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New IBM unit to focus on Internet learning

The company launches a new business division that will sell technology, design and delivery services for online education.

IBM today made a major push into the Internet learning market.

The technology giant launched a new business unit, IBM Mindspan Solutions, which will sell businesses technology, content, planning, design and delivery services focusing on Internet learning, or e-learning. Though today is its official launch, the new unit has been working with IBM customers for the past four months.

Financial details of the new venture were not disclosed, though an IBM executive said the company has tripled its investment in the e-learning market.

Unlike distance learning, which includes text-based instruction and courses conducted through written correspondence, e-learning is focused on the delivery of educational content over electronic media, including the Internet, corporate networks, satellite, broadcast, audio, videotape, interactive TV and CD-ROM, IBM said in a statement.

International Data Corp. estimates the e-learning market will reach $15 billion by the year 2000.

"Although they're going to compete in a number of places against training companies, the big five consulting firms and Internet learning software providers, IBM is big enough to make this work," said IDC analyst Cushing Anderson. "This is a good move for IBM and a good move for the market, because it shows that the space has matured."

Some of the features provided by the new business unit include educational consulting, educational training services, technical design, content creation and conversion tools and services. IBM subsidiary Lotus also provides technology.

Cambridge, Mass.-based Lotus today rolled out LearningSpace 4.0, the latest version of its Internet learning software package.

LearningSpace 4.0 is distributed learning software that allows users to learn either through self-paced materials, live interaction with others in a virtual classroom or collaboration with others independent of time and place, the company said.

Lotus has been in the distance learning market for some time and is increasingly looking for more revenue as the messaging market becomes saturated.

IBM said LearningSpace is considered a key technology segment of IBM Mindspan Solution.

Mindspan was launched because of a "market requirement," said Rick Horton, general manager of e-learning at IBM.

"Before, there were various parts of IBM with a fractured focus on this market," he said. "Now we've brought all of those parts into one."