The Evolution of E-Learning

By: Kim DeCoste Issue: Education & Workforce Development Section: Jewel Of Collaboration

From the Classroom to the Boardroom

Evolution of E Learning “Moving from the one-room schoolhouse to the one-world schoolhouse is now a reality.” -Sr. Executive, Cisco Systems

How it Began:

Certainty is an overused word, but one thing I can say with 100% certainty is that I did not invent the internet. I have sometimes been fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time, however. I continue to see online education, technology and their convergence impact professional development and revolutionize the world of work. This exciting intersection is the “place” where I find my personal passion to collaborate and make things happen!

The quick truth is that the internet (or Internet) - depending on how you use the word - was born slowly and collaboratively. It was born iteratively. It was formed, re-formed, refined and reapplied for multiple uses. It was partially and most prominently originally intended so that the United States of America could keep pace scientifically (politically) with war foes. Sputnik went to space. By early 1958, one significant but not widely-known United States response was the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA).

As time passed and people and ideas moved, the technologies also evolved. By 1983, an appropriate protocol for wide-area-network information sharing was available and by 1988, real commercial interests were popping up. Nestled between France and Switzerland, CERN published a “world wide web project” and credit for the invention of “the web” was given to English Scientist, Tim Berners-Lee in or around 1989.

From my personal perspective, I was introduced to the internet in 1995. I was a technical recruiter for a small firm in Los Angeles. I had graduated from the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) - with a B.A. in Language Studies, not Computer Science or Education - and was lucky to have a roommate with a computer my freshman year. That computer and the “mac lab” were the full extent of my technical exposure in college. It was an IBM 286 with an amber screen and a very loud daisy wheel printer, but it was the first computer to which I had had access and I was glad to have taken “typing” in 8th grade. (Someone told me once that a girl should always know how to type to ensure she could find a job.) My roommate and I made extra money typing papers for people and we were lucky to have the resource.

I do not believe that there was prevalent internet access on our campus from 1988 to 1992 when I attended. If so, it was not emphasized for students of Language Arts and Linguistics.

My only previous computer exposure in the early 1970s had been the punch cards my dad brought home from work. They had words on the top and holes in them and they had something to do with “data processing” which was his work. This was the full extent of my technical background growing up until college other than Atari, but I don’t think “Pong” counts.

Fast forward nearly 15 years and I find it funny that a client in Los Angeles took his time on a Saturday to teach a small but successful technical search firm “What is the Internet” and why it “would be” important. We were minutes from UCLA by car and some of the most cutting-edge technical companies in Southern California and yet it was not until after that meeting/training that we even had email in the office!

Clearly, times have changed. According to the World Internet Usage Statistics News and Population Stat, as of June 30, 2008, 1.463 billion people use the Internet!

It’s a Tool. Is it “cheese”?

So in and of itself, the internet is not much more really than a medium. A tool. A new means by which or with which we can operate. It can connect us.

Computer Students It can educate us. It can allow us to do great things (or less-than-great things). But in the final analysis, it’s just a tool. Until it is applied to something or given a context.

The book Who Moved My Cheese by Dr. Spencer Johnson is a favorite quick read and I thought of it in the context of e-learning. One of the interesting outcomes of the application of the internet to many things (e-commerce, e-learning, e-everything, it seems.) is that suddenly we find many people struggling and scrambling around like Dr. Johnson’s characters, Sniff, Scurry, Hem and Haw. Many things - indeed many industries - have been fully transformed by the internet. And some have disappeared completely. the internet is not much more really than a medium. A tool. A new means by which or with which we can operate. It can connect us.

Certainly as a third party recruiter (a headhunter), it was a cataclysmic change we experienced in our industry when we went from really recruiting to keyword matching and posting on job boards.

I am fortunate, however, in that when the change was happening – and I was in the middle of it between a personal relocation and an industry upheaval - I got a chance to find a new way to apply my skills.

I moved to Denver in 2000 when unemployment was 2.9%. Within weeks of my relocation, the company I worked for in California had been acquired by TMG Worldwide (the parent company of I was recruited to work for a national firm in Denver and soon they also restructured – eliminating my team. I made a decision to apply my recruiting skills in a new way.

I was hired by Jones Knowledge, Jones International University. JIU was the first fully U.S. accredited fully online University in the world. With accreditation from the North Central Association of the Higher Learning Commission and with no brick and mortar campus, JIU had succeeded where many said it could not be done.

Glenn R. Jones, founder of JIU, said he set out to “democratize education” and at one point his vision was to have “a Harvard of the web”. Whatever one may say of the legacy of his University, it is inarguable that he did succeed in creating something many said would never happen. For-profit higher education was no longer a dream. And from that accomplishment the winds of change blew through the world of education with gale force. “There are two fundamental equalizers in life - the Internet and education,” says John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems.

E-Education - K-12:

The overall K-12 market is dynamic - consisting of “elementary students (usually kindergarten through 6th grade) and secondary students (7th- 12th grade). The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports, after growing at a 7.4% average annual rate since the 1969-1970 school year, the K-12 school segment accounted for roughly $558 billion in expenditures in 2005-2006 (most recent data available) equivalent to about 4.2% of the U.S. annual gross domestic product.”

BMO research further suggests that the estimated forecast is that K-12 spending “will increase roughly 4.6% CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) to nearly $834 billion in the 2014-2015 school year. Detailed information in the for-profit sector is difficult to find, but it is estimated that vendors will generate approximately $26.5 billion in revenue in the 2006-2007 school year.”

The only slowing in enrollment in the United States is reflected in the slower birth rate in this country, but BMO still projects an increase of approximately 0.4% annually.

Additional pressure for K-12 education was applied by the No Child Left Behind Legislation (NCLB) which mandated “proficiency” in key subject areas and that students be taught by “highly qualified” teachers. As BMO summarizes, “The NCLB legislation focuses on four main themes to achieve these goals: 1) accountability 2) flexibility 3) localized control and 4) an emphasis on doing what works based on scientific research.”

Therefore, the potential market in the K-12 space is significant. Data provided demonstrates that educational leaders recognize the growing need for technical learning solutions that up until recently had not been the focus of the K-12 market, but more of higher education. Data provided supports claims that there is a need for virtual learning solutions as young as pre-kindergarten and up to the 16th grade level. The widespread use of social networking tools by young people is also fully documented.

Finally, and of equal importance to the demands of students, teachers are recognizing the need for these tools not only for use in the classroom but also for use in their own personal and professional development.

Providing safe collaborative online communities for teachers expands their abilities to engage their students and provides an additional level of transparency for concerned parents who recognize that kids are using technology - but who want their children to be using technology in safe and productive settings.

Although there is a great deal of research surrounding the current and forthcoming demand for K-12 online e-learning, I think it is becoming a little-disputed point that technology does belong in schools.

The challenges we face both here in the United States and internationally are how to deploy the technology effectively and for what purpose, so that real, relevant learning takes place. The top five reasons cited by a Sloan Study for offering online learning include:

Offering courses not otherwise available in school

Meeting the needs of specific groups of students

Offering Advanced Placement or college-level courses

Reducing scheduling conflicts for students

Permitting students who failed courses to take them again.

Many U.S. Public School Districts (and states) are approaching e-learning and some are showing great progress quickly. Here in Colorado, the Douglas County School District (DCSD ) has a mission statement that says it all: “Learn Today. Lead Tomorrow.”

Under the guidance of Sohne Van Selus (Online Planning Principal) “eDCSD is dedicated to helping students acquire the knowledge and abilities to be responsible citizens who contribute to our society - any time, any place, anywhere.”

The District launched the program this fall and, “eDCSD [has begun] as a service to students whose needs are not entirely being met by the traditional high school. A variety of courses at all curricular levels and disciplines will be offered for students who choose to participate in an eDCSD course for credit recovery, extended learning, or because of schedule conflicts within their day. Ultimately, eDCSD will become a full service, diploma-awarding high school – a viable, quality option for the non-traditional student.”

Douglas County has also partnered with HopeCo-Op™. Hope’s mission: “Learn. Achieve. Graduate.” Under the direction of Heather O’Mara, Hope Online Learning Academy, is an online public charter school (under DCSD’s charter) that provides a high-quality education for K-12 students (

Hope’s blended learning model is “based upon proven methods that utilize individual instruction. Students have the option to access the curriculum at a Hope Online Learning Center or at home, each coupled by support from experienced teachers and mentors.”

E-Education - Higher Education:

The market for higher education online is massive. There is just no other way to say it. There is conflicting data everywhere about how many students participate in online learning, how large the U.S. and international market share is or may be and – of course – who are the leaders in Online Higher Education.

There are distinctions still made between fully online schools with no campus offerings, blended models with some on/some off campus (or a choice) and the traditional brick and mortar campuses who are adding online delivery of their curriculum to keep students engaged in this way. It is not clear to me personally who will truly emerge over time as a leader in this market, however, The University of Phoenix (Apollo Group) has established itself firmly and is considered the largest private university in the world based on enrollment numbers.

Challenges to online institutions are numerous. Having worked in this industry specifically for nearly 7 years, I personally have witnessed the struggles between offering a solid curriculum and making sure students learn and are satisfied with the process. Online learning is not for everyone. I earned an MBA in e-Commerce in 2005 with an infant at home, a traveling husband, and a full-time job. I can say first-hand, you really have to want to finish that degree to get it done!

Typical adult online learners are not back in school purely in pursuit of knowledge. There is real pressure - now maybe even more than before - to keep skills sharp and to show professional initiative.

Online learning allows that. It is however, very demanding. It requires self-motivation and as I often told people who asked me about it, “you have to want to learn”. Anyone at any school can get a passing grade, I would argue. Online education is no different. In fact, in many ways it is more challenging.

You cannot just “show up for class”, coffee in hand, and sit in the back row and learn by osmosis. In order to learn online the student must engage. I saw a quote but did not capture the author, but I should have. I paraphrase it by saying, “Classroom teachers know their students’ faces. Online teachers know their students’ minds.”

Then, talk about collaboration! I have never enjoyed my learning experiences more than I did during the cross cultural and cross country interactions of my peers during my MBA. I had professors from Brazil, Ireland and Germany to name a few. We had students from Africa, active duty international military in Iraq and Afghanistan, citizens of all ages and genders in Guam, Hawaii, Switzerland, Mexico and more. Overall at JIU at the time of my departure, they cited students from over 80 countries. Jones also did work with a special United Nations project. So, it truly was a chance to learn with and from others.

Additional Collaborative E-Learning Discoveries:

In my penultimate role at the University, having been a recruiter and a student, I recognized the need for career services at the University. So often it seemed that the people with whom I studied and came into contact with were there either as career starters, career changers or career advancers. The bottom line was that they needed assistance with tying education to valuable professional development.

I worked with a team to create “The Total Professional Advantage™”. It has since been improved upon and revamped, but in its original form, it was intended to be a collaborative online forum for students to create a sense of community independent of their courses and in some cases even independent of their field of study. The Total Professional Advantage ™ (or “TPA”) as many liked to call it, gave students a place to converge, to share ideas, to expand upon class projects and to collaborate. And it continues to be successful.

I attribute much of that success to one key partner in the project. Colleagues from a company in New Jersey called ReadyMinds ( founded by Randy Miller were instrumental in the development of The Total Professional Advantage™. With the help of dedicated colleagues, ReadyMinds had already established itself as the leader in legitimate distance career counseling. Neither the model nor the process of creating it were simple, but the idea itself was amazingly so.

Mr. Miller and his team wanted to:

Adopt Something You Could Believe In

Be “Go To” Counselors

Promote a Technologically savvy Professional Image

Incorporate Distance Counseling as a Supplement and Compliment of Traditional Counseling

Enhance the Power of the User

Increase Technological Utilization with Limited Discarding of Conventional Approaches

In their book - Distance Counseling: Expanding the Counselor’s Reach and Impact – Mr. Miller writes, “The availability of counseling in an online platform has and will continue to attract individuals who may have never considered any type of counseling or coaching in a traditional face-to-face environment. But because it is online in an environment they are comfortable in, barriers or preconceived notions…become less daunting and encourage participation.”

The same is often said about online learning in general. There is some comfort for many in the anonymity of engaging online.

From the Virtual Classroom to the Virtual Workplace to Work:

My final example with respect to what we can accomplish in e-learning business environments has to do with virtual internships. I came across a company some years ago, then in “beta test” but now up and running called Another potential resource for my virtual career center, allows employers to post openings and provides a platform for students (mostly university level) to get “matched” with opportunities. They get to do real, interesting, relevant work. They often get academic credit. Some get paid. Some find these internships lead to their first “real jobs”. C. Mason Gates, Founder and CEO of the company writes, “There is a generational shift toward more experiential learning for students. There is a demographic shift altering the world of employment. And there’s a need for all of us to learn, grow and get a leg up every day.” I believe Mason is correct.

The Rest of the E-World and What’s Next?

Thanks to LinkedIn, an old classmate from my MBA days found me a few months ago. She and I are now collaborating on projects (literally) from Guam to Hawaii to Arizona to Colorado to Western Europe. Jennifer Rush’s company is called Empowered Learning Solutions ( I asked Jennifer for some input and this is what she said, “On its surface, technology appears to separate people. Yet, as technology has advanced it has not only actually served to connect them, but to also give them personalized service. A perfect example of this is in the realm of education and training. As a corporate IT trainer for multiple years, my greatest frustration was that I really had no way of knowing what my students knew when they came into the class and what they really knew when they left. The next frustration came on the logistics side: the necessity of having a minimum class size to make running each class economically feasible. Technology has solved both of these crucial issues.”

Finally, with a few minutes (literally) before I have to send this article to ICOSA, I just got an email from a friend who I also invited to contribute if she had the time. Her name is Stori Hybbeneth. She earned a Master of Education in e-Learning: Global Leadership and Administration and now works for Cisco WebEx Consulting. Stori writes, “E-Learning is evolving. There was a time when the word e-learning was associated with boring self-paced courses - page turners. Today, the word e-learning should encompass any learning through electronic means. The evolution of the web and subsequently e-learning is affecting the roles of many professionals. Web 2.0 has brought us the interactive web. People aren’t passively reading anymore, they are interacting and contributing. The amount of content and information available is growing exponentially. I believe this change has tremendous impact. While there will always be a need for content development and formal training, I believe the need will shift from a focus on content to a focus on context. With the help of the web, we can find content on almost anything. Our jobs will require us to help our learners wade through it all! We need to create a context for learning; we will need to help the learner draw the lines. We’ll want to facilitate interaction and continued, informal learning.”

She goes on, “Although I think this change was inevitable, I think it will be hastened by the recent economic downturn.

People are trying to do more with less. Adoption of online education or training will increase as people look to decrease travel costs and reduce down time associated with travel.

Other efficiencies include increased re-use of materials, and increased use of user generated content.”

For me, e-learning is a passion and I believe Plato said it best, “Someday, in the distant future, our grandchildren’s grandchildren will develop a new equivalent of our classrooms. They will spend many hours in front of boxes with fires glowing within. May they have the wisdom to know the difference between light and knowledge.”

Or if Plato is not contemporary enough for your personal taste, please consider the words of Arne Duncan, President-elect Obama’s choice for Sectary of Education. He said, “[Education] is the civil rights issue of our generation and is the one sure path to a more equal and just society.”

Kim DeCoste is President of DeCoste & Associates. To contact Kim visit or call 303.470.9898. Siber, Jeffrey. MBO Capital Marketplace 2007 Equity Research: Education and Training