Courses include Career, degree, and personal-enrichment.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

December 13, 2001

2 Min Read

America Online, the world's largest Internet service provider and online community, is diving into E-learning. The company this month launched the AOL Online Campus, a portal that offers access to a variety of online courses, ranging from Bob Ross' Joy of Painting to IT courses from the University of Phoenix.

Part of AOL's Research & Learn Channel, the AOL Online Campus is focusing on three areas: career advancement, degree courses, and personal enrichment. Courses for career advancement and graduate and undergraduate degrees make up the majority of the portal's offerings. The University of Phoenix, the largest online university, is offering about 20 accredited programs, including courses on business and technology. The University of California, Berkeley, Extension program, and the Keller Graduate School of Management are among "thousands of content partners," says Terry Crane, AOL's VP of information and education products.

AOL already offers AOL@School, a homework help channel for students in grade school. Together, the services will provide educational opportunities for members of any age, Crane says.

The average age of distance learners is older than expected, she says. "Many interested AOL members are in their 40s, moving along in their careers, and interested in advancing their education."

AOL says its research shows that members prefer to use the online service as the entry point to that training. Focus groups showed that there's a strong desire among AOL users to understand the educational opportunities available to them in both online and offline formats. A survey of AOL users shows that 65% would like to take an online course; that number jumps to 93% when offered as part of an AOL membership, Crane says.

AOL is moving into a booming market. More than 70% of colleges and universities offer distance-learning programs, up from 48% two years ago. Online instruction should grow into a $12 billion business by 2004, according to International Data Corp.

"The offering provides another place for people to access E-learning," IDC senior analyst Mike Brennan says. "It's a great marketing vehicle, but the degree in which consumers pursue online education on AOL is the question--it doesn't have the degree-granting authority."

AOL could be taking greater advantage of its position and technology, analysts say. It has more than 32 million members worldwide and handles 194 million E-mails and 657 million instant messages every day.

AOL could add value by integrating the project with its own infrastructure tools, such as instant-messaging software, suggests Elliot Masie, president of E-learning market research firm the Masie Center. "If AOL decided to use IM as a component of the delivery process, students could talk to their teachers online," he says. The offerings would be greatly enhanced "if they give it the AOL feel, the AOL experience, and its pricing advantage."

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