IT infrastructure is a critical readiness issue for organizations. What is needed will depend, of course, on the scale of the proposed e-learning implementation and the approach used. For example, if an organization decides to deploy an enterprise-wide learning management system, clearly there must be sufficient human and technical resources to support this in the organization. As well, the organization must have sufficient band-width to allow students to access the learning management system reliably and with reasonable speed. Keep in mind, too, that it’s not just the institutional IT infrastructure that matters if you are dealing with distance students. If some or all of your students are accessing e-learning from off campus, you need to think about what kind of technical access they have. In all aspects of planning for e-learning you need to remember who your audience is.
Implementing e-learning doesn’t necessarily require the use of an enterprise level learning management system and there are growing doubts about the effectiveness of this approach, particularly for smaller organizations. Alternatives include outsourcing the learning management system so that there are limited requirements for in-house technical support and infrastructure. Another option is not to use a learning management system at all and instead make use of the wide variety of free e-learning tools that are available.
The following video, which you may have already watched in Unit 1, discusses some of the shortcomings of the learning management system and examines an alternative , “do it yourself” approach.
Another issue that needs to be addressed is technical support. The hardware and software is certainly much more user friendly than it used to be and faculty and students tend have more IT skills than they used to, but there is still a need for technical support. Things do break down and skill levels vary considerably among faculty and students.
The traditional model of institutional IT support is a centralized department that is only open from 9-5 on weekdays and is usually situated in a remote part of the campus. This will not be sufficient if you are planning a wide-scale implementation of e-learning and you expect a significant proportion of your faculty and students to be using e-learning. They will need to have more accessible support which means it needs to be available after hours. Although most support can be provided remotely, there are times when it is just easier to talk to somebody face-to-face. In this case, the support should be in a relatively accessible location. Now, providing support after hours doesn’t necessarily mean 24/7 support but it does mean more than 9-5. The key thing is to try to get some idea of what the support needs are and plan accordingly. For example, if you are delivering a lot of fully online courses to working students, chances are they will be studying in the evenings and on weekends. It would be important, then, to provide some level of support at these times.