IDC: European E-Learning to Hit $4B

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International Data Corp. expects the Pan-European market for e-learning to hit $4 billion by 2004, representing a compound annual growth rate of 96 percent, according to a study by the company.

IDC senior research analyst Sheila McGovern, who conducted the study, defined e-learning as "training delivered over the Internet or corporate intranet on a synchronous or asynchronous basis."

Synchronous training is conducted in real time, while asynchronous training is not done in real time and can be conducted via e-mail, for example.

The study was prompted by an increase in the number of e-learning providers and the addition of e-learning services by established training companies.

"We could see that this is an area that was going to see a lot of rapid growth in the next few years with vendors interested in developing this aspect of their offering," McGovern said.

Start-ups especially, she said, want "a bit of information on what is out there, so we moved on a combination of our own hunch and the feedback we are getting from clients and prospective clients. We are talking of hundreds of e-learning providers. A lot of them are very small with only a few million dollars in [sales]. But that's the nature of the training market. It is highly fragmented."

While IT-related training dominates the market now, IDC predicts it will account for slightly more than 50 percent of revenues by 2004, with the rest made up of "soft skills training" in sales, marketing and leadership.

The biggest factor in this growth is "the convenience of being able to train geographically dispersed work forces where individuals can take control over where and when they take training," McGovern said. "It's a time factor. They can customize their own training."

Much of this can be bought off-the-shelf by "selecting modules relevant to your needs rather than spending a full day in a course where only a part is personally useful."

Different models are being sold depending on the hours of training needed, with content going up in scale depending on how many people are being trained. Economies of scale come in for larger buyers, one reason why larger companies tend to be trainers' best customers.

Interest in e-training has not spread across Europe yet, McGovern said. "Sweden and the Nordic countries have taken the lead here as they usually do in being early adopters of new technology," she said. "The UK is catching up. There is a lot of interest in the Netherlands and France, and we found that a large number of Spanish respondents said they would consider switching to online learning over the next 18 months."

Interestingly, Germany, Europe's largest Internet market, has shown little interest in e-learning so far. "But what often happens there is that one person latches on and lots of others follow," she said.

E-learning buyers tend to be IT or human resources managers, but increasingly CEOs and chief information officers at large companies are the ones who purchase the programs for large teams of employees. Technical support people in call centers are also a prime target.

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