Who’s making all this money?

I may be living too sheltered a life, but I simply can’t fathom out how the estimates of the e-learning market are as big as they are.

Let’s take Ambient Insight’s impressively titled The US market for self-paced elearning products and services: 2009-2014 forecast and analysis, issued in October 2009. According to this report, the US market for self-paced e-learning products and services (which presumably excludes anything collaborative) reached $16.7 billion in 2009. Yes, that’s right, $16.7 billion. Not much compared with what bankers are paying themselves in bonuses this year, but massively more than I would have estimated. I know the report covers all sectors, including education (and I know little about the economics of e-learning in education), but it does claim that the majority of revenues are concentrated in the corporate sector (and that I know pretty well).

If I was to go to the websites of every listed company serving the e-learning space and total all their revenues, I don’t believe I’d get anywhere near these figures. Still, my methods are flaky in the extreme when you consider that Ambient’s efforts are based on their “Evidence-based Research Methodology (ERM)”. I’m not doubting the robustness of ERM, but I can’t validate it because my share of all these billions is not enough that I can afford to pay $4825 for the full report. Sadly, I had to make do with the executive overview.

By contrast, Learning Light’s estimate of the UK e-learning market at somewhere between £300 and £450 million ($450m – $675m) seems relatively modest, when you consider that the UK is 20% the size of the USA in population terms and not so far behind in its use of e-learning. However, I’d be amazed if anyone was able to justify this figure to me, given that I know the turnover of nearly all the players in the corporate sector and that, although some of my friends have got a few bob, they’re not all bathing in champagne.

What I would say is that, if the £300m figure is correct, less than 1% of this is spent educating and training those working in the profession, and that might explain a few things.

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