What is our role in online learning?

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Initially this post was going to be whether or not LMSs have become commodities (they haven’t). 

However, after reading another article on another country (Brazil) in a depression, China and its economic woes, the under utilization of many employees in the United States (due to the past recession) along with folks who have given up looking for work or finding a job still difficult to acquire, a post on such an initial topic didn’t see the right thing to do.

Rather the above says something different to me.  The question in what is the role of online learning in today’s world?

Is it just about compliance and regulatory at the company level? 

Or increasing the sales of products and services for customers and clients in the B2B/B2C space?  What about higher education?  Is its only goal to provide students with courses and topics that rather than be just in the classroom are now/available online? 

Sure one could make the argument that for all – B2B/B2C, employees, students and government workers it is providing them an opportunity to acquire new skill sets to improve their personal and professional goals (well, at least in the corporate side, not really HE).   And for some businesses, I’d say correct – oh and BTW – Kudos for doing so!

But what about those folks?  The ones that are still looking for work? Or under utilized?  Or going to a college isn’t feasible or available to them (and yes for those outside of the US, it happens here too).  What is online learning’s role in all of this?

Better yet, what should it be?

The Possibilities

This is just one side of a two sided coin, but in my opinion, the role of online learning is to enable anyone, regardless of their location in the world (assuming the infrastructure is there, even if it is only mobile), to learn.   It seems cliche and I get that.  But the “learn” part is the key here, because learning means many things, especially when it is utilized in the online world.

  • To acquire information to “learn” a new skill, improve a skill and/or build upon that skill
  • To provide information of any sort – offering empowerment for some, opportunities for others, and “learning” for all
  • To gain skills to help an individual in their day to day life,  to gain employment, keep employment, move up in employment
  • To educate – on whatever topic
  • To generate revenue (B2B/B2C/internal – i.e. biz units)

And yes, it can be all of those items listed above or some or just one. 

However, there is one missing – that to me that can make the biggest impact and frankly, should.


A very good friend of mine, lost his job a few years back.  Laid off due to downsizing. He is in his low 50’s. He hasn’t found work since then. 

Interviews? Absolutely.  But nothing as of yet. 

You might know someone just like him.  He might be in his thirties or she might be in her forties.  They want to work, but the work isn’t there.  So, they have but a few options.   Do nothing (beyond look for a job – which yes, is a job within itself), go into business for yourself or do anything, whatever that might be.

Then there are those folks who graduated college, still looking for their first job.  OR individuals who were unable to attain any type of schooling (not because of lack of interest).   And as noted earlier, those who have been displaced, forced out seeking new opportunities.

In many countries it isn’t about going to college its about day to day living.

What do all these scenarios have in common (and others not mentioned, but exist)?

Let me rephrase the question.  What can e-learning offer to each person?

If you said, hope, you are correct.

Going back to my friend, he is taking courses online to gain new skills and acquire new knowledge, in hopes of helping him land a job.  And he isn’t the only one out there.  Not just in the United States but elsewhere in the world. 


I remember when Linkedin acquired Lynda.com and listening to people on what this meant. 

Will Linkedin have it so people could list their online courses (completed) on their profiles?  Would they generate something that would help employers search for candidates?  Would their be some type of tie-in that is meaningful to those looking for a new job? 

The answer to all of these, at least for right now, is no.  It was all about money (at least from my take).  And yes, no one would be fanciful to think it wouldn’t include the revenue aspect.  But in listening to folks, there was this idea that Linkedin was going to wrap it into those profiles – with the focus being job opportunities.

But, I’m not seeing it.  Interested in taking a course on Lynda.com?  Guess, what?  Besides finding the course via a net search, you can click a link in Linkedin and go to the site.  Wow, fantastic. 

At the minimum, Linkedin should offer folks the ability to add what skills were acquired as a result of these online courses, regardless if completed or not – after all, the whole purpose and value of WBT is about learning and/or building upon skill sets, not about completing a course.  Remember – non-linear. 

Even if it wasn’t tied to Lynda.com (and frankly, it shouldn’t just be only Lynda.com).

New skills for day to day living

We often forget about the day to day living for so many people in the world.  It isn’t about gainful employment.

If I am a person who is trying to feed my family, located in a rural part of a country and my crops are dying, learning about a topic of non-relevance to me, well, isn’t relevant. 

What though, if I was provided the opportunity to learn new ways to save my crops?  Or learn about different types of crops or a crop that will be sustainable in my area?  

The word here though is “provided” to me. 

We forget that part I think, well, not just “part” but the entire situation. 

It is easy to do, with each of us focusing on our own day to day living.

We forget that there are plenty of people out there less fortunate.  That there are countries out there who do not have the infrastructure or the monies to build the infrastructure for online learning.

Yet, we as e-learning practitioners, know that online learning is superior to classroom. 

But how can we provide it to folks who need it the most?

Bottom Line

We Are The World

Personally, I hate the song.  Didn’t like it when it came out, still dislike it.

Yet if we use the phrase “We are the world” and apply that phrase to online learning, well then it does say something.

Because e-learning breaks down the barriers.

If we could just find a way to help others, regardless of their location in the world, or economic status.

It shouldn’t be that hard.

It shouldn’t be that difficult.

It should be something we, as a community, can do.

The Company of Thought, a think tank that I started (along with two other colleagues) is ready.

And we are asking others to be ready too.

So, I’m calling out all the online learning vendors to stand with me.

I’m asking higher education institutions who are able to do so, to work with me.

And I’m seeking out others (businesses, companies, associations, even governments), to help me.

This isn’t just a post about what online can do,

It’s about what we should do.

And soon.

E-Learning 24/7

E-mail me to get involved:  [email protected] (and yes. it is .co)

A TY to Graeme, a fellow colleague of TCoT (The Company of Thought), making me aware. .




  1. Craig: everything you say makes sense, but we need to add the following; to empower students with deep learning (information fluency, competency) and adaptive learning skills, so they have the ability going forward to correctly apply that information, long term, to systematically advance individual performance improvement.
    Traditional one to many elearning habitually fails at this, sustained, individual performance improvement, measurable outcome


  2. Hi Craig, Great and timely post! We ourselves are working on a learning project for the Global Learning


    Over 198 different teams are competing to create a learning system for tablet that any child can pick up and learn to read and do basic math. The focus is on Sub-saharan Africa.

    As you suggest, this effort could be applied to not just 3rd World children but 1st and 2nd world adults as well.

    Perhaps you could share with your audience other “.org” education ventures like this for the learning community to get involved in?

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