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Parkin Space: How to Devise an E-Learning Strategy


The major cause of fatalities among online learning operations, internal and commercial, is not technical failure or pedagogical failure, it is process failure flowing from a failure in vision. Short-sightedness, tunnel vision, and technology focus can leave you very exposed.

So how do you find your way through the techno-hype to make sound strategic e-learning decisions? The first step is to understand that your e-learning strategy is part your learning strategy, and is not something separate. Like the rest of your learning strategy, your e-learning strategy is designed to support the achievement of your business objectives. What makes it complicated is the fact that your e-learning activities may require quite different operational resources, business processes, and infrastructures than your classroom activities.

As most companies have found out by now, providing learning online involves more than simply authoring courses and attaching them to an LMS. The major processes you will have to design and deploy are:
* Design your learning experiences (the word “courses” is too limiting).
* Code those experiences for web, mobile or other access.
* Deploy them in a dynamic learning environment.
* Host the learning experiences and any related learning ecosystems.
* Build resources, both people and technology.
* Administer the learning activity from enrolment to disengagement, and perhaps to application.
* Support learners, instructors, and other customers.
* Upgrade technology, design, and content over time.
* Market your learning programs.

Whatever you do, don’t simply jump into action. Your first step is not to select an LMS and the technology for creating your courses. Before you even think about technology, get a good grasp of your corporate business goals. Define the vision, business and operational strategy for the learning group. Then, making use of whatever gap analyses, training needs analyses, or competency tools you may have, define learning objectives by curriculum and individual learning experience. Decide the optimal modes and media for each, having already established a clear picture of your available technology resources and your target learner platform. Next, examine your existing business processes, and decide how they need to change to support your vision.

If you live at web-speed, you can die at web-speed if you do not function like a well-integrated e-business. That means, above all, that your information flows must be real-time, not batch time. You are looking to create intimate relationships with each customer, not treat them like herds of sheep. You want to be more efficient than traditional companies, and provide a higher quality of customer service.

While formulating your strategy, revisit your competencies. If you are an “offline” company, you probably define your competencies by your internal processes, the things that you know you do well. But online companies are starting to define their competencies by the value they add to their customers’ processes, because e-businesses share the same nervous system as their business partners. Think about what that means to you as a training service. What value are you going to add to your learners’ learning processes?

Part of any e-learning strategy is to look at costs and competitive advantages. Don’t look for savings (if at all) only in training itself, look for the savings that an e-learning service can bring to your business processes. A competitive edge based on internal processes is more sustainable than one based on innovative products or business models.
A sound e-learning strategy is built on sound business goals, not on e-business aspirations. It is driven by business opportunities, not by technology availability. It brings efficiencies to internal and shared processes. And it exploits opportunities for market growth and competitive advantage.

Your strategy should tell you how you will:
* Build an online presence and a community of customers (learners, and those who pay their fees).
* Treat customers as individuals.
* Retain and grow those customers.
* Deliver services faster and faster (I’m not talking bandwidth, but responsiveness).
* Continually improve the cost-effectiveness of production, delivery, and support.
* Position your e-learning service
* Evolve

In e-commerce, customer service is second only to cost in vendor selection. Poor customer service can kill you faster than a viral marketing campaign. But service is more than just responding to customer requests, it also includes providing security and privacy. Security and privacy are often low priorities for e-learning providers, but are important for e-learners.

Here are the things you have to get right if you are going to get online effectively and stay there successfully:
* Define a vision and a strategy.
* E-enable and integrate internal processes.
* Integrate with partner processes.
* Add value to your customer’s processes.
* Focus on your core competences, outsource everything else.
* Add richness to customer’s experience.
* Provide deep service, personal interactions.
* Use responsive marketing.

In all of this, technology is a consideration, but not a starting point. Most vendors would have you buy a package then build your vision and strategy around its functionality. That’s not only restrictive, it’s dangerous given the low life expectancy of most vendors and technologies. But at some stage you are going to have to look into what is available, to see how easily your already defined needs can be met. And much as I rail against Learning Management Systems, you are probably going to have to build, buy, or lease one.

* Next week Godfrey Parkin will suggest some guidelines to steer you through the LMS selection process.

To read more of Godfrey Parkin's columns click here.


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