Implementing Online Learning

First – understand and respect the complexities of online learning

Online learning is high technology. It is right up there with software applications, network servers, and above all “The Web”. You don’t need to become an expert in all of these things to lead a successful online implementation project, but you do need to understand what is needed and how to assemble the right team and resources to ensure success.

Here are some things you’ll want to know and questions you’ll want to ask to prepare yourself:

You’ll need a technology infrastructure (network servers, bandwidth and computers for example) and the people to set them up and maintain them. These questions will help define any technology challenges you might face and so plan how to overcome them.

  • Where will students take the online courses I will offer? How many different kinds of locations are there? How many students will be taking the courses at about the same time? How long will the courses take? Will students complete courses in one session or return several times?
  • Where will I get my learning content? Will I purchase ready made courses? If I do will I need to customize them? If I write my own courses, what tool will I use to create them? Will my courses come from more than one source?
  • What will the courses look like? Will they be mostly text with a few pictures or will they be data rich with many images, URL’s, and interaction? How long will they be? Based on this, how much “bandwidth” will I need and with what other of my organization’s applications must I compete to get it? Which individuals in my organization (or elsewhere) must I get to know (and become influential) in order to get the resources I’ll need to succeed? Who in my organization can influence others to get the technical resources I’ll need?
  • On what servers will my content reside? Will they be on my network, hosted somewhere else, or a combination of several environments? Will students need to access the courses from outside of these networks? If so, will network security requirements permit them to do this?

You’ll need to decide how students will access the online courses, you offer, what they’ll do while there, and what information you’ll need as a result.

  • Do your students currently have access to other training information and tasks? For example, can they enroll in instructor led courses or take other training actions? Do you want to incorporate the online learning into this same environment? Where will students be when they need access to this environment? Will network security requirements permit them to do this?
  • What do I need to know during and after the training? Is it important to know who took what and when they took it? Do I need reports? Who else needs information – Managers, Employees, and Executives – and what do they need? How will I get this information? How will I distribute it to the right people at the right time?
  • If more than one software system is used (for example online content and a Learning Management System) how will I integrate them? It may, for example be important to learn about the SCORM system of standards which allows different systems to work together.
  • What will my test environment and plan look like? What resources will I need? Who will manage it? How can I ensure success by uncovering problems before they are deployed to my organization?

Second – develop the plan and resources you’ll need to succeed

Online learning projects are no different from other technology projects. The opportunity for success is directly linked to putting the appropriate effort into planning ahead of time. The answers you get to the questions in the section above will help you prepare and execute your plan.

Here are some things to consider for your planning:

  • When, how, and to who do I want to deploy online learning? It’s okay to begin with a goal date in mind. This will help you determine how quickly work must be done and which personnel resources you will need to do it. Likewise, you must also be prepared to strike a balance between the tasks to be done and the time and resources available to do them; this could cause your goal date to change.
  • When will I need internal resources such as course authors, network administrators, and web administrators to perform project tasks? Are they available? Which will be needed for ongoing maintenance of the new system? Are there budget considerations? Who will I be working with and what are their responsibilities?
  • Are there vendors and other outside resources with which I am working? What do I need from them and when do I need it? How will I communicate with them? Are there budget considerations? Do any of them need to collaborate with one another? If they do, do I need to act as intermediary? How do I determine that their work is satisfactory and complete? What is my long range plan for maintenance and growth?
  • How will I plan for the organizational changes which must occur? How will I deploy to my staff, other students, managers, and executives in a manageable fashion? What are their expectations? How will I communicate with them? How will I train them? What feedback will I need from them to ensure their adoption and how will I get it?