Online Learning in Small and Medium Businesses

12th May 2016

Not so long ago, it was only very large companies that used elearning or any other technologies to support learning. It was hardly surprising given that the costs involved could easily run into the tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of pounds.

Times change, and these days all sorts of organisations are now using technology to support learning. However, there are still many small and medium sized businesses that may think online learning is out of their reach. Here are five reasons why that isn’t the case:

Elearning content is now significantly cheaper to produce and buy than it was ten years ago. There are better tools which make it quicker and easier to develop and there are many more people are producing it - and competition drives down prices. This has led to an interesting situation where consolidation has removed many of the middle sized suppliers as they were gobbled up by larger companies. At the same time, there’s been an explosion of much smaller content producers who are thriving at the lower end of the market (and that’s lower cost, not quality).

There is also a much better choice of high quality off the shelf content. Much of the basic training needed in organisation - such as health and safety, diversity and customer service – is generic enough that off the shelf content can very adequately fill their needs. Sometimes, good enough is good enough. There are also sites where independent content producers can sell courses directly to learners and employers. Much of the content is technical in nature, but more and more soft skills content is being produced this way.

Of course, learning online is no longer just about formal content. User generated content on video sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo are a key resource for many people at work as well as at home. People are using various forms of social media to learn from peers outside the organisation - through general social networks like Facebook, through special interest groups on LinkedIn and more specialised networks like Stack Exchange for developers.

Learning platforms have changed too. Whereas in the past the only option was an enterprise LMS that could cost hundreds of thousands or even millions of pounds to implement, there are now more affordable options. Smaller but no less useful platform (without the bells and whistles of the enterprise systems) are available at prices that are much more accessible to small businesses. They are usually quicker to implement and easier to maintain, both of which helps to keep costs down.

There are also many more pricing models than the big providers offer and plenty of Software as a Service offers, which takes away much of the IT overhead and its associated costs.

In short, there’s plenty of opportunity and very few obstacles for small and medium sized businesses who want to use technology to enhance the skills of their workforce.

About the author
Barry Samson

Barry Sampson is a consultant focusing on the use of technology to improve workplace performance. In 2009 he co-founded Onlignment, a consultancy specialising in organisational communication and learning. Previously he worked in a range of delivery and management roles in HR and Learning & Development before becoming Learning Technology Manager at B&Q where he led a number of award-winning elearning and blended learning programmes.

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