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Cisco head sees e-learning as next wave

by Mary Lisbeth D'Amico


LAS VEGAS (IDG) -- Just as e-commerce exploded over the past two years, the stage is now set for "e-learning" to be the next big wave in Internet-based applications, according to Cisco Systems Chief Executive Officer and President John Chambers. Such a move will also help close the divide between rich and poor, he added.

"Education and the Internet must go hand in hand," Chambers said in a keynote speech in Las Vegas Tuesday at Comdex. "It will serve as one of the great equalizers."

In his speech, Chambers pointed to a host of other ways in which he sees the Internet changing people's lives and making companies more productive over the next two years. These ways range from allowing companies to monitor their financial health to letting people conduct most of their errand running over the Internet, he added.

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"It will change the way we work, live, play and learn," Chambers said.

Of course, Cisco has a vested interest in the growth of these Internet-based applications. The company is one of the largest manufacturers of routers, switches and other equipment that provide the plumbing for the Internet.

Chambers identified Web-based learning as one of the hottest new applications in coming years. He showed a video on cutting-edge universities such as Berkeley in California, that offer students Web sites for each course offered, and integrate the Internet into the learning process.

He admitted, however, that the market for Internet-based learning hasn't taken off as quickly as some observers had predicted. Although the technology exists, roadblocks still exist. Many teachers, used to what he called "command and control," don't like to give up the power to students to decide what they learn, and aren't yet comfortable with Internet collaboration, he said.

When "e-learning" does take hold over the next two years, however, education will become a continuing process, as companies educate their employees via the Internet, Chambers said.

He also predicts that companies will reap the productivity benefits as their employees increasingly take care of all their errands over the Internet, thus freeing them up for other tasks. He explained that he'd prefer to see employees taking care of tasks such as shopping and laundry at work via the Net rather than have them leave early to attend to those errands.

Chambers demonstrated one new application, a gas pump with Internet access that will be launched in North Carolina in two weeks. Customers run their credit card or customer card through the a smart-card holder installed at the pump. They then receive a personalized Web page with news and other information, can look at a Web-based map for directions, and can even order goods online while waiting for their gas to pump.

The Internet will also enact change the way companies handle internal information, Chambers said. He sees a big future for what he called "virtual close" -- the ability of companies to assess their own financial health on a daily basis using Web-based applications. Such a move will allow chief executive officers to avoid being surprised by their results at the end of a quarter, he added.

One user listening to the keynote, who identified herself as a broker with Smith Barney, said she was really inspired by Chamber's comments, calling him a "visionary" speaker.

Another attendee, a student at Stanford University, said Stanford already has the same type of Internet applications as those shown during the keynote. He was a bit more skeptical about how much that transformed the education process, however. "We have it, but it doesn't really change that much about your life," he said.

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