A Product Life-cycle Approach to e-Learning Management
By Ravi Srinivasan, Director Information Systems and Technology Support, HETI
Since time immemorial (yes, even 10 years seems to be a very, very long time these days) computer based learning has supplemented and complemented education and training activities. This is especially true within the knowledge-intensive (cognitive) and behavioural (affective) domains of learning and development. So it comes as no surprise that the availability of inexpensive smart portable devices and near-ubiquitous connectivity has led to a huge scramble to leverage technology innovations for e-learning initiatives.
e-Learning resources usually are content rich (eg. gamified scenarios, videos), are functionally responsive (eg. contain quizzes), are built by developers (who are usability and technical experts) using authoring tools (eg. Articulate Storyline, Camtasia, Adobe Captivate etc.) and accessed by users within a Learning Management System (eg. the open source solution, Moodle). The development of e-learning resources also involves subject-matter experts (for content expertise) and instructional designers (who are learning and development experts).
Given the heavy use of technology during the design, development and deployment of e-learning resources, the projects are usually undertaken using a framework, similar to the Software or Systems Development Lifecycle (SDLC) for software application projects. The SDLC enables the use of several methodologies, such as Waterfall (where the development is measured and sequential) or Agile (where the development is rapid and iterative) to manage the development process.
A typical SDLC follows six stages as shown in Figure 1:
However, such an approach may not give enough importance to business imperatives at the beginning and the end of the lifecycle that are usually strategic in nature. For example, during the planning stage the issue of sustainability may receive limited consideration resulting in a product that could be left languishing due to other priorities or lack of resources after reaching its use-by date.
Given the rapid changes within the technological landscape, it would be reasonable to expect the lifecycle of the e-learning resource to be short
Whilst some level of evaluation may be undertaken during the testing and maintenance phases, it is usually focussed on measuring functional and usability goals rather than measuring the higher order learning outcomes or customer-impact objectives.
Within the marketing domain, the process of product management involves a series of strategies mapped to the lifecycle of the product. Such an approach recognises that all products have a limited life and during the life-cycle go through distinct phases, posing different challenges that require unique strategies. As shown in Figure 2., a product life-cycle framework can be described as having five phases with different growth rates over time: Development, Introduction, Uptake, Maturation and either Renewal or Replacement and Decommissioning.
A product life-cycle approach to the management of e-learning management within large enterprises, where the “market” is internal and the “customers” are the employees, could address the limitations of the SDLC approach.
The development of the e-learning resource can still be undertaken using the SDLC framework over the six stages shown in Figure 1. However, the planning, deployment and maintenance stages involve a greater commercial focus to ensure sustainability and involve a comprehensive evaluation that then leads to a renewal or replacement of the learning resource at end of the lifecycle.
Given the rapid changes within the technological landscape, it would be reasonable to expect the lifecycle of the e-learning resource to be short – say three years – with the development and introduction phases occurring during the first year, the adoption and maturing of the resource during the second year, a comprehensive evaluation being undertaken during the early half of third year and planning for the renewal or replacement taking place during second half of the third year.
In adopting a commercial approach, the business case during the planning and development phase would comprehensively compare the “build” vs. “buy” options. The “build” option would make sense only if there is no off-the-shelf commercial solution that is fit for purpose or one that can be a customised for low total cost over the lifecycle. Both the “build” and “buy” options provide opportunities for commercialisation and therefore contribute to the resource’s sustainability. For example, with the “build” option, opportunities for repurposing the products for use across industry sectors or geographical boundaries may present anytime during the lifecycle, especially if the content is unique. With the “buy” option that involves investment in customisation, opportunities for negotiating a lower cost may be present in exchange for the customised content made available to the other customers of the vendor. In both scenarios, the identification and management of intellectual property rights becomes a strategic imperative for sustainability.
An evaluation plan should also be developed during the planning and development phase for execution during the growth and maturity phases of the resource. Such a plan covers not just evaluating the usability and functionality but also cover the higher order objectives underpinning the business case around the learning objectives and business outcomes. A comprehensive evaluation carried out during the latter part of the resource lifecycle will then inform the decision on renewal or replacement and decommissioning as well as underpin any commercialisation strategies.
The opinions of the author are his own and do not necessarily represent that of Health Education and Training Institute (HETI)