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Developing a structured approach to e-learning projects


In this piece, Dr Savi S Arora, Managing Director of elearning project managers Knowledge Hemispheres Ltd looks at the importance of "the human side" and the need to look at the processes involved when implementing e-learning.

With all the hype surrounding eLearning being the next ‘new new thing’, one would have thought that progressive innovative product development would also be followed and supported with technical implementation and project know-how. Journals and researchers should be 'out in force' establishing the need for a different approach to eLearning vendor selection and associated product inception by typical corporate entities – giving rise to a potential new management science and buzzwords. For example, we've already become accustomed to using and spreading the eLearning gospel suggesting the need for a 'blended approach'!

Instead, the emphasis is still focused on technical functionality. Many vendors assume that standard information technology implementation methodologies are sufficient, perhaps because there is an assumption that eLearning solutions and their derivative applications, for example, learning management systems are simply 'software objects' and such, simply require standard technical installation and user roll-out stages.

This article investigates the relevance and applicability of taking a structured approach to implementing an eLearning corporate initiative or solution. It suggests the need to consider the human side of learning and to consider a greater emphasis on marketing benefits and gaining buy-in to ensure a successful eLearning implementation.

Recently I attended a number of leading Human Resource conferences focused on HR solutions and training services. At the HR Solutions Conference I visited the stands of leading vendors that provide what could be considered as Human capital processing information – Payroll and employee activity tracking. When quizzed about how competences are managed, almost all could provide an index or database array but preferred to outsource this activity to an independent consultant that could both audit and identify key skills required by a firm. At the Training Services Conference, I was impressed by the array of tools that could be used to develop courses.

At both conferences, the missing ingredient or concept for a successful eLearning or skills management solution was the need for vendors to recognise that technology alone will not facilitate a successful implementation. Vendors tended to focus less on the impact on daily working practices and assumed that standard project management skills common to infrastructure projects would suffice.

For example, eLearning implementation requires that activities should be managed on a professional and often delicate basis. The latter point is further poignant as corporate communication should be consistent in terms of why, when and what will be made available and to who.

The use of structured phases and stages is essential. In the context of eLearning projects, a phase should consist of a common range of eLearning programme activities, for example, communication management, logistical planning/fine-tuning and certification management. Stages can then be used to manage the timeline of associated activities within each named phase.

The following notes provide a suggestion of how an effective eLearning Programme can be established and managed on an iterative basis.

  1. Establish an agreed bid process with eLearning software vendors and their associated partners. Often, many vendors will further contract out technical or project management expertise due to capacity planning issues or because their focus is on product functionality rather than implementation activities.
  2. After a product has been selected with the contract fine-tuned, consider the profiles of the roll-out managers. Are they technical, what communication processes do they understand and how administration focused will their roles become? NB Many eLearning solutions have administration functions that will require extensive management. Therefore, manning support of such functions should not compromise the personal care that eLearning users require - coaching and blended learning needs will be just as important.
  3. Consider what support systems, for example, discussion databases, FAQ systems and Intranet support sites will be made available to aid users. For example, if ‘blended learning’ coaches/project managers are to be utilised effectively, adequate access and prioritisation of individual learning needs should be managed. It would be unfortunate if an eLearning user/participant simply abandons their learning goals because no internal service level to support them was enforced or respected.
  4. Before the implementation of any eLearning system, ensure a technical grounding with a pilot scheme, and an approved corporate communication plan to announce success and manage PR.
  5. Consider the establishment of a project board with selective learning champions that are both senior and peer based. Any exit plan from an eLearning initiative must be planned in advance.
  6. Establish a published learning charter for the eLearning participant, his/her manager and just as important, the participants community/team.

The latter point is especially important as although a statistical simulation may reveal how quickly an eLearning based qualification can be gained from one’s workspace, it assumes that a support system and availability to both technology and personal coaches/eLearning support trainers are available.

Let’s now consider the skills of an effective eLearning project manager. NB The skills required will vary according to focus of the knowledge transfer programme. However, some generic traits emerge:

  1. Administration management – the need to monitor and manage eLearner activity with confidence and confidential information management.
  2. Technical Planning – Understanding and ensuring alignment of technical and academic upgrades
  3. Certification management – Establishing examination guidelines, escalation and appeals management.
  4. Communication Management – Adhering to and considering the timing of corporate communication goals.
  5. Logistical Management – Operational and ease of technology access and use.
  6. Quality and Performance Management – Working with internal sponsors to ensure best practice and programme refinement (including status & ongoing risk management).
  7. Programme Planning – Including contract, financial, delivery, availability and response management.

It could be suggested that the seven areas listed above are applicable to a wide range of projects. However, the main difference with their relevance to an eLearning programme is that they all require a mix of professional management and a strong emphasis on working with the needs of the eLearning participant. The recommended attitude that should be adopted for each of the items is a ‘sense and respond’ approach. For example, an eLearning course may involve testing using a separate system, this will require planning but just as important is the need to assure participant confidence and early awareness of processes.

In summary, structured processes help to deliver an effective corporate eLearning initiative, but just as important is the attachment and support provided to the eLearning participant. Blended learning should not be considered as an add-on to the initiative but as a key feature of the overall implementation methodology.


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