When e-learning became an educational buzzword in the 1990s, several events converged to drive organizational demand for it: 1) The U.S. economy was booming; 2) It was a seller's market for employees, who were courted by organizations hungry for talents and desirous to retain them; and 3) The Internet and its potential had fired imaginations.
Perhaps most importantly, though, the biggest driver for e-learning was that business understood that in order to stay competitive, they needed to create continuous knowledge-based organizations. New information proliferated and workers' skills needed almost constant updating. In addition, executives understood the importance of aligning training with their company's business goals.
All of these factors conspired to make e-learning The Next Big Thing. Start-up providers sprang up overnight to service this growing demand. Off-the-shelf e-learning products and generic training programs were hot and there was no shortage of buyers. But as quickly as these products materialized, many evaporated. A number of purchasers were dissatisfied with these early e-learning experiences. Their learning curve had spiked and they realized that the products often did not match the content they were trying to deliver or the business outcomes they were trying to achieve.
About this time, companies scrambled to launch their own corporate universities. The demand was so high that, after writing two books on the topic, Jeanne Meister founded Corporate: University Xchange (CUX) in 1997 to help companies create their own universities.
But then more bubbles began to burst: by 2000 the economy took a downturn; downsizing was rampant; training budgets were slashed; and after September 11, 2001, the training and conference business all but ground to a halt.
A new Beginning
With any major societal change, some aspects will stick and some will fall by the wayside. In education, the continuous learning field has been leveled. Those providers that have survived are those that got the basic e-learning recipe right. And even this recipe only works when it's modified to a client's specific needs.
Mark Allen is the president and CEO of Corporate University Xchange (www.corpu.com). Located in New York City, CUX is the leading provider of corporate university research, benchmarking, and consulting services.
Having his pulse on corporate university learning gives Allen a feel for the latest trends in this field: "CEOs now understand the strategic importance of effective and continuous learning. They expect strong alignment with strategic objectives, greater accountability, a measurable ROI, and greater efficiency. They don't care about competency models as much as they care about production quotas, sales figures, and repeat sales. They also expect their learning organizations to take on greater responsibility for driving strategic cultural change. Increasingly, they are turning toward corporate universities as the most viable and proven solution to these challenges."
Allen cites several trends among top executives:
 Top executives want an effective company-wide approach to leadership development.
 They realize that it is time to go global when developing the capabilities of their people.
 They use their corporate university as a tool to accelerate the transformation of their companies and to Spearhead change.
 They push for faster, better, and more cost-effective solutions.
 They demand a clear tie-in to business performance.
Corporate University Xchange helps learning executives transform learning service through 1) benchmarking and assessment and 2) corporate university design and development.
CUX also publishes the industry's leading report on Corporate University Best Practices. Over 170 corporate universities contributed to this year's 200-page report. CUX's Pillars of e-Learning Success reports on best practices on developing a successful e-learning strategy. …