The e-learning market is poised to enter a "trough of disillusionment" but will continue to grow at a phenomenal rate over the next five years, according to Gartner.
Debra Logan, research director at the analyst, admitted that many e-learning implementations had failed to meet expectations. Although she blamed vendors for overselling the concept, she also criticised customers for trying to do too much too soon with a new technology.
"Partly because of 11 September people thought: 'This is great. We won't have to leave our desks to do training', but they've since realised that it isn't the answer to all their problems," she said.
Despite paying lip service to the e-learning concept, many managers are still not really committed, the analyst warned in a research note published in January.
"Phrases like 'We are a learning organisation' and 'People are our most important assets' are common but they aren't backed up by action," it said.
The analyst added that many implementations fail because companies approach e-learning as a project rather than an ongoing initiative.
In some cases, executive management lacks interest in the strategic use of e-learning and considers it as an investment in technology rather than people.
"You can't underestimate the behaviour change associated with these sorts of implementations," warned Logan. "And like any other corporate-wide implementation, companies also found they had problems integrating e-learning with other systems."
The analyst maintained that e-learning had been successful in some areas, such as in the training of programmers and high turnover call centre staff, and for big system rollouts such as SAP.
Although vendors still need to work on developing appealing content and effective simulations, Gartner explained that the e-learning market is entering a new phase of maturity and adoption, and predicted that it will be the most used corporate application on the web by 2005.
European companies spent £224m on e-learning projects last year with the UK representing 50 per cent of that expenditure, according to figures from Enterprise Ireland, the Irish government's trade and technology body.
Its study also found that most companies viewed e-learning as a cost-effective, time saving, convenient and flexible method of training staff. Only three per cent of employees preferred traditional training methods to e-learning.
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