E-learning can create huge change in an organization, so implementers can expect to face some resistance. Two key strategies can help you deal with push-back: championing and communicating.
How is your e-learning project going? Well, I hope. But I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re losing sleep, dreading meetings, or wondering why you’re working so hard. E-learning can create huge change in an organization, so implementers can expect to face some resistance. Are you taking that on or hoping it will go away over time? You’ll increase your success with e-learning if you confront rather than avoid this dark side.
After all, introducing e-learning into an organization changes the way learners learn, instructors teach, designers develop, and managers manage. It’s no wonder you may experience push-back. The good news is that there’s much you can do. Championing and communicating are two key strategies that can help you deal with e-learning resistance.
The following list of tips can help, but keep in mind that this is not as much a “to-do” list as a “to-be” list. Be present. Be aware. Be attuned to the moment. Rather than following a prescribed checklist to act like an e-learning leader, be one.
How to champion e-learning
There are a number of skills required to be an effective champion and lead an e-learning project successfully. Common sense will go a long way to guide you.
Be consistent. Good champions are consistent in what they say and what they do. For example, if you’re advocating the use of e-learning, it’s essential that you have hands-on experience that you can describe.
Be flexible. As an effective leader, you need to be able to balance consistency with flexibility. When you recognize a problem, you might need to take a new direction. When you reset your sails, you need to explain why you selected the new direction.
Encourage frank discussion. Dissension is not bad in itself. E-learning leaders need to create a safe place for opposing ideas to be expressed. It’s better to bring out and deal with conflicting ideas than to force them underground to fester.
Be open about issues and how you will handle them. For example, if lack of funding is a potential issue, let people know. It’s important that they have the truth. But it’s also important that they can see your energy, concern, and enthusiasm and know that you will do everything you can to secure the necessary funds.
Know the biases of the organization. When approaching stakeholders with a proposal for e-learning, keep in mind their past experiences. For example, stakeholders might be skeptical about new technology because of involvement in a failed IT implementation. An effective champion anticipates and addresses stakeholder concerns. It might help to admit that an earlier project ran into difficulty, explain why, and then outline how your risk management strategy will ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
Network. E-learning leaders in similar organizations or trainers you meet at conferences or associations may be able to offer tips and even partnerships. Use your network to spark ideas for content, resources, and collaborative projects.
Promote the program. You’ll know that stakeholders are ready to embrace e-learning when they take the time to talk to you. Exploit these opportunities when they occur. Report positively on your progress, and promote, promote, promote.
Remain positive. Assume that anything is possible and help your company move into action. People in your organization might lack the tools, knowledge, or infrastructure to implement e-learning but you can help them acquire what they need. As a champion you’re probably in a management position where you can seek resources (human and financial) and create partnerships (for sharing resources and experiences, as well as for mentoring).
Take initiative. E-learning success results from working hard and facing issues. When you identify a potential risk to your project, watch it carefully, identify ownership, and act decisively to mitigate the risk.
Use consistent e-learning terminology. Teach e-learning terms and definitions to people in your organization and encourage everyone to use them consistently. A shared language will help people understand what e-learning is and communicate with each other. (For a comprehensive list of e-learning terms and definitions, visit ASTD’s e-learning glossary at www.learningcircuits.org/glossary.html.)
How to lead through communication
Sometimes it pays to revisit the obvious: One of the most important steps you can take in managing change is to communicate effectively. By doing so, you’ll help people in your organization gain understanding and acceptance of your e-learning program. Plan your communication strategy by thinking through the following questions.
Which groups need to know about the e-learning project? Taking time to identify the different groups will enable you to target your messages to them.
What messages does each group need to hear? Managers need to know what their role in the implementation will be. Employees need to know what e-learning offers them. Trainers need to know how it will change their job function.
What should each group not hear? Certain details and ambiguities can confuse people rather than enlighten them. So take care with your messages. For example, don’t announce a launch date until it’s firm.
When should the messages be delivered? When should messages be sent out in relation to roll-out? (Not too early in case roll-out dates are postponed.) Try to inform managers before employees so that the higher-ups can support the e-learning initiative and inform and advise their staff.
How should the messages be distributed? What sources do people access and trust? Consider in- person, paper-based, and email communications.
Who should be the spokesperson for the messages? Who do listeners trust? Who is available? Who wants to take on the role of e-learning champion?
Who should not deliver the messages? Who do listeners not trust? Who is not available to follow through? Who is reluctant to champion e-learning?
If you deliver the messages, do you need assistance? What is your role? What are your limitations? Is there a part of the message you can deliver best, while someone else delivers the rest? Admit when you need help.
Who can help when you need assistance to deliver the messages? If there are gaps in your capacity to communicate about the implementation, who can help? For example, you might not have time to meet with groups throughout a large organization, so you might engage helpers to speak to committees that meet regularly. What resources will your helpers require? (For instance, PowerPoint presentations.)
How should you approach people who can help you? In most organizations managers are responsibile for moving forward with new initiatives because they are closest to the people who will be affected by the change. As a champion you will have the most impact if you feed into the management stream and provide what managers need so that they can spread the messages throughout the organization.
Putting ideas into action
Many of you had already started implementing some of these ideas before you read them. But what about ideas that are new to you? I’ll bet that some of you are putting those new ideas into action before you get to the end of this article—at least in your head. Good for you! Some of you will want to pass these lists to colleagues. Others of you will be thinking about the ideas and asking yourselves where you fit in. If you’re in that category, you might like to make a grid and assess yourself against all of the criteria.
The most helpful thing you can do with these ideas is to absorb them so that you can recall them easily. The best way to absorb them is to read them over and envision yourself using them. Go ahead. Create pictures in your mind. Have some fun. Later, when you’re faced with resistance, you’ll be able to call on the ideas presented here.
Championing and communicating are two strategies that most of us use at work. Now you should have a better idea of how they apply to e-learning. I’m sure that many of you are already doing great work in those areas: You know how to champion powerfully and communicate effectively. What works for you? How are you facing the dark side of e-learning, the resistance to change? I’d love to hear from you.
Published: August 2003