Apple-Orange Pie: The Importance of E-Learning Blueprints
By Robert Van Hoof
Many companies today are confused with all of the flavors available for e-Learning design, development and delivery tools. Many that have bought “apples,” are now considering “oranges” and want to make apple-orange pie. In other words, they worry about compatibility and interoperability between products and their infrastructure. Creating a blended e-Learning blueprint will help identify and solve these types of issues before they surface.
A successful e-Learning initiative requires the following key parts:
- A strategy that tightly links e-Learning with business needs.
- A standards-driven technical architecture that can link to existing
systems and be accessed efficiently from globally dispersed populations.
- Experiences and content that make learning compelling, engaging
and relevant to target audience needs.
- Support for individual learner profiles, including job or role-based
competencies, interests and long-term career goals.
- Governing principles and organization-wide support policies.
It's worth investing time to analyze requirements, determine essential elements and build a solid foundation for e-Learning across the extended enterprise. A comprehensive e-Learning infrastructure model can be a blueprint for success. Here are nine basic steps to help begin the process of creating and implementing a successful e-Learning blueprint:
Step 1: Prepare for e-Learning. Learn about the industry by reading white papers, case studies, and visiting websites. The more educated decision makers are about industry offerings from vendors, as well as understanding tools and technologies, the more equipped they will be to make better choices implementing e-Learning in the organization.
Step 2: Assemble a Task Force. Assemble an e-Learning task force and assign a leader. Take advantage of the knowledge in the organization. It is much quicker to determine readiness for e-Learning when a group is dedicated with a common purpose. Make sure that the task force thoroughly goes through each item in the Tips and Pitfalls sections in the template provided at the bottom of this article. This will help determine if the organization is even ready for e-Learning.
Step 3: Develop a Business Case. A well-formulated business case is similar to performing a detailed organization-wide gap analysis. A business case is a tool that supports planning and decision making regarding purchases, vendor selection and implementation strategies. It also offers a clear statement of the business problem and a potential solution, outlines consequences resulting from specific actions and recommends a Return on Investment (ROI) metrics for the proposed solution.
Step 4: Develop the e-Learning Strategy. An e-Learning strategy is the plan or blueprint for how e-Learning might work in the organization. Careful analysis and planning in advance will ensure the successful implementation of an e-Learning system. Consider the company’s specific goals and challenges.
Step 5: Sell the Plan to Everyone. Implementing the e-Learning strategy without the support of management or anyone else is like racing a sailboat without a crew. Make sure that the team develops a strong strategy that includes ROI analysis to gain upper level management support. Show front-line managers, for example, the benefits, time savings and effectiveness of e-Learning. Convince trainers that they are not “being replaced” by showing them new opportunities e-Learning can provide. Finally, marketing e-Learning is everything. Use newsletters, memos or the corporate intranet to introduce e-Learning benefits.
Step 6: Build a Foundation - Select the Right Learning Management System. A Learning Management System (LMS) automates the administration of training activities . An LMS catalogs courses, registers users and tracks learners' progress. Look to the new capabilities of these systems for major solutions to learning challenges. For example, the more sophisticated LMS serves as the central hub for additional functions such as online assessments, skill-gap analysis, personalization, performance management, ROI analysis and more. The LMS manages all of the content and users, and provides reports to management.
Step 7: Content Choices - Build or Buy. Next up is determining how to incorporate content. The company will probably need to build and buy courses, but a good rule of thumb is to use off-the-shelf courses whenever possible to reduce costs. There are a number of choices that offer the usual trade-offs of time, effort, cost and effectiveness:
- Buy off-the-shelf courses (low cost, low risk, easy to implement)
- Build custom courses (medium cost, risk with new skills, high effort)
- Convert existing content using an outside developer (low cost, low risk, low effort)
- Build custom courses using an outside developer (high cost, low risk, low effort)
Step 8: Champion the Cause. Launching an e-Learning initiative without employee and management support is like racing a sailboat without a crew. It doesn't work. So, whose buy-in is needed?
- Upper management
- Line managers
- All training staff
- IT department
Step 9: Prepare for the Future - Track e-Learning Trends. Current trends include moving training to the Cloud. Additionally, there is a trend toward the merging of application and system platforms. Companies no longer need to maintain large data store or physical hardware.
Companies will benefit from cloud-based systems by:
- Reduced Hardware Cost – hardware maintained by the provider.
- Reduced Cost for Development – Many systems utilize advanced web-based authoring tools/web applications to build and maintain courses. Additionally, SCORM catalogs from vendors can easily be integrated into corporate learning platforms.
- Reduced Cost for Hosting /Bandwidth – Hosting a system internally requires upload speed. While most corporations need download speed for conducting operation on the web, hosting companies are concerned about upload speed (servicing clients with fast courseware).
- Reduced Cost for Software – Running an in-house system requires enterprise level database and web server licensing. (Hint – Ask the IT Department what the cost per CPU is for SQL Server or Oracle).
A template which outlines specific areas to include in your blueprint is available below for your use. This template serves as the link between the corporate strategy, e-Learning infrastructure, as well as automating training design, development and course delivery. It will guide the process of creating and implementing an e-Learning blueprint. For a personal consultation and assistance in developing an e-Learning strategy and incorporating e-Learning platforms, contact the Strategic Vision Team at 1-800-339-0642.
| Robert Van Hoof is the CEO of Strategic Vision, Inc. He has more than 30 years of experience in the development
| of blended and technology-based training programs for multiple U.S. government departments and Fortune 500
| companies, which include U.S. Army, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of the Interior, United
|Technologies, Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne and Duke Energy.
|Mr. Van Hoof can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.