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What makes a learning technology implementation succeed?

In my new book, Learning Technologies in the Workplace, I wanted to answer one question:

What makes a learning technology implementation succeed?

With the market for learning technologies increasing, it’s an important question. World-wide, organizations spend about $4 billion annually on just one of these technologies – Learning Management Systems – yet precious little work has been done to ensure they are deployed well.

To write the book, I looked back over a slew of learning technology implementations, beginning around 1999 when the word ‘elearning’ was coined. I came to a simple conclusion. The answer to a successful implementation has nothing to do with the technology. While bad technology can ruin a roll out, even the best technology won’t rescue one that is missing a key ingredient: people.

Andy Wooler, Academy Technology Manager at Hitachi Data Systems, puts this succinctly: “You can do anything with technology, but people can also stop you doing just about everything.”

In examining scores of case studies, I came to the conclusion that the teams responsible for the best learning technology implementations share four characteristics:

Aim – their project has a clear aim, which solves a particular business problem. It is expressed in the language of the business, and is often couched in an understanding of the wider values and longer-term aims of the company. The implementation is seen to be a coherent part of a larger plan.

People focus – the implementation team knows an implementation depends on people: the employees, the people on the learning implementation team, the vendors and implementation partners and the managers and executives of the organisation. Without these people on board, success is a matter of chance, and unlikely.

Perspective – successful teams think beyond this particular implementation. They know how this particular piece of work fits their organisation, but they also understand its place in terms of the wider context of the arena of business and the changing world of Learning and Development.

Attitude – these teams are focused on the project aim and are pragmatic about reaching it. They make good calls on tough decisions, and are prepared to compromise to deliver an effective solution today rather than a perfect one tomorrow. Usually, this pragmatism has its roots in a combination of experience with the company, a certain understanding of what makes people tick, and good common sense.

These four characteristics, Aim, People focus, Perspective and Attitude (or APPA) are common across all the successful learning technology implementations I have looked at. The book aims above all to be useful and so I provide tools and methods to help develop each of the APPA characteristics. Most of these are about dealing effectively with people – how to listen well in a conversation, for example, or how to conduct an effective stakeholder analysis and how to communicate during an implementation.

Having been in this field since I started programming computers in the early 1980s, I have seen it evolve and develop in complexity. I have great hopes for what learning technologies can make possible, but am also aware that rapid technological changes place increasing demands on the people implementing them.

Astonishingly, for such a complex and demanding field, this is the first general guide to implementing learning technologies in the workplace. It is my hope that this book – the summary of a lifetime working in the industry – will make successful implementations in the future less a matter of chance and much more a matter of good practice.

About the author: Donald H Taylor , author of Learning Technologies in the Workplace, began his career in technology and training in the early 1980s. His experience since then ranges from training design and delivery to managing director and vice-president positions. Now based in London, he travels regularly internationally to consult and speak about workplace learning and associated technologies. He is Chairman of both the Learning and Performance Conference and the Learning and Performance Institute, sits on several editorial boards, and is editor of Inside Learning Technologies magazine.

Save 20% when you buy his book with code BHRLTW20