4.1- Strategic Planning for E-Learning

Planning vs Management

Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.
– Winston Churchill

Strategic planning is a disciplined effort to shape an organization according to the vision of its leaders by clarifying fundamental decisions and actions. The objective of strategic planning is to create a map by which to manage the organization, define what it does, why it does it and how to do it. –  (The Five Twelve Group)

Before we look at the strategic planning process, it is important to distinguish between the terms “planning” and “management.” We tend to talk about these two processes as one when, in fact, they are quite different components of the overall process of running an institution or organization. As the definition of strategic planning above suggests, planning is about deciding where to go, about creating a map. It involves looking forward, thinking about the big picture but keeping the big picture grounded in the reality of the context of the organization. Management, on the other hand, is about implementing the plan. If we continue with the map analogy, management is about describing in detail the various stops along the route, describing the kind of vehicle we will use to travel the route and what provisions we will need to take along, who will go on the trip and what their roles will be, and starting down the road. So keep this distinction in mind as you work through this unit.

Stages of E-Learning Integration

As you read in Unit 3, it is helpful to think about the integration of e-learning in higher education as a developmental progression beginning with the the “lone rangers” or the enthusiastic early adopters who experiment with e-learning without any formal institutional support  (sometimes referred to as the Do It Yourself approach) and culminating with the “sustainability” stage when e-learning has become a core activity and has been integrated into the institutional planning and budgeting processes.

Institutions don’t necessarily progress through all these stages. It all depends on how widespread the use of e-learning is or will be. It may be that for some institutions a “Do It Yourself” approach is sufficient. Some may stop at the “chaos” stage. But as the use of e-learning grows, it becomes increasingly important for institutions to focus their efforts on moving from the early stages of e-learning development, which is characterized primarily by the efforts of individual faculty, to the higher levels of planning and sustainability, characterized by institutional support and integration. The critical ingredients are an e-learning strategy and the implementation of the strategy.

The Strategic Planning Process

There is no magic recipe for how to develop a strategic plan for e-learning but the process is as important as the product and unless everybody who has an interest in e-learning has the opportunity to contribute to the development of the plan, the plan is not likely to be very successful. So the most critical step in the process of developing a plan is consultation. Buy-in from faculty, students and staff is crucial and the consultation process must be genuine and meaningful.

When I was leading the development of the BCIT e-learning strategy in 2012, we organized a number of what we called “community consultation sessions”. These were 2-3 hour sessions for faculty, students and staff where we sought their views on e-learning and how it should be organized and supported at the institution. We also organized an e-learning showcase at which we demonstrated various e-learning projects that different faculty were involved in. The purpose of this was to share experiences and demonstrate that there was actually quite a lot of innovation already happening at the institution. We found this session to be extremely successful as it helped break down some of the silos and created considerable inter-school communication around e-learning. Unfortunately, as happens quite often, the planning process stalled and the draft plan we developed never was completed and implemented. Fortunately I archived the site before it was taken down so you can visit it and get a sense of how we approached the process. One part you won’t be able to access is the discussion area as this is password protected. The online discussions were the least successful method of consultation. Despite our efforts, we were unable to generate a meaningful online discussion. However, the face-to-face sessions were well attended and generated some very useful feedback that was incorporated into the draft plan.

The process we used to develop the draft plan is described in more detail in Revisiting the Need for Strategic Planning for E-Learning in Higher Education.

Tony Bates describes the process he used to develop a plan for the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) in Strategic Planning for E-Learning in a Polytechnic.

Ideally strategic planning should be done at several different levels in an institution. There is no strict rule about where to start but faculty or departmental planning is much easier if an institutional plan already exists. The faculty or departmental plans can then be aligned to the institutional plan. A key component of the faculty or departmental plan is a vision for teaching and learning in the department that outlines how e-learning would be used. In the BCIT example, the process began with the development of an institutional e-learning strategy. The idea was to complete this and then have each school develop its own e-learning strategy. As mentioned earlier, this never happened.

Recommended Readings

  • Bates, A.W. & Sangrà, A. (2011). Managing Technology in Higher Education: Strategies for Transforming Teaching and Learning. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, chapters 3, 4.

Additional Reading

  • Fritz, R. (1989). The Path of Least Resistance. New York: Columbine, pp.122-138.
  • Kaufman, R. and Herman, J. (1997). ‘Strategic Planning, Schooling, and the Curriculum for Tomorrow’ in Dijkstra, S. et al. Instructional Design: International Perspectives. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum.