E-training companies go after federal market

A recently announced partnership between Macromedia and Plateau Systems illustrates the growing demand for e-learning technologies in government agencies.

Macromedia and Plateau have teamed to provide and manage content for the Office of Personnel Management's USALearning Web portal. Under a five-year contract, worth as much as $225 million, they will serve 2.7 million federal employees.

Although OPM's effort is a major initiative, other companies have a hand in the market, too. They say USALearning involves more than the ability to provide training to employees worldwide.

Frank Russell, president and chief executive officer of GeoLearning, said the focus on training in the federal marketplace is about more effectively managing people.

"You're talking about not only how do we train but how do we ensure we have qualified people to get the job done," he said.

The federal government is aggressively pursuing e-learning, said Paul Sparta, Plateau's chairman and CEO.

"Typically there's always a tendency to say government lags the commercial sector" in adopting technologies, he said. "In this case, the federal government is becoming quite a leader among organizations for what it's doing."

Federal agencies spend about $2.5 billion a year on e-learning content and technology services, contributing to the national total of $14 billion to $16 billion, according to Bersin and Associates, a research firm based in Oakland, Calif.

Companies and analysts say the potential for growth in the government marketplace will increase as large agencies, such as the Defense and Homeland Security departments, lead the way.

"It's going to continue to grow because the government has a number of initiatives like USALearning," said Josh Bersin, president and CEO of Bersin and Associates. "The government knows [that e-learning] saves money, and they know they need to be more scalable and flexible."

He added that the government has room to grow because it lags one or two stages behind the corporate world in using e-learning products.

"Civilian agencies are still trying to figure out how to build and deploy programs to prevent people from going to classes," Bersin added. "The corporate world is well past that, and most large corporations have an infrastructure for people to take training online."

Anderson is a business writer in Arlington, Va. She can be reached at tania.anderson@verizon.net.

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