How to develop an e-learning strategy

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We highlight the value of considering nine challenges in the digital environment, and introduces a framework for aligning organisational needs with a relevant and comprehensive e-learning strategy.

Extract: The needs of digital learners

An average person consumes 10,845 words or 34 gigabytes on a typical day, not even allowing for information at work There is little doubt that digital learners have become extremely effective information processors, but current working and learning practices are somewhat less effective. Individuals in the workplace are now more often expected to drive their own career development, but in the face of information overload, and of complexity in the business environment, distraction is rife: the need to align digital learning strategies to business strategies and learner needs is paramount.

An effective digital learning solution needs to understand the learning objectives of a particular intervention, the preferences of digital learners and how they aggregate into a dominant digital learning ‘culture’ of individuals within an organisation.

The digital learner within a given organisation will vary in terms of three distinct needs:

  • Technology: the extent to which new technologies, social media sites, online collaborative courses, ebooks etc are embraced or shunned

  • Timing of learning: the idealised approach to learning on the job, just-intime, or in the classroom, just in case

  • Location of learning: the place of ‘persistent presence’ where learners tend to spend their time and think.

By exploring these needs, an understanding of the most dominant digital preference of learners within an organisation can emerge, as well as ideas on suitable learning designs that may fit with the time, technology or location preference.

For example, a time-starved senior leader who prefers to learn ‘on demand’ will tend towards virtual and mobile learning solutions, whereas a new recruit getting up to speed in their field or studying for a qualification will tend to be more receptive towards more structured programmes and e-learning modules requiring formal attendance and assessment.

Even when digital learning interventions have been created, the behaviours that people exhibit when engaging with digital content is highly variable, with a new wave of digital learning styles starting to emerge:

  • Surfers and divers: characterised either by a desire to retain broad overviews of connected concepts or a preference towards detailed understanding of narrower subject areas

  • Contributors and consumers: characterised by those who actively engage in digital learning activities or those who more passively observe with limited active participation

  • Steady learners or socialites: characterised by those (particularly those starting to build competence in their field) who tend to need more knowledge delivery and ‘scaffolding’: as opposed to those who are more willing to learn on demand through social and business networks

  • Activists and objectors: characterised by those who are eager to engage and explore new learning technologies: as opposed to those who are less keen and more cautious.

Organisations inevitably contain a blend of these learner preferences which makes creation of a ‘one size fits all’ solution difficult. As such, although learning solutions should be designed to reflect the most dominant technology culture to stimulate and support business priorities, there is also a need to provide some elements of fluidity and choice to support other learner preferences.

It is easy to become almost paralysed by the varieties of course design and technologies that could be used to support learning. Schofield, West and Taylor highlight the challenges of adopting a suitable strategy for mobile learning in such circumstances but also stress the value of starting and sustaining a freedom to fail approach. They also highlight the increasingly impatient attitude towards digital learning from all of the above groups, highlighting the need for content that is just enough, just in time, just for me.

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How to develop an e-learning strategy