E-Learning Readiness

E-Learning Program Readiness Study

by Mark Sivy

When considering the development of an e-learning training and talent development program, whether from the ground up or as an addition to an existing program, a thorough readiness study helps ensure its success. A viable analysis will not be limited to a mechanical human resources or accounting approach that views learners as numbers or automatons, but will also include organization goal and a humanistic assessment and incorporation of learner needs, abilities, and motivations. This comprehensive analysis not only ensures that learners are being offered necessary information and skills, but that they are also receiving these in a manner that is personalized, tangible, and applicable. Having an academic plan is as essential as a business plan. In other words, if an organization is serious about the return on their training and talent development investment, much more is involved in offering e-learning than purchasing off-the-shelf modules and running employees through a learning mill.

A Comprehensive Approach

My recommendation for a readiness study is that it incorporate a comprehensive strategy that examines all aspects of the e-learning undertaking. This methodology will merge the processes and results of a typically business-oriented feasibility study with those of a needs assessment, producing a program that benefits the organization and the people involved. The rationale for this is to secure optimal short-term and long-term outcomes.

Readiness Study

A Standard Feasibility Study (the business side)

A good feasibility study for an e-learning project would most likely adhere to a traditional format, with special attention given to communicating with all stakeholders or their representatives throughout the process. Typical components of the feasibility study are:

  1. Executive Summary. The executive summary provides an overview of the content contained in the feasibility study document. This section is written after the rest of the document is completed.
  2. Introduction. Describes the reasons for the concept or project and also the intended outcomes from the feasibility study.
  3. Scope. The scope statement describes the study as it relates to the project, stakeholders, and those who it will impact.
  4. Terms and Acronyms. Provides a definition of the terms and acronyms used in the study document. This section to be comprehensive and to provide a clear and common understanding. This is particularly important when team members are internationally dispersed or have different cultural backgrounds.
  5. Project Overview. Offers a brief overview of the proposed project and serves as a reference point for the remainder of the document.
  6. Description of Objectives, Products and Services. This section provides a more detailed description of the objectives, products and/or services which are being considered as part of the feasibility study.
  7. Assumptions. Determine the project assumptions, such as operational life of the proposed systems, maintenance, training, sustainability, and scalability.
  8. Consequences and Risks. Includes consequences of not taking appropriate action, what delays and risks might occur during work, and what delays and risks can be tolerated.
  9. Alternatives. Describes an alternative(s) to the suggested system and states the reasons why the alternative system(s) was (were) not selected.
  10. Technology Considerations. Explains considerations the organization must make with regards to technology, including hardware, software, infrastructure, skills, and interfaces.
  11. Competitor Analysis. This section provides an assessment of what is known about existing domestic and overseas competitor’s programs.
  12. Marketing Strategy. States how will this program’s offerings be promoted.
  13. Training and Talent Development. Presents the instructional methodology, design, and deployment aspects. This section is highly dependent upon the parallel Human Needs Assessment findings.
  14. Staffing and Organization. This examines the people who are needed to implement the program, including skills, backgrounds, and knowledge.
  15. Timeline. This section provides the project schedule, which serves as a guideline and includes major milestones and estimated time frames.
  16. Benefits. It’s important that the feasibility study captures the essential outcomes of the project that is being considered as well as how it benefit the organization, workforce, end-users, and clients.
  17. Financial Projections. This section provides a description of start-up costs, operating costs, revenue projections and profitability.
  18. Outcomes and Recommendations. This section will summarize the outcomes of the feasibility study and explain what course of action is recommended. This section may include advantages and disadvantages of doing the project and suggestion to enhance project success.

Needs Assessment

A Needs Assessment (the academic side)

A needs assessment is a process of determining the gaps that exist between present circumstances and desired circumstances. A comprehensive assessment is recommended and includes not only establishing both existing needs, but also providing direction to possible solutions. This process should establish organizational, occupational, and individual needs.

  1. Need for Change. This can be caused by such factors a change in business or social climate, reduction in expected organizational outcomes, introduction of a new regulation or operational system, or increased employee apathy / turnover.
  2. Project Team. Development of the core group that provides project continuity.
  3. Stakeholders. Identify those individuals and groups who will have an interest in or be impacted by the project. Representatives from this collective will be involved necessary times and will be recipients of ongoing communication.
  4. Purpose. Define the goals and objectives that will give the research direction.
  5. Literature Review. Conduct literature search for existing information resource, learning theory, and research findings
  6. Data Collection. Methods of gathering data will depend on the circumstances. Various means include interviews, job descriptions, observations, and surveys. Included in this process is the need to identify the study population, determine sampling requirements, and designing the data acquisition instrument(s).
  7. Data Analysis. Once the data has been gathered, it needs to be analyzed using the appropriate methodology (substantiated by theory and performed by experienced researchers)
  8. Study Report. This includes stating the findings, discussing their meaning and significance, and making implementation recommendations.
  9. Vetting. The report is distributed, focus groups are convened, points are explained and discussed, and stakeholder input is taken.
  10. Final Report. This incorporates the study report, information gained during the vetting process, and any other additions.

Final Words

The e-learning program feasibility study and needs assessment should be initiated and managed by a mutual project team. The goal is for the two studies to interact with one another in an organic manner, rather than being performed in individual vacuums. Depending upon the program being considered, common points of shared information will exist throughout the processes and should be leveraged.

Reflection Point – “If you don’t know where you are headed, you’ll probably end up someplace else.”     ~Douglas J. Eder, Ph.D


Online Talent Development Part 5

Online Talent Development – Toolset

by Mark Sivy. Ed.D.

Based upon recent information found at the Center for Learning and Performance Technologies website, there are currently over 2100 technology tools, programs and applications that can be used for corporate talent development, training, and learning. Most of them are proven performers, relatively easy to use and free or low cost. As an instructional designer or manager, combining these to develop various online learning lessons and activities or mobile learning chunks can make your program more exciting and engaging. Most of these tools can be included in the following categories:

  • Documents – these provide for offline creation and presentation of information such as documents, spreadsheets, and presentations
  • Web Browsers and Related Tools – allow for accessing, subscribing to, searching, aggregating, and reading web content.
  • Personal Productivity – includes calendars, concept mapping applications, computer utilities, organizers, and accessibility tools.
Concept Map

Bringing ideas together with a concept map.

  • Web Information – offer the ability to create, post, and read information using websites, wikis, and blogs.
  • Audio, Video, Images, and Graphics – allow for the creation, review, editing, and presentation of a variety of multi-sensory presentation
  • Collaboration and Sharing – provide for common digital work spaces for groups or teams to collectively create, share, and modify content.
  • Instructional Design and Development – support course content authoring and learning assessment
Instructional Design

You need the proper tools to complete an outstanding instructional design project.

  • Communication Tools – permit both synchronous and asynchronous options such as email, instant messaging, texting, and discussion forums.
  • Public Information – present many forms of information access including but not limited to frequently asked questions (FAQs), tutorials, podcasts, and open courseware.
  • Course Management Systems – enable the creation and delivery of course content as well as interactive participation, social exchange, collaboration, tracking, communication, and grading.
  • Web Conferencing and Web Meetings – allow individuals to meet synchronously using voice, voice and video, whiteboards, and screen sharing.
  • Social Networks – permit the creation of various online communities, and allow for the formation of personal and professional networks.

Using these when and where there is a need can result in positive learning experiences and good evaluations.

“In chess, knowledge is a very transient thing. It changes so fast that even a single mouse-slip sometimes changes the evaluation.” ~ Viswanathan Anand

Online Talent Development Part 4

Types and Extent of Online Talent Development

by Mark Sivy

Different forms of online learning exist that vary based upon the intended outcomes, level of interactivity, number of connected users, and the forms of communication which are used.


Four general types are:

  • Passive Information

Usually low level of interactivity, single user, reading.

This can provide on-demand learning as in the case of online frequently-asked-questions or other knowledge bases which were purposefully created to provide some form of specific information for learners. This could be related a certain topic, process, task, or product. Other online information sources such as blogs, wikis, and websites can also provide passive learning. These are posted for public access and can be found through searches or “web-surfing”. Since the learning they provide usually require nothing more than reading, only low levels of interactivity and engagement occur.

passive online learning

  • Web-based Dialogue

Usually moderate level of interactivity, multiple users, text-based communication exchanges.

Learning occurs through the use of forums, chat rooms, discussion boards, text-messaging, e-mail, or live instant-messaging. This form of learning often involves a knowledgeable person who responds to questions or comments by providing needed information.

  • Synchronous

Usually moderate to high level of interactivity, multiple users, various forms of sensory input.

This occurs in real-time with a live instructor presenting information or with a facilitator guiding learning activities and processes. The experience can somewhat be similar to a traditional class meeting, but the online meeting differs in that the participants are geographically separated and they use specialized meeting technologies and strategies. Everyone logs into the common application or system at a specified time and for a given length of time. An event can happen once or meetings can occur on a regular basis for as many times as is required. Communication typically involves text, voice, and sometimes video.

online collaboration

  • Asynchronous

Usually moderate to high level of interactivity, single to multiple users, various forms of sensory input.

This is the most commonly used category for organized web-based talent development. It involves self-paced learning which means the learner accesses materials, resources, activities, etc. at a time that fits their schedule and physical environment. Often asynchronous learning occurs through a well-designed website or learning management system course which has been developed by an instructor or instructional designer.

For more on synchronous and asynchronous online learning, read EDUCAUSE and eLearners.com articles.

Reflection Point 1 – I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand. ~ Confucius

online talent developmentExtent of Online Learning

Online learning can also be described based upon the degree to which the learning occurs online:

  • Fully online – the instruction and learning occurs almost completely in the online environment.
  • Hybrid / Blended – there is a blend between substantial learning occurring both online and face-to-face.
  • Supplemental – the majority of learning occurs in the physical classroom with ancillary materials and resources available online.

Reflection Point 2 – Good teaching is good teaching, no matter how it’s done. ~ Anonymous

Online Talent Development Part 3

Benefits and Challenges

by Mark Sivy

Online strategies are not intended or expected to be the magic solution to current talent development challenges. Combining visionary planning, human performance technology, and instructional design, learning design teams can put together content that can help resolve or reduce talent development issues, and it does address modern learner expectations to use digital technologies. To help you determine the extent to which you use online learning strategies, below are lists of benefits and challenges.

corporate online talent developmentBenefits

  • Fit into personal schedules more easily than traditional learning.
  • Be self-directed and self-paced, thus allowing learners the opportunity to speed up, slow down, and review content at an individual pace.
  • Lead to greater self-confidence, thus empowering the learner to take more responsibility for their learning.
  • Be personalized, using a variety of delivery and presentation methods, thus accommodating multiple learning styles and personal preferences.
  • Lead to the improvement of learner attitudes, self-esteem, and self-efficacy, which can result in better outcomes and learner retention.
  • Allow for greater personal mobility, reduced travel time and expenses, and the ability to overcome geographic barriers.
  • Compensate for personal restrictions, challenges, or limitations.
  • Facilitate increased student interactivity, student collaboration, team work, and one-on-one contact with the instructor.
  • Permit learners to experiment, explore, create, fail, retry, and learn without the fear of others being aware.
  • Be used to create peer community and support which enhance learning.
  • Allow for broader learning opportunities and course options at a lower cost to the learner.
  • Lower the cost and ease the scheduling for instructor professional development, training, follow-up contact, and ongoing support.
  • Enhance the learner’s awareness and skills in the use of technologies such as computers, applications, and the Internet.
  • Deliver standard content and consistent messages, ensuring that learners have access to the same resources and opportunities.
  • Provide cost savings to institutions in terms of reducing the need for buildings.
  • Enable global awareness, community, networking and resources.
  • Reduce environmental damage caused by energy consumption, waste emissions, and land use.
  • Provide tools which allow for tracking, analyzing, reporting, and improving teaching and learning.
  • Host simulations and role-play activities that would otherwise not be possible

Reflection Point 1 – Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school. ~Albert Einstein

Learning challengesChallenges

  • Learners who procrastinate, are not self-motivated, require frequent prompting, or who have poor study habits may fail to meet requirements and deadlines.
  • Non-verbal communication such as body language, facial expressions, and eye contact will typically be missing.
  • Barriers can exist initially for learners due to the need for new skills which are associated with using technologies and new ways of learning.
  • Technological constraints exist in terms of communication, project completion and submission, inadequate devices, and restrictive file formats.
  • It is more difficult to interact or communicate with individuals who tend to be unresponsive.
  • Issues can arise for instructors due to the need for adapting or learning new online teaching strategies, processes, and routines.
  • Students may miss face-to-face social contact and interaction, can feel isolated, or may need in-person teacher-student interaction.
  • Instructors may not always be available on demand in a manner which is often expected when communicating electronically.
  • Slow or unreliable Internet connections can present issues and frustration.
  • Creating and maintaining the necessary institutional infrastructure, resources, and support can be costly and complex.
  • Learners may be confused or disoriented due to the lack of routines surrounding a traditional class.
  • Hands-on activities or lab work are sometimes difficult to host or simulate.
  • Immediate feedback which exists in a traditional class often is not available
  • There is a dependency on Internet connections and functioning hardware.
  • It often requires a difficult change in attitudes and beliefs by learners, instructors, parents, and community.
  • There is a reduction in opportunities to develop oral communication skills and other social dynamics.

Reflection Point 2 – Technology is not capable of or intended to replace teachers, but “any teacher who can be replaced by a computer deserves to be. ~ David Thornburg

Online Talent Development Part 2

Online Talent Development Part 2 – How Did Corporate Online Learning Originate?

by Mark Sivy

London University

The London University in 1827, drawn by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd.

In tracing the roots of online learning, it’s necessary to put forth a basic understanding of what sets online learning apart from other forms of learning. For the purpose of this article, online learning is learning that takes place via the Internet when there is a lack of physical presence between the learner and instructor due to geographic separation. Given this perspective, evidence of learning at-a-distance is seen in a 1728 advertisement for a Boston mail-based correspondence course for learning shorthand. Recognized formal education at-a-distance can be found as early as 1858 at the University of London and in 1873 through the Society to Encourage Studies at Home in Boston. Early forms of technology-enhanced distance learning are found in the early 1900s with the use of new technologies such as the radio, slide projector, and motion picture. Starting in the 1940s, television provided another medium for distance learning.

PLATOThe first noted use of computers that formed an organized and connected system of learning was PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations) in 1960 at the University of Illinois. With the ability to network computers, corporations began exploring and developing Computer Based Training (CBT) that involved text and graphical content. With the conception of the World Wide Web in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee and it being made publicly available in 1993, modern forms of online talent development began occurring.

The increased use of online learning in the work environment was driven by several factors. A primary concern with talent development is the required preparation, travel, and logistics to bring participants and /or facilitators to a common physical location, which can be costly and cuts into productivity. Additionally, in-person sessions are supply-oriented rather than being readily available and need-specific for a given individual. Other drawbacks of traditional development are the limitation in the number of attendees and the lack of having access to subject matter experts. Corporate talent development programs are using online learning as a means to reduce or resolve these and other issues associated with face-to-face events, while at the same time improving participant outcomes and reducing costs.

Today’s online learning occurs through the use of digital devices such as personal computers, laptops, tablets, or mobile phones that are connected to educational content, events, and activities via the Internet. Depending upon personal choices, needs, and resource availability, web-based learning is available in a variety of formats from instructor-led massive open online courses (MOOCs) to self-paced personalized web-based tutorials to corporate universities. Online learning usually involves having access to rich learning environments, experiences, and events which might otherwise not be possible or readily available in a typical learning environment.

corporate online talent development

Today, online learning is often and incorrectly, used interchangeably with e-learning. In actuality online learning is a subset of e-learning, which actually encompasses all forms of teaching and learning through the use of educational technologies whether via the Internet, a network, or a standalone system. This broad expanse of e-learning includes multimedia learning, computer-based training (CBT), virtual learning environments, and mobile learning.

Reflection Point – “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” ~W. B. Yeats


Talent Groupsourcing

Talent Groupsourcing – The New Face of Corporate Talent Development

by Mark Sivy

Talent groupsourcing is not only an effective means of promoting team efforts, but it’s an innovative talent development strategy that can meet the evolving demands of today’s increasingly complex digitally-enhanced workplace. You may be familiar with the traditional development scenarios where an organization purchases off-the-shelf learning materials or follows a standardized formula to create and present materials. All too often, existing in-house expertise is overlooked, aspects of adult learning theory are disregarded, and post-development application of what was learned is poorly monitored and sustained. This is where the group advantage comes into play. When properly planned, developed, and supported, groupsourcing facilitates the initiation and maintenance of interactions between people who can offer, receive, or complement each others skills, knowledge, or work responsibilities.

groupsourcingSo you may be wondering what constitutes groupsourcing. Think of it as a specialized technology-supported combination of virtual team and crowdsourcing strategies within an organization. Neither of these is a new concept, but current technologies, creative development approaches, and social networking have given them much more range, value, and attention. In a nutshell, talent development groupsourcing involves using innovative methodologies to leverage in-house skills, talents, knowledge, and subject matter expertise, primarily through through the use of digital tools, virtual collaboration, online interaction, and corporate social media.

Through discussions with others who have similar roles and talents or who work on a shared project, groupsourced talent development can provide remarkable opportunities for individual learning. The ability to tap into unique talents and knowledge enhances the value of participation of other members and the group as a whole. In addition, group involvement provides the perfect environment to ask questions and receive expert feedback. These are all examples of the benefits of the learning community concept that can be leveraged to strengthen and extend talent development.

talent groupsourcingThe support that a group offers can give members the necessary confidence to make well-informed decisions, to innovate, and to take calculated risks. Working as a team, individuals can encourage one another, creatively solve problem, be more innovative, brainstorm new ideas, and provide different perspectives. These advantages lead to and individual being more motivated and self-assured, thus potentially stimulating increased efficiency, productivity and profit.

Reflection Point – Collaboration operates through a process in which the successful intellectual achievements of one person arouse the intellectual passions and enthusiasms of others. ~ Alexander von Humboldt


Corporate Mobile Learning

Introducing Mobile Learning for Corporate Talent Development

by Mark Sivy

Mobile learning is infiltrating many corporate training efforts as the new strategy to innovate talent development and to facilitate the goals of modern corporate universities. Among those who are familiar with adult learning theory, the use of this latest approach to enhancing employee and leader skills and knowledge is well suited to addressing Malcolm Knowles’ seminal Five Assumptions of Adult Learners.

Malcolm Knowles (1913-1997) was an educator and researcher who popularized andragogy, which is the art and science of adult learning. In his work on andragogy, Knowles’ (1984) developed his assumptions that described that adult learner as someone who:

  • Is independent and wants to direct his or her learning.
  • Owns unique life experiences that serve as a basis and resource for learning.
  • Has learning needs that are associated with his or her personal and professional roles.
  • Is focused on solving problems or challenges and expects the immediate application of learning outcomes.
  • Has an intrinsic motivation to learn.

By providing individuals with on-demand access to knowledge and skills development, mobile learning readily tackles the adult learning needs expressed in these assumptions.

talent development

An agreed upon definition for mobile learning is as elusive as those for many other contemporary terms such as e-learning, virtual learning, and web-based learning. For purposes of orientation to mobile learning, I decided to build upon the 2008 Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) description of educational technology. So mobile learning can be comprehensively explained as “the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance through various contexts and interactions by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological and educational processes and resources.” From this rudimentary definition, one can see that mobile learning incorporates complex relationships between multiple factors. Some keywords in this definition are:

  • Study – having knowledge of learning theory and research that are associated with the use of educational technologies.
  • Various Contexts and Interactions – these can provide abundant learning opportunities, but also present many of the unknowns, barriers and issues that can arise.
  • Ethical Practice – increasing the likelihood of attaining intended learning outcomes by being responsible, maintaining a respect for of learner abilities and progress, applying appropriate methodologies, and using principled intentionality when innovating.
  • Appropriate Technological and Educational Processes and Resources – even with a valid need guiding the selection of technology and instructional methodology, the combined implementation can sometimes result in instructional complications and learning issues if the overall strategies are not well-planned.

Mobile learning is playing an increasingly important role in the corporate learning process by providing the means for convenient learning using a broad range of mobile devices (e.g. laptops, tablets, and smartphones) at a time and location of the learner’s choice. When offering learning opportunities for adults, mobile learning provides such advantages as access to on-demand content, self-directed learning, and the individualized incorporation of new knowledge with existing experience. These experiences can be facilitated by personalized learning and flipped training.

mobile learning

21st Century Learning ideals are facilitated by mobile learning. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has been at the forefront of providing a basis for the remodeling and modernization of instruction, learning and curriculum. Regardless of whether learners are K-12, higher education, or adults, the Partnership’s renowned publication, P21 Framework Definitions document, provides a list of skills that mobile learning can leverage and enhance. These include innovation, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, digital literacy, working in diverse teams, productivity, leadership and managing one’s own learning.

Instructional needs, the ability to facilitate intended learning, and learner access to mobile devices should guide the implementation of mobile learning strategies. Properly trained IT staff are needed for the installation, maintenance, and administration of back end systems. Talent development is necessary to prepare instructors to produce learning through positive and engaging experiences. Finally, mobile learners need understandable guidelines and readily available support.

Reflection Point: I absolutely think we need to give people access to material where and when they need it. It’s imperative to have a mobile learning strategy and that’s even more important with emerging generations. But I’ll add that when I talk to my peers who are in global companies, nobody has one. ~Karl-Heinz Oehler



Association for Educational Communications and Technology (2008). Definition. In A. Januszewski and M. Molenda (Eds.), Educational Technology: A definition with commentary. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Knowles M. S. (1984) Andragogy in action: applying modern principles of adult education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass; 1984.