The unique challenge of e-learning in the digital world

21 Oct 2022

Des Anderson, LearnUpon. Image: Conor Healy/Picture It Photography

LearnUpon’s CTO discusses how digital transformation has changed the way we learn.

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Des Anderson is the co-founder and CTO of Irish e-learning company LearnUpon, which was founded in 2012.

Earlier this year, the company announced it was creating 130 new jobs across its Irish, Serbian, US and Australian locations, 65 of which would be at its Dublin headquarters.

Anderson’s direct teams include engineering, infrastructure, and security and IT.

“Most of my responsibilities lean into the product and engineering side, with a heavy focus on how we can evolve our platform to meet our customers’ needs and ensure that they are getting the best results from their learning and development strategies,” he told

‘Learning that is fully online can work, but it needs technology to help aid some form of human interaction’

What are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing in the current IT landscape?

The biggest challenge, which is widespread across the full IT landscape currently, is finding the right tech talent to join our team. The pandemic disrupted the workplace entirely, and a by-product of that is a disconnected way of finding talent with a lack of recruiting fairs and in-person conferences.

We are catching up with the return of some in-person events, but the impact on recruiting within this space is very apparent. Technology allows us to be remote in the way that we work, which has also been useful in us pivoting our recruitment strategies over the past couple of years online. We have been hiring in multiple locations and thinking outside of the box to help address the talent pool shortages and market instabilities we are facing.

Another challenge I see is an abundance of tooling. While it’s great for digital transformation, the amount of choice on the market can be crippling.

The ability to decide and move quickly is a key competitive advantage to help scale a business and meet your own and your customer needs. I do believe that simplicity is usually the best strategy to move quickly and iterate.

With so many different tools in play, and juggling different teams and unique customer needs, linking up software can be difficult. If not done correctly, it can lead to rogue data sources that are hard to identify while also posing security risks.

Balancing nimbleness with best practices is key in addressing this, but it can be tricky to do at scale.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation?

The pandemic certainly re-focused e-learning on digital transformation, and firsthand we saw many of our customers increase their online presence, moving out of traditional classroom-based training and education for their teams.

E-learning poses a unique challenge in a digital world as I believe there needs to be a balance between learning online with a human element. Learning that is fully online can work, but it needs technology to help aid some form of human interaction facilitated through chat, live meetings, or blended learning approaches that couple online with offline or interactive classroom training.

My sense is that the digital learning transformation is serving us well in the above regard, but it has hinged the focus on the technology rather than the learner. It’s always been important to us and our partners to put the focus on the learner. Overall, no matter how advanced technology is, you can’t replace human relationships with it.

I think that the key differentiator around digitisation in e-learning is moving the needle back to the learner, making it easy for learners to receive content.

One example I think is interesting is the evolution of how we view videos. Many of us, unbeknownst to ourselves, watch videos with subtitles on and the volume off. With this in mind, we’ve been reassessing our approach to video, particularly as we see viewing patterns evolve and its value as a learning tool increases.

How can sustainability be addressed from an IT perspective?

In our industry specifically, e-learning allows training to be housed online, so people don’t need to fly, drive or even leave their houses to participate in courses or learning conferences.

Traditional company meetings such as week-long offsites that previously would bring together big groups for a week via air and road travel for trainings can be facilitated online with e-learning, significantly reducing carbon emissions and footprints.

Work from home also has a hand in reducing emissions, with communication tools such as Zoom and Slack. Further combining tools across platforms to lessen movements could be a key way to further focus on sustainability, and integrations are always top of mind for us here at LearnUpon.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world?

Data analytics and machine learning, not only in the e-learning space but in general, is top of mind for me. Combining training data with other applications and bringing machine learning into the mix provides us with findings, learnings and insights that are all the more powerful and enable us to make decisions that produce better outcomes.

Additionally, with the advancements in video technologies and smart devices, learning can happen everywhere, which is an amazing progression for e-learning. These powerful devices marry the human trend of learning through more video content with learning anywhere and allow us to consume content no matter where we are physically.

Lastly, API at scale is the most exciting tech trend for me. I’m a huge fan of connectivity. APIs aren’t new and have been around for decades, but what is new is that applications these days are not considered ‘true apps’ if they can’t connect to other apps.

Combining data and connectivity provides a powerful holistic view and the insights we can get that human minds can’t comprehend on their own is something that really excites me.

Software has become more advanced, pushing hardware to new limits. That’s all down to developers who have a broader set of tools, APIs, and libraries to work from. It’s easier and easier to deploy to the cloud and have an app running in an hour, not weeks, which is all powered by innovative tech.

How can we address the security challenges currently facing your industry?

Customer touch is huge in our industry, spanning from support to learning to human relations. Because of this, security issues can strike right at the heart of the trust that bonds it together.

The natural friction that comes up in deploying updates (ie review processes, scrutiny on libraries used that might have breaches, and more), can slow us down greatly in our ability to be nimble.

Moreover, many security issues tend to stem from human error, whether that be in coding standards, social engineering related breaches, or simply teams losing track of a server on the network that becomes public due to configuration. And like all industries, work from home and hybrid workplaces have elevated the human element challenging security awareness.

Addressing these challenges all starts with training and offering more educational courses on cybersecurity. This gives the industry a bigger talent pool to help us battle these issues and allows us train our broader teams to create further awareness.

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