At TechLearn 2004, I interviewed industry analyst and futurist
Elliott Masie to find out how he thinks the e-learning industry is
evolving. Here's what he had to say.
RE: I wanted to start by asking you how you learn?
EM: I learn through conversations. I learn by
aggressive use of Google and the Internet. But I also like some
structured learning opportunities, so I go to formal classes. I
thrive on being in the presence of an awesome instructor. Like most
people, I thrive on a mix of different types of experiences.
RE: You've been part of the workplace learning
industry for several years. What holds your interest? How do you
stay passionate about this field?
EM: I think there a few things. If you define the
industry in a broad sense, I've been in two parallel industries:
the learning industry and the technology industry.
The learning industry holds my passion because, ultimately,
learning is about changing behavior, which is how we change
organizations and change society. It sounds almost overstated, but
what is exciting about learning is the way it can change the world.
Technology holds my passion because I think it's a metaphor for
innovation. So, when you intersect these two phenomenon, one that
changes behavior and one that drives innovation, the potential is
RE: The past few years, though, the e-learning
market has seemed stalled. Do you see that happening in the
organizations that you work with?
EM: Let's be direct. E-learning is often
an overstated term. The bottom line is that learning and
performance is what people pay for. Even at our e-Learning
CONSORTIUM, 70 percent of our conversations are not about
e-learning; they're about change management, OD, the process of
graphic development, etc.
So, the marketplace, if you will, is a marketplace for assistance
in making learning decisions. What's really interesting is being
able to answer the question, "What's the learning decision that
organizations have to make?" It may be a technology decision, it
may be a methodology decision, it may be a strategy decision.
Therefore, companies that define themselves in the e-learning
marketplace are way too narrow.
The average company doesn't get excited about buying an LMS, it
gets excited about managing learning. It doesn't get excited about
buying a new e-learning course, it gets excited about changing an
RE: Based on that, do you think that the term
e-learning is going away? Especially when you take into
account that until recently e-learning seemed to refer to an online
course or an LMS, but now collaboration tools and the like are
becoming more mainstream?
EM: The term e-learning won't evaporate,
but it won't be the big conversation anymore because it won't get
funded. E-learning, as a term, is too narrow. It's too
systems-centric. It's too constrictive. For example, when a large
company signs a contract for an LMS, it doesn't put out a press
release that says they just bought an enterprise-wide learning
management system. The press release says that the company can
develop personalized learning plans for employees or that it can
track compliance to federal regulations.
Think of it this way: companies no longer talk about e-commerce,
they talk about commerce.
RE: So, will people stop using the phrase
e-learning in favor of learning?
EM: It's more comprehensive to use the phrase
learning because what we do is more about learning than
about e, and all learning will have some technology
element to it. The point is that it's about talent, it's about
performance. It's all of that.
RE: How do practitioners relate those terms,
performance, talent, and so forth, to executive management inside
their organizations? While management understands the term
training, they may not understand performance and
talent, or even learning.
EM: Actually, I think the profession has to make
some distinctions. Here's a good example:
I recently spent some time with the CEO of David Weekly Homes.
[David Weekley Homes has been named one of the "Top 100 Companies
to Work For" three years by Fortune magazine. In 2003, David
Weekley Homes closed more 3,549 homes with revenues exceeding
US$945 million.] And it's unusual for a CEO to spend half a day
with someone like me, but he did.
Now, David Weekly can talk to his people about PVC piping, cement
pouring, or granular modular plans, all of which are construction
phrases that people building homes understand. But he probably
won't use those same terms and phrases when he talks to people
buying a home. Those people don't care about PVC pipes, they want
to be in the home of their dreams, a home that will keep its
economic value, a home that may have energy-efficient windows, and
so on. When you apply that analogy to our industry, training,
learning, and performance are terms that the
profession can get together and talk about, as the builder not the
But the CEO isn't interested in any of that. Do you know what David
Weekly is interested in, though? He wants to know how he can bring
people into his company more rapidly. How he can ensure that people
in the field are doing things that keep his company legally
compliant and really targeted to the mission statement. Any CEO is
interested in how to find efficiencies, how to grow, how to keep
the best talent, how to go global, how to stay competitive in a
turbulent market. They never ask, "What's our human capital
management strategy?" or "Should we use an EPSS for this?"
Now, what does the training/learning/performance professional have
to do in response to that? That person has figure out what portion
is traditional training, what portion is e-learning, what portion
is performance management. Again, those are the construction terms.
The problem that many of ASTD's members face is the notion that
they're on the construction teams. They aren't always the
architects, and they certainly are not the buyers. Your members
don't even get to meet the buyer sometimes.
RE: So what do workplace learning professionals
EM: The profession has got to transform its
language. But I hope that it doesn't transform it from training to
performance because that's just substituting one set of jargon for
another set of jargon.
RE: You used the terms talent and
human capital management. I see a lot of press releases
from suppliers using these phrases. Is it really a new
concept or is it a new buzz word?
EM: I think human capital management is a faux
category that people can slap on their systems. In my opinion if
something is true innovation, it doesn't need a buzz word.
Personally, I get real annoyed with the alphabet soup, and so do
RE: So if the next big thing isn't human capital
management, what is it? What will you focus on in 2005?
EM: In 2005, I will focus in on learning
RE: That sounds like a broad concept, what do you
EM: It means, for example, that organizations need
to start making some critical decisions about how to take
e-learning from being a moderately successful experiment to doing
it on a massive scale.
Consider the e-Learning CONSORTIUM. It has 191 companies
representing 54 million employees worldwide. How do you reach that
many people? If you're McDonalds how do reach 1.5 million
Another learning decision is to look at do we develop it ourselves
or outsource or send it offshore?
Another learning decision is to review old models and determine
which ones still work. For instance, I'm in the conference
business, and I'm not so sure that model works anymore.
RE: Who are you trying to reach with this idea of
learning decisions? The CLO?
EM: Multiple levels, training managers,
line-of-business managers, HR managers, IT managers. But it doesn't
have to be management level, some of the best learning decisions
are not made by senior executives, but by training professionals in
And I mentioned the title CLO, but I don't think that it's
a reality in most companies. Many people that use the title CLO,
aspire to be a CLO. Also, those that actually are CLOs, don't care
about the title.
RE: To finish up, what's the biggest shift you see
happening in the industry?
EM: In the future, I don't think the big
conversation is going to focus on the products an organization
buys. The shift is being able to move from talking about products
to talking about decisions. To do that, people have to ask, and
answer, much harder and riskier questions.