Need for an e-Learning Strategy
As a basis for the development of an e-learning strategy, an understanding of what is meant by e-learning should be established. E-learning comprises learning delivered over the Internet or an Intranet as well as any other form of learning mediated by technology or computers (Fowles, 2000) including but not limited to CD-ROM, DVD, video, and computer assisted instruction whether at a distance or face to face. The intent is to take the emphasis off of the technology and place it on the innovative aspect of e-learning which is a new way of thinking about how individuals learn.
Thinking about learning means examining how learning is accomplished and the ways in which the use of technology enhances learning opportunities. Learning is looking beyond the necessity of requiring instruction or training to providing access to well-designed information, supporting the use of performance enhancing tools, developing experiences, and promoting collaboration within communities of learners (
Characteristics of an e-Learning Strategy
Architectural models are frequently used to portray the characteristics of an e-learning strategy.
Vision Statement or Excavating
Before any components of the e-learning strategy are assembled, there must be a statement of the organization’s vision. The vision statement looks into the future in terms of achievements and accomplishments (
The building analogy for vision is the excavating and leveling of the ground prior to construction (McGraw, 2001). Inherent with vision is the language which defines the concept and function of e-learning for the organization and its clients. This common e-learning vision and language views e-learning as a solution that meets organizational needs as well as defining e-learning at the decision-making level.New Organizational Model or Foundation and Mortar
The base of
Rather than reporting to the head of the training organization, e-learning should report to a separate governing board consisting of key stakeholders and clients (Rosenberg). E-learning requires centralization of key technology functions including but not limited to technology standards, knowledge management, system administration, and instructional design.
McGraw (2001) associates the permanent foundation of an e-learning initiative with the organization’s infrastructure. Infrastructure refers to the processes, structures, and culture of the organization such as funding policies and governance that contribute to the success or failure of e-learning (McGraw). In McGraw’s model the governing principles corresponding to management structure and operations are identified as the e-learning building’s mortar. The support of stakeholders, rules governing e-learning operations, and reporting processes hold the e-learning house together and need to be established at the planning phase of the process.Business Case or Building Blocks
The next tier of
The next phase in McGraw’s (2001) construction is a series of four key decisions which comprise the building blocks of a sound e-learning infrastructure. McGraw’s building blocks diverge from
Business strategy and architecture building block.The business strategy and architecture building block (McGraw, 2001) is most closely aligned with
Change management is the roof over McGraw’s (2001) e-learning structure. McGraw views the paradigm shift required for e-learning as emanating from the organization’s governing principles as evidenced by their promotion of the following principles. Change occurs as a result of positive learning experiences involving interactions with content that is compelling, engaging, and relevant to the learner’s job and long-term career goals (McGraw). Acceptance of e-learning programs is influenced by their support for individual learner profiles, ease of use, and accessibility for geographically separated populations. Change management must include the establishment of new incentives and allow learners to develop their personal learning plan (McGraw).Learning culture, management ownership, and change management form the third tier of
Culture of learning.Establishing a culture of learning goes beyond breaking down the traditional view of learning to changing how learning is viewed. Learning must be recognized as a valuable part of what people do; not an isolated activity. An organization cannot be pushed into this view of learning but should rather be pulled into a learning culture with the culture-building strategies which bring unity to the learning function by instilling people within the organization with the desire to change (
Champions of the e-learning initiative.
Communicating the message.
Managing and directing the change process is a function of leadership which starts with effectively communicating a clear and understandable message.
In order for the elements in the change process: creating a learning culture, finding e-learning champions, and communicating the e-learning message to be successful they must be part of a coordinated change strategy. This strategy starts with listening to what the stakeholders say about the change and their willingness to try the e-learning approach (
Infrastructure and Technical Architecture Building Block.
At the basic level, infrastructure is the means by which the learners will access the Web when and where it is needed. Technical architecture is the second of McGraw’s (2001) building blocks and describes the required components and functionality for learning.
McGraw (2001) suggests using an open architecture and including standards for integrating existing learning and technological elements. In either case, it is essential for the relationship between e-learning and the information technology department to be supportive and mutually beneficial.
Learning Architecture versus Building BlocksThe fifth tier of
The building blocks, learning strategy and learner identities and needs, utilized by McGraw (2001) are comparable to
Learner identities and needs building block.
McGraw’s (2001) learner identities and needs building block aligns the performance needs and goals of the organization with the interests and motivation of individual learners. In the construction process this block involves the development of learner profiles and individual learning plans which link learning styles and learning preferences with career development plans and workplace competencies. The set up of comfortable learning environments by assessing technical abilities and technological comfort level and the configuring of workspace to limit distractions is an application of this building block.
The structures built by Rosenberg (2001) and McGraw (2001) analyze the requirements of an e-learning initiative, determine its essential elements, and integrate this new way of thinking about learning into the entire enterprise.
The integration of e-learning into higher education curricula is problematic and likely to encounter organizational, technological, and human obstacles. The key to successful implementation and stakeholder satisfaction is preparation of a comprehensive e-learning strategy using a participatory process.Develop a Vision
The e-learning vision must reinforce the academic institution’s mission, support its academic programs, and reflect the incorporation of e-learning into the university’s instruction and training philosophy.
The development of the e-learning vision must include participation from all stakeholders including students, faculty, staff, and administration. Those who are supportive of e-learning as well as those who are not can be brought together in open forums, physical and virtual, to discuss and formulate the future state of the university. Upon completion all participants will be able to claim ownership and work toward the realization of enhancing learning.
Governance, funding, and structure issues needing to be addressed include: whether e-learning is centralized or decentralized, whether existing policies might interfere with the acceptance of e-learning and an enterprise-wide learning management system, how will funding be determined, and how will return on investment be measured (McGraw, 2001). Rather than reinventing the organization an enlarging of the current academic structure is recommended by centralizing key technology functions and personnel in a new academic office of e-learning directly responsible to the president.
Defend the Investment
The introduction of e-learning must be guided by pedagogical considerations, not the demands of technology (
The shift for learners enrolled in the university as well as for university staff from the traditional, classroom approach to instruction and training to an anywhere, anytime delivery brings resistance. This resistance comes from the organization’s leadership who have difficulty recognizing the value of e-learning and the organization’s traditional instruction and training providers which do not view e-learning as legitimate. Resistance to change is often considered an obstacle but it is a normal response to change and should be viewed as a positive step in the change process.
The emphasis of the change strategy will be on involving people from within the organization in the change process, from initial planning and preparation through implementation and integration, and into maintenance. An academic institution’s change strategy is dependent on the university’s president being supportive of the initiative. The tone, image, goals, and aspirations of an organization, large or small, originate from this leadership position. Once the president is prepared to support the initiative, assistance with drafting the proper message about the e-learning initiative and preparing recommendations for realignment of current programs including the development of incentives will be offered.
Communication of the e-learning message will be from the top down using a clearly articulated message of value rather than a sales pitch (
The participants in the change process will be persuaded to buy into e-learning if the products are easy to use, convenient, and provide high-quality learning experiences. The change strategy must also include the creation of an atmosphere of learning by the integration of e-learning as well as other forms of learning into the daily activities of everyone in the organization and providing incentives for those who learn new skills which improve job performance (
The academic institution’s information technology and instructional technology departments must become part of the new academic office of e-learning. These departments will be responsible for the technological infrastructure needed for learners to access instruction when and where it is needed. To avoid duplication of efforts and to provide a consistent product, the e-learning effort will be coordinated with all the training functions in the organization using a comprehensive e-learning portal strategy (
Part of the comprehensive e-learning strategy will be provisions for an ever changing technology market and the means to measure the success of the initiative at each phase. Since new technology tools are continually being developed, an effective e-learning strategy examines the best use of current technology along with a plan for the integration of new technologies. This technology component of the academic institution's e-learning strategy will help the university make informed decisions which will sustain it for today as well as in the future.
Address the Learners
The building of a learning strategy requires a needs assessment to analyze the target audience’s level of knowledge, frame of reference, motivational profile, and the performance gap that needs to be filled by instruction and training (Rosenberg, 2001). The learning strategy matches the delivery mode with the learning, practices, and demonstrations of performance in order to achieve those desired competencies (
The comprehensive e-learning strategy will include an examination of existing materials to identify gaps in the content which must be filled. When existing instructional materials are available and useful, they will be integrated into the resources available to learners. The main source of information for learners will be through a unified Web portal which provides learners with access to the entire learning architecture such as a schedule of learning activities, mentors, assessment, evaluation, communication, and collaboration (
The use of knowledge management and performance support resources will be utilized to help the target audience become independent learners as learning and training resources evolve into on-the-job resources (
Development of online communities is a significant contributor to learning both during and between learning events. An academic institution’s e-learning strategy must detail plans for building communities online and supporting their continuing growth with face to face meetings which heighten and revitalize their shared interests.
Developing an e-learning strategy provides the organization an opportunity to reinvent their learning structure by integrating e-learning into a complete knowledge management system (McGraw, 2001). The academic institution's e-learning strategy needs to be tested with stakeholders to involve them in the process, review the approach and content, and to develop active contributors and supporters of the initiative.
ConclusionThere are three overlapping and cyclical phases in an e-learning strategy: preparation, implementation and integration, and maintenance (
An e-learning initiative brings change to the leadership structure, management systems, competencies, and culture of the organization(Dublin, 2004). in addition to transforming the way instruction and training is viewed. Importance has been placed on change management in view of the fact that no matter how motivating or thoughtful the e-learning plan, in order for successful implementation and integration to occur it must be supported within the organization by a united effort (
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Rosenberg, M. J. (2001). e-Learning strategies for delivering knowledge in the digital age.