The other day I was watching reruns of the original Star Trek TV series (yes, I admit it) and those familiar words of the crew’s mission rang once again – Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.
Because I’d been dwelling on the entire eLearning conundrum over the past few days, I felt that with a little bit of tweaking – that mission statement could well be the mission statement of any learning group embarking on an eLearning initiative for the first time – eLearning: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the eLearning Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds of technology-enabled learning, to seek out new methods and techniques for making learning successful and new strategies for deployment and development, to boldly go where no learning professional has gone before.
Except that this is not science-fiction. And there are stakeholders watching our every move as we proceed towards realizing the eLearning mission. Sometimes we as learning professionals could get so carried away by our enthusiasm for our mission that we might begin to think we are all we need to succeed. In truth, for any eLearning initiative to be launched successfully, Information Technology (IT) is an indispensable enabler. Whether it is a matter of deploying the required IT infrastructure, implementing an LMS for training management or whether it is about making content available through internal portals, IT is one team you need on board your eLearning enterprise. The best of eLearning content is of no use if it is not supported by a robust technology framework to enable learners to gain the maximum benefits of online learning. IT also needs to be an enthusiastic supporter and valued partner in the eLearning initiative.(When wanting to be transported back to the Starship Enterprise, can you imagine Captain Kirk’s plight had his terse command “Beam us up Scotty” been ignored because the IT department felt unappreciated!).
A technology-enabled learning solution obviously needs support and active participation from IT right from the planning stage itself. Here are a few ways to build a successful partnership with IT:
Identify roles and assign clear responsibilities. While the learning group is obviously at the helm – navigating and leading the way – it needs IT expertise to make eLearning happen. This is also true if you are going to outsource your technical requirements to vendors. You need a well-informed person from your organization’s IT team to drive all such discussions and negotiations right from the outset so that technological requirements are clearly communicated to the vendor and brought to a closure. You need to plan for an experienced IT member designated for this role and work together with him/her to arrive at a solution. It is important that the learning group and the IT group work together without stepping on each other’s toes and with respect for each other’s specialized skills.
Another important requirement for a winning partnership with IT is to agree upon clear standards and compliance requirements from the beginning of any eLearning initiative. Especially if holding discussions with vendors where IT can play a key role in ensuring minimum configurations for content to be deployed, standard configurations that vendors should comply with, additional programming and testing during the development phase to ensure content is compliant with the agreed-upon industry standards etc.
It also helps to have dedicated resources from the IT team to support your eLearning initiative, rather than having whoever is free being allocated for the task on an on-demand basis. There’s nothing as reassuring as having a specialized technological skill-set available to help steer you through those at-times scary waters of eLearning planning and implementation!