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e-learning Strategy


e-Learning Strategy


Gail Ruby

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 (Rosenberg, 2001). The ability of an organization to achieve success with these learning opportunities emanates from the e-learning strategy.

Characteristics of an e-Learning Strategy

Architectural models are frequently used to portray the characteristics of an e-learning strategy. Rosenberg (2001) utilizes a five tiered pyramid depicting the critical components of a successful e-learning initiative capped by the e-learning instructional elements and organizational information support tools. McGraw (2001) represents the process as being analogous to building a structure which houses the resources needed to achieve financial goals. Both of these models represent the application of e-learning to a business environment. The similarities and differences in the functionality of the elements in these models will be presented in the following discussion. The characteristics from these e-learning approaches will lead into the synthesis of an e-learning strategy for an academic environment.

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 (Rosenberg, 2001). Vision statements do not involve performance indicators such as number of online courses but rather express internal and external value and recognition (Rosenberg). Development of the vision statement should be a consensus-building activity which is refined by management (Rosenberg) allowing everyone in the organization to claim ownership and work toward its realization. 

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 Rosenberg’s (2001) e-learning pyramid, reinventing the training organization, is an indicator of the need for adoption of a new organizational model that will support e-learning. Leadership and staff, recruited by the e-learning group, are permanently assigned to e-learning and have a clear mission (Rosenberg). Funding for e-learning is multiyear and based on the group meeting training needs and objectives instead of being based on cost recovery (Rosenberg).

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 Rosenberg’s (2001) e-learning pyramid is building a sound business case, meaning justifying to leadership the investment in e-learning. Rosenberg provides three justifications which are required to establish a sound business case for e-learning. First, demonstrate that e-learning is responsive to fast-paced changes in terms of speed of deployment and updating, is available and accessible to workers when and where it is needed, improves performance, and increases competency (

Rosenberg). Second, verify e-learning is more economical then other methods of delivering training and instruction (Rosenberg). Third, the organization must recognize the value of intellectual property by managing knowledge as an asset instead of a cost (Rosenberg).

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

Rosenberg’s (2001) model in that the purposeful justification for the investment in e-learning is not dealt with by McGraw. The first building block is an examination of the organization’s linking of e-learning with its overall business strategy and architecture (McGraw). The second block deals with the technical architecture in terms of components for the management, delivery, and presentation of e-learning. The third building block focuses on learning strategies, a determination of the experiences and content conveyed to learners (McGraw). The fourth building block describes learner identities, needs, and issues as consideration is given to individual learning styles, preferences, interests, and motivation (McGraw). The examination of these building blocks will be aligned with the tiers of Rosenberg’s e-learning pyramid. 

Business strategy and architecture building block.

The business strategy and architecture building block (McGraw, 2001) is most closely aligned with Rosenberg’s (2001) business case justifications. Documentation of a business need for e-learning is addressed by questions such as how many learners need access to learning, where are the learners located, are learners from outside of the organization, or does learning need to be deployed quickly to multiple locations (McGraw). The answers to these questions assess whether an e-learning solution is best suited for meeting the desired goals. The business strategy and architecture should also set forth the factors for determining the success of e-learning solutions along with a realistic timeline for attaining results.

Change Management

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 Rosenberg’s (2001) five tier e-learning pyramid. Like McGraw (2001), Rosenberg addresses change management but as a more encompassing issue of dealing with resistance and promoting positive attitudes toward change. The important elements in a comprehensive e-learning change strategy according to Rosenberg are the four C’s of success: culture of learning, champions of the e-learning initiative, communicating the message of value of e-learning, and a change strategy.

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 (Rosenberg, 2001).

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. Rosenberg (2001) suggests developing new communication vehicles consistent with online learning and knowledge management. This means doing away with schedules and catalogs which present the perception of the previous approach and creating a Web site which focuses on the link between e-learning and job performance (Rosenberg).

Change strategy.

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 (

Rosenberg, 2001). Next, prepare for the change by providing training opportunities in the use of the new tools (Rosenberg). Finally, ensure the funding and resources are in place to support the program for the long-term (Rosenberg).

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 Blocks

The fifth tier of Rosenberg’s (2001) e-learning pyramid is learning architecture, describing the structure and integration of learning components for the achievement of performance goals. Learning architecture goes beyond curriculum to consider the design, sequencing, and integration of electronic and non-electronic learning options such as online, classroom, independent study, mentoring, and work experience to form a detailed learning and performance development plan (Rosenberg).

 Learning strategy building block.

The building blocks, learning strategy and learner identities and needs, utilized by McGraw (2001) are comparable to Rosenberg’s (2001) learning architecture. McGraw’s learning strategy matches learning experiences and content with the presentation and distribution methods. Potential presentation methods might include web based training, computer aided instruction, interactive television, teleconferencing, virtual reality, and electronic performance support systems and should be selected to complement the technology infrastructure (McGraw).

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.

 Blending Models

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. Rosenberg’s approach tends toward the abstract while McGraw’s approach is more concrete. The blending of these two styles will be offered as the appropriate e-learning strategy for an academic workplace.

Academic Institution’s e-Learning Strategy

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. 

Enlarge the Academic Structures

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 (Clark, 2002) or economic considerations. However, the university will need to justify the investment of time and resources into e-learning which might be addressed by hours of development time required to deliver an hour of instruction or the percentage of instruction that should be technology based. McGraw (2001) suggests using the direct measures of cost, speed of deployment, quality of service, revenue generated, and time to achieve competence. These questions are not reflective of e-learning costs and do not address the impact of e-learning on the organization (Rosenberg, 2001). Better measures of the value of an e-learning program involve level and quality of service, reduced operational cost, and contributions to competitive advantage exhibited by increased flexibility and responsiveness to change (Rosenberg). 

Institute a Change Strategy

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 (Rosenberg, 2001). It is important for the success of the e-learning initiative that all external messages from vendors, consultants, or outside groups be controlled, going through a filtering process before distribution within the organization.

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 (Rosenberg, 2001).

Integrate Technology

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 (Rosenberg, 2001). There will be a consensus on a single learning management system and a goal of interoperability, the ability of the e-learning systems and products to work together (Rosenberg).

The system will not function without people, therefore, the infrastructure also includes talented people from within and from outside of the university being assigned the right roles to make the best use of the technology (Rosenberg, 2001). Various technology related decisions concerning how to provide consistent and reliable access to learning and information, connection speed for remote users, network bandwidth, cross-departmental data sharing, security requirements, and standards compliance will be a collaborative effort between e-learning administrators, academic departments, and the technology department (McGraw, 2001).

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 (Rosenberg). Classroom instruction is considered appropriate for application and teamwork while e-learning is associated with instruction involving content and tools (Rosenberg). In choosing the delivery method, the university’s need for instruction and training will be weighed against the constraints in the process such as the size of the learning community, the geographical location of learners, the cost of instructional options, and the timeframe for delivering instruction.

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 (Rosenberg, 2001).

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 (Rosenberg, 2001). The learning strategy details the processes and requirements for providing feedback to learners as well as presenting separate instructional materials, reference, and on-the-job support materials (McGraw, 2001). The strategy will also employ competency assessments, providing individuals with the ability to assess their learning needs and develop a learning plan.

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.  


There are three overlapping and cyclical phases in an e-learning strategy: preparation, implementation and integration, and maintenance (Dublin, 2004). In the process of developing this e-learning strategy the university must consider its mission and the impact e-learning will have on the organization. The adoption of e-learning is commonly associated with stakeholder frustration and dissatisfaction with e-learning as a method; traceable to the failure to develop a complete and understandable e-learning strategy (van der Merwe et. al., 2004). When the e-learning strategy fits in with and supports the overall organizational plan it presents a vision everyone can connect with and support (Dublin).

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 (Dublin). The organization which takes the time to develop a comprehensive e-learning strategy will be doing more than producing training that utilizes technology. It will be enhancing learning opportunities for its constituents and improving the likelihood for success.


Clark, C. (Ed.). (2002). An e-learning strategy for theUniversity of Warwick. Retrieved November 5, 2005, from Coventry, United Kingdom: University of Warwick, e-Learning Steering Group Web site:

 Dublin, L. (2004). Lessons on e-learning strategy development from the Cheshire cat. Learning Circuits. American Society for Training & Development. Retrieved October 30, 2005, from 

Fowles, C. (2000). Glossary and library terms. Retrieved August 5, 2005 from University of South Dakota, Library Web site:

 McGraw, K. L. (2001). E-learning strategy equals infrastructure. Learning Circuits. American Society for Training & Development. Retrieved October 30, 2005, from,

Rosenberg, M. J. (2001). e-Learning strategies for delivering knowledge in the digital age. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

van der Merwe, A., Pretorius, L., & Cloete, E. (2004). A requirements elicitation process modeling technique for incorporation of e-learning as a core learning strategy. Journal of Integrated Design & Process Science, 8(3), 1-16.


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