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Why do so many e-learning projects fail? and what can we learn from failure?
Failures in the Public Sector have, in general, been well documented and the Megatrends report documents these very well; together with a list of recommendations to decrease the chance of failure. The private sector is less well documented so we set out to find out a little more. We asked some of the UK and US leaders and experts in the field of e-learning to tell us about their experiences.
Undoubtedly the IT element causes difficulties and issues but perhaps less so than mainstream IT data projects. As early as 1990 the British Computer Society becomes concerned about the failure rate of mainstream IT projects with 30% to 40% of IT projects delivering no real benefit. We cannot quantify the failure rate in e-learning but we can qualify the reasons.
The new Towards Maturity Briefing paper can be downloaded below and outlines 33 reasons why e-learning projects fail, these break down into 6 warning Zones that need to be avoided!
Warning Zone 1 - No Defined Business Purpose
Learning and therefore e-learning are low down the priority list in many organisations, those that believe in the survival of the fittest, those that hire and fire, those that prefer the status-quo and those that choose not to challenge staff. In these organisations e-learning projects are not endorsed or driven by top management, they do not have measurable targets, they are not aligned to specific business needs or they are ad-hoc initiatives of the training or IT function. Publically funded work-based e-learning fails for the same reasons and therefore must have strong employer support.
Warning Zone 2 - Lack of Hybrid Skills for Learning Professionals
There are three and skill sets and knowledge areas that e-learning projects teams must include to be successful:
- Technology and IT related skills;
- Learning and Development knowledge and skills; and
- Business knowledge and skills.
Ideally the Project Manager will grasp these three skill sets; can manage experts in each topic area and make correct decisions within the three areas. The evidence we have uncovered indicates that people who can fulfil this requirement are in short supply.
Warning Zone 3 - Poor Project Management and Planning
e-Learning initiatives fail because those in charge lack basic project management experience. There is a lack of stakeholder management, no planning for scalability from pilot to roll out, and inadequate risk analysis and management. Typical nonsense situations are where projects set out to compete with the very vested interests that they require co-operation from (typically traditional trainers), projects with no well-defined targets, un-trained administrative support and key senior stakeholders are ignored.
Warning Zone 4 - Poor Stakeholder Management
Poor stakeholder management, although a feature of poor project management, is serious enough to warrant a heading in its own right. Trainers have a key part to play in making a success of e-learning and for many their appreciation of e-learning is wholly negative. As a group they are vital to success and therefore require special support, influence and communication. The term blended learning implies that technology is not an end in itself. Traditional classroom delivery may be part of the blend. What is certain is that traditional trainers will have a part to play but perhaps in new roles. The successful e-learning project brings trainers into the project turning them form detractors to advocates.
Top management also are vital to success. The Driving Business Benefit report (Page 28) made this clear. Where top managers are directly involved organisations have a greater probability of deriving maximum business benefit.
Warning Zone 5 - Failure to understand the Learner’s environment
Perhaps commercial suppliers may be forgiven for understanding what it is like to learn on the shop floor, in a call centre, on the road, in the factory, on the building site, with a manager who ignores personal development or in a culture that offers no support for learning. In-house trainers could not be forgiven for the same ignorance but projects still fail because e-learning is too rigid, is not interruptible, patronises, or cannot be easily updated as business requirements change.
Warning Zone 6 - Failure to demonstrate value
Even when e-learning is successful those responsible find it difficult to quantify because they fail to collect information to report success. The Towards Maturity Evidence for Change initiative reports many projects which do have the measures and are able to report success. The anecdotal comment we have collected still highlights lack of measurement as a reason for failure even when a project has been successful.
What can be done about it?
The three key actions any project manager or Learning and Development professional can take, before embarking on an e-learning project are to:
- learn from other projects (both successes and failures;
- audit their own and their organisation’s capabilities; and
- challenge their sponsor (or funding agency) as to why e-learning is required
Reading the research report on reasons for failure will start the learning process and the Towards Maturity benchmark report will assist in the auditing process.