5. Define a scalable architecture
You must define your e-learning strategy based on a scaleable architecture that allows you to meet your needs today as well as into the future. If your IT department has been doing its job, this is their approach as well. So, visit them and review their strategy.
In all likelihood, the initial focus of your strategy will concentrate on how to be more efficient at what you’re currently doing. Basically, you want to find ways to save time and money. For instance, you may look for ways to deliver the same courses in a blended or e-learning approach.
The next stage will concentrate on making learning more effective and ensuring that learning is tied to business needs and metrics. By now, you’re looking for initiatives that make a business impact. You’ll likely take advantage of tools that extend your current use of technology, such as bulletin boards and extensive search engines, as well as applying some new technologies to develop communities of practice, encourage knowledge management, and support content management.
In the final stage of your strategy’s evolution, your focal point will be how to leverage learning to create value in your organization and to ensure competitive advantage. In other words, you want to do things that were not possible before.
6. Enlist support
No matter how motivating your vision and well thought out your strategy, you will need to enlist the support of senior decision-makers. You need to develop a business case—written in business language—that addresses the business (or service) benefits of your strategy. This business case must address, at a minimum these three questions:
- How does this further the business strategy?
- What are the measurable business results?
- How does this create or sustain competitive advantage?
Because you need to build consensus among executives who can influence the momentum of the program, it’s wise to develop a marketing plan to present and explain your strategy to key stakeholders. Draw on marketing resources inside your organization to help you structure and produce the plan. While you can provide the thoughts and content, marketing experts can help you formulate them in a convincing manner.
7. Plan your communications
No strategy implements itself. When launching or extending an e-learning initiative, you’re changing the process of learning in your organization. And, by definition, the technologies, management systems and structures, competencies and culture also will experience change. As practitioners, we must choose whether to try to manage these changes or let them develop on their own. An effective e-learning implementation strategy is, therefore, a key success factor.
Critical to a successful implementation is keeping focus on both the individual learners and the organization as a whole. To be sure, learners count, but so do a much wider range of people within the organization: stakeholders, including the C-level types; middle and line managers; and HR and training staff. When you add up all these people, you realize it’s a rather large number.
The work of Everett Rogers teaches us that people adapt to new innovations—and change—along a bell curve. There is some percentage of each stakeholder group who are innovators, while others on the other end of the bell curve are diehards. In between the scale, there are early adopters, the early majority, the late majority, and the late adopters. So, the good news is that you don’t have to get everyone on board at the same time.
In addition, research tells us that it takes approximately 5 percent of each stakeholder group to embrace your e-learning initiative for it to eventually become imbedded in the organization. Once 20 percent of each stakeholder group (the early adopters) supports your e-learning efforts, the momentum increases and your implementation becomes nearly unstoppable.
Enter communication plans.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines communication as, “the exchange of thoughts, messages or information.” The key word in this definition is exchange. Exchange implies a two-way process rather than a one-way flood. All too often, organizations develop communications plans that in reality are marketing plans. The purpose is to tell a story in a convincing way rather than foster true two-way exchange.
To effectively implement e-learning you need both a change communications plan and a marketing communications plan. A marketing communications plan needs to tell stakeholders about the vision and mission for your e-learning initiative. It must clearly communicate—in all forms—the messages you want your stakeholders to hear.
A change communications plan is necessary to support your change management efforts. Its purpose is to support the learners and the organization as a whole as they move through the three phases of change adoption: awareness, engagement, and involvement. For each of these phases, the plan must present specific activities, messages, and timing for each key stakeholder group.
8. Implement and integrate, not just install
Many folks confuse implementation and integration with installation. Getting your e-learning up and running (in other words, completing the installation) is really only the first stage—and it’s the easiest. It’s the next two stages, implementation and integration, that are truly difficult.
You know you’ve succeeded at installation when your e-learning runs error-free. You know you’ve succeeded at implementation when your targeted audiences are accessing their learning options. You know you’ve succeeded at integration when your e-learning is invisible.
What does that mean? You’re no longer absorbed with the technology or even talking about e-learning. Your focus is on your organization and e-learning is just another part of any business process. In other words, e-learning has been absorbed into the fabric of your organization.
9. Keep learning
To be successful you need to be in continual and over-lapping cycles of prepare, launch, and sustain. Within each of these cycles you must be in process of learning—planning—developing—implementing—supporting—learning. Almost as soon as you have done the preparation and launched Version 1.0, you should begin the preparation for Version 2.0. And, in parallel, you need to be working within the organization to sustain the initial momentum. This is then repeated with Version 2.5 or 3.0, and on, and on.
Think of e-learning as though it's organizational software that’s in a continual process of improvement and refinement. Plan regular reviews and conduct tune-ups. During these tune-ups, you might decide to look at some or all of the following
- learning/e-learning strategy
- business case (including ROI, if established)
- e-learning architecture, components, and delivery mix
- content and instructional design
- tools, technologies, and infrastructure
- change management
- evaluation and metrics
- supporting organization and processes
- sponsorship and governance
- roles and responsibilities.
Clearly, there isn’t a single strategy that fits every business or organization. But, if you heed the sage advice from Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire Cat—who reminds us it’s good to know where we’re going—then we just might get there.
Published: September 2004