E-Learning Strategy – The Right Way to Success

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Right now you may be sitting there reading the headline. You are anticipating a magical cure, because you are suffering from seeing some team named Dayton ruin your March Madness bracket.  I hear you. I feel you (well, not really), but I get it.

You are looking at all these items to consider, not for MM, but for your e-learning inititaives. Have to get a LMS? What?  Need to develop content? Huh? Need to offer an e-learning solution when you have been instructor led for so long. What? Why, when our ILT has been so successful? I mean look at our evaluation forms, everyone loves it.

You are being forced to offer online courses in your school, university, college and you hate it, but know you have no choice.  You used to use web pages and now your curriculum staff is going to buy a LMS? Egads.

You despise e-learning, but unless you want to keep your job – you have go forth.

I hear you. I understand.  But here is the thing, you can do it.  I’ve been there – well, not hating it – I always thought it was the way to go (even in 2000).  I know what works and what doesn’t, and I’m here to help you succeed.

I’ve had some early missteps, but corrected them and made it work. And not just work, deliver real return on investment, real revenue (B2B) and a solution that even naysayers turned to yes, we like it.

Commit

The first thing you have to do is commit.  This means, you believe it will succeed. If you have any doubts, keep them to yourself, because you will have to be the biggest cheerleader out there.  If you are already excited or passionate about it, you  have what it takes to make it work.  Listen, this is not a one day or even one week strategy plan.  You will have ups and downs, so gear up for it.

Objectives

Typically the first thing people do, when it comes to coming up with a strategy. What are you doing now and what do you want to accomplish once you go the e-learning way.  Think not just today or when you go live, but down the road.  It can be pie in the sky thinking, but at least you are thinking about it (and trust me, it can make a big difference).

Sure things can change from now to three years from now (and it should), but having an initial roadmap is better than winging it.

Spend a few days on this.  Most folks, spend like a day and then move on – but ask yourself, can you come up with everything in a day?  Especially with so much out there.  I don’t care if you are B2B, B2C, internal, education or the space program planning to offer classes to aliens, spend time on this.

Targets

People use different terminology for this, but in the end ask yourself who is your target audience.  If you plan to offer e-learning for internal as well as customers, then list it.  BTW, you can get one system to do it both, rather than buying multiple platforms (it’s called an extended enterprise or multi-tenant platform).

If you are going to offer only internal, then write it down.  If you are going to do B2B for example, then this will make a difference in your roadmap, because it would tell me, that you are most likely going to need an extended enterprise and some form of e-commerce as part of your feature set.

Going back to internal, will it be all employees or certain departments?  If certain departments, are there any additional factors?  If all employees is it going to be a phased rollout or all at once.

Learner Projections

If you are moving from ILT to e-learning, then increase your user base.  After all, e-learning opens up a lot of doors for you, more so than just ILT.  If you are going B2B or B2C, look at past numbers as well.  It is always amazing to me at the number of training departments/L&D too, that have no data from previous years.  You should.  I always did and it gave me a sense of initial projections for online learning. Even with B2B and B2C.

Think of learner projections in the same way you look at deliverable of products sold.  In other words, the projection of learners is similar to forecasting.  If you forecast that your company will sell 5000 widgets next year, you are basing on something in the past, whether that be past three years or the previous year (ideally, three years or more).

Anyway, you are forecasting your user base. 

Even if you are a school or university, you need forecasts/projections.  You can’t just say, well we have 500 students so we are going to forecast 500.  I mean what is your attrition rate (i.e. for education, students leaving.  For corporate, leaving, downsizing, or if seasonal, seasonal).   There are people who also want to know their growth rate – you can get an idea by talking to HR.

I focused only on general learner projections, but it was always a nice to know on our attrition rate with our customers/clients and even internal -and it depended on a few factors:

If I had final say and didn’t need to present to anyone, I bypassed itIf I had a committee to work with, I sometimes did it, other times, didn’tIf I had to present to senior executives, then I had it in my back pocket as a just in case (and ready to present as a secondary document)

At the end of the day, it is not a requirement so if you are like “Oh my God” I have to do this.. you don’t. So, relax and stop drinking Red Bull, that stuff rots your brain.

Identify what you need

Some people stick this part at the end of their strategy session, but I wouldn’t recommend it.  Ask yourself the following questions

Am I going to need to create my own courses?  If yes, you will need an authoring toolWill we be offering webinars or classes online?  If yes, you will want either a standalone web conferencing solution or one integrated into a learning platform.  On a side note, some vendors call it “virtual classrooms”.Do you want to track your learners? Do you want statistics and analysis of their learning?  Do you need a place to house your content – whatever that might be?  If yes, you will need a learning platform.Do you want to build your own system or locate a commercial platform?  If you build your own, will you be able to have the support needed (for administrators in maybe learners)? If you run into issues, do you have someone that can fix it?  If you want it to have some compliance standard, do you have someone either in-house or you can hire to build that into your system?Do you want an e-learning solution that exists in the cloud or on your own servers?  The same applies to creating content (but on your desktop vs. cloud)What features do you need?  If you have no idea, don’t worry – the best way is to think what are you doing now, and what do you want to do? Let’s say you offer face to face training and want to continue to do so with your e-learning offerings.  So write that down.  Don’t worry about the jargon or actual terminology at this point (if you don’t know).

Budget and Budget Projections

Again, people often wait to the end of the strategy, but get a sense of what you need.  You may have no idea at this point, so write down – “Unsure at this point”. But, write something down.  It is easy to say, “We project the cost of our entire e-learning solution to be $35,000 USD) and from that, we anticipate the cost for an e-learning tool to be XYZ and the rest to be for our learning platform and/or blah blah blah.

To effectively calculate budget don’t just think today. Think three years out, because that is the length it will take you to build and sustain mass.  If you are focusing on internal, do you plan to hire people in the next three years?  If you say yes, then that will affect your budget.

When I did my budget, I always calculated for three years.  I estimated a 10-20% increase for each year, and then made adjustments as the year went on and then the following year.  For me, I found 10% to be more realistic, but it depends on your targets.

Buy-In

A lot of people forget about this, but having it in your strategy is huge.  Look you are going to need other people at some point to buy into this whole e-learning thing.  So, figure out ahead of time who you need.  I call this stakeholders. 

Many people who add this, tend to focus only on senior management or department heads. I say, big mistake.

Yeah you want them, but you also want the everyday people.  In other words, if you plan to offer your e-learning to internal and this includes say your support people – then get a stakeholder in support.

Someone who will champion the use of the learning platform and the courses.  Have them rave about it to others, people tend to listen to others and will base their feedback on that.

I always followed this mantra.  If I had warehouse people taking courses, then whalla – I found at least one stakeholder – one champion.  Someone people liked and respected.  You don’t want the person, people despise or write nasty notes about them on Twitter.

If you are B2B, then find a couple of clients who will post testimonials or you can refer others too – but make sure they align to whom you are referring them to or listing as a testimonial. 

If my clients are small mom and pops, guess what? Hello, mom and pop champion!

If you are doing B2C – find some customers.  You shouldn’t bribe anyone or promise then “Free” whatever, but there are always folks – you hope – that will be happy to champion and be a stakeholder.  A stakeholder means you really value them.

People like to be recognized as being valuable.  It goes a long way.

After you get the stakeholders as you build and deliver the program, you will be surprised how many people will contact you on how much they like it – if you see this person as a plus – get them to be a champion.

Having champions is a lot better than just having your CEO rave about it.  BTW, you might be surprised on how many employees for example, have no idea on who is the CEO or care. 

Technology requirements

Believe it or not, people forget about this. They just think well we have the Internet, so we are all set.  But, it is wrong to assume that.  Think about the following:

If people are going to access internally (at your company) what version of browser software do you have?  Because there are systems that won’t work with anything below IE7.  There are other systems who despite their claims of browser agnostic,  have issues with Chrome for example. What version of Office are you using.  Again, if you plan to use PowerPoint as part of your course builds, and you have Office 2000, you might be out of luckWhat version of Flash are you using?  If the vendor uses Flash, they might not support older versions.Will you need audio cards?  I once worked at a company, where everyone had an audio card, but they had them turned off. If you are going to have employees access via a VPN, what is the speed for them to do so?  VPNs can create all types of issues, so if you are going to use one, realize that people who will access offline might hit slow mode and prepare accordinglyDoes everyone have e-mail?  If not, how will you notify them?If people are using mobile devices, even BYOD to work, and choose that over the computer, will it work with the system?  If yes, do you want the ability to have SMS notifications (gets back to features)If you currently block employees from accessing the Internet, that will need to change with an “in the cloud” system. 

Data shows that people tend to access e-learning offerings at of the workplace (of course there are exceptions – such as hourly), and honestly there is no way of really knowing what each employee has to access the internet. 

The same applies to B2B and B2C, but what I would do is make sure that when you send out that e-mail to them or notify them, that you have links to download the latest versions of whatever you need.  I would also state what are the minimum requirements for the system to work with – so people have an idea.

This same info should be somewhere visible on the LMS, ideally under a “Help” section. 

Put it all together

Basically it is your game plan. To many people write a strategy document that is 20 or 30 pages in length.  Why? 

All this can be achieved in ten or less pages.   To jump start the creative juices, I recommend using my vendor LMS analysis or Authoring Tool Details templates available on the site.  If you want a listing of feature sets, go with my RFP template (new version coming out end of the week). 

Bottom Line

Creating an e-learning strategy first before just diving it, will make all the difference. 

It will ease your concerns, open up your mind to new possibilities and get you to really think about where you are today and where you want to go.

Because everyone wants to get somewhere.

They just need a map to do so.

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