Is education over the Internet already the killer app?

In 1999, everyone in the nascent e-learning industry was citing this quote by John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems:

The next big killer application for the Internet is going to be education. Education over the Internet is going to be so big it is going to make e-mail usage look like a rounding error in terms of the Internet capacity it will consume.

Yah, right, say the skeptics who lived through the Dot Com bust and have watched as e-learning (education and training) continues to play a junior role at the boardroom table. Even the largest e-learning companies are mostly unknown outside the industry.

Well, I think that Chambers was right. We’re just measuring the wrong things. Education over the Internet is huge. Consider – Wikipedia, Wiki-How, Google search, personalised information pulled through RSS, social learning networks, learning with blogs and collaboration with wikis. Add all of these together and e-mail is starting to look like a rounding error.

Step outside the box of academic courses or training departments and online learning is growing and not looking like it will stop. As learning becomes essential for our knowledge society, we will become like fish in water, not realizing what it is we’re swimming in. One challenge for learning professionals will be to remain relevant as all of the action moves beyond their traditional turf.

6 Responses to “Is education over the Internet already the killer app?”

  1. Jennifer Nicol

    Just had my own google moment, Harold.

    Somehow your comments reminded me of something I read last night. Leafing now through the book, I couldn’t find the right page, so I typed in “Frye dog Proust” and voila, thanks to Google reader here is the quotation (from The Educated Imagination, a delightful series of lectures from Northrop Frye in 1963.

    Discussing the possible outcomes of studying literature, and glancing upon Marcel Proust (about whom I confess to knowing absolutely nothing), Frye says “our ordinary experience, where everything dissolves into the past and where we never know what’s coming next, can’t give us any sense of reality, although we call it real life. In ordinary experience we’re all in the position of a dog in a library, surrounded by a world of meaning in plain sight that we don’t even know is there.” (reprinted in 1993 by Anansi Press, p. 49).

    Dog in the library. You’ve got to love that! It makes me think of all us internetters, tapping away, words flying in through the eyes and out through the fingers, but what is happening in between?

    There’s no shortage of answers out there. (As we all know) the trick is knowing which questions to ask and where to look for the answers (see Harold’s recent post on helping kids learn search skills).

    Internet is only a tool for education if we use it to ask the right questions. Surely the changing role of learning professinals lies somewhere in there. Purveyors of reality, if you like, in the sense that we discern the questions and redirect to answers.

    It’s a bit of a chestnut to describe teachers and other learning professionals as “resource persons” but it is certainly part of the package, along (imo)with being the Motivator, the Model, and the External Source of Structure and Discipline.

    One more quote, a little less poetic but to the point: “Content has many ways of getting to the world, we’ve learned that. But the problem is, you still have only two eyeballs to take it in.” Warren Buffett, quoted in New York Times, 13 July 2007, page C6).

  2. Jay Cross

    Harold, if you buy into my definition of learning (achieving fit with the ecosystems you are a part of) or George Siemen’s notion that knowledge has become a thing we all make and share via networks, the challenge is not for learning professionals; it’s up to all of us. You’re right to say that learning has already left learning in the dust.

    Minor factoid: Tom Kelly is the author of Chambers’ line about email and rounding errors.

  3. Gilbert

    ELearning is still in its infancy.

    Critical mass will play an important role with regards to Elearning. We have not yet achieved critical mass yet.

    There is already a lot of learning being assisted by the Internet and there will be much more as the Web evolves.

    The cost/value ratios of Elearning are still quite high. This will change with time.


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