September 19, 2014

4. How to implement an e-learning plan

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© Industry Leaders Magazine, 2011

This is the last in a series of four posts on developing an e-learning plan. The first post discussed why an e-learning plan may be needed, the second discussed how to do a plan, the third post discussed what should be in a plan, and this post will discuss how to implement an e-learning plan.

Danger: dreams meet reality

It is often at the implementation stage that a good e-learning plan starts to unravel. There are several reasons for this.

The first (and probably most dangerous) is internal politics. The recommendations compete for attention with other goals or values of Deans, the VP Academic, the President, the faculty union or other power brokers in the institution. Other priorities take precedence.

A second danger is that the sponsor loses interest or doesn’t agree with the recommendations or decides that the politics of getting the plan implemented are too difficult – too many enemies might be made.

A third is that key recommendations require additional resources but no-one knows how to find them or is willing to give up something else to free up the resources.

A fourth is that the plan meets resistance at grass roots level. Individual faculty members don’t buy into the recommendations, or find them too much trouble to implement.

Lastly, there may be no implementation plan, so no-one takes responsibility for seeing the plan through to action.

Although it is possible to take steps to counter such reactions to the plan (and I’ll discuss these below), it has to be accepted that a lot of most plans won’t get fully implemented. Again, though, you have to remember Eisenhower: ‘The plan is nothing; planning is everything.’ The main benefit from developing a plan is that it sets an agenda, gets people thinking about the issues, and in particular leads to faculty and instructors thinking about how they want to teach and how technology can help them. Different, and probably better, outcomes may emerge than those laid out in the plan, but the plan stimulates and provokes, and helps the institution move forward in its use of technology for teaching.

The role of the sponsor

In ‘How to do an e-learning plan’ I talked about the sponsor as the person or the committee that requests or commissions the plan. It is the responsibility of the sponsor to ensure that the plan gets implemented, as far as possible.

In reality though a VP Academic or a high level committee are not going to be able to do the detailed work necessary to follow up on a plan and its implementation. This means that someone such as the AVP Teaching and Learning or the Director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning or the Learning Technology unit be assigned as the person responsible for ensuring that the plan is followed through. However, this person should report formally at least twice a year to the sponsor on the progress of the plan, and intermittently as necessary when major road blocks to the plan are encountered.

It is the sponsor’s job then following such reports to decide whether to continue to press those responsible for specific recommendations (see below) to make more progress towards implementation, or to identify resources or tactics needed to move the plan forward, or whether to drop or amend a particular recommendation in the light of prevailing circumstances.

Developing an implementation plan

Each major recommendation should be accompanied by a strategy for implementation, and a person or organizational unit responsible for the implementation. This should be included within the plan before it is presented to the sponsor. Ideally it would also identify the resources needed, or resource implications, of each recommendation, although in reality this may have to be done for some recommendations after formal approval of the plan, or approval of the plan in principle (subject to resources being available) by the sponsor. The recommendations should be written in such a way that it is possible to track the extent to which they have been implemented.

This will often be in the form of a grid or matrix. An example is given below:

No.  Recommendation Person responsible  Resourcesneeded To be implemen-ted by  Notes Status(March 2012)
6. a  Each division should develop an education plan identifying its learning technology needs for the next 12 months  Deans No direct costs; faculty administrator to collect information from program teams; program teams already developing plans  March, 2012 All Deans on side except Medicine; has its own way of identifying LT priorities 11 out of 12 plans completed; 2 division plans need further clarification re learning technologies

In the example above, it would be the sponsor’s responsibility to decide how to approach the Dean of Medicine (which has its own learning technology unit), and how to go about getting further clarification from the two divisions whose plans are still not detailed enough regarding their use of learning technologies. There would probably have been an intermediate reporting point before March 2012 when progress towards the implementation could be assessed. Possibly at this point the sponsor may have agreed to let Medicine go its own way, because of its already advanced use of learning technologies.

How to evaluate a plan

It can be seen from the above example that evaluation of the plan will be based on how much is implemented, and the reasons why some parts are not fully implemented. The main aim would be to have a review at the end of the first year of the plan as to how the recommendations have been implemented, so that lessons can be learned for future plans. This would form part of the SWOT analysis for the next year’s plan. The aim though is not to do a hard quantitative count of how many recommendations have been implemented, but to look at how the plan has impacted overall on the institution’s use of learning technologies, and to take account of that for the next year’s planning exercise.

Conclusions

To what extent should a plan take account of the realpolitik of an institution? There are two approaches to this: ensure as far as possible that the plan is likely to be accepted by everyone, even if it means having limited goals or achievements. In this case, the sponsor needs to work very closely with the planning team, to ensure that all the ‘right’ people are consulted, and that the plan is written very carefully to ensure that no-one is upset. At the other extreme, it can be argued that it is better to have high expectations and ambitious goals, so the plan should be clear and forthright, even if it rides roughshod over some powerful interests.

Which approach to be taken should depend on the senior management’s view of the state of the institution: whether it needs small but steady progress, or whether the institution needs to move much faster and more ambitiously. Most plans are likely to be somewhere between. This is why the sponsor of the plan is so important to the process, both in guiding the overall aims or tone for the plan, and in ensuring that it is properly followed through. Whichever approach is preferred, extensive consultation with faculty/instructors and other stakeholders throughout the institution will be necessary, both during the planning process and after the plan is approved.

Lastly, although I have tried to present the planning process as simply and clearly as possible, in reality it will always be more messy and less organized than these posts suggest. Flexibility on the part of the planners, and adaptation to actual circumstances, will be critical for success. But the aim of these posts is to provide a guiding framework that enables the whole picture to be seen.

Questions (about all four posts)

1. How helpful have these four posts been to you?

2. Could you (or do you)  follow such a planning process in your own institution. If not, why not? If you do, what works and what doesn’t?

3. Are there better ways than detailed planning to encourage the use of learning technologies in post-secondary institutions? What would those be?

4. How does this approach fit with the culture of your organization? If it doesn’t, what should be done?

I really look forward to your comments and above all hearing about your experience in managing learning technologies.

(Note: because of confidentiality agreements, I will be unable to share any actual e-learning plans on which I’ve worked).

 

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