Wednesday, May 13, 2009

E-learning anarchy

The following is a response to a question raised about how to deal with the problem of fragmented and uncontrolled procurement of e-learning within a distributed organisation. Thought it was worth adding here to ... DAVID

This has historically been a common problem, and often leads to the appointment of a central resource to support and coordinate e-learning related purchases, as well as to own the associated technical standards and sometimes the platform (e.g. LMS) they will be run on. In terms of resolving your issues - you probably need to think about it at three different levels.

1) Technical Standards - Nearly every major corporate we work with has had to put in place a technical standards document that is enforced via the procurement process. This includes: e-learning standards for compatibility with your LMS or deployment platform (AICC, SCORM 1.2, 2004 etc), technical standards for your IT environment - browser/script/java/plugin restrictions etc and network and other restictions (e.g. bandwidth), other integration requirements and so on. Will also probably include requirements for new suppliers in terms of provision of sample test content to prove LMS compatibility, as well as any associated release or delivery requirements for the content - i.e. the rules of engagement for the vendor.

2) E-learning Project Process - a standard process to be used by all parts of the organisation to facilitate e-learning projects. The aim of this is to better qualify projects and investments in e-learning, and to take them through some standard steps to help ensure the success of the projects. This could include which suppliers have already been vetted - some guidelines on procurement, guidelines on project planning and initiation etc, and (very importantly) guidelines on assurance, testing and deployment. This will help ensure projects are managed more effectively. Frequently the implementation of such a process will involve advisory support from a central e-learning advisor or team depending on the scale of the organisation. Whilst responsibility for e-learning may be devolved into the fragmented L&D operation - e-learning expertise is generally not unless an organisation becomes very e-centric and even then it still needs to rest with a few people (in reality).

3) Governance - as you have highlighted, a decentralised procurement of e-learning solutions leads to failed projects as the expertise is absent to make them successful, and basic issues of suitability, design, and deployability go out the window. Centralising all responsibility for e-learning can be a good strategy in the short term, but is frequently a bad answer long term as it fundamentally keeps it in the ivory tower. Delegating responsibility for e-learning without some form of governance and process leads to anarchy. As a minimum, you need to have some standards for projects and potential suppliers (see above), and also cross-visibility of existing solutions and suppliers across the business. Over time, this ideally would lead some form of governance network to maximise the value of what you already have and to stop reinventing the wheel 15 times in different parts of the business. Governance should also foster and facilitate innovation on a coordinated basis - innovation in terms of approach and of suppliers etc.

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