Why Is eLearning Only 10% of the French Training Budget?

Sally Ann MoreRoubaix (F), November 2014 - (by Sally Ann Moore) Despite numerous surveys, reports, analyses, and press articles claiming great progress in French eLearning, a closer examination of the facts reveals a worrying absence of eLearning in a vast majority of French companies. The education sector is also lagging a long way behind the USA and the other G8 members (2% educational eLearning in France compared to 30% in USA). While the French eLearning market grew by 25% between 2012 and 2013 to 200 million euros, eLearning only represents 10% of the total corporate training budget in France. This article looks at the data and the possible reasons for the French "eLearning lag".


Latest Data

These are the main recent sources of facts about the French eLearning market:

  • Silk Road (2012)
  • Ambient Insight Research (estimates world eLearning market at 50 billion euros in 2015)
  • Capital et Edxus Group (2013)
  • SIPA (2013)
  • Cross Knowledge avec Féfaur et IPSOS (2013), (Their study of European eLearning showed that organisations of over 10,000 employees represent 68% of the European eLearning professional usage) 
  • CEGOS (2013)
  • AFINEF (2014)

These studies all report a positive trend for eLearning in France, with high growth  (1500% over ten years) and more and more companies turning to blended-learning solutions. However, the samples they use were predominantly companies over 1000 employees. According to INSEE, only 125 companies in France have more than 2000 staff, but 37,000 companies are registered with between 50 and 200 employees. We know that the latter group rarely use eLearning and that 12% of French HR managers are firmly opposed to eLearning.

The data also showed that the highest usage of eLearning is companies that have been using it for more than three years, with a certain maturity. This differs from Germany and UK, where eLearning penetration rates are much higher in new users.

Notably in a European study of 2013, only 19% of French employees have ever taken an eLearning course versus 37% of Germans, 42% of British, and 57% of Spanish.

Furthermore, in another study only 17% of French companies surveyed have trained more than 50% of staff using eLearning, as opposed to 40% in the UK, Spain, and Benelux.

There is no evidence that the quality of content or level of technology available in France is a factor in this “eLearning lag”, so we have to look at more subtle factors present in the market.

So what is slowing down eLearning in French companies?

For a start, look at the four key reasons for using eLearning cited by French training managers:

  • training cost reduction (average savings on direct costs of 35% reported in 2013)
  • overcome geographical dispersion
  • just-in-time training
  • reach a greater number of employees.

Absent from this list are quality and relevance of content, which is a first clue. This is in contrast to eLearning users surveyed in 400 French companies, which showed them to be the most concerned with quality, relevance, and accuracy of course content. This indicates the user satisfaction and relevance are not foremost in the French eLearning managers goals. It also differs from satisfaction factors such as graphics, format, and accessibility, preferred by users in other European countries.

Data also show that the majority of French eLearning content is concerned with IT, language learning, and vocational training, and much less management development than UK and USA.  The fact that management content is predominantly available in English explains part of the penetration problem.

This factor is compounded with the fact that French e-learners tend to be white-collar managers and executives who would do more eLearning if more management-development content were available in French. The lower-profile employees typically do not get offered eLearning in France, which also explains the lower usage rates.

Secondly, surveys reveal French passivity vis-à-vis individual learning compared to their European counterparts.  In the UK, Germany, and Spain, seventy percent of employees manage their own training plan and take the initiative actively, whereas in France only fifty percent of employees drive their own development plan.

Surveys also show that French employees are not prepared to pay for their own development and expect their employee to cover all the cost. German and British professionals, in contrast, are willing to buy eLearning courses for self-improvement without waiting for the employer to tell them what to learn.

Thirdly, in France, performance-management and evaluation processes are far less likely to be used after employees have taken eLearning courses; French HR Directors and Training managers freely admit that they do not measure competencies acquired in eLearning. This is partly because eLearning is often deployed outside the HR department. We know that measuring progress and results is a key factor in motivation eLearning users

Finally, the State is a factor: All this lack of motivation for eLearning comes despite French law on individual training rights (the DIF, the CIF and the VAE regulations), which are more advanced than those in other European countries. French laws on using eLearning appeared later (around 2009), compared to five years earlier in other countries.

The French State has not actively encouraged eLearning, say compared to Spain, where 57% of employees have used eLearning and where the government invests eight euros per eLearning module per employee. This indicates that a lack of French government financial support is also a factor.

Sally-Ann Moore is the Managing Director and founder for the iLearning Forum series of conferences. She has a long career in consulting and today specializes in eLearning, Competence Management and Performance Management.