I’ve just completed the first draft of a chapter for a book on integrating technology in post-secondary educational institutions that I am writing with Albert Sangra, of the Open University of Catalonia. The book is based on 11 case studies, five in North America and six in Europe.

One of the things we looked at is the use of strategic planning and its value for e-learning. Here are my preliminary conclusions (Albert may have other views on this):

First it was clear that technology integration is more likely to occur in those institutions that have a flexible institutional plan in which the strategic importance of technology is recognized. This is particularly important for ensuring that the financial implications of technology integration are understood and acted on, as well as for communicating the importance of technology integration to all key staff.

Second, and in our view, most importantly, successful planning requires the development of compelling visions and goals for the use of technology within institutions. Too often in the case studies, vision was limited to supporting current administrative processes and classroom teaching methods, rather than using technology to lever radical change directed at new and better learning outcomes, greater flexibility for students, and increased cost efficiencies that are measurable through a formal process of evaluation.

Third, integration and innovation are more likely to occur when there is a process to draw faculty and instructors into the visioning and strategic thinking around the role of technology for teaching and learning. The same applies to staff within administrative areas for administrative applications of technology.

Fourth, for successful technology integration, an institutional strategy must be fully supported by all members of the executive team, and that support needs to be continued over a considerable period, including changes in executive teams.  Some of the most successful institutions in integrating technology had consistent strategies and key people in senior administration in place for many years. Other less successful institutions in the case studies often suffered from a lack of shared vision at the executive level, or continual changes in directions or key personnel.

Fifth, technology planning should be an ongoing process. New developments in technology with profound implications for teaching, research and administration, and pressures on institutions from changing economic and social contexts that could be addressed to some extent through the intelligent application of technology, are likely to continue well into the future.  Thus the need for ongoing technology planning is not going to go away, and should remain a feature of future institutional planning.

Lastly, once strategic direction is set for technology integration, a process needs to be put in place to create and maintain an environment that supports and encourages the integration of technology. An individual or group needs to be mandated to manage this process.

However, more important than strategic planning was strategic thinking about the way technology could transform the organization. This means focusing on:

  • the learning outcomes that are required in a knowledge-based society and how technology can help develop such outcomes,
  • developing competencies in the use of information and communications technologies within specific areas of study,
  • more flexible delivery of programs to accommodate a more heterogeneous student body,
  • the redesign of courses and programs to integrate technology better,
  • better services to students, and
  • greater efficiencies in both teaching and administration (namely, better outcomes at less cost).

Unfortunately, we found little evidence of this level of thinking in most of the case studies, the emphasis instead being on improving ‘business as usual.’

How does this fit with your experience? Does your institution have an institutional plan that includes the use of technology as a strategic direction? Has this helped the institution? Is strategic planning just a pointless waste of time? Your views, please!


  1. I think all of the points that you make are correct from my experience at several universities. I find it interesting how few institutions include educational technology in their strategic thinking or, indeed, how changing patterns of knowledge distribution will effect their role as knowledge custodians.

    Looking forward to the book.


  2. Good post. I think using appropriate knowledge checks and assessments also plays a vital role in engaging learners. Recently read this white paper that lists best practices for using assessments and knowledge checks. http://go2see.it/acu

  3. It might be my impatience and disposition towards teaching culture (what and if ever we actually attempt to describe and confront that) but in my experience point 3 tends to negate point 2. This is not to say point 3 isn’t important – of course it is! But it is to say there is a rather large and unwieldy disconnect to manage over a disappointingly long time period.

  4. All of your points are valid and yet I think number four is the most crucial. Over and over I have seen great technologies fail because the internal champions are no longer there.

  5. Tony — Where to start, where to start… First– great post! But what a topic — strategic planning related to technology in higher education. I’m sure across the US you’d see incredible variances, and those variances multiplied exponentially across the globe….

    My corner of the world looks out at nonprofit associations and corporate training, with higher education in the distance as part of my teaching past — all in the US.

    And from this view, here’s what I see, related to your topic:

    — Higher education has approached online learning from a synchronous, ILT (instructor-led training) standpoint for a long time.

    — Associations have generally modeled that approach, but have (until recently) found it financially prohibitive; they’re great users of Web conferencing tools as their delivery mode of choice for elearning (don’t get me started on that)

    — Corporations have been tremendous consumers of asynchronous, stand-alone courses, and are now leveraging social learning and mobile options to a greater degree than the other two.

    And none of the three seems to know what the others are doing.

    My Ah-ha! moment, coming from corporate Web training to the nonprofit world, was discovering that associations didn’t know (and many still don’t) what options are available to them (which is the main reason I wrote my book on creating an elearning strategy in associations — aLearning: A Trail Guide to Association eLearning, available from http://www.lulu.com).

    My point is that you can’t create a strategy in a vacuum. If you don’t know what your choices are, you *won’t* be able to create a vision for something different, much less know how to implement it or what technology will be required to do so.

    So it seems to me that most of what you offer up won’t matter at all if you don’t get the right people into the room in the first place. And so much of what happens in academia (at least in the States, from my experience) has to do with tenure, seniority, committee appointments, political influence, and lots of other things that sadly have nothing to do with an awareness of what’s possible, let alone what’s needed.

    Your book will likely be welcomed in many circles, Tony!

  6. Dear, Mr. Tony

    In my point of view, I think E-learning with the technology is very important to all the students, especially for researcher.
    I really want to know clearly about E-learning. Because I want to open it in the future for all of my people, particularly for every students.
    Finally, I would like to say thank you to you and your comment to show about how useful of E-learning.
    I hope I could get some experience from you about it.

    your Sincerely,

    Sheila Piseth

  7. I think that e-learning demands a different mindset from many proffersors and others in academia. It has been my experience that many are frightened by the prospect and do not want to try anything new. However, if they wish to reach today’s students than e-learning needs to be used.

  8. More often than not, I’ve found technology being used just for support functions. The full realization of its power and the possibilities is still not common.

  9. From my perspective, I think the objective is to translate your e-Learning Needs Analysis into a strategic action plan that proposes strategies, services, products, individual projects, costs, and timelines. Using this plan you can develop and implement a client’s successful training and performance solutions. These solutions are intended to train an innovative, competitive workforce, assist the CLIENT’s strategic excellence and competitive advantage, and ensure systemic change, innovation, and sustainability.

  10. I work with a group of Audio Visual consultants and I participated in a conversation with them about this topic. They do a lot of educational design work and said it does seem that most educational systems don’t have a strategy in mind when it comes to integrating technology.


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