March 28, 2006

E–learning Research: Achieving success in e–learning development

Why is success in e-learning development so illusive? There are many factors that add up to success, all of which may be critical. There are many activities that must be carried out and coordinated well if those factors are to be realised. The complexity is often overwhelming. In response there are strategies for managing that complexity from within, none of which are entirely satisfactory.

Achieving success in e-learning development

Key notes

Factors for success

Target the core not the periphery: End users can be described on a continuum between core and peripheral. Core users are closer to the main or most common business of the organisation, either in their own practice or in their power and influence over others. Why this matters: influential people make key decisions. Even core users with less direct power can operate a "network effect" – the use of a technique by one of these users makes it more likely that other users will also adopt it.

Assure is appropriate for the context: What is meant by context? This is the wider environment and community of learning, teaching and research. The project should emerge from and be defined by this context. The context includes:

  • Current and future user expectations (staff and students).
  • The aims and objectives of all of the users.
  • Current and future practices and tactics of the users.

Context is influenced and summarised at a range of levels and perspectives including:

  • Inter-university
  • Pan-university
  • Module team
  • Research group
  • Peer group
  • Programme team
  • Department

Seek necessary completeness and cohesion: Completeness is the provision of a well integrated and extensive range of tools and services, without gaps, along with all of the activities required to make them appropriate to the context and used widely and effectively.

Why this matters: end users should not embark on the use of a technology or a technique only to find that an essential component is missing. This is especially important when users are tentatively adapting to new approaches. Completeness is also an issue for the providers of services that should mesh closely with other services.

Some users are happy with speculative projects that may encounter incompleteness. Some activities can be carried out speculatively without guaranteed completeness. Other activities, such as exams, require guaranteed completeness of all required tools and techniques.

Activities required for success

Many activities (service provision, development, communication, training, support, review, evaluation, decision making etc) contribute to the achievement of successful e-learning development, realising the factors for success given above. These activities are widely varied, and require a skillset usually beyond a single person or small team. E-learning initiatives frequently fail becuase they attempt to undertake all of these activities with too limited a human resource. However, for the sake of completeness and consistency, these activities must be undertaken through tightly enmeshed and coordinated teamwork. Expanding some subnodes of these activities reveals the extent of the complexity:

E-learning success node 2

Possible strategies for achieving success

The activities necessary for success in e-learning are great in depth and breadth of diversity. Mastery of the complete set by individuals is niether likely nor to be desired. Strategies have evolved to enable success without such complete control of the factors that contribute to its likelihood. These strategies tend to involve carving out a subset of the required activities, gaining mastery over that subset, and using various tactics to wield some kind of influence or power over the provision of the remaining activities. The problem may be sliced in two ways:

A) Project development, in which a goal is identified that makes use of a set of the available provisions, shapes the development of those provisions, and provides justification and validation of the available feature sets (or alternatively demonstrated gaps and limitations). This node opened out:

E-learning success node 3-2

B) Service specialism, in which focus is placed upon the provision of a definite set of tools and features, with incremental development in return for limited application within the scope of those features. Node opened out:

E-learning success node 3-3

A third technique may be called Information Exchange. This represents a retreat from any attempt to ensure completeness and consistency. It is withdrawl from close involvement with either project or service development. The user is in effect left to do much of the work of innovation, application of technologies, discovery of techniques, and identification of gaps and requirements. It is a safe strategy in the short term, but on a longer scale may lead nowhere. More about this node:

E-learning success node 3-1

- 2 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Leo Kanner

    Interesting and informative, Rob, but you may find this link useful —

    03 Apr 2006, 18:24

  2. Robert O'Toole

    Thanks Leo. But not much help in making decisions about the future of learning technology at Warwick.

    26 Jun 2006, 15:30

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