How to Develop a Comprehensive e-learning Strategy

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1 WHITEPAPER How to Develop a Comprehensive e-learning Strategy (First, Think Infrastructure!) Dr. Karen L. McGraw Cognitive Technologies Group, LLC Web: Ph:

2 2 Copyright Cognitive Technologies Group, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

3 Introduction Organizations are more dependent than ever on the effective performance of not only their employees, but also key customers, partners and suppliers. Each represents intellectual assets that have great potential to impact business success. In the old economy, firms attempted to enhance performance through learning that took place primarily within a specific business unit. In contrast, the new economy is a networked economy; firms increasingly are turning to e-learning to ensure that the competencies and capabilities necessary for successful performance can be developed and deployed throughout the extended enterprise of customers, partners, employees and suppliers (Figure 1). In addition, organizations are moving beyond just learning as the basis for e-learning and building the entire infrastructure of learning, performance, content and resource management. Organizational Outcomes $$ Organizational Performance Against Strategies & Goals Customer Capabilities & Competency Partner Capabilities & Competency Employee Capabilities & Competency Supplier Capabilities & Competency Individual, Organizational, and Enterprise Learning Figure 1. Learning throughout the enterprise to enable performance For example, IDC estimates that spending by U.S. corporations on e-learning was $1.1B in A Forrester 2001 survey of training managers and knowledge officers at 40 Global 500 companies found that all but one of them already had some type of online or e- learning initiative in place. Not all of the expenditures on e-learning will be well spent, however. Lessons learned in e-learning are beginning to emerge, and organizations that are the most successful are those that: Carefully documented and planned their e-learning strategy Built a business case that links e-learning to business strategy and goals. Copyright Cognitive Technologies Group, LLC. All Rights Reserved. 3

4 Before we examine what an e-learning strategy must address, let s consider its desired outcomes. A successful e-learning strategy should help performers across the extended enterprise improve their productivity, enable them to develop and upgrade their skills, motivate them, and help retain them by demonstrating the organization s commitment to their ongoing development. From the organization s perspective, a successful e-learning strategy can reduce costs over the long term, improve individual and business unit performance, help the organization maintain its core competencies, and enable the organization to react quickly to competitive pressures and market needs. These desired outcomes are wide ranging. Consequently, successful e-learning strategies require a comprehensive look at the business, technology, and learning needs of the organization. In addition, it requires thoughtful consideration of the benefits and limitations of learning technologies, how they are deployed across the Internet or intranet to meet targeted learner needs, and how they are integrated with other forms of learning. Unfortunately, many organizations aren t sure where to start planning a successful e- learning strategy. The purpose of this paper is to suggest a comprehensive infrastructure or "blueprint" for an e-learning strategy that, when implemented, can produce the desired results for the extended enterprise. What Does A Comprehensive e-learning Strategy Look Like? Ask an organization about its e-learning strategy and often the reply consists of just two components: Content and Delivery. The focus is on the types of content they want to make available, and the technologies they will need for delivery of this content. Content and delivery are certainly important. However, content and delivery alone are not sufficient for e-learning success. In fact, focusing immediately on content and delivery leads one down a fairly narrow path to a myopic vision that can result in a weak e-learning vision and strategy. If you were asked to develop a comprehensive e-learning strategy, we would advise you to start by thinking about infrastructure needed for success. An infrastructure is the permanent foundation or the essential elements of a system or plan. These essential elements are like building blocks that support one another; each block or tier contributes a critical element that makes the resulting structure sound. Investigating each block or tier and making key decisions up front helps ensure that the tiers will support one another and yield the desired results. This process produces a more comprehensive e-learning strategy. Examining e-learning projects that have been implemented successfully to date helps pinpoint these essential elements. We know that most successful projects tie e-learning to business results, so the first tier in our infrastructure model focuses on the business architecture and strategies. The next tier focuses on the technical architecture. E-learning must be built on the foundation of the Internet to create a rich environment across which learning can flow freely. It must also address how learning technologies will be delivered or presented, and how learning will be managed across the extended enterprise. The third tier addresses the learning strategies, experiences, and content made available to learners. The fourth tier addresses learner identities, needs, and issues. Finally, the infrastructure must address governing principles, processes, and structures that contribute to e-learning success. Underlying the entire infrastructure is a common way of thinking, envisioning, and talking about e-learning across the enterprise. Figure 2 illustrates an infrastructure model that represents the essential elements of a comprehensive e-learning strategy. Sections that follow provide details on each tier, working from the ground up. 4 Copyright Cognitive Technologies Group, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

5 Figure 2. A Comprehensive e-learning Infrastructure Model (K. McGraw, 2000) Common Language & Vision The e-learning infrastructure is built upon a common language and vision. Developing a common language and vision is similar to preparing and leveling the ground prior to beginning to build a structure. Common language and vision is the shared interpretation of concepts and operations for e-learning, and shared expectations for how it will be used. It requires developing a common definition of terms that should be held in common by the universe of potential participants in the development and implementation of e-learning. For example, if executives from your organization were all in one room and you asked, " What is e-learning?" how many differing definitions and viewpoints would respondents offer? Without a common language, participants could think they were all agreeing to the same thing, when in fact, they were working from different definitions of terms that are foundational elements of a common vision. In addition to shared terminology, consider the importance of a shared vision of how e-learning will operate. Stakeholders must agree on what e-learning looks like and how it will be used throughout the customers, partners, employee s, and suppliers lifecycle. Failure to have a common language and vision of e-learning amongst your project team and executives weakens your initiative before you ve even built the business strategy. A checklist to help ensure you have a common e-learning language and vision follows: There is general agreement on what e-learning is at the executive level in our organization There is general agreement on what e-learning is in training functions across our various business units The organization has clearly delineated the "vision" of e-learning and benefits of embracing it throughout the enterprise E-learning is seen as a solution that meets needs across the enterprise. Copyright Cognitive Technologies Group, LLC. All Rights Reserved. 5

6 Business Architecture and Strategies The first tier in the infrastructure reflects the business strategies, issues, goals, and needs to which e-learning should be linked. Linking learning to business strategies and results can ensure that the criticality of the initiative is highlighted. This is not just a training project it is a project to enable better performance and business success! A recent survey of 770 companies documented why organizations were investing in e-learning. The reasons below reflect the trend toward ensuring that not only ones employees, but also customers, partners and suppliers have the knowledge and skill they need to perform: Develop additional employee skills Retain existing employees Lack of qualified employee capital Increase sales force effectiveness Increase partner competency Improve supplier knowledge. Examine your organization to identify its strategic business needs. Perhaps the business needs to provide enterprise-wide learning because of its global status, because of a recent merger or acquisition or perhaps the enterprise needs to decrease the time it takes to get a product to market. Still another issue might be the need to reduce workforce time to competence to alleviate the stress of rapid hiring or high turnover. When performing this analysis, think beyond your organization, considering factors like how the capabilities of your customers, partners and suppliers, impacts your eventual success. Carefully document the particular business issues or pain your organization is facing. Next, step back and explore how e-learning can address these issues and thus, be linked to business goals and needs. Once you see the link to business need, analyze your situation to ensure that e-learning is a viable solution. A checklist for determining the viability of e-learning follows: Many versus few learners will need access to e-learning Enough learners are geographically dispersed for e-learning to make business sense Target learners include individuals outside of the organization, such as customers, partners, and suppliers There is a need to roll out learning quickly to multiple locations The types of learning that need to be delivered to meet business needs and support business strategy are amenable to remote learning solutions. After you have considered both business issues and viability, clearly document your performance goals for elearning, list the critical outcomes that would indicate success, and identify metrics you could use to measure success. Commonly used measures of success include cost, speed, quality, revenue, and time to competence. 6 Copyright Cognitive Technologies Group, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

7 Check to ensure that the measures of success you select directly address the business issues or reasons you are initiating e-learning. For example, if e-learning is being considered as a way to reduce travel costs and bring learning to global participants, one measure of success is direct travel costs and indirect costs associated with having both the instructor and learners travel to and participate in a multi-day training class. Once these measures of success have been identified, you can capture baseline data that represent what these costs are today and gives you a comparison point for e-learning returns. Finally, determine a realistic timeframe for achieving critical outcomes and measures of success. Technical Architecture The second tier in the infrastructure model is also a foundation element for e-learning. The functionality and components required for this tier should be defined by answering the following question: "How will you ensure that the e-learning components you need will communicate and work together?" For example, do you have an Intranet in place for required communications? This requires an open architecture, and must be based on standards for integration with existing elements such as legacy learning, enterprise applications, online learning, and emerging tools (see Figure 3). Ask yourself: "How will we integrate and efficiently manage e-learning across the extended enterprise?" and "Which learning approaches and technologies will we embrace? ADL SCORM AICC IEEE IMS Synchronous Delivery Learning, Certification, Competency Management Financial/ HRIS System Learning Portal Figure 3. Standards enable seamless communications Copyright Cognitive Technologies Group, LLC. All Rights Reserved. 7

8 When choosing e-learning approaches and technologies, project managers must coordinate efforts with their IT department. Issues that must be explored to ensure an adequate technical infrastructure for e-learning include those noted in the checklist that follows: Learners inside the organization have continual desktop access to the corporate intranet Enterprise learners have consistent, reliable access (e.g., via portal, etc.) to learning, information, and similar interventions that might improve their performance Connection speed is good to excellent and is not likely to impede learning, even for remote users Network bandwidth is not likely to be an issue; you have estimated and tested bandwidth expectations and requirements You have determined the extent to which your e-learning/learning management solution will be required to share information with other enterprise solutions such as those in use in HR and Finance You have defined the e-learning standards Aviation Industry CBT Committee (AICC) and Sharable Courseware Object Reference Model, (SCORM) to which your e- learning and learning management solution must adhere Security issues have been investigated carefully and security requirements for both internal and enterprise learners are known The impact of e-learning presentation and distribution methods such as WBT, and shared whiteboarding on the technological infrastructure has been investigated and feasible methods have been identified. Learning Strategies, Experiences, and Content The third tier of the infrastructure focuses on learning strategies, experiences, and content. One of the most important considerations is the type of learning solutions, delivery mechanisms, or experiences that will be provided. Presentation and delivery or distribution methods present a wide array of choices and require extensive technical infrastructure. According to American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), there are seven types of presentation methods: CBT, multimedia, interactive TV, teleconferencing, groupware, virtual reality, and Electronic Performance Support System (EPSS). Of these seven methods, multimedia, teleconferencing, and CBT are the most widely used.7 ASTD also identified twelve distribution methods for learning technologies: cable TV, CD-ROMs, , extranets, Internet, intranets, LANs, satellite TV, simulators, voic , wide area networks (WANs), and the World Wide Web. Of these twelve methods, CD-ROMs, the World Wide Web, intranets, and the Internet are the most widely used for training distribution. Each of these methods differs in the type of learning experience provided, and the types of learning strategies they best support. Regardless of the type of presentation and delivery methods you select, their effectiveness depends on the strategies used to deploy them, ease of use, and the quality and relevance of content that is presented. 8 Copyright Cognitive Technologies Group, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

9 Learning strategies and experiences should empower learners to close gaps, perform better, and grow in their career. They will only do so to the extent that the learning experiences are positive, engaging, compelling, and interactive. Work through the checklist that follows to define learning strategies and experiences: We have documented the size of the learning community We have documented current direct costs, indirect costs, and opportunity costs associated with the way we manage and deliver learning today We are prepared to determine which learning delivery and presentation technologies will enable us to deliver the learning required to meet stated business strategy and needs We are prepared to determine which learning delivery and presentation technologies are appropriate for our technological infrastructure We are prepared to define which types of delivery and presentation technologies are appropriate for which learning goals such as using WBT when we need to teach facts, concepts, and cognitive skills. We are prepared to define the types of content we intend to be taught via e-learning versus the types of content we intend to teach via a blended approach We are prepared to catalog or inventory the content we currently have, and the formats in which it appears We are prepared to document the competencies and level of learning such as novice, intermediate or expert targeted by existing WBT We are willing to put the required time into converting existing materials into WBT or other learning technologies We are able to provide regular, consistent feedback and facilitation to learners We are prepared to separate instructional material from reference and performancesupport materials Our trainers and subject matter experts will be prepared to monitor discussions, act as learning facilitators, and address on-the job queries We are prepared to identify components of existing instructor-led courses that should be repurposed as learning chunks, stored in a database, and reused in multiple ways We are prepared to identify existing learning content that can help us meet business strategy andneeds and the gaps for which new materials must be procured or developed. Finally, this is your opportunity to "reinvent" the way training and learning takes place in your organization and even across the extended enterprise (Figure 4). Consider using e- learning to integrate training and instruction with knowledge management initiatives you may already be embracing such as online job aids and best practices. Also consider making key training and knowledge nuggets available for your customers, partners, and suppliers. For example, your e-learning solution can make available to employees as well as customers, partners, and suppliers, what they need (e.g., a course, WBT, articles, best practices and discussion forums) when they need it, to provide the desired level of performance. It can also make training and knowledge available to customers to enable them to form reasonable expectations about your products and find ways to get the most value from your products and services. Copyright Cognitive Technologies Group, LLC. All Rights Reserved. 9

10 Business Outcomes & Results Individual & Team Performance Job Competencies Training & Learning E L E A R N I N G Knowledge Mgmt. Courses & Workshops WBT Simulations & Labs Articles/Expert Access Lessons Learned Best Practices OJT CBT, CAI Teleconferences Job Aids & EPSS Online Tools & Templates Discussions, Chats Figure 4. Using e-learning to bring training, instruction and knowledge management solutions together Learner Identities and Needs The fourth tier addresses learner identities and needs. Learners can be thought of in the context of multiple roles and needs. Your e-learning and learning management solution should accommodate these needs from the perspective of the job title held and the roles in which the individual must perform. Additionally, however, we must recognize the importance of enabling learners to pursue areas of interest that may be beyond the bounds of competencies required for their current job title. This would include seeing the learner from the perspective of a person with individual interests and motivation to learn about a particular topic. It also should consider individual learning styles and preferences. Defining this tier will require answering the question, How will you help learners meet their performance needs and goals, as well as their individual interests and motivation to learn about new areas and skills?" Use the checklist that follows to ensure your solution will help enterprise learners meet their needs and pursue their learning interests: The e-learning solution you envision will enable the use of personal profiles that can help target learning according to job and roles, competencies needed, interests, and preferred types of interventions The e-learning solution you envision will link learning to a career or development plan, to empower learners to pursue learning that meets both their needs and future plans The e-learning solution you envision will take into account the level of systems and web use or familiarity of the target learner population, and help ensure the target audience develops the capability to interact with learning materials from remote locations Target learners will have non-distracting places or spaces at which to learn such as learning labs, or access to headsets We are prepared to evaluation all content to ensure its relevance to the target learner audience 10 Copyright Cognitive Technologies Group, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

11 Remote learners will be able to contact a mentor or learning facilitator for assistance when learning problems occur or more insight is needed We are prepared to analyze and address the varied needs of the internal and partner learner populations, distributors and suppliers, and customer learner populations. Finally, consider the competencies that will be required for learners to be successful with e-learning: Results oriented Self starter Information seeker Self confident Flexible Continual learner Career oriented Ask yourself: "Do our employees, partners, customers and suppliers, reflect these competencies?" and "How can we help our customers feel comfortable learning in this way?" You may discover that to ensure e-learning success, you must teach some learners how to learn and think about learning in a new way. Governing Principles The final tier in the infrastructure model is governing principles. A solid e-learning strategy must address issues that can determine how e-learning works throughout your enterprise. Governing principles are the shared interpretation of operations and structure for e- learning in your organization. This includes understood and agreed-upon principles for how e-learning will work, what processes and rules will be in place, and the reporting structure that will support e-learning. Governing principles become even more important when an organization decides to make e-learning available to its extended enterprise members including customers, partners, employees and suppliers Defining governing principles requires addressing issues such as those in the checklist that follow. Not all of these issues will be pertinent for every organization: We are prepared to determine what kind of learning should be managed in a centralized fashion, and what kind of learning requires local, or decentralized control We are prepared to determine the access policy for e-learning, for example, what types of learning and how much learning can be taken without approval We are prepared to determine how an individual requests learning We are prepared to develop a policy to guide individuals in scheduling e-learning We are prepared to identify and change existing policies that would work against the acceptance of e-learning and enterprise-wide learning management Copyright Cognitive Technologies Group, LLC. All Rights Reserved. 11

12 We are prepared to ensure that there is the same level of positive organizational reinforcement for a learner who attends an e-learning course as compared with classroom training We are prepared to consider the success of an e-learning program when learners have the ability to browse and only complete segments of the courses We are prepared to identify and analyze e-learning stakeholders from across the extended enterprise and develop a plan for engaging and increasing the stakeholder support Based on culture and structure, we are prepared to determine how best to position e-learning, whether in the traditional training organization, a special unit, or in a crossorganizational Program Management Office for e-learning We are prepared to determine and seek buy-in for how e-learning will be funded We are prepared to determine how to evaluate those who complete non-classroom learning interventions, and to develop an evaluation and measurement scheme Some of the governing principles and procedures put in place to support e-learning may require careful management of change and new types of incentives, organizational support, and measures of success. Remember, e-learning is a paradigm shift for many organizations and enterprises. As such, we must think about proper "PR" or communications, change leadership, and ways to engage intended users as we work toward our successful implementation. Summary In the new economy, e-learning can be a vehicle that helps people create and share knowledge, learn "on the go," and continuously improve themselves, their performance, and business results. Learners must be able to enhance, even champion, their own learning needs, interests, and career development. Successful e-learning initiatives in today s economy require: A strategy that tightly links e-learning with business needs A standards-driven technical architecture that is capable of being linked to existing systems and accessed efficiently from all over the world Strategies, experiences, and content that make learning fun, compelling, engaging, suitable for adult learners, and relevant to the target audience s needs Support for individual learner profiles, including job or role-based competencies, interests, and preferences, along with learning and career development plans Governing principles that help ensure e-learning success. This is more than a program or project. It is a management philosophy directed towards future business results and competitive success. As such, it is worth investing time to analyze your requirements, determine the essential elements, and build a solid foundation for e-learning in your organization and across your extended enterprise. Let our comprehensive e-learning infrastructure model be your blueprint for success! 12 Copyright Cognitive Technologies Group, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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