How to Select the Right Learning Technologies for Your Association, Part II

BY Jeff Cobb


This is the second part of a two-part series. Read Part I.

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5. Realistically assess resources, capabilities, and organizational “will”
By the time you have worked through the areas in Part I, you probably have a general idea of the types of technology that would be desirable for supporting your learning initiatives. At this point, the question of costs – which has no doubt been present since the beginning – needs to be considered more concretely.

The direct costs the organization can justify (e.g., for licensing fees, implementation fees), based on available funds and a conservative estimate of potential return on investment, are a key factor, but they are only part of the equation. You have to consider the available time and capabilities of the people who will be involved in making the implementation of new learning technologies a success. In our experience, organizations often don’t fully appreciate the size or nature of this stumbling block.

While it is often clear that someone’s time will be needed to manage any learning platform the organization implements, the capabilities that person (or people) will need aren’t fully analyzed or articulated. Additionally, beyond the platform, there is the issue of developing effective technology based learning experiences. Subject matter experts and board committees can’t be relied upon to have the needed instructional design and development experience, and most organizations do not have skilled instructional designers and developers on staff. These capabilities need to be hired in, contracted for, or developed, depending on what makes the most economic and strategic sense for the organization.

And then there is the matter of effectively marketing technology-based learning experiences. Entrance into the market for online education – which can be very competitive – often highlights how weak an organization’s marketing capabilities are. Effectively selling online requires a strong understanding of concepts like content marketing, search marketing, social proof, and landing pages. It requires strong copywriting and consistent testing of ideas and learning from the results.

Now, all of the above does not need to be in place on day one – that’s just not realistic for most organizations – but there does need to be a shared understanding that the organization will develop the necessary capacity and capabilities over time. There has to be broad organizational “will” toward supporting the effective implementation and growth of learning technologies, and organizational leaders have to be committed to translating that will into reality. (To the extent that will or leadership seem to be lacking, there is probably a need to return to #1 above and make a much clearer case for the adoption of learning technologies.)

6. Evaluate and Decide Among the Alternatives
At this point, you are ready for the “mechanics” of selection – leveraging all of the above to inform the gathering of detailed requirements that you can use to vet a range of potential solutions. I am, in fact, cheating a bit here in characterizing this as a single step because this is really where our entire 7-step selection process kicks in fully.

  1. Identify and Clarify Objectives (based, in particular, on #1 and #2 above)
  2. Identify Needs and Requirements
  3. Pre-Vet and Shortlist Vendors
  4. Develop and Issue RFP
  5. Review and Score Responses
  6. Conduct Demos
  7. Select and Negotiate

I won’t go into the process in detail here, since it is already outlined in a very nice infographic, and we have discussed it numerous times in Webinars. (If you have not made it to one of those Webinars and want to be notified of the next one, sign up for our newsletter. Or, if you would like a more intensive, hands-on introduction to the process, sign up to be notified for our next Learning Platform Selection Boot Camp.)  I’ll note, however, that a major aim of this two-part series is to provide some important additional context for the process to help make it more effective.

7. Stay clear about the difference between the ends and the means
Finally, never lose site of the fact that the reason to use technology is to help achieve strategic objectives for your organization and its learners. Be clear about what those objectives are at the organizational level, at the level of your education business, and at the level of the specific learning outcomes you are aiming to facilitate. These are the ends you seek, and technology is merely a means to reach them.

Again, think of it like like planning out a trip.

When you plan a trip, you usually have a destination in mind, and there will be various options for reaching the destination, each with its pros and cons, there inevitably will be multiple technology options that can get you where you want to go. They will vary in terms of cost, completeness, complexity, time to implement, level of risk, and other common factors. The critical point, though, is that each will get you to your destination.

While it may be that you prefer a more direct, faster route to your destination (e.g., flying), if the realities of your available resources and/or the need to balance with other priorities suggest that you should take a somewhat less desirable option (e.g., driving the family mini van), don’t resist. You will still reach your destination.

Your learners and other stakeholders are much more concerned about you meeting their ultimate needs than with whether you have the latest and greatest technology. You are better off spending your time making sure you really understand where you are going rather than getting bogged down in the route and the form of transportation.

Jeff

P.S. – Learning technology selection is a topic we will cover in depth at our upcoming Learning • Technology • Design™ (LTD) event.

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LTD is a learning experience designed specifically for professionals in the business of continuing education and professional development. The goal of the event is to help attendees find new and better ways to engage learners and create lasting impact through the effective use of technology.

LTD will take place on May 18 and 19, 2016 at the NRECA Conference Center in Arlington, VA. To find out more and register, visit the event Web site.

Image Credit and Copyright: dskdesign / 123RF Stock Photo

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