part of a high-level consultancy effort looking at people development challenges in a holistic, strategic way – taking a helicopter view that was firmly delivery-method-agnostic.

His comment undoubtedly reflects the highly varied nature of LINE’s work, and the breadth of expertise and resources the company can deploy. Nevertheless, it is highly gratifying for LINE to be officially recognised, for the second consecutive year, as the UK market leader in bespoke elearning content development by the BCS.

As well as consolidating LINE’s market leadership in this area, however, the BCS elearning top tables, published in IT Training Magazine, also have interesting things to tell us about the state of the industry in general.

Elearning Holds Up

As someone who has spent a fair bit of time in the past analysing the UK elearning market, I am naturally interested in any new data on this emerging market.

What the tables seem to show, as Clive Shepherd points out in his accompanying editorial piece ‘Weathering The Storm’, is technology supported learning holding up strongly despite the recession: ‘In some respects it can be viewed as surprising that the various sectors of the elearning market have held up so well during this crisis. Very few major players have experienced significant downturns in their fortunes and some have continued to expand.’

The revenues of the Top 10 UK bespoke content developers, the sector that LINE leads, show overall growth of 0.09% when added together. In other words, the market stood still last year or, to put it more positively, held its ground in very difficult circumstances.

Compare this with the headline figure of a 15% decline for the general IT Training market released last month, a market which contains a large element of traditional face-to-face-training provision. There, the top ten companies show an average 10% decline. With training budgets being cut all around, it might not be completely ‘bad science’ to see training provision migrating online behind these figures, a trend which there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support.

Sector by sector

The bespoke elearning content market, by its very nature, traditionally suffers from volatile revenue flows and low visibility of future sales, and is perhaps most vunerable to short term budget cutting than other parts of the technology supported learning market as a result.

Other elearning sectors, according to the BCS tables, are surviving as well if not better (note, however, that these are reported globally, whereas the bespoke content table refers to UK only, so direct comparison is difficult). Adding the revenues of the Top 10 off-the-shelf content providers globally (excluding new entrants to the table, for whom there is no 2008 figure with which to compare) gives us a 3% over all growth – despite steep declines for both Thirdforce and Video Arts.

The other two sectors featured, authoring tools and LMS/LCMS providers, are less easy to draw general conclusions from, since only the top five is reported on each case, and two in each table have no 2008 figure to compare. What can be said, however, is that the top three companies in each sector added together showed 12% and 10% positive growth respectively.

Conclusion

Over all, this is an encouraging result for technology supported learning. However it has to be said that the industry is facing a very uncertain future, with further public sector cuts on the horizon. The public sector has in the past been an important source of revenues for elearning (and continues to be in those areas which are sophisticated enough in their vision of learning to be able to take full advantage of the efficiencies offered by the use of technology for learning and communications).

The so-called ‘bonfire of the quangos’, whatever one thinks of it in general terms, can only be bad news for elearning, as many of these bodies were holders of centralised budgets that could be tapped into for elearning spend within sectors such as Education that were otherwise highly fragmented in their training procurement.

Wise elearning companies will have had plenty of time to discern the writing on the wall, however, and will already have shifted the weighting of their client portfolios more towards the private sector, where already signs of recovery are being seen.

Another consideration, as we look forward to next year, and harking back to the client comment mentioned at the head of this article, is whether it will really be possible to speak of the elearning market as a single identifiable entity in any real sense by then. Our experience at LINE is that its edges are melting as use of technology becomes more mainstream, and also more varied across organisations.

… But there’s a whole ‘nother blog post in that topic!

This blog first appeared on the LINE website on September 3rd 2010