The need to structure e-Learning Projects

What is the relevance and applicability of taking a structured approach to implementing an e-learning corporate initiative or solution?In this context it is assumed that an e-learning project is defined as a roll-out of a developed application. In considering a greater emphasis on marketing the benefits of gaining news skills there is a need to consider the human side of learning. At the same time there is the need to gain early buy-in of senior management to endorse the e-learning initiative. Recent visits to Human Resource (HR) conferences revealed a focus on HR technical solutions and training services. At such conferences stands of leading vendors typically provide what could be considered as human capital processing solutions, for example: Payroll and employee activity tracking. When quizzed about how competences are managed, almost all could provide an index or database array of capabilities matched to areas such as leadership, interpersonal or specific technical skills. Project management competency tends to be categorised on whether a project management methodology qualification has been achieved. The most obvious example is PRINCE2 – Projects in a Controlled Environment – Version 2 – endorsed by the Office of Government Commerce (OGC).

Is being a qualified project manager enough?
Does achieving the PRINCE2 qualification provide sufficient skills for all types of projects – technical, logistical or business? One view is that to achieve a successful e-learning or skills management solution there is a need for vendors to recognise that technology alone will not facilitate success. Vendors tend to focus less on the impact on daily working practices and assume that standard project management skills common to infrastructure projects will suffice. This assumption is based on the idea that e-learning solutions and their derivative applications, for example, learning management systems (LMS) are simply ‘software objects’ and such environments simply require standard technical installation and user roll-out stages.
In practice e-learning activities often require more sensitive management taking into account the fact that corporate communication and learning styles vary.

Using a phased approach is key

In the context of e-learning projects, a phase is as a common range of e-learning programme activities. For example: communication management, logistical planning/fine-tuning and certification management. Stages are used to manage the timeline of associated activities within each named phase.

Planning approaches.

The following guidance provides suggestions of how an effective e-learning programme can be established and managed on an iterative basis.

Establish an agreed bid process with e-learning software vendors and their associated partners. Many vendors contract out technical or project management expertise due to capacity planning issues or because their focus is on product functionality rather than implementation activities.

 

After a product has been selected and the contract agreed and signed, consider the profiles of the roll-out managers. Are they technical, what communication processes do they understand and how administrative-focused will their roles be?

Many e-learning solutions/applications have self-contained administrative functions that require extensive management. In addition, planning time is needed for special learning or mentoring needs.

 

Consider what support systems, for example, discussion databases, frequently asked questions (FAQ) systems and intranet support sites can be made available to help users. For example, if blended learning coaches/project managers are utilised effectively, adequate access and prioritisation of individual learning needs should be managed. In a worse case scenario e-learning users simply abandon their learning goals because no internal service level exists to support them.

Before the implementation of any e-learning system, ensure a technical grounding with a pilot and an approved corporate communication plan which announces success stories and manages public relations. For example, public presentations to successful candidates can provide a motivational boost to peers.

 

Consider the establishment of a project board with selective learning champions that are both senior and peer based. Any exit plan from an e-learning initiative must be planned in advance.

Establish a published learning charter for the e-learning participant, his/her manager and just as important, the participants community/team. The latter point is especially important, learner performance statistics can reveal how quickly an e-learning based qualification can be gained from one’s workspace. However, consideration should be given to the assumption that a support system and personal coaches/e-learning support trainers may also be required.

It could be argued that the seven areas listed for the skills required of an effective e-learning project manager are applicable to a wide range of projects. However, the main difference with their relevance to an e-learning programme is that they all require a mix of professional management and a strong emphasis on working with the needs of the e-learning participant.

The recommended attitude that should be adopted for each of the items is a ‘sense and respond’ approach. For example, an e-learning course may involve testing using a separate system, this will require planning but just as important is the need to assure participant confidence and early awareness of processes. Structured processes Structured processes help to deliver an effective corporate e-learning initiative but just as important is the supported needed for different types of e-learning participant. Marketing and agreed communication plans should be developed in parallel to the implementation timeline to ensure adequate PR. Active involvement of management in endorsing learners’ successes provides a necessary boost to both motivation and the organisation’s stated initiative.

The skills of an effective e-learning project manager. The skills required will vary according to focus of the knowledge transfer programme. However, some generic traits emerge:

  • Administration management – the need to monitor and manage e-learner activity with confidence assuance that special learning needs are kept confidential.
  • Certification management – establishing examination guidelines, escalation and appeals management.
  • Technical Planning – understanding and ensuring alignment of technical and academic upgrades.
  • Communication management – considering and adhering to the timing of corporate communication goals.
  • Logistical management – operational and ease of technology access and use.
  • Quality and performance management – Working with internal sponsors to ensure best practice and programme refinement (including status and ongoing risk management).
  • Programme planning – Including contract, financial, delivery, availability and response management.

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