Monday, April 17, 2006

How to Grow Your eLearning Business

I have come across many organizations who are having real difficulties in growing their eLearning programs as quickly as they would like. And this is even true of many organizations that have learning as a central mandate (e.g. universities, colleges, professional associations, sector-specific training organizations, etc.).

I know it is possible to ramp up an eLearning program quickly. In a previous life at the University of Guelph, in our first seven years of our eLearning program (1996 - 2003), we developed 125 online courses that ended up serving approximately 10,000 learners annually.

How was this done? It was driven by organizational need, vision and investment.

The need for eLearning was driven by growing enrolments against finite classroom space and time table slots, and providing options for learners in scheduling their study and avoiding conflicts. eLearning also allowed for the growth of the summer semester, when most learners were nowhere near campus. Finally, eLearning allowed the University to reach many working adult learners who could not come to campus to work toward finishing an undergraduate degree, or to complete certificates, diplomas or graduate degrees.

University leadership looked to eLearning as a means of accommodating growth and reaching new audiences of learners. Open learning became one of its strategic directions to help it realize its vision for the future. eLearning was not an "add on," it was a means of realizing growth.

Because of this, investments were made in the resources (primarily human) needed to grow the eLearning business. This meant hiring learning specialists, programmers, graphic artists, and technical support personnel to help faculty (the SMEs) create engaging online learning experiences. Such a team approach is absolutely vital. I am constantly amazed at large organizations that have only one or two people responsible for eLearning, or that expect SMEs to produce eLearning on their own. Either approach does not recognize the many competencies required to develop quality eLearning, nor the economies of scale required for rapid development.

Another important driver of eLearning growth is to re-invest extra revenue (or savings) generated via eLearning programs back into new eLearning development. Remember to feed the golden goose. In this way, success breeds success.

In conclusion, if you want to grow your eLearning business, be clear on organizational benefits, develop a strategy for reaching your goals, make the proper investments in a team approach (either from within or contract out), and reinvest to ensure continuing growth.