Most IT professionals can’t afford to take time out of the office to upgrade their skills, despite the fact that keeping their skills up to date is a priority. Instead, techies are turning to their trusty PCs, logging onto the ‘Net and enrolling in e-learning courses.

Online learning, especially

virtual classrooms with instructor-led courses, is becoming a more popular training option for many companies, according to Diane Teare, director of e-learning at Global Knowledge, an IT training company in Toronto.

“”Companies are now looking at e-learning in a more strategic way,”” says Teare. Global Knowledge has seen a big jump in its revenues from e-learning courses; from three per cent in 2002 to about 10 per cent this year, she says. Certification courses, especially Cisco training courses, are a big reason for that hike.

E-learning is one of the fastest-growing segments of the tech sector in Canada. Over the next five years, online learning will have a compound annual growth rate of 30 per cent and will reach $712 million by 2006.

“”This is still phenomenal growth if you compare it to any other technology market out there; it’s doing very well,”” says Julie Kaufman, research manager of the skills development practice at IDC Canada. The overall IT training market, like most of areas of tech, has experienced negative growth in the past couple of years; in 2002, it reached $776 million.

Kaufman says more than 500 companies across Canada label themselves e-learning companies, and this makes the job of tracking the market a challenging one.

“”There are a lot of small providers, custom-content developers, in particular,”” she says.

Why are more companies making the case for virtual education? Cost plays a role, but it’s not the No. 1 reason companies opt for e-learning over traditional classroom-based courses. According to IDC’s research, senior executives cite flexibility and convenience as the top reasons for choosing e-learning.

“”Cost is certainly a factor, but e-learning isn’t necessarily cheap,”” says Kaufman. “”For companies developing their own content, it can cost up to $100,000 to develop one hour of training.””

In some cases, research has shown e-learning to be more effective than traditional classes.

“”Cisco did a study where they took a number of people and had them do their CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) course via e-learning and regular classes,”” says Teare. “”The people who did e-learning had the better results.””

Kaufman is quick to point out, however, that there are studies to suggest classroom learning is the best modality. What’s most important, she says, is finding the option that works best for the individual.

“”Success depends on the way the course is designed, the instructors, the support the company provides, the buy-in of the IT professional and the complexity of the content,”” says Kaufman.

While Teare says she expects to see an increase in the number of tech workers enrolling in e-learning courses, she thinks there will always be a place for traditional classrooms.

“”When the TV came along, everyone said it would replace the radio and newspapers,”” she says.

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