Click to print article    



Jack B. Smart skirted the snow patches by the newsstand. It was 6:59 a.m. on January 2, 2009, the Canadian wind bit his face under a cloudy sky, but he wanted to pick up his Journal. He looked up at the Human Capital Journal building located in Arlington, Virginia (to print the paper near Washington DC, the center of research on learning, productivity, and the vast government education programs) and smiled. Then he looked down and read today’s headline, “Human Capital Reserve Board increases credits for technical skills development for the 4th time by another 1000 basis points.”

As he read, he reflected on how Dow Jones started this national paper (The Human Capital Journal) five years ago when the workforce growth rate dropped to zero and panic began to set in. True, the capital economy was growing again at a 3.5% GDP rate, recovering from the Internet bubble burst of 2000. Federal Reserve Chairman, Allan Greenspan, had observed, way back in 1999, that major productivity increases that supported low inflation economic growth were due largely to implementation of technology by businesses. When the technology sector suffered, the whole economy slowed down, causing stagnate growth and high inflation, resulting in a loss of real income to workers and companies.

Few noticed sales demand for high technology products starting to bottom out until February 2002. In California’s Silicon Valley, the venture capital community was just coming out of a severe pullback, where 20% of the venture firms in business in 2000 had closed up shop by 2002. With venture capital out of the picture, startup capital was difficult if not impossible to come by, so companies had to bootstrap their businesses, grow slowly by building customer sales and presenting solid profitability paths before venture firms would even consider funding them. Development occurred, but came slowly, as firms were hesitant to add new staff.  Yet, with the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, people became hesitant to fly so they were more likely to try online learning and conferencing. This event acted as a catalyst for many prospective users to start using web based learning systems. From here, the economy grew very slowly over the next few years because of a global recession and heightened security impeding the free flow of goods and services.

Jack remembered how surprised managers were in 2004 when they started to look for new staffs. It seemed like there should have been plenty of qualified staff to fill the slots. Yet, even before the Internet bubble burst in 2000, hiring qualified networking people, in particular, was nearly impossible and led to a no-growth economy for over a year. Industry, government, and universities had not really understood the coming shift in demographics. Baby Boomers did not have enough children to keep the economy in a growth mode for the workforce. Fewer children born 20 years ago meant a smaller workforce. So, the shortage of 250,000 qualified computer, Internet, and telecom workers just got worse. Product managers and technical sales people were almost as much in short supply. In fact, without these qualified staffs, technology companies began to report in 2005 that their profits were going to be squeezed, revenues would fall short, and they would not be able to deliver the products and services already committed. The technology sector went into a tailspin and overall U.S. economy productivity decreased. His company, Giant-Gargantuan-Grow, Inc. (G-Cubed), had openings in his IT department. He had to offer sign-on bonuses of $10K, 20% uplift from their present salary, plus incentive stock options with accelerated vesting before people would even consider coming on board.

By 2005, capital investment in technology—to increase productivity—showed diminishing returns. The productivity engine of the late 1990s, which propelled the NASDAQ to hit 5100 in March of 2000, was over with a loss of $12 Trillion dollars in the personal and corporate wealth. With decline of the NASDAQ in 2001, people reflected on what real corporate valuations were. The old technology-only driven productivity models did not seem to work. Technology as the only solution, without engaging people in learning, did not produce the cost-reduction and earnings results that CEOs were looking for.

It was not until summer 2005 that executives began to look hard into learning performance management, and elearning corporations for the solutions to their productivity problems. AT&T and Coca Cola established Chief Performance Officer positions, and made them part of their Executive Committees. Using corporate scorecard techniques, all learning investments had to be cost- or ROI-justified and needed to have the complete support of corporate stakeholders. Research went beyond Benchmarking, but also used the corporate scorecard measures in terms of contribution to earnings per share, revenue per employee, and return on equity that Wall Street and corporate boards cared about.

By December of 2005, economic conditions grew worse. Average corporate profits fell by 50%, layoffs began to be announced across many sectors, and, as productivity investments lagged, gross domestic product (GDP) growth turned negative. Internet chat room users called on people to email the President and their Congressional representatives to do something. After much debate in Congress, the Human Capital Reserve Board (HCRB) was formed. They modeled this non-governmental organization after the successful Federal Reserve Board. This Board would be chartered with the responsibility of monitoring, on a monthly basis, leading indicators of learning, performance, and personal development growth, if any. The Human Capital Reserve Board, through a network of member learning capital banks, would make low cost loans available to corporations, universities, and non-profit organizations to jump start their learning, performance, and development programs. In particular, the Human Capital Reserve Board would monitor discontinuities between available workers and severe shortages in workers to place priorities on technology workers to get the economy going again. The Human Capital Reserve Board, led by a Chairman appointed by the President for a term of six years, had a board of rotating governors from districts around the country that had responsibility for monitoring and reporting monthly on learning, performance, and development conditions in their districts. The initial Board was comprised of the key performance leaders, President of the AT&T Corporate University, President of the University of Maryland University College (largest online University in the US), The Chief Performance Officer of Coca Cola, the Deputy Secretary of Education for Technology, and the President of University of Phoenix university system.

These monthly reports were called the Teal Books because they had teal colored covers. They were valuable for all learning, and performance economists to analyze workforce and learning conditions by region and learning sector. The Teal Books tracked leading indicators: funding by corporations of technical learning courses, number of workers certified in technical fields, workers losing positions due to lack of skills, shortages of skills and competencies as measured by jobs requiring those core skills. The books also reported on the performance managers purchasing index (purchases of learning objects, resources, and tools), and trending of the local marketplace for jobs versus qualified workers for those job types.

After the Federal Reserve, the Human Capital Reserve Board had the second greatest impact on the economy. Congress had marked $150B to the Board for allocation in learning and performance credits, loans, and funding for performance infrastructure development. As the needs of the country changed monthly, the Board would decide at what interest rate these loans would be available to member learning banks and investment funds for learning infrastructure development available through learning investment corporations. Corporations would apply for these funds, available overnight, if they were a certified learning organization based on standards that the Human Capital Reserve Board had established. Corporations quickly began to see the advantage of having a high performance, constantly learning workforce in place to stay competitive. These loans were highly sought after, and a market began to develop around the purchase of the low interest learning funds versus the higher interest loans (much like we see in mortgages and money market funds). Learning investment funds (LIFs) soon became the newest Wall Street trend in trading and investments. Options and futures markets developed, focused on the direction of interest rates up or down, and established a future horizon and a discount window on these investment instruments, backed by the U.S. government.

Jack remembered how, in the past, unqualified promoters of applied education started schools, vocational colleges, and certificate programs with little or no oversight. California alone had 2000 of these schools in existence, but after four years as many as 80% of these applied education schools closed their doors. After the Human Capital Reserve Board was established, they required standards, funding, performance, and accreditation requirements for these schools so people would know that the schools’ quality if they showed the HCRB seal. The schools were fully qualified and would be there to provide reference information when employers required necessary background degree or certificate information.

By 2007, as high quality content became available over the Internet, the Learning Object Exchange (LOE) was started by the Advanced Defense Learning Network of the Department of Defense, major corporations like Microsoft, Cisco, Hewlett Packard, AT&T, Motorola, Citibank, and Hewlett Packard. The LOE was founded to meet their need for high quality content and forced a major fallout of lesser quality content providers. As learning became the new scarce commodity, the real currency of value became learning objects and derivatives. There was much debate about what a learning object actually was.

Finally, it became pragmatic; the most granular form of learning object was called the meme. Popularized by MemeStream, a meme is the smallest form of learning instructional information. It could be a tip, a one phrase insight, or a paragraph containing the unique perspective that gives the learner an ‘ahaaa’ feeling of illumination on a life experience. The Human Capital Reserve Board was asked to regulate the LOE, as millions of learning objects were exchanged weekly, changing the landscape of the learning and performance industry. There were no quality standards, and it was necessary to have rules for an orderly market of exchange of these objects. Quote systems were developed showing best bids and offers. A separate unit of the Human Capital Reserve Board, in partnership with the LOE, founded a non-profit institute called the Learning Quality Foundation (HQF), which developed standards and yardsticks for evaluating the quality of content rated AAA down to a level of -BBB for junk grade learning content. The rating system helped buyers know the quality of the learning investment they were purchasing. No longer was learning the domain of a few instructional designers or professors. High quality content was available at inexpensive prices for immediate download, as were whole curriculums, certification programs, and template models on building sound instructional materials. Another thing happened. Informal learning, which was discovered in the 1990s as over 80% of all learning in corporations and even more from a life experience perspective, could now be supported with high quality content, graded quality, and easy access.

This market in learning objects supported new applications. Line managers could now go to their performance dashboard client systems and enter the goals for performance, skills development, and competencies. A list of recommended learning objects, resources, and mentors would be displayed—true learning management on demand. And individual employees could use the same type of dashboard, where they often would interact and establish rules for system agents to find the right object and negotiate its price, pay for it, and display it on the browser, palm device or display wherever the employee may be.

By this time, the Spohrer’s World Board concept was well accepted. The World Board concept proposed that sensors be placed in strategic learning areas in cities and countryside, special receivers on handhelds or glasses displays would send GPS information to satellites above and make known the learners’ interests. They would receive information about what they were seeing from an historic place like Mount Vernon (George Washington’s home) to looking at a building’s front doors and seeing a directory of businesses located there, with abstracts of the companies, their services or other requested information. Jack remembered how excited he was about accessing this information and being able to copy, paste, and file it into his own database according to index labels he understood for later retrieval. The newly acquired information could be hung on concept hangers in a mental map that the learner developed himself to survive and grow in society. (Actually iterative learning was discovered by Eileen Kintsch in the 1980s to be the way experts navigated content, and not having to wade through it sequentially.) People could now be masters of their own learning development process. Learning productivity took a leap, as indeed it needed to.

By the fall of 2008, the EdIndex, started in 2001 by EdAnalysis, Inc., showed a jump of 20% in learning corporate stocks compared to 2007, as Wall Street began to see the learning, performance, and human capital markets as the new hot space for the next decade, starting in 2010. The major brokerage firms assigned senior analysts, and Learning Valley analyst tours were put together throughout the Potomac River valley region, where many of the key learning performance firms had headquarters.

Jack reflected on all the false starts for the industry during the Internet Bubble of 1995–2000, then the real work and development stage for five years afterward. Finally, the big shift in the fall of 2008. It was good to be here, in this place now, at the birth of an industry that was making such a significant contribution to the U.S. economy, and had become a key column of support in the building of wealth.

He wondered when the next Human Capital Reserve Board move would be made. Analysts were already starting to speculate on when the next learning capital credit rate cut would take place, and the boost that would give the stock markets.

Just then, Jack saw the sun peek out over the edge of the HCJ building, and felt the warmth on his cheek.

Tom Hill is program leader of a team at the Education and Training Center for the Nonstop (Tandem) Division of Compaq focused on the development of advanced learning technologies for intraweb and Internet applications. He started a 20 company coalition on learning object metadata standards prior to IMS and the ADL programs in 1996, was a founder of the Educational Object Economy project, and holds a Masters in Interactive Learning Technology from Stanford University. Hill can be reached via email at:

The opinions, ideas, concepts, and products mentioned in this article do not reflect the policies, programs, or ideas of Compaq Computer Corporation.



Copyright (c) 2000-2004 LiNE Zine (

LiNE Zine retains the copyright in all of the material on these web pages as a collective work under copyright laws. You may not republish, redistribute or exploit in any manner any material from these pages without the express consent of LiNE Zine and the author. Contact for reprints and permissions. You may, however, download or print copyrighted material for your individual and non-commercial use.