Articles / What to include in an elearning strategy?

Some will argue that we shouldn’t have a separate elearning strategy – that it’s all part of the learning strategy. Whilst this may be true for mature organisations, for many there is still a role for a document that describes where you’re heading with learning technology, and the rationale behind it.

Strategy documents have a dual purpose:

  1. To help the organisation communicate a clear direction of travel to its stakeholders
  2. To help the organisation make coherent decisions

There are some general rules which apply to strategy documents which enable them to achieve these purposes:

  1. Keep them as short as possible – The temptation is to include every piece of background thinking. Instead, provide them as appendices, or, perhaps a series of online articles that you can link to from the main document. Often, a well-presented, short document is much more effective than a 100 page report.
  2. Use diagrams to help explain complex ideas – There’s a fine balance between keeping diagrams simple, without being simplistic, and detailed, without being overwhelming.  To do this well requires a combination of business analysis, graphic design and communication skills.
  3. Avoid jargon, or explain it – Your strategy document is probably going to be read by people who don’t know your organisation well, and certainly by people who don’t know elearning. So, before you publish, make sure you test it with someone like that.
  4. The medium is the message – This is particularly true for elearning: if you are proposing a particular direction, like video, ebooks, or mobile, then consider using elements of that to help present your strategy. If you want people to read it on screen, then make sure you design for a landscape layout. People are much more likely to print out portrait documents.
  5. Your strategy should have a longer term viewpoint than your business plan – Many organisations work with business plans that look one year ahead at most. These help make the tactical day-to-day decisions. But, some decisions (such as where to invest in tools and skills) have longer lead times before they bear fruit.
  6. Planning ahead more than 5 years is unrealistic – In a fast-moving environment, such as elearning, it’s important to retain some flexibility.
  7. Build in an annual review – The strategy should adapt to reflect changes in the environment. Gradual adjustments in direction are usually much easier to handle than large turns.

But what content should I put into an elearning strategy?

Executive summary

In an ideal world, a strategy document would be so concise or readable that an executive summary would be unnecessary.

However, if you do need one, then the important thing to remember is that the executive summary should not contain anything that you haven’t said elsewhere.

Main document

How will this strategy support the wider vision?

Whatever organisation you are working within it will (or should) have a reason for existing. Often this is known as the “mission statement“. Everything you do, including your elearning strategy, should support that mission.

For example, if you’re part of a local authority, your mission statement might be along the lines of:

… to provide high-quality, cost-effective services that meet the needs of my area.

Your elearning strategy needs to demonstrate how it will help the organisation achieve that aim.

In the case of the local authority, this could mean stating something like:

… using technology at the core of our approach to training and development will enable me to:

  1. Respond more quickly to changes
  2. Provide a consistent level of service regardless of location
  3. Reduce the amount of unnecessary travel

What challenges are I facing?

Many organisations, and the sub-departments within them, carry out an annual SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) or something similar. This gives them a chance to look at how well they’re doing in the context of the internal expectations of the mission statement, and against external, cultural expectations.

The results of this analysis should help to create a list of challenges that need to be addressed. In the case of the L&D department in my local authority, this could include:

  • new staff expect to have information at the fingertips – when they need it, regardless of location
  • staff cannot find what they need on my intranet, and are using Google to search for job support information on the council website
  • I need to demonstrate that I are making most cost-effective use of the online and face-to-face environments in delivering my programmes

How will I address those challenges?

When writing a strategy document, you’ll need a fair bit of political insight to know what to include and what to leave out. Only you can know how people will react to what you write.

In some contexts, you may want to list all the challenges, but then choose to only address certain ones.

In other places, it might be better to only list the challenges you’re going to address…

When dealing with each challenge, it’s usually best to keep things at a high-level, and allow the teams responsible for implementing the strategy to come up with the detailed solutions.

So, for example, to address my local authority challenges above, I might write:

All training &development materials will be accessible on multiple devices over the internet, including mobile, tablet and desktop.

I will lead a programme to improve the usability of the intranet, including enhancing the search facilities.

I will lead a programme which uses the Experience API to collect and analyse learning &performance data from across the council’s content management, learning management and social network systems.

Details about timings, costs and resourcing could be included in the strategy document. But, often, these are best left for the individual programmes or projects to deal with.

If you’re looking to review or write your elearning or learning technology strategy, I can help. Contact us for more details.

Posted: 11 May 2014

Tags: Learning Technology