WHAT DETERMINES AN ORGANISATION’S
READINESS FOR E-LEARNING?

 

Peter Engholm

An independent research report submitted in partial fulfilment
 of the requirements for the Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) Degree.

 

 

Department of Management

Faculty of Business and Economics

Monash University, Australia

 

© November 2001

 

 

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENT

First, I would like to thank my witty and inspiring supervisor, Jeff McLean, who has provided me with helpful guidance and support throughout the completion of this thesis.

I would also like to thank my fellow honours students, teachers, and faculty members for making this year challenging and memorable. A special thanks goes to our honours coordinator Carol Fox for making sure that we all stayed on track and did our work!

The thesis would not have been completed without the help from several individuals and organisations who participated in the study in various ways. Thanks to all of you who provided me with knowledge, suggestions, and research data (you know who you are…).
A special thanks goes to Shiona Hastie for allowing me to participate in an e-learning conference in Sydney in August. This was an invaluable and thrilling experience!

Last, but not least, I want to thank my family and Marcelle for believing in me and supporting me throughout this year - particularly my sister, Pia, for helping me with content and grammar revision, and Marcelle for being my better half… I love you all very much!

 

 

Peter Engholm.

Clayton, November 5, 2001.


 

 

STATEMENT OF AUTHORSHIP

Except where reference is made in the text of the thesis, this thesis contains no material published elsewhere or extracted in whole or in part from a thesis or report by which I have qualified for or been awarded another degree or diploma.

No other person’s work has been used without due acknowledgement in the main text of the thesis.

This thesis has not been submitted for the award of any degree or diploma in any other tertiary institution.

All research procedures reported in the thesis were approved by the Standing Committee on Ethics in Research Involving Humans, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.

 

 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENT.. i

STATEMENT OF AUTHORSHIP.. ii

TABLE OF CONTENTS. iii

LIST OF TABLES AND FIGURES. vi

ABSTRACT.. vii

CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION.. 1

1.1. Objectives of this Chapter.. 1

1.2. Overview... 1

1.3. Purpose of the Study.. 2

1.4. Significance of the Study.. 2

1.5. Chapter Outlines. 3

CHAPTER 2: WHAT IS E-LEARNING?. 4

2.1. Objectives of this Chapter.. 4

2.2. Definition of E-learning.. 4

2.3. Advantages and Disadvantages of E-learning.. 5

2.3.1. Availability and flexibility. 5

2.3.2. Cost efficiency. 5

2.3.3. Speed and content 5

2.3.4. Appeal and involvement 6

2.3.5. Other advantages. 6

2.3.6. Disadvantages with e-learning. 6

2.4. Summary.. 8

CHAPTER 3: E-LEARNING READINESS. 9

3.1. Objectives of this Chapter.. 9

3.2. Definition of E-learning Readiness. 9

3.3. E-learning Readiness Factors. 10

3.3.1. The organisation’s culture. 10

3.3.2. The individual learner. 11

3.3.3. Technology. 15

3.3.4. Content 15

3.3.5. Organisational and industry factors. 16

3.4. Summary.. 16


CHAPTER 4: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY.. 17

4.1. Objectives of this Chapter.. 17

4.2. Research Design.. 17

4.3. Data Collection Instruments - Stage 1. 20

4.3.1. Pilot interviews. 20

4.3.2. Questionnaire pre-testing. 20

4.4. Data Collection Instruments - Stage 2. 20

4.4.1. Semi-structured exploratory interviews. 21

4.4.2. Web-based questionnaire. 21

4.5. Sampling Procedures – Stage 1. 21

4.5.1. Defining the target population. 21

4.5.2. Sample selection. 22

4.6. Sampling Procedures – Stage 2. 22

4.6.1. Sample selection: Interviews. 23

4.6.2. Sample selection: Questionnaire. 23

4.7. Data Analysis. 25

4.7.1. Interviews. 25

4.7.2. Web-based questionnaire. 26

4.8. Reliability and Validity.. 26

4.8.1. Reliability. 26

4.8.2. Validity. 27

CHAPTER 5: RESEARCH FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION.. 28

5.1. Objectives of this Chapter.. 28

5.2. Case Organisation A.. 28

5.2.1. Overview.. 28

5.2.2. E-learning readiness factors. 29

5.2.3. Summary. 33

5.3. Case Organisation B.. 35

5.3.1. Overview.. 35

5.3.2. E-learning readiness factors. 36

5.3.3. Summary. 40

5.4. Case Organisation C.. 42

5.4.1. Overview.. 43

5.4.2. E-learning readiness factors. 43

5.4.3. Summary. 48

5.5. Questionnaire Data Analysis. 49

5.5.1. Section 1: Respondent characteristics. 50

5.5.2. Section 2: Current and previous experiences of e-learning. 50

5.5.3. Section 3-4: E-learning and factors of e-learning readiness. 50

5.6. Between-Case Analysis. 59

5.6.1. The individual learner. 60

5.6.2. The organisation’s culture. 60

5.6.3. Technology. 61

5.6.4. Content 61

5.6.5. Organisational and industry factors. 62

5.6.6. Summary. 62

5.7. A Model of E-learning Readiness. 62

CHAPTER 6: CONCLUSIONS. 67

6.1. Objectives of this Chapter.. 67

6.2. Practical Implications of the Findings. 67

6.3. Theoretical Implications of the Findings. 68

6.4. Limitations of Research.. 68

6.5. Recommendations for Future Research.. 69

6.6. Concluding Remarks. 71

REFERENCES. 72

APPENDICES:

Appendix A.................. Approaches to E-learning Readiness

Appendix B................... Interview Sample

Appendix C.................. Web-based Questionnaire& Structure

Appendix D.................. Explanatory Statements

Appendix E................... Consent Form

Appendix F................... Ethics Approval

Appendix G.................. Codebook Derived From the Literature

Appendix H.................. Thematic Analysis Matrix

Appendix I.................... Questionnaire Statistics Data

 

 

LIST OF TABLES AND FIGURES

 

TABLES:

 

Table 1: Sample selection procedures, stage 2: 24

Table 2: Interviewee Characteristics. 25

Table 3: Case Organisation A, Code Frequencies (per factor) 29

Table 4: Readiness factors, case organisation A.. 35

Table 5: Case Organisation B, Code Frequencies (per factor) 36

Table 6: Readiness factors, case organisation B.. 42

Table 7: Case Organisation C, Code Frequencies (per factor) 44

Table 8: Readiness factors, case organisation C.. 49

Table 9: A Summary of E-learning Readiness Factors. 66

 

FIGURES:

 

Figure 1: The ADDIE model. 9

Figure 2: Research Process. 18

Figure 3: Current and future use of e-learning.. 52

Figure 4: readiness factors relating to the individual learner.. 54

Figure 5: Organisational, technological and cultural readiness factors  57

Figure 6: E-learning readiness main factors. 58

Figure 7: A Model of E-learning Readiness: 64

 

 


 

 

ABSTRACT

Organisations are facing an increasingly competitive and dynamic business environment in which speed, information, knowledge and skills are seen as necessary elements of success. To remain competitive and profitable, organisations thus require a workforce that is quickly updated with new knowledge and skills, and one way of ensuring this is to use various e-learning solutions.

E-learning solutions are different from more traditional training methods in that training and learning is delivered via a computer and over a network, and employees are made more responsible for their own learning efforts. E-learning can also be more costly and difficult to implement due to extra technical requirements, such as making sure employees have access to computers and the network where the e-learning content is hosted.

It is argued in this study that organisations need to assess certain organisational and individual ‘readiness’ factors to ensure a smooth and successful transition to e-learning. From the literature, several factors of e-learning readiness are identified, and through the use of a qualitative multiple case study design these factors are further explored. From the findings, a model of ‘e-learning readiness’ is proposed which includes all the explored factors that could be potential barriers to a successful e-learning experience. This model can be used to assist managers and persons in the field of training and development in their respective organisation’s e-learning readiness assessment.

 


 

CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION

1.1. Objectives of this Chapter

The objective of this chapter is to introduce the research topic. It commences with an overview of current trends in organisations and society that suggest a need for the adoption of new training methods, such as e-learning. This is followed by a specification of the purpose of the study as well as its significance. The chapter concludes with an outline of the chapters to follow.

1.2. Overview

There is widespread agreement that organisations are facing an increasingly competitive and dynamic business environment in which speed, information, knowledge and skills are seen as necessary elements of success (Stalk Jr., et al. 1993; Bates 1995; Bastiaens and Martens 2000; Rosenberg 2001). In this new economy, keeping even a few months ahead of competition is critical for survival, as is the quality of products and services.  Knowledge becomes the driving core competence (De Kare-Silver 1999; Urdan and Weggen 2000), and thus, it is argued, successful companies will be those that consistently create new knowledge, disseminate it widely throughout the organisation, and quickly embody it in new technologies and products (Nonaka 1993; Neef 1997).

If skills and knowledge are considered important elements of organisational success, it follows that training and learning are essential elements of successful workforce management (Bates 1995; Marquardt and Kearlsley 1999). There is, however, a growing concern that ‘traditional’ ways of training and learning may not any longer be sufficient in producing knowledge and skills at a speed and quality deemed necessary to become competitive and profitable in this new knowledge economy (Bates 1995; Brown 2001; Rosenberg 2001).

Additionally, the rise of the ‘knowledge worker’ has seen attitudes toward learning change so that knowledge and skills become personal competitive advantages, influencing the individual employee’s career choice and development (Salmon 2000; Urdan and Weggen 2000; Brown 2001; Rosenberg 2001). Drucker (1993:13) writes that: “it is the individual and especially the skilled and knowledgeable employee, who decides in large measures what he or she will contribute to the organisation and how great the yield from his or her knowledge will be”.

Finally, new technological innovations and the development of the Internet and internal Intranets have facilitated new, more effective methods of quickly delivering learning and disseminating knowledge and information in ways that previously were not possible (Bastiaens and Martens 2000).

Thus, for organisations to survive and grow in this new environment, it may be necessary to shift away from more traditional ways of thinking about workforce training toward new approaches that better facilitate quick and effective learning and knowledge creation and dissemination. One approach that can be taken is to introduce various ‘e-learning’ strategies – an approach suggested by a number of writers of the most recent literature concerned with training and development (Hefzellah 1999; Oliver 1999; Chapnick 2000; Galagan 2000:2; Hartley 2000; Koprowski 2000; Salmon 2000; Urdan & Weggen 2000; Gibbons 2001; Lim 2001; Rosenberg 2001).

What then is ‘e-learning’ and ‘e-learning readiness’? This study aims to clarify the two concepts and provide some insight into a topic area which managers and persons in the field of training and development are likely to encounter, and maybe even have to embrace, if their organisations are to remain successful and competitive in this new knowledge economy.

As a brief introduction to the two concepts, ‘e-learning’ is a term that refers to a variety of methods for delivering and distributing knowledge and enhancing learning through the means of technology and over an Intranet or the Internet (Rosenberg 2001). ‘E-learning readiness’ refers to the assessment of certain organisational and individual factors that may need to be considered before an organisation designs and implements an e-learning strategy if it is to become successful (Hall 2001:2).

1.3. Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is to: a) develop an understanding of why organisations need to determine their readiness for e-learning; b) identify and explore factors of e-learning readiness that may need to be assessed if an e-learning solution is to become successful; and c) develop a model of e-learning readiness based on these factors.

A qualitative approach was chosen due to the exploratory nature of the study and the lack of previous empirical studies and literature specific to this topic area. A multiple case study design was embraced for the field study and involved interviewing and surveying persons in the field of training and development, as well as employees, in a sample of Australian organisations about factors that they consider important for e­-learning initiatives to succeed.

1.4. Significance of the Study

Given that some analysts predict that e-learning will take a larger and larger percentage of the corporate training ‘pie’, expecting 40 percent of total corporate training expenditures in the United States in year 2003 being on e-learning (Gotschall 2000:1; Gotschall 2000:2), the significance of this study is beyond question.

The proposed model of e-learning readiness highlights factors that can have an effect on whether an organisation’s e-learning initiative is likely to be successful. This model could then be used by managers and persons responsible for training and development to assess their organisation’s readiness for e-learning.

1.5. Chapter Outlines

Chapter 2: What is E-learning?

Because ‘e-learning’ is a relatively new concept for managers and persons in the field of training and development, chapter 2 introduces and defines the term and discusses what advantages and disadvantages an e-learning solution can bring to organisations. The discussion serves as useful background information for the discussion to come about e-learning readiness.

 

Chapter 3: E-learning readiness

Chapter 3 reviews the literature and outlines theoretical perspectives of, and approaches taken to, ‘e-learning readiness’. The key concepts are defined. The chapter further identifies five core factors of e-learning readiness, which are discussed in more detail. The discussion serves as a guide to the data collection phase of the research.

 

Chapter 4: Methodology

Chapter 4 outlines the research design, sample selection methods and data analysis strategy chosen for the study. A qualitative multiple case study design was chosen and designed to reflect the exploratory nature of the study. This involved conducting semi-structured interviews and the development and distribution of a web-based questionnaire. Characteristics of organisations and individuals that participated in the study were discussed, and the chapter concludes with a discussion of reliability and validity of the research design.

Chapter 5: Research findings and discussion

Due to the exploratory nature of the study, Chapter 5 involves both a presentation and analysis of the findings from the multiple case studies. Findings from the interviews conducted with members of each of the three case organisations are first discussed, followed by a discussion of the findings from the questionnaire data. The chapter concludes with a between-case analysis and proposal of a model of e-learning readiness.

 

Chapter 6: Conclusions

Chapter 6 discusses the theoretical and practical implications of the findings, and this is followed by an outline of methodological and conceptual limitations of the study. The chapter concludes with recommendations for future research and overall concluding comments to the study.

 


 

CHAPTER 2: WHAT IS E-LEARNING?

2.1. Objectives of this Chapter

The objective of this chapter is to define the term ‘e-learning’ and what advantages and disadvantages the introduction of e-learning strategies can bring to organisations. The chapter also aims to provide an understanding of why e-learning is different from more ‘traditional’ methods of training – thus requiring organisation to determine their readiness for e-learning.

2.2. Definition of E-learning

Much of e-learning’s potential ties into the ‘buzz’ surrounding today’s knowledge economy. E-learning strategies focus on the human capital, or, in other words, the employees and the knowledge that they contribute with to the organisation. It has been argued that human capital will ‘make or break your business’: the more your employees know, the more they can accomplish, and thus the more the organisation benefits (Salmon 2000; Swanson 2001).

However, there is no clear widely agreed-upon definition of what constitutes an e-learning strategy. The simplest explanation is to explain the ‘e’ in e-learning as something that is ‘electronically’ delivered (Harasim et al. 1995; Urdan and Weggen 2000). Anderson (2000) further argues that most people understand ‘e’-modified words as Internet-enabled interactions between people. For others, e-learning is just a term used to group together a few popular concepts, such as ‘Distance Learning’, ‘Open learning’, ‘Online Learning’, ‘Computer Based Learning’ (CBT), and ‘Web-based learning’ (Inglis 1999).

Probably the most useful definition of e-learning, however, is that by Rosenberg (2001), who argues that the core criteria for something to be e-learning is that it is Internet-based, networked, and focuses on a much broader view of learning and knowledge delivery than traditional training and learning methods. Although this definition still leaves questions open about what really is e-learning, Rosenberg (2001) argues that it captures the main elements of the term and at the same time leaves the door open for specific forms and delivery methods of e-learning to change and develop in the future without the need to modify its basic definition.

In other words, Rosenberg (2001) defines an e-learning solution as having at least the following criteria:

§         It is the delivery of a broad array of solutions that enhance learning and facilitates quick and effective dissemination of knowledge and information.

§         It must be Inter- and/or Intranet based, allowing people to access the same material from different places at the same (synchronous) and/or different (asynchronous) times. 

§         It focuses on a broader view of learning, where learners have more responsibility for their own learning efforts.

To better understand why e-learning differs from more ‘traditional’ training methods, such as classroom training, and to justify the definition above of e-learning, it may be helpful to look at some advantages and disadvantages that often are accredited to it. This is done next.

2.3. Advantages and Disadvantages of E-learning

The e-learning literature is full of examples of advantages of e-learning strategies, and although the type and scope of strategies may differ between and within organisations, the following advantages are commonly recognised by writers in the field:

2.3.1. Availability and flexibility

E-learning is available ‘24/7’, 365 days a year. It is a ‘just-in-time’ approach to training and learning that facilitates flexibility and enables the learners to participate in an e-learning program from home, work or anywhere else as long as they have access to a computer and a network (Hefzellah 1999). The Internet allows people to receive virtually the same material in virtually the same way - at the same or different times. E-learning solutions can also move from only a few participants to a few thousand participants with little effort or incremental cost - as long as the infrastructure is in place (Rosenberg 2001).

2.3.2. Cost efficiency

E-learning can cut learner costs such as accommodation and travel expenses, as well as organisational costs such as classroom hire, instructor hire and other material costs. Martin (1999) argues that about 70 percent of a company’s training costs are tied up in getting people to classes (transportation, meals, lodging, instructors), and e-learning has the power to reduce or even eliminate these costs. Because of e-learning’s availability and flexibility, opportunity costs can also be drastically reduced as learners spend less time away from their jobs (Gilbert 1998).

2.3.3. Speed and content

Because content is electronically delivered, it can be easier and faster to modify and update than if the material is delivered in other ways - as often is the case in traditional classroom settings. This means that in situations where the primary objective is the rapid, efficient dissemination of knowledge, and where learning content is quickly changing, e-learning can be a successful alternative (Urdan and Weggen 2000).

2.3.4. Appeal and involvement

It has been argued that Internet-based training and learning appeals more to learners due to the use of graphs, animations and live media that new developments in technology have made possible (Piskurich 1993; Berge et al. 2000). E-learning is also seen to facilitate involvement, co-operation and learning (Salmon 2000). Thus, it is argued, e-learning has the potential to encourage active and constructive learning and deep processing of information, as well as evoking critical thinking, reasoning and goal-based learning (Inglis 1999; Oliver 1999; Bernard et al. 2000).

2.3.5. Other advantages

Other advantages are mentioned in the literature, such as the possibility to get immediate feedback, integration with e-commerce strategies, the involvement and participation of customers, and less training time needed (Inglis 1999; Marquardt and Kearlsley 1999; Oliver 1999; Gotschall 2000; Hartley 2000; Salmon 2000; Swanson 2000; Rosenberg 2001). Aldrich (2000) argues that customer-based e-learning alone is poised for a staggering growth, and that more than 40 percent of e-learning activities are expected to be aimed at external customers by year 2003.

Despite all these advantages, however, e-learning should not be seen as a replacement for other training methods (Black 1998; Inglis 1999; Farrell 2000; Galagan 2000:2; Hartley 2000; Redmon and Salopek 2000). E-learning helps integrate people functions across the enterprise, but might not be a suitable alternative in all situations or for all organisations. This shall be explained further in the following section.

2.3.6. Disadvantages with e-learning

Farrell (2000) warns that e-learning might not be a suitable delivery method in all training situations. He takes medical training as an example, where the provision of ‘on-the-spot’ training and exercises may be more legitimate and effective than if provided over an Inter- or Intranet. E-learning can also be costly. Inglis (1999) warns that the design and development of an interactive multimedia segment may require hundred or more hours of development time for each hour that a student will spend with the material. More bandwidth may also be required, but this, he argues, is likely to change with the development of technology.

Therefore, it may be useful to discuss e-learning and e-learning readiness from within a contingency perspective. This term was coined by Lawrence and Lorsch (1967), who argued that the amount of uncertainty and rate of change in an environment impacts the development of internal features in organisations. In other words, the contingency perspective underscores and emphasises the fact that each organisation is different, face different circumstances and thus may require different ways of managing (Robbins et al. 2000). This means that what works for one organisation, not necessarily will work for another. Each organisation has its own set of readiness factors, which should be assessed according to that particular organisation’s contingent environment.

Although Harasim et.al. (1995) maintain that online environments are equal or superior to traditional classroom environments, many writers believe that traditional classroom training will always be an effective means of training for some organisations and/or contexts - being unbeatable for the amount of face-to-face interaction with both instructor and classmates that is necessary for learning certain skills (Ewing 2000; Koprowski 2000; Mitchell 2001). These writers suggest a ‘blended’ approach that weaves together the best practices of all the different training techniques.

2.4. Summary

To sum up the previous discussion, it has been argued that e-learning solutions have much to offer today’s organisations. Despite the many advantages with e-learning, however, it may not be the best solution for all organisations or circumstances, and it has also been shown that e-learning is different from other more traditional training methods in how it can be utilised. The next chapter discusses further reasons to why an e-learning solution is different from traditional training methods, and why organisations therefore should begin by assessing their readiness for e-learning before an e-learning solution is designed and implemented if it is likely to be successful.


 

CHAPTER 3: E-LEARNING READINESS

3.1. Objectives of this Chapter

The objective of this chapter is to define e-learning ‘readiness’, and aims to summarise various approaches taken to the issue within the literature. Some core factors of readiness shall be identified and discussed. This discussion serves as a guide to the data collection and analysis phase of the research, including the proposal of a model of e-learning readiness, all of which are discussed in the following chapters.

3.2. Definition of E-learning Readiness

There is no agreement in the literature on what constitutes e-learning ‘readiness’. It means different things to different writers, but one commonly used approach to e-learning ‘readiness’ is the assessment of certain organisational and individual factors that should be considered if organisations are likely to be successful with the introduction of an e-learning strategy (Chapnick 2000; Redmon and Salopek 2000; Hall 2001:2; Rosenberg 2001). This assessment is part of the organisation’s initial needs analysis, which is defined by DeSimone and Harris (1998: 101) as: “a process used to better understand the characteristics of the organization to determine where training and HRD efforts are needed and the conditions within which they will be conducted”.

It is useful to refer to the ADDIE model, widely used in instructional design[1], to illustrate at what stage in the complete process that e-learning readiness is determined:

Figure 1: The ADDIE model

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As can be seen by the ADDIE model, e-learning readiness is determined before any design, development or implementation of the e-learning strategy is carried out, although the factors of readiness should be assessed continuously throughout the stages to ensure overall success (Rosenberg 2001). Therefore, this study is not concerned so much with potential success factors in these latter stages of the process from design to evaluation. Its main purpose is to look specifically at some factors at the initial stage of an e-learning introduction that can have strong impact on whether actions in later stages are successfully carried out.

Although it has been argued that a contingency approach is appropriate to be taken for this topic area, it is here argued that it is possible to find some critical success factors of e-learning readiness that most, if not all, organisations should consider before embarking on an e-learning project. The following section of this chapter identifies and explores what factors that writers in this field of study consider being the most important determinants of e-learning readiness.

3.3. E-learning Readiness Factors

Various writers in this topic area have tried to provide an overview of factors that determine an organisation’s readiness for e-learning, and what questions managers and persons responsible for an organisation’s training efforts should ask themselves before embarking on an e-learning project. A more detailed discussion of some of these approaches can be found in Appendix A.

From the literature, five major factors of e-learning readiness can be identified:

1)      The organisation’s culture;

2)      The individual learner;

3)      The technology;

4)      Content; and:

5)      Organisational and industry characteristics

These major factors form the core of an organisation’s e-learning readiness assessment, and within each of these factors, there are several determinants (factors) of e-learning readiness. These factors are now each explored in more detail. 

3.3.1. The organisation’s culture

The literature identifies the organisation’s culture as one important factor to be assessed for e-learning readiness. An organisation’s culture can be defined as “a system of shared meaning held by members that distinguishes the organisation from other organisations” (Robbins et al. 2000). In a culture where there is a shared view of the benefits of training and learning, employees would be encouraged to learn, provided opportunities and time to learn, and supported by learning management systems or knowledge management systems. An organisation with such a culture is often referred to as a learning organisation (Senge 1994).

Many e-learning proponents strongly argue that organisations must become learning organisations before they implement e-learning strategies: Rosenberg (2001) writes that it is necessary to develop a strong learning culture that does not only support e-learning, but embraces learning as a whole – as an important activity of everyone in the firm. Bernard et al. (2000) imply that because the very nature of e-learning has a strong focus on collaborative learning (due to the potential of e-learning to involve many learners in the same course or program), it is crucial that the learner feels part of a learning community where his or her contributions add to a common knowledge pool and where a community spirit is fostered through social interactions. Senge (1994) also argues that in successful organisations, individual learning is continuous, knowledge is shared, the company culture supports learning, employees are encouraged to think critically, and all individuals are valued for their contribution to the organisation. Finally, Marquardt and Kearlsley (1999) argue that it is now absolutely essential for an organisation to become a learning organisation if it is to compete and to succeed in the global arena.

These writers all point out the importance of having a supportive learning culture before the introduction of more company-wide e-learning strategies. However, it is difficult to define what is actually meant by a ‘learning organisation’, despite suggestions and definitions by various authors (e.g. Senge 1994; Marquardt and Kearsley 1999). Again, it may be helpful to refer to the contingency approach, discussed in earlier chapters, and argue that each organisation may have different ways of becoming ‘learning organisations’ and creating supporting e-learning cultures. Still, Schein (1992) argues, organisations in this world of turbulent change need to learn even faster if they are to become successful.

One example of an organisation that encourages learning, and creates opportunities for its employees to learn, is Cisco. Galagan (2000:1) writes that: “At Cisco, a land of cubicles, people who are taking part in an online class can put up a yellow police tape to signal that they are busy learning”. This example shows that learning is not only something that should be signalled out and accepted throughout the organisation - it also shows that taking learning to employees at their desks will prove effective only if people are given time to make use of it, which is another important criterion of the learning organisation (Hammond and Rana 2001).

There is a strong link not only between learning organisations and e-learning, as has been shown, but also between e-learning and broader strategic management practices within the organisation. As noted by Koprowski (2000) and Hall (2001:1), e-learning must be linked with the organisation’s overall strategy and business goals if it is to succeed. In fact, e-learning can become an important part of a synergy between business goals, knowledge management, performance support and high commitment management practices (De Long 1997, Hall 2001:1). This means that at all levels of the organisation, e-learning efforts should be communicated and accepted – including top management (Neef 1997). For a larger organisation with little or no e-learning experience, this is a process that can take long time.

Therefore, a supporting culture is an important determinant of e-learning readiness. The company must ask itself whether learning is supported and encouraged; whether learners are given time and opportunities to learn; whether employees and managers, in general, have a positive attitude toward training and learning; and whether e-learning is supported by top management and linked to broader organisational goals.

3.3.2. The individual learner

E-learning differs from many traditional training efforts in that it has a strong focus on individual and collaborative learning in a way that sometimes differ from traditional training methods. It is collaborative in that it involves the support and participation of people throughout the organisation, and helps to promote communication and sharing of ideas (Ewing 2000). However, e-learning also focuses strongly on individual learning due to its availability and flexibility, discussed in the previous chapter. Before discussing how e-learning readiness can be assessed for the individual learner, it is therefore important to understand what and how an ‘e-learner’ learns. It might be helpful to briefly introduce and discuss two learning theories for this purpose: constructivism and andragogism:

A. Constructivist learning theory

Individuals understand ‘learning’ in different ways, and the literature reveals several conceptions of learning, both internal and external to the learner: Internal factors include the learner’s previous experiences, motivation, prejudices, and level of intellectual, social and emotional development. External factors refer to the learner’s immediate learning environment such as opportunities, constraints and circumstances influencing the individual’s learning - including other people (Alexander, 1995; Ewing 2000). Thus, the internal conceptions imply a difference between learning and training in that learning is something you do in order to understand the real world, rather than something done by someone or something to the learner (Alexander 1995).

This understanding of learning is closely linked to the constructivist theory that explains learning as an active process in which the learner builds knowledge and understanding from individual experiences (Harasim et al. 1995; Katzeff 1999; Salmon 2000; Smitt-Gratto 2000). The emphasis is on knowledge construction and learner autonomy (Ewing 2000), and e-learning therefore allows learners to displace the trainer at the centre of the learning experience, and take more responsibility for their own learning (Bernard et al. 2000; Galagan 2000:2; Lim 2001).

B. Andragogist theory

Constructivist learning theory is also closely related to the theory about adult learners, or andragogy. This learning theory has principally been accredited to Knowles (Knowles 1975; Knowles 1984; Knowles 1987), who argued that adult learners need to know why they have to learn something before undertaking it; need to be responsible for their own learning; are ready to learn the things they need to know; need to make use of their experience in learning; and are motivated to learn to the extent that they perceive that it will help them perform tasks they confront in their life situations, such as at work.

What do these learning theories have to do with e-learning, and why is e-learning different to traditional training, as has been argued? Oliver (1999) argues that technology-based learning environments are based on a constructivist approach to learning in its emphasis on learning as a process of personal understanding and meaning-making which is active and interpretative. Following from this, characteristics of these approaches to learning are settings and activities that see learners assuming much of the responsibility for themselves in terms of what is learned and how it is learned, that is, following an andragogist view of learning. Thus, e-learning solutions require individuals to be or become adult learners if they are to be successful.

But are the learners themselves ready and willing to take the responsibility for their own learning, or do people learn in different ways? One factor that may affect learner readiness for e-learning is the participant’s learning style:

C. Participant’s learning style

The problem with both the constructivist and andragogist views of learning are that they assume that all people learn the same way. Plenty of theories of learning argue that learners have different learning styles, such as Kolb’s experimental learning theory (Kolb 1984) and Riding’s cognitive style dimensions (Riding 1991). However, e-learning has the potential to cater for most if not all different learning styles due to the possibility to create learning environments where learners can choose different ways of acquiring knowledge according to his or her preferences (Salmon 2000; Rosenberg 2001).

Whether learning styles are considered may therefore be more a matter of instructional design rather than a determinant of e-learning ‘readiness’, and can be accommodated in the design stage of the e-learning process (Rosenberg 2001). However, these theories highlight the need to consider each learner as an individual with his or her own learning preferences and needs. Therefore, it could be argued that some learners are more ‘ready’ than others for the introduction of specific e-learning initiatives, and organisations must assess whether e-learning is a suitable solution for the workforce. Additionally, learners need to learn over and via the computer, and there may be reasons to why this may or may not be successful.

From the literature, a few other factors can be identified that also may affect a participant’s readiness to learn. These are: motivation and willingness to learn; computer/learning skills and attitudes; and sound time management.

D. Motivation and willingness to learn

There have been many studies stressing the importance of motivation for successful training and learning (e.g. Mathieu et al. 1992; Noe et al. 1997; Osterloh and Frey 2000; Tharenou 2001), and its importance for e-learning success is not different (Burge 1994; Schrum 1998; Golladay et al. 2000; Salmon 2000; Frankola 2001; Rosenberg 2001). A study by Bures, Abrami and Amundsen (2000) similarly reveals that motivational preparation of learners for e-learning programs is desirable - especially when learners possess low confidence and/or skill levels. Motivation becomes a critical success factor due to the particular nature of e-learning that has previously been discussed, such as its availability and flexibility to learners (Golladay et al. 2000). As noted by Martin (1999), if the virtual classroom is open 24 hours, 7 days a week, self-motivation will be needed to get students in front of their computers. Therefore, learner’s motivation is an important determinant of learner readiness.

Swanson (2000) further argues that not all employees are willing to go online to learn and refers to a survey by Forrester Research in which employee e-learning resistance was reported by 16 out of 40 training executives. Marquardt and Kearlsley (1999) similarly argue that in every organisation there will be some employees who do not want to learn via technology, nor use it in their jobs or lives. Rosenberg (2001) links willingness to learn to motivation and argues that it is important to understand why people are resistant to e-learning, suggesting that creating the right incentives can encourage participation. Thus, employee willingness is also an important determinant of learner readiness.

E. Computer/learning skills and attitudes

It has been argued that by taking a constructivist and andragogist approach to e-learning, participants are encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning. For example, Argyris (1999) argues that the most important assumption of learning is that people want to contribute and can be trusted to do so. However, if this is to succeed, it is necessary for learners to possess some basic skills of how to access and use the technology, as well as having skills that enables successful learning. Although Salmon (2000) argues that the percentages of learners with difficulties over access or with no computing knowledge are decreasing – and this is likely to be a future trend - some learners may still feel uncomfortable with learning in front of a computer and/or in a virtual classroom. As suggested by Black (1998) and Bernard et al. (2000), skills and attitudes that are essential for effective e-learning should be identified and taught in advance, and then reinforced as the process proceeds.

Still, some users may never be comfortable or willing to learn over the computer no matter what support they are given – maybe due to their preferred learning styles, as previously discussed, willingness, or other reasons. These individuals, Urdan and Weggen (2000) argue, would learn better in traditional classroom settings. Because this has implications on development and training costs, as well as on content creation and other contingencies, the identification of employees’ skills and attitudes toward e-learning is one important determinant of e-learning readiness.

F. Sound time managementc

Finally, one skill that is often considered imperative for effective e-learning, is sound time management. It has previously been argued that giving time for employees to learn is one important determinant of e-learning readiness within the organisation’s culture. However, if participants do not have the skills and/or motivation and willingness to take the given time off for learning, e-learning will not succeed (Berge et al. 2000; Frankola 2001; Hammond and Rana 2001).

To sum up this section, it has been argued that various characteristics and attitudes of the individual learner are important determinants of e-learning readiness, although it should be noted that many skills and attitudes related issues could be taught and developed during stages of design and implementation. Still, the organisation will be better off if it initially assesses whether e-learning is the right solution for its employees. It would also be beneficial to assess whether the employees are motivated and willing to learn via the computer, as well as having the necessary skills to access and use the technology and learn the content. Although many of these issues are important for the success of more traditional training programs as well, they have been argued particularly important for e-learning success due to e-learning’s strong link to constructivist and andragogist theories of learning.

3.3.3. Technology

Because e-learning, by definition, depends on access to a computer and Inter- and/or Intranet, one important determinant of e-learning readiness is that of technology. If the benefits of e-learning are to be attained, employees must have easy and fast access to the network where the e-learning material is hosted. This means that computers should be available to learners and the hosting network being capable of providing the content at a speed, security level and reliability that is deemed necessary for the organisation’s planned e-learning strategy (Bates 1995; Bernard, et al. 2000). Bandwidth restrictions are often reported as hampering e-learning operations and results due to the more demanding multimedia-enhanced ways of delivering learning (Gilbert 1998; Swanson 2000; Swanson 2001).

Not all e-learning solutions need the latest, fastest technology, but the organisation must make sure that the existing technology can provide the content in a way that maximises security and minimises the risk of creating confusion and irritation among users, which – as discussed in previous sections - could negatively affect motivation and willingness to learn (Marquardt and Kearsley 1999; Swanson 2001). If this technology does not exist (or cannot be developed) - including a supporting IT-department that quickly can fix problems and assist users if something goes wrong - e-learning is bound to be a short-lived phenomenon in the organisation. Upgrading the technology infrastructure can be a costly effort that might not justify the implementation of a specific e-learning solution (Inglis 1999). Although it could be profitable in the long-term, it might be better to start with a less demanding e-learning system that can be improved and expanded in line with the development of technology.

As a conclusion, an organisation’s technology readiness include making sure that the content is easily accessible to learners; that speed and reliability issues with the Intra- and/or Internet will not hamper the learning process; that IT support exists for helping learners and solving technological problems; and that security issues are resolved to protect the company’s information and content.

3.3.4. Content

For some organisations, it might be difficult or undesirable to transfer certain training content to the Internet or an Intranet. For example, work processes that require certain physical skills may not be practical or feasible to teach over a computer (Farrell 2000). Additionally, work processes that involve extremely vulnerable or dangerous actions may best be taught in traditional classroom settings to ensure highest quality of performance (Inglis, 1999; Farrell 2000). Whether e-learning is an appropriate training solution for learning content should be an a priori outcome of the needs analysis before the organisation’s readiness is assessed. However, it is also a part of the readiness assessment in that organisations must decide whether to build or buy the content. It is more expensive and time-consuming to build own content than to buy and may necessitate a strong IT department capable of converting the material to digital media (Miller 1987; Hall 2001:2).

What learning material is to be taught, whether it is feasible to be taught over the computer, and whether it can be bought or must be created, thus are e-learning readiness determinants in terms of content.

3.3.5. Organisational and industry factors

It has been argued that e-learning can become a competitive advantage particularly to organisations that compete in a dynamic business environment where information and knowledge must be quickly created, processed and disseminated throughout the organisation (Koprowski 2000; Urdan and Weggen 2000; Rosenberg 2001). E-learning is also particularly suited for organisations that have many geographically dispersed employees needing to access the same or similar material (Bastiaens and Martens 2000).

An organisation should also ask itself what the reasons are for adopting e-learning strategies. Hall (2001:1) suggests asking questions such as whether there is a need to quickly be updated on content; whether e-learning is a solution to retaining and attracting skilled employees; or whether competition requires new approaches to training and development.

Another issue is cost. E-learning projects can be very expensive, especially if technology needs to be upgraded as mentioned earlier. As with other training initiatives, organisations should exercise caution with investing considerable sums of money if they do not have hard evidence that a positive return on investment can be expected (Inglis, 1999; Peoples 1999).

Thus, whether the organisation has a large, geographically disperse workforce; competes in a dynamic business environment; and/or needs quick access and update of information and knowledge, are organisational and industry factors that determine e-learning readiness. Whether the organisation is financially able to afford to implement an e-learning solution, is another factor that should be assessed.

3.4. Summary

From the literature, five core factors of e-learning readiness have been identified: the organisation's culture, the individual learner, technology, content, and organisational and industry factors, and within each of these factors, there are several determinants of e-learning readiness.

The aim of the field research is to assess how organisations in practice can determine their e-learning readiness, and thus, the various determinants of readiness discussed in this chapter lay the groundwork for the data collection strategy that is explained in more detail in the next chapter. This will lead to a proposal of a model of e-learning readiness, based on findings from the literature as well as the field study, and this model can then be used as a helpful tool by managers and persons in the field of training and development to assess their respective organisation’s readiness for e-learning.


 

CHAPTER 4: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

4.1. Objectives of this Chapter

The objective of this chapter is to outline the research methodology chosen for the study. The chapter will commence by identifying the research design for the study and what instruments were used for data collection. This will be followed by an identification of sampling procedures and respondent characteristics. The chapter concludes with an overview of the methods used for data analysis, followed by a discussion of reliability and validity of the chosen methods.

4.2. Research Design

Due to the exploratory nature of the study and the lack of empirical evidence in the area of study, an inductive, qualitative research design was embraced. The logic behind choosing qualitative research, as opposed to quantitative research, comes from the ability of qualitative research methods to be designed to help researchers better understand people and the social and cultural contexts within which they live (Berg 1998; Babbie 2001). Kaplan and Maxwell (1994) argue that the goal of understanding a phenomenon from the point of view of the participants and its particular social and institutional context is largely lost when textual data are quantified. Qualitative designs are also particularly suited for research in an under-explored field of study, and recommended when the focus is more on elaborating or generating a theory and not when hypothesis testing and theory testing is the main aim of the research (Gummesson 1991; Miles and Huberman 1994). Because the aim of this study is not to test a previous theory, but to focus on understanding and explaining what cultural, social, and contextual elements within organisations can determine their readiness for e-learning, a qualitative design was considered to be the most appropriate one for the study.

Figure 2 provides a schematic overview of the overall research design chosen for this study, which was divided up in two stages: Stage 1 includes the establishment of the theoretical framework (literature review), pilot interviews, and pre-testing of data collection instrument. Stage 2 includes the multiple-case study data collection process (interviews and web-based questionnaire) and data analysis.

The choice of data collection instruments, as well as what questions were asked and how and why the samples of respondents were chosen, is discussed in more detail in the next section.


Figure 2: Research Process

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


                                                         

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                         

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

4.3. Data Collection Instruments - Stage 1

4.3.1. Pilot interviews

Because of the lack of prevailing theories and empirical studies conducted on e-learning readiness, clarification of some basic concepts and issues developed from the literature was favoured. Initial pilot interviews were therefore held with three persons in the field of training and development based in and around the Melbourne metropolitan area. Pilot interviews can provide considerable insight into basic issues of what is being studied, and can be used in parallel with ongoing review of relevant literature (Yin 1994; Litwin 1995). The purpose of these interviews was to clarify basic concepts and issues concerning e-learning readiness, as well as laying the framework for a more legitimate research design.

4.3.2. Questionnaire pre-testing

19 persons in the field of training and development were e-mailed an invitation to pre-test the questionnaire that was to be used for the study. The rationale for pre-testing a questionnaire lies in the general conception that various errors can be avoided and its legitimacy improved (Bourque and Fielder 1995; Babbie 2001). The questionnaire was published on the Internet, and ten people responded with suggestions of how to improve the format and content of the questionnaire.

4.4. Data Collection Instruments - Stage 2

The second stage of the data collection involved a multiple case-study analysis of three organisations. A case study can be defined as: “an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context, especially when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident” (Yin 1994: 13). Case study analysis can also serve as ”the breeding ground for insights and even hypotheses that may be pursued in subsequent studies” (Berg 1989: 217). Case study methods are becoming increasingly accepted as scientific tools in business administration (Gummesson 1991; Berg 1998), and this was chosen as an instrument of data collection due to the qualitative and exploratory nature of the study. A case study approach is suitable for this type of research as it can provide general understanding and insight into certain contextual issues surrounding the research topic - in this case, an organisation’s readiness for e-learning.

Data collection for case studies can rely on many sources of evidence (Yin 1994; Babbie 2001), and be both qualitative and quantitative (Gummesson 1991; Berg 1998). For this study, two sources of evidence (instruments) were used: Semi-structured exploratory interviews and a web-based self-administered questionnaire.

4.4.1. Semi-structured exploratory interviews

Interviews are an essential source of case study evidence because most case studies are about human affairs (Yin 1994). They are an effective method of collecting information particularly when the interest is in understanding the perceptions of participants or learning how they come to attach certain meaning to phenomena or events (Berg 1989).

The use of semi-structured interviews in this study allowed respondents to depart from predefined concepts of e-learning readiness derived from the literature, and discuss what e-learning readiness meant for them in the context of their particular organisation. Thus, the interviews had a general plan of inquiry, but not a specific set of questions that had to be answered with particular words or in a particular order. See Appendix B for a sample of the interviews.

4.4.2. Web-based questionnaire

A web-based self-administered questionnaire was also developed and administered to explore factors of e-learning readiness. Questionnaires have the advantages of cost effectiveness; ease and efficiency in regard to administration and distribution; and the provision of clear casual links to the phenomena being studied (Yin 1994; Bourque and Fielder 1995; Babbie 2001). Although questionnaires have disadvantages as well, such as low researcher control over responds and respondents, potentially low response rates, and negative effects derived from poor construction of the form (Yin 1994; Bourque and Fielder 1995), these were not considered major problems for this study. Instead, the use of a questionnaire was believed to benefit the overall research by particularly targeting and exploring findings from the literature for the development of the proposed model of e-learning readiness.

The questionnaire consisted mainly of close-ended questions, but also included a few open-ended questions where respondents were asked about their personal opinions to what determines an organisation’s readiness for e-learning. See Appendix C for a more detailed description of the structure and content of the questionnaire.

4.5. Sampling Procedures – Stage 1

4.5.1. Defining the target population

E-learning is not a training and learning solution that is restricted for use by large organisations. However, as the purpose of the study was to explore e-learning readiness that takes into account a variety of organisational and contextual factors, it was decided to target larger Australian organisations (preferably with 500+ employees) to ensure that as many issues as possible were determined, explored and analysed.

Approximately 500 members of the Australian Systems Thinking and Organisational Learning Group (ASTOLg) were e-mailed an explanatory letter and invited to participate in the study. The use of this database may have restricted the target population, due to the possibility that its members have a distinctive interest in learning and training.

Before contacting the organisations, ethics approval for the study was obtained
(Appendix F).

4.5.2. Sample selection

Of those responding and indicating an interest in participating in the study, some were persons in the field of training and development in smaller firms and thus did not meet the criteria for the target population. However, these individuals were contacted and asked to participate in pilot interviews (see section 4.3.1) to discuss issues and concepts that were developed from the literature review. Three individuals agreed to participate, and were sent a copy of the research proposal so that they were informed about the purpose of the study and able to provide more relevant and valuable feedback.

The interviews contained a set of open-ended questions followed by a general discussion of various issues in the field of study. On average, the duration of the interviews was between 45-60 minutes.

As mentioned in section 4.3.2, this pool of individuals (19 persons) was also e-mailed an invitation to pre-test the questionnaire to be used for the study, and 10 persons responded with suggestions of improvements.

4.6. Sampling Procedures – Stage 2

Out of the 500 members of the ASTOLg database invited to participate in the study, approximately 20 members from organisations that would meet the criteria for the target population expressed initial interest to participate in the study. However, due to various reasons, only four organisations agreed to proceed with the study. Finally, because the researcher was only able to obtain limited data from one of the four organisations, it was decided to just include the three other organisations in the analysis.

The first organisation (Case A) is classified as a charitable non-profit organisation in the health sector. The second organisation (Case B) is a government agency in the natural resources industry, and the third organisation (Case C) is a private organisation in the financial sector.

The key informants of the participating organisations were sent explanatory statements (Appendix D) that assured anonymity, confidentiality and freedom to withdraw from the study at any time. These informants also provided access to other potential interviewees. Each person that volunteered to be interviewed was given the explanatory statement as well as a consent form (Appendix E) to sign.

4.6.1. Sample selection: Interviews

Interviews were held with key informants in each of the participating organisations, and each interview lasted between 45-60 minutes. The interviews were semi-structured, as discussed in section 4.4.1, to allow informants to discuss the issues from within their respective organisation’s perspective and previous and current experiences, without being ‘bound’ or biased by concepts and theories derived from the literature.

4.6.2. Sample selection: Questionnaire

A link to the Web-based questionnaire was e-mailed out to a sample of employees in two of the three participating organisations. One organisation (Case C) had a policy that did not allow external questionnaires being distributed to employees, and was therefore not part of the questionnaire sample.

This was a non-probability, convenience sample, meaning that each member of the organisation did not have a known non-zero chance of being included. The benefits from using this sample design lie in the ease and convenience of constructing the sample, as well as administering the survey distribution and collection (Babbie 2001). On the other hand, non-probability samples may not be representative of the larger population, and thus may be biased and not suitable for generalisation (Babbie 2001). For this study, however, the choice of a convenience sample does not considerably affect the findings, as the purpose of the study is merely to explore and understand issues in an under-explored area.

E-mail lists – provided by the participating organisations - were used as the medium of questionnaire distribution. All invited were given a brief explanation of the project, as well as the right to choose not to participate (Appendix D). Anonymity and confidentiality was also guaranteed. The e-mail link took the participants to the web-based questionnaire where they were informed again about the nature of the study. The completed questionnaires where sent directly to the researcher’s e-mail account via Internet, thereby assuring anonymity and confidentiality.

Table 1 below summarises the sample selection procedures and characteristics for the multiple case study design, and table 2 summarises the interviewee characteristics.


Table 1: Sample selection procedures, stage 2:

 

 

Instrument:       

Sample selection:

Sample characteristics:

Case A:

(health sector)

 

Semi-structured exploratory interviews

 

Convenience, expert sample. Key informants interviewed (training mangers and/or managers)

2 respondents: Work Place Manager and Workplace Learning Coordinator

 

Web-based self-administrative questionnaires.

E-mail list used, invitation sent to 50 employees.
Non-probability
convenience sample.

27 respondents (54 percent response rate).

Case B:

(natural resources)

 

Semi-structured exploratory interviews

 

Convenience, expert sample. Key informants interviewed (training mangers and/or managers)

3 respondents: District Manager, Staff Development Manager, and Region Manager

 

Web-based self-administrative questionnaires.

E-mail list used, invitation sent to 66 employees.
Non-probability
convenience sample.

34 respondents (52 percent response rate).

Case C:

(financial sector)

Semi-structured exploratory interviews

 

Convenience, expert sample. Key informants interviewed (training mangers and/or managers)

3 respondents: Senior Manager, Business Analyst, and Manager for the organisation’s e-learning system.

 

Web-based self-administrative questionnaires.

Not held, due to policy about external surveying

N/A


 

Table 2: Interviewee Characteristics

 

CASE A:

(Health sector)

Gender

Age

Tenure

Position

M

39

7 months

Workplace Learning Manager

F

40

3 years 6 months

Learning Coordinator

 

 

 

 

CASE B:

(Natural resources)

Gender

Age

Tenure

Position

M

43

3 years 9 months

Staff Development Manager

F

33

3 years 3 months

District Manager

M

40

12 years

Region Manager

 

 

 

 

CASE C:

(Financial sector)

Gender

Age

Tenure

Position

M

32

16 years

Manager for the organisation’s e-learning system

M

51

6 years 6 months

Business Analyst

M

30

1 year 8 months

Senior Manager

 

4.7. Data Analysis

4.7.1. Interviews

Interviews were recorded and transcribed to enable a more accurate qualitative analysis. Data analysis was conducted manually through a number of steps: The first step involved the use of immersion analysis to scan through the collected data and identify main themes. This method of analysis is useful for getting an initial understanding of the content and major themes of the research (Crabtree and Miller 1992).

The second step involved conducting a content analysis of the responses. Content analysis is used to identify themes, concepts and meaning (Burns 1999), and a codebook (Appendix G) was created to classify and categorise content into themes that had emerged from the initial immersion analysis, as well as from the literature. One benefit with using a codebook is that sentences and paragraphs within the transcribed data can be allocated a particular code, thereby enabling re-arrangement of the content and counting frequencies of different code occurrences (thematic analysis) so that further analysis can be undertaken (Burns 1999).

Therefore, codes were assigned to different sections of the transcribed data. These sections were also colour-coded to simplify the analysis process. Following this process, a thematic analysis was undertaken, and involved counting frequencies of the code occurrences and entering them into a thematic matrix (Appendix H) to enable a better overview of themes and issues covered by each of the individual interviewees.

The overall themes derived from these processes were then used to analyse and discuss interview data. A within-case and between-case analysis of the data was conducted, with the researcher using immersion and thematic techniques throughout the process to find both converging and diverging opinions about what constitutes e-learning readiness.

4.7.2. Web-based questionnaire

Questionnaire data was analysed with SPSS for Windows (v.10), using basic statistical measures for central tendency and relationships between variables (Appendix I). The findings were contrasted and compared to the interview data, and added to the discussion and analysis.

From this analysis, a model of e-learning readiness was then proposed and discussed.

4.8. Reliability and Validity

4.8.1. Reliability

Reliability can be defined as the extent to which a measurement procedure yields the same answer however and whenever it is carried out (Kirk and Miller 1986; Yin 1994). In other words, reliable measures are stable and relatively predictable, which means that they can be depended upon for future or recurring research (Burns 1999). For qualitative interviews and questionnaires this means that all respondents need to understand the questions in the same way to enable comparison between the findings.

Reliability of the instruments used in this study was maximised in two ways: First, actions were taken to ensure that respondents would understand and interpret questions asked in similar ways. Interviewees were given the same definition of e-learning readiness adopted for this study and discussed in chapter 3 to ensure their understanding of the purpose of the interview. Secondly, the questionnaire was pre-tested (as discussed earlier) to ensure that wording and questions did not create confusion about their meaning.

4.8.2. Validity

Validity can briefly be defined as the extent to which a measurement gives the correct answer (Kirk and Miller 1986). In other words, it is the ability of an instrument to adequately measure what it intends to measure (Litwin 1995; Zikmund, 2000; Babbie 2001).

Construct validity is concerned with the logical relationships among variables (Zikmund 2000; Babbie 2001), and was enhanced in this study through triangulation of various data collection methods, including pilot interviews, exploratory interviews, and questionnaire.

Content validity refers to how much a measure covers the range of meanings included within a concept (Babbie 2001). In other words, it is concerned with whether an instrument includes everything it should in relation to what it purports to measure (Litwin 1995). Content validity was enhanced via a thorough review of current literature, as well as conducting pilot interviews and pre-testing of the questionnaire, which provided expert opinion on the representation and adequacy of questions.

Finally, Yin (1994) distinguishes between two other measurements of validity: internal and external. Internal validity is a concern only for casual case studies, when the purpose is to determine whether one event leads to another. External validity deals with the problem of knowing whether a study is generalisable beyond the immediate case study. Because this study is taking an exploratory rather than explanatory approach and aims to provide understanding rather than to generalise findings to a wider population, internal and external validity were not considered critical. To a degree, however, external validity was enhanced by including organisations - in a multiple case study design - that came from different industries and had different previous experiences of e-learning.


 

CHAPTER 5: RESEARCH FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION

5.1. Objectives of this Chapter

The objective of this chapter is to present and discuss the findings. The chapter begins with a within-case analysis of each of the three participating organisation, which includes an overview of the particular organisation, including its experiences of e-learning. Interview data is then analysed for factors of e-learning readiness. Following from this, the questionnaire data is analysed and commented upon, and a between-case analysis is conducted, comparing and contrasting findings. The chapter concludes by proposing a model of e-learning readiness that includes factors derived from the literature as well as the actual research.

5.2. Case Organisation A

Case organisation A is a charitable, non-profit organisation in the health sector that is mainly funded by Australian federal and state governments. The organisation has a total of 2,500 employees (equivalent full time staff) and 2,000 volunteers in Australia. It is responsible for the collection, processing and distribution of health products to the Australian community.

5.2.1. Overview

Case organisation A has a geographically disperse workforce and constantly faces the challenge to provide learning and development opportunities in many operational training programs that it has to employees at sites all over Australia. Often, these various programs have ‘go-live-dates’ with a new procedure on the same date, so the time to train all staff can be limited. Currently, the organisation has a network of trainers (workplace training assessors) throughout the states – most of them do not work full-time in their roles as trainers, but are operational employees with extra training responsibility. Training packages are sent out to these nominated trainers who conduct the operational training face-to-face, mostly one-to-one, at all the different locations. Management professional development training is usually held in a major city, requiring some managers to travel a long distance.

Both respondents agreed that the current system of training had deficiencies. Costs and time associated with travel and accommodation were frequently mentioned as a negative outcome of current training methods. Another factor mentioned was the lack of expertise among the nominated trainers in all operational areas and procedures.

It has previously been argued that e-learning solutions can save time and costs (Gilbert 1998; Martin 1999; Rosenberg 2001), and both respondents saw potential benefits with what an e-learning solution could bring the organisation. One respondent said: “now that is the challenge for us… whether or not an e-learning capacity for us is going to remove the geographic factor and therefore save costs”, and the other saw benefits in terms of efficiency: “If I could develop it [training package] for the web, updating would be much easier… we know we have to cover extensive information”.

Until today’s date, however, no structured e-learning initiative has been put in place, and no plans have officially been made for the future. At the moment, the organisation is working on a huge computer project in terms of a new system that most of its employees will have access to, and need to be proficient in, by 2003. The organisation is in the process of skilling up the workforce for this new system, and one of the respondents believed that this could generate opportunities in the near future to move toward a more e-enabled learning environment.

5.2.2. E-learning readiness factors

As previously argued, both respondents in case organisation A see potential benefits with the introduction of some e-learning strategy in their organisation, but believe there are several readiness factors that must be assessed before going down that path. From the thematic matrix analysis, which was used to organise coding sequences into categories and sections, the following brief statistics can be derived as an initial overview of the content of the two interviews:

Table 3: Case Organisation A, Code Frequencies (per factor)

 

 

Respondent 1:   

Respondent 2:

All respondents:

Major factor:

Code freq (%):

Code freq (%):

Code freq (%):

Learner

22%

39%

30%

Culture

22%

14%

18%

Technology

13%

19%

16%

Content

27%

11%

19%

Industry/other

16%

17%

17%

 

As can be seen in table 3, both respondents focused on issues within all of the five identified main factors of e-learning readiness, although on average they were slightly more focused with issues in regard to the individual learners. Because the interviews were semi-structured and exploratory, these figures do not have high statistical validity, but serve as a good initial overview of what the interviewees chose to focus on.

A. The individual learner

In terms of learner readiness, both respondents recognised the importance for learners to be comfortable with using computers, as well as having some basic skills, if they are to be successful with an e-learning approach to training and development. One respondent stated: “The thing we have to get over at the moment, is computer phobia… there are some people that are still not very comfortable”.

It has previously been mentioned that employees currently are being skilled up to use computers as part of the organisation’s move toward a new computer-based system, so it was believed by both respondents that these two readiness factors might not be huge issues for assessment later on when/if an introduction of e-learning comes on the agenda. One respondent said: “so for those people, that are actually undergoing that change now, to get familiar and comfortable with computer... it would just be the next step for them”.

Another readiness issue brought up by the respondents was whether the workforce would see learning and training via technology as a viable alternative to traditional methods, and the reason for this can be found in the organisation’s particular focus on human interaction and human services. One respondent said: ”the use of technology is impersonal, and the organisation values human qualities, so the human interaction is really crucial”. The other respondent posed the question: “Can we train people through a computer system? Does that create a sense of impersonal technology based as opposed to customer service people interaction that is value-driven?”

Willingness to use computers for learning was also linked to the geographic distribution of the workforce, and one respondent said that there is a strong sense in some of the regional areas of isolation from the organisation, and therefore visits by trainers was one way of keeping in contact.

Another learner readiness factor brought up by the respondents, was whether the employees would set time aside for self-paced learning and be autonomous learners. Because e-learning has the potential to be 24/7 and allow employees to access learning modules anytime, anywhere (Hefzellah 1999), this issue was considered as one factor of readiness that needed to be assessed in the organisation.

Both respondents argued that various characteristics of the workforce are readiness factors that may impact on the success of an e-learning strategy. One respondent believed that people with some degree or certificate from a university would be more comfortable and willing to learn via computers, and organisations that did not have a reasonably high level of educated employees should be aware of potentially more resistance to e-learning. It is also “a generational thing”, according to one respondent, arguing that younger people probably would accept computers as part of their everyday life more than previous generations that did not grow up with the use of technology.

Finally, one issue that was brought up which was considered a readiness factor not just for e-learning but for all training efforts, was the high amount of volunteers that work for the organisation. One respondent said: “You have less knowledge of what they do, how long they stay in the organisation”, and: “Some of them only go 2-3 hours a week to a work site. How much access do you have to them, to train them?”

B. The organisation’s culture

The organisation’s culture was considered an important factor for training in general to be successful, but particularly for e-learning. Both respondents argued that it is important to have support throughout the organisation, including top management, if e-learning is to be successful. One respondent said: “I think one of the critical things is that you have to have managers support. There is no point of people being ready, if managers don’t support it, because they are the ones that get the budget to make it happen”.

One respondent further argued that there need to be some people who have the knowledge about e-learning and pushing for its introduction if it will be successful.

Both respondents also recognised the importance of strong relationships and good communication within the organisation – particularly between the IT department and the training department. According to one respondent, most IT people in the organisation are currently busy with the development and implementation of the new computer system, so there would not be time and resources for a joint development of e-learning strategies at present.

Related to support and communication is the ability and willingness of managers to provide time and opportunity for employees to learn in front of the computer. One respondent said:

“The other issue is that for a manager to send someone away from a workplace, you can ensure that people get the study time… The challenge would be to provide them with same training time at the workplace working on the computer where they don’t get pulled off.”

Time management is thus not only an important factor of learner readiness, as discussed in earlier sections, but also of organisational readiness – that is, having a learning culture where learners are provided the opportunity and time for learning even when they do not physically leave their workplace.

C. Technology

The major technology readiness factors for e-learning identified by the respondents included easy access to computers and the system that would host the e-learning material; compatibility of network systems; and bandwidth issues.

Both respondents argued that learners need to have easy access to computers and to the network. One respondent said: “until recently, no one even had access to a CD-ROM drive, so to expect people to connect to the network with all this stuff is a bit ahead of where people are at”. Access is also closely linked to the characteristics of the workforce, discussed in earlier sections. Some work sites only operate once or twice a week, and the organisation may not even own the premises: “a lot of stuff is done in community halls or something like that…”. Also, because a large percentage of the workforce is volunteers, they may not have easy access to the network. However, one respondent said that in most areas there is a regular training site with computers, and these sites could be used for some e-learning. The problem with that, though, is that those computers are being used a lot of the time, so often the time when personnel can actually access them for training is limited.

Another issue raised by both respondents was the incompatibility of computer systems within different units of the organisation, which would make a national implementation of e-learning difficult: “So I think at the moment the problem we’ve got is that we’ve got a system here that is not going to talk to a system over here easily. And that’s a problem”. The new computer system, to be implemented and running by 2003, also does not make compatibility issues easier to solve as it will be running on a different platform than what people are used to.

Finally, one respondent mentioned bandwidth as an important readiness factor that needs to be assessed: “The issue is bandwidth. That’s a big issue. If we want to go out and be interactive, which e-learning is, we need to use examples and to show video-streams and we don’t have the bandwidth for that at the moment.”. Currently the organisation have some sites that connect by modems, limiting the amount of information that can be delivered and accessed over the Intranet or Internet, and one respondent wondered: “whether the server could cope with the lot…”

D. Content

Both respondents argued that what people need to learn in an organisation is a determining factor of e-learning readiness, because learning over a computer is different from traditional face-to-face learning - particularly if the employees need to learn practical hands-on things. For this organisation, there are two main areas of training: one is the computer training in the new system that is being implemented, and the other is training in operational tasks in the specific areas in which they work in. The respondents were hesitant to whether e-learning would be a proper training medium for some of the practical work in the organisation, as well as learning the new computer system:  “I’m not sure you can actually teach somebody about computers online, because by definition you’ve got a problem with confidence.”

However, the respondents believed that e-learning could be used to complement practical training by providing background information and assessment tools that could save both time and money. The organisation also has lots of materials that are continuously updated, and one respondent saw this to be perfect content for e-learning “as material on a network can be updated more quickly and easier”, reducing the need to produce and send out printed material every time a new procedure is changed or implemented.

One of the respondents, however, pointed out that much of the success in an e-learning solution lies within the design of the learning modules, arguing that learning styles can be accommodated for by a user-friendly design and structured learning sequences so that people do not get frustrated and give up if it is too complicated or uninteresting.

E. Industry and organisational factors

The respondents agreed on that an organisation must be relatively financial stable to embark on an e-learning strategy, but as with all training efforts, it is an issue of determining costs and benefits as well as looking at what the organisation wants to use e-learning for. Because this organisation is government funded, there is no real alternative than to stick to an allocated budget for training and development. This was seen as a big issue to one of the respondents, as a company-wide e-learning solution may be costly to implement – too costly for the organisation’s allocated budget.

One factor that has not been widely discussed in the literature, but was by the respondents considered as an e-learning readiness factor, is the need for the organisation to meet some legal requirements of operation and performance. The organisation has a license for operating in its field of service and needs to meet certain requirements of a code for manufacturing practice in order to keep its license. This means that the organisation must be able to closely track and evaluate training results, and one respondent showed some concern with how this could be done with e-learning: “People can get on and off as they need to, and how do you track what people are actually doing, what they are achieving?”

The existence of a legislative code has had some positive effects, though. It has helped build a culture in which people accept and understand that they have to learn certain skills, and be assessed on those skills, in order to perform their jobs. Therefore, as one respondent said: “We can say to people: ‘we need you to do this because it’s a compliance issue under our regulation’, and most people would accept that”.

5.2.3. Summary

From the two interviews, several factors of e-learning readiness have been identified, and most of them support findings from the literature. Table 4 below shows a summary of the main readiness factors that derived from the interviews.

The respondents did not see e-learning as a solution to all their future training requirements. Rather, e-learning would be: “another training strategy, as much as face-to-face”, and part of a blended approach to training and development. However, e-learning is currently not on the main agenda, and there is no ‘champion’ pushing for its implementation. The interviews have shown that the organisation may need to look at several factors of e-learning readiness if it intends to take that path in the near future.


Table 4: Readiness factors, case organisation A

 

Individual learners:

§         Learners need to be comfortable with using computers

§         Learners need to have some basic computer skills

§         Learners need to see technology-based learning as viable alternative to traditional methods

§         Learners need to be willing to learn via computers

§         Learners need to be autonomous learners and be able to manage time for own learning

§         Learner characteristics impact on willingness to learn via computers - such as age, education, and type of employment (volunteers vs. permanent employed)

Organisation’s culture:

§         The organisation must support learning efforts (including top management)

§         Some people need to have knowledge about e-learning (champions)

§         The right people need to be involved in the e-learning process

§         There need to be strong relationships and communications between departments

§         Learners must be given time and opportunities to learn

Technology:

§         Learners need to have easy access to computers and network

§         The organisation’s computer systems need to be compatible

§         Bandwidth issues must not be a problem

Content:

§         Content must be suitable for e-learning

§         The design of the e-learning material must be made user-friendly, well structured, and interesting

Industry and organisational factors:

§         The organisation must be relatively financially stable

§         E-learning solutions must meet legal requirements

 

5.3. Case Organisation B

Case organisation B is a government agency in the natural resources industry. The organisation operates in the state of Victoria, and has around 900 employees spread all over the state in various urban and rural sites. Thousands of Victorians also volunteer their time and skills to work in partnership with the organisation. The organisation is responsible for managing and protecting a network of natural resources sites, and providing information and guidance to visitors to these sites.

5.3.1. Overview

Case organisation B needs to train employees that are geographically spread over many different sites in Victoria in both technical hands-on skills and more soft skills, such as customer service, computer application skills, and general day-to-day requirements. Currently the way the organisation approaches training is by identifying what skills it needs to have in different locations and by different employees. It then runs a gap analysis of what skills staff actually have, what they need, and the training is then tailored to that. The training is not done via e-learning, but is sourced out primarily to local training groups or training providers, who conduct face-to-face training either at the workplace or in various training centres.

The organisation has not had any previous e-learning initiative in place, and does not have anything planned for the near future. However, it has had experience with trying to teach people via computers. A training strategy was rolled out in late 1998 where people could sign up to learn various computer software packages, as well as applications that covered personal skills. The uptake of people choosing to use this training turned out to be very low - probably smaller than 10 percent of the staff, according to one of the respondents. The reason for rolling out this strategy was that the organisation had determined that it was moving toward a totally PC literate workforce, and therefore expected all staff to have some basic skills. The problem was, however, that no readiness assessment was made before the rollout, and consequently, the project did not meet its expected uptake. As one of the respondents summarises it: We thought that computer based delivery would be a good platform to learn computer programs. Now, retrospectively it’s a bit absurd. It’s like using a computer that you don’t know how to use to learn how to use effectively”.

All of the respondents saw benefits with e-learning, but had their concerns to how it could be introduced and implemented in the organisation, and whether it will be in the near future. The following section discusses what readiness factors case organisation B may specifically need to assess if an e-learning solution would be successfully implemented.

5.3.2. E-learning readiness factors

Three people were interviewed from case organisation B. The thematic matrix analysis reveals that all of them focused heavily on issues in regard to the individual learner (table 5), while issues in regard to culture, technology and content were the focus of most of the remaining sections. These issues will now be discussed and analysed.

Table 5: Case Organisation B, Code Frequencies (per factor)

 

 

Respondent 1:   

Respondent 2:

Respondent 3:

All respondents:

Major factor:

Code freq (%):

Code freq (%):

Code freq (%):

Code freq (%):

Learner

53%

56%

61%

57%

Culture

13%

18%

15%

15%

Technology

8%

12%

9%

10%

Content

21%

10%

12%

14%

Industry/other

5%

4%

3%

4%

 

A. The individual learner

The three respondents saw many issues in regard to the individual learners’ readiness for e-learning, and believed this was the factor that would have the largest impact on the success of a e-learning strategy. Many of the issues were related to the particular demographics or characteristics of the organisation’s workforce, as well as the type of job that employees were expected to perform.

Two issues that all respondents agreed upon, was that it is important that people have basic computer skills as well as being reasonably comfortable in using computers. This was one of the reasons for the decision made in 1998 to improve employees’ computer literacy by providing computer-based learning – a project that was not too successful, as mentioned earlier. One respondent mentioned that this “failure” triggered an interest in the organisation to look at why people did not take up the opportunity given to them to learn via computers, and it was found that some people actually did not have adequate literacy in English, “and therefore possibly couldn’t read or write, but as adults had spent their whole lives creating a maze around them which made it not look like that was a problem…”

Hence, basic language literacy is a readiness factors that was identified by one respondent – a factor that has been rather neglected in the e-learning literature. Another respondent also said that there were people in the organisation who are actually terrified of turning on a computer or even approaching it. Clearly these people need to be taught basic computer skills and coached toward becoming comfortable in it as well.

Another issue that two of the three respondents related to the lack of basic skills and comfortableness among some employees, has to do with characteristics of the workforce. The average age of the workforce is 42, and two respondents clearly believed that the age factor, as well as level of education, influences learner readiness for any technology-based learning: “there is a great number of people in the 40+ age group, who actually had no great access to computers in their younger years, and they are not going near a computer if it is e-learning stuff…”.

Another respondent added: “You only have to go to a centre that is remote from here and actually meet and see these staff who I am talking about that are potential barriers. Now in 10 years time they won’t work here, they will have retired…. that sort of group, 45-55 blue collar Aussie blokes that don’t want to use PCs”

Interestingly enough, one respondent believed that young, educated people may be more comfortable with using computers, but that does not equate them to be willing to use computers for learning, because they often have a strong dedication and motivation for the actual work, and not for learning. Willingness to learn via computers is therefore another readiness factor for this organisation. This issue is closely related to the type of work that the employees perform in the organisation, which for many employees is mainly outdoors. All respondents mentioned that there seems to be some reluctance to sit in front of a computer to learn something, because people do not see the value of it: “in the rural areas it is seen more as a hindrance and a distraction from your real work if you are in the office”.

Another respondent added to this notion that many employees tend to believe that their work is outdoors: “That’s where the people are. And therefore anything that vaguely looks like a computer falls into the admin ‘yuck’ sort of role – as part of my job that I don’t want to do, a part of my job that I would fight to get rid of”.

The respondents further added that because employees often work in rural and remote areas, they highly value the social interaction that they are normally missing in their jobs. Therefore, to tell them to train in front of a computer is not highly valued, as exemplified by one respondent:

If we say: we’d like you to stay in the office all day and do this program, or we send you off to Box Hill and give you lunch… You’ll take the Box Hill and get lunch, because you get to see other people from other places, how other people don’t cope with it so you can feel comfortable with not understanding either...

This example shows that employees need to see the benefits with e-learning, as well as its value for their day-to-day tasks if they are to be motivated to learn and accept an e-learning module.

Finally, in relation to the previous issue of taking time off for learning, one respondent said that: “I think one of the biggest barrier in this organisation is time management. We are really, really bad time managers”, and another respondent agreed: “Our whole profession is founded on good time management, and we are not time managers”. It has been argued in previous chapters that e-learning needs learners to be autonomous learners (Oliver 1999) and have sound time management skills (Berge, Collins et al. 2000; Frankola 2001; Hammond and Rana 2001). This is another readiness factor that the respondents believed would have to be addressed if e-learning is going to be successfully implemented.

B. The organisation’s culture

All respondents acknowledged the importance of the organisation to provide support and opportunities for learning, as well as having good communication between managers and employees. At the moment there seems to be some lack in communication and knowledge about the development of technology. For example, all three respondents mentioned that a ‘chat-room’ had been developed on the internal network to facilitate the spread of information and knowledge, but not one of them knew how to access or use it.

Two respondents said that the organisation do try to encourage skills development with training being linked to performance pay and other motivators, but there is no real ‘learning culture’ as defined in chapter 3. One respondent further added that there were few opportunities for self-learning in the organisation, and little support: There is no one in the organisation that can say, ‘I’ll help you. I’ll sit down with you for an hour’. There is a support team, but they tend to be more in product development than training”.

The key issue for the organisation, as argued by one respondent but also implied by the other two, is to understand the people in the organisation and the work culture before e-learning can be introduced. Also, if e-learning is to succeed, “someone will have to do a business case for e-learning, and he/she must have good reasons”. What the respondents seem to imply, is that there must be a thorough assessment done on the purpose and the benefits of e-learning, taking into account all the cultural barriers that are so obvious – particularly in terms of learner readiness. E-learning must also be seen not as a cost, but as an investment, by both managers and employees. “At the moment”, one respondent reveals, “the chief executive has a belief that we are doing too much training”.

Finally, one respondent argued that there need to be some people with knowledge about e-learning in the organisation, and also more proof on how it can be successful: “We are not going to be guinea pigs on this. Let some other organisations do the cutting edge on this stuff and we pick it up later”.

C. Technology

All respondents believed the internal network must be reliable if an e-learning solution is to work, and this was a lesson from the previous attempt of computer-based learning as one respondent recalls:

“It was frustrating because it didn’t work that well on our network. People would get into it with best intentions, actually saying I’m going to have a go at it, and find that network connection would drop out, or whatever, and that would frustrate them and they would split the dummy and not come back to it”.

Despite huge improvements this year in the development of the internal network, the respondents believed the organisation still had to tackle issues in regard to access, IT support, and bandwidth, if an e-learning solution would work. One respondent reported that slow computers were quite an issue, mainly due to the fact that computers have only been introduced broadly in the organisation for the last four years. Respondents also reported that many sites still use dial-up connections to the internal server, which not only affects the reliability of the network connection but limits the amount of bandwidth that could be used for e-learning solutions.

Another issue that was brought up by one of the respondent was that the organisation’s IT helpdesk is very small and not highly resourced – thus often unable to respond quickly when technical problems arise.

Thus, network reliability, access, and IT support need to be assessed before implementing an e-learning strategy. Not only would network problems lead to potential frustration, but it was also linked to willingness and motivation to use computers for learning by one of the respondents.

D. Content

All respondents believed that e-learning could be used for some training content, but definitely not all, or even the most, training in the organisation, and this is due to the particular skills that employees need – which often are hands-on, practical skills, as well as the reluctance in the workforce to use computers for training as previously has been discussed.

Thus, one respondent said it could be difficult to argue the benefits of e-learning strategies for these types of skills: “So, that’s why if I ever said to people that we want to look at what things we can learn via an e-learning strategy – they just laugh and say: ‘Chainsaw? 4-wheel drive? These are the sorts of things I am expected to learn’…”

Two respondents believed e-learning could be useful to the organisation for more advanced learning of computer applications, such as Excel and Word, but not for basic skills training: “I think it is a very viable tool for people who are going from wanting to learn from moderate to advance components”. It could also be used to facilitate self-learning for those employees in the organisation that want to learn more about various issues brought up in traditional training sessions. One respondent further argued that e-learning could be used for reinforcement of basic learning skills.

Thus, one readiness factor is what type of content the organisation wants its employees to learn. In the end, two respondents argued, it is all about making sure that the training is appropriate to the target audience and that the method chosen is a valid learning experience.

Finally, one respondent pointed out the importance of finding an e-learning vendor that could not only help the organisation to implement the e-learning product, but also help the organisation to understand what its barriers are in terms of learners, culture and technology.

E. Organisational and industry factors

Two respondents mentioned some readiness issues related to organisational and industry factors, such as financial capability requirements and the level of competition in the industry.

One respondent said that because the organisation was government-funded and active in an industry with no competition; has no real need for continuous change or improvement; and has no need to increase any share value like private organisations, there were little incentives to push the organisation toward the implementation of e-learning. Additionally, one respondent believed that there were very limited funds for training in the organisation compared to other organisations, which would be a limiting factor for the implementation of a long-term e-learning strategy.

It has been argued that e-learning is particularly beneficial to organisations that are in a pro-active, changing business environment where the need for quick access and delivery of knowledge is important for the future success of the organisation (Bates 1995; Brown 2001; Rosenberg 2001). For case organisation B, however, this is not a readiness factor that is facilitating a push toward the implementation of e-learning.

5.3.3. Summary

The three respondents identified several factors of e-learning readiness, particularly in regard to the individual learner. Table 6 below shows a summary of the main readiness factors that derived from the interviews:


Table 6: Readiness factors, case organisation B

 

Individual learners:

§         Learners need to be comfortable with using computers

§         Learners need to have some basic computer skills

§         Learners need to have adequate literacy and learning skills

§         Learner characteristics impact on willingness to learn via computers - such as age, and education

§         Type of work impacts on willingness to learn via computers

§         Learners need to see some benefits from e-learning

§         Learners need to be motivated self-learners

§         Learners need to see technology-based learning as viable alternative to traditional methods

§         Learners need to be autonomous learners and be able to manage time for own learning

Organisation’s culture:

§         The organisation must support learning efforts (including top management)

§         Learners must be given time and opportunities to learn

§         Management must understand and assess the organisation’s culture

§         A business case for e-learning must be done

§         Learning must be seen as a cost and not an investment.

§         There need to be more knowledge about e-learning in the organisation

§         There need to be good communications between managers and employees

Technology:

§         Learners need to have access to computers and network

§         The network must be reliable

§         Bandwidth issues must not be a problem

§         There need to be good support from IT team

Content:

§         Content must be suitable for e-learning and appropriately targeted

§         There need to be good relationships with e-learning vendor

Industry and organisational factors:

§         The organisation must be relatively financially stable

§         The organisation need to have pressures for continuous improvement and change

 

The interviews have shown that case organisation B needs to overcome much reluctance by employees to learn via computers if an e-learning solution can be successfully introduced. Learner readiness is clearly a priority to the organisation, although the respondents saw needs for improvements in technology and culture as well. Overall, respondents believed that it would probably be difficult to implement an organisation-wide e-learning strategy in the near future. The most likely application of e-learning will be as reinforcement of basic skills and as provider of more advanced knowledge for employees that embrace computer-based learning.

5.4. Case Organisation C

Case organisation C is one of Australia's leading banking and financial services groups, offering a full range of financial products and services in Australia and New Zealand and also has overseas representation predominantly in greater Asia. It has many thousands of employees in Australia and overseas.

5.4.1. Overview

Case organisation C differs from the two previous case organisations in that it has already implemented a company-wide e-learning solution. The system was launched a year ago and is defined as a web-based learning management and delivery system. It is used to view and enrol in all training options in the organisation - whether training is facilitator-led, delivered online or paper-based.

The organisation had many reasons for implementing its e-learning solution. One of the major reasons was to be more effective and cost-efficient in delivering training to the organisation’s vast number of geographically spread employees. The roll-out was also a part of a corporate decision to become “e-everything”, that is, using electronic means for all the organisation’s operations – including the provision of services and training.

Traditional training methods have not disappeared due to the new opportunities of online learning provided by the e-learning solution. In fact, one of the interviewees argued:
I think it’s a myth that a business case [for e-learning] based on trying to cut down facilitator-led training - unless they are doing inappropriate training - is flawed”.

All respondents argued that the e-learning solution has proven successful - in fact, it is already so tied into the organisation’s day-to-day operations that it cannot be revoked. Recent assessment surveys indicate that the e-learning solution has saved huge amounts of money for the organisation, has facilitated quicker and more effective delivery of learning, and is appreciated by a large number of employees.

Hence, interview data from case organisation C differs from previous case organisations in that respondents look to e-learning readiness from the ‘other side of the fence’. Instead of simply assuming where potential barriers of implementation may exist within the organisation, the respondents could look back at how e-learning readiness initially was assessed, and what turned out to be critical elements during the whole process that should have been - or did not have to be - e-learning readiness factors.

5.4.2. E-learning readiness factors

Three people were interviewed from case organisation C. The thematic matrix analysis reveals that their main focus was on issues in regard to the organisation’s culture, followed by the individual learner and content (table 7). These issues will now be discussed and analysed.

Table 7: Case Organisation C, Code Frequencies (per factor)

 

 

Respondent 1:   

Respondent 2:

Respondent 3:

All respondents:

Major factor:

Code freq (%):

Code freq (%):

Code freq (%):

Code freq (%):

Learner

7%

26%

23%

19%

Culture

39%

44%

41%

41%

Technology

9%

8%

13%

10%

Content

26%

18%

20%

21%

Industry/other

19%

4%

3%

9%

 

A. The individual learner

Contrary to previous case organisations and findings within the literature, the three respondents argued that learners’ readiness for e-learning is not a major assessment factor for the potential success of e-learning. In fact, one respondent said: “a lot of focus is on learner readiness… and I think too much”, and: “We chronically overestimated how difficult people would find this to be. We thought they would have a lot more problems than they did”.

What the respondents seemed to agree on, was that many of the issues in regard to learner readiness, such as motivation, willingness, basic computer skills, and so on, are important to consider, but should not be barriers to the development and implementation of an e-learning solution. Most of these issues can be dealt with in different ways as part of the whole e-learning strategy, particularly through good design, well-designed support systems, and communication and directions by corporate policy.

One interesting finding was that all respondents believed that one critical success factor is to actually ‘force’ employees to access the e-learning system. One respondent elaborated on this view:

“What you need to do is to ensure that you have a training course which everybody must do… don’t make it difficult or anything, but you just must have a course, or an assessment, or something, that people are forced to do, that is compulsory. There is no choice. You have to do it, you have to register, which gets them used to getting into it, and they realise that it is not all that difficult. And once you’ve got that, then you build on that.”

The organisation’s e-learning system is now the portal for all learning in the organisation, which means that all employees are forced to access the system to browse and sign up for training courses, whether they are compulsory or not. Employees still have a choice to undertake the courses online, or via traditional self-paced or facilitator-led methods, but the respondents argued that it is important to make all employees aware of the opportunities that e-learning presents and from there on build up willingness to use the system for online learning.

The three respondents all mentioned that the organisation had to deal with, and overcome, issues of learners not being comfortable with using computers, which they saw as the direct result of people not having basic computer skills. Some people would also prefer going to traditional facilitator-led classes, as: “you go to one of the facilitator-led courses as much to network with other people as you actually do to undertake the course”.

The respondents also agreed on that people must see the benefits of learning to become successful e-learners, but one respondent believed this is a developing process: “I think eventually people’s attitudes will change, they realise that they have to develop themselves – the market place has become so competitive as it is now that they realise that they can’t go through life without doing additional development work…”

In the end, the respondents argue that it is not so much the individual learner’s readiness that determines the success of e-learning, as do the support system and the culture behind it helping and requiring them to go online. The respondents believed most people can get over ‘computer-phobia’ quite easily: “Everyone tells you the most important things is to hold the hand of the learner through their first experience. It’s crap! Most of them raced of and did it themselves, and many of those had never used the web before.”

B. The organisation’s culture

Most of the interviews with the three respondents were concerned with issues of readiness in terms of the organisation’s culture. The respondents believed that much of the success of its organisation’s e-learning solution can be explained by cultural factors, such as employee support, communication, opportunities given to learn, having the right people on the project, having the right processes, and having the e-learning project linked to broader organisational goals and strategies. These are now discussed in more detail.

It was argued in the previous section that issues in regard to learner readiness were important to assess, but could mostly be dealt with by providing good support systems and opportunities to learn and benefit. As part of the e-learning solution, the organisation launched a ‘PC-at-home’ initiative at the same time, which was a learning initiative that enabled employees to purchase computer equipment – including Internet access – for a heavily subsidised price: “The whole idea was to get the whole staff PC-literate, so part of getting them PC’s was trying getting them used to be around a PC”. In other words, the whole idea was to change the culture and try to get the staff used to technology in their own homes, where no one would be forcing them to learn basic skills but where they could do it in their own time.

By providing computers to employees at home, the organisation also made the e-learning system ‘24/7’ (Hefzellah 1999) in that employees were given opportunity to undertake their training whenever they wanted as the e-learning system is accessed via the Internet. Additionally, in conjunction with the ‘PC-at-home’ rollout, the organisation also provided facilitator-led web-training to get people comfortable with using the Internet.

Giving employees resources to access learning would not accomplish much if employees were not required to do some compulsory training, as was briefly discussed in the previous section. Therefore, most employees had to access the e-learning system as part of compliance training, and one respondent argued that getting people to register and have a look around what the e-learning system could offer “is actually the secret of getting them, so then you’ve got to maintain that interest”.

The three respondents also mentioned communication as an important readiness factor that needs to be addressed, and recommended developing a communication strategy for the e-learning project. By promoting the benefits of the e-learning system to all managers and employees, releasing numbers of courses offered and undertaken, and building up the brand name, people begin to understands that the system is something unavoidable and that they risk being left out if they do not access and use it.

An e-learning strategy should also include top management support and alignment to the organisation’s broader goals and strategies, according to the three respondents. They argued that one of the reasons to the success of the organisation’s e-learning system, was that top management adopted a policy to become “e-everything”, saying that basically this is the future, and the organisation has to go down that way to become more viable and profitable. An e-learning system was therefore something that employees could closely relate to the broader goals of the organisation, and “become less frightened and concerned about”.

Another factor that two of the respondents clearly pointed out as being an important determinant of e-learning readiness, was to involve the right people in the process. One respondent said that: “another key success factor in our success, where other organisation tend to make mistakes, is to have the wrong people aboard”, and the solution proposed was to: “Don’t just get technical people, don’t just get learning people. Get people with a strong mix of both. And it’s hard to find people with both a technical and HR training background, but get them because you need them”. It was also considered important to recruit support within the organisation: “Make sure you get close to key decision makers in the organisation, and get them onboard with it, because you are going to need their support when things don’t get well – and things happen all the time”.

It was also considered important by two of the respondents to have someone onboard that had previous experiences of e-learning and e-learning implementation, who also had developed relationships with e-learning vendors that could be utilised.

C. Technology

All respondents recognised the importance of having a technology infrastructure that could efficiently host the content, and this was seen as a big issue in terms of assessing e-learning readiness. Bandwidth restrictions and easy access were the two readiness factors most often mentioned in the interviews, but also the need to have conformity in systems, for example in web-browsers and operating systems.

Bandwidth limitations was considered a major issue, particularly as the e-learning solution was externally hosted over the Internet and thus created limitation of data transfer from employees that would access training from computers at home that were equipped with 28k modems. However, the internal network also had limitations, particularly for employees in remote areas that also were connected through telephone lines. The solution to these problems was to create an e-learning solution that did not take up vast network resources - in other words, not hugely interactive or very graphical.

Easy access to the learning portal was an important issue, and partly solved by providing computers to employees through the ‘PC-at-home’ initiative. Part of the reason for implementing the e-learning solution was to enable equity of access to training for all employees, and one respondent mentioned that this was the first thing that was argued for in the business plan that was proposed for e-learning– even before issues such as cost.

Conformity of systems was by two respondents considered a major issue of readiness, but one of them argued that this had fortunately been realised a few years ago and although the organisation were still in the process of making everyone use the same platform, it did not hugely affect the implementation of the e-learning system.

Finally, one respondent argued that it is important to have a close relationship with the IT department, “to make sure that they work with you and not against you”. The respondent further said that: “if they want to be funny, they can tweak a firewall or something like that, and not tell you, and all the sudden you are unavailable!”

D. Content:

In terms of content readiness for e-learning, all respondents stressed the importance of good instructional design to capture the learner’s interest and interactivity. Although it has been argued in previous chapters that the aim of this study is to look at readiness factors before the development and implementation stages of an e-learning solution, it is worth noting here that all three respondents believed that a simple, user-friendly, flexible, intuitive, and conducive e-learning design can make a huge impact on the overall success of an e-learning solution. This does not mean that the content need to be rich in graphics and multimedia, as illustrated by one respondent:

“It’s almost like you’ve got to create a ‘Cold feet’ rather than ‘Startrek’[2]. Anyone who is a fan of ‘Cold feet’ knows that it is about characters: great acting, great story line and you get sucked in through the story and script, very clever, very entertaining, very funny, versus ‘Startrek’ that is all about special effects. It is the same with e-learning. There are many ways you can go through, and that doesn’t necessarily include high fidelity and multimedia.”

It has previously been argued that e-learning can accommodate for different learning styles (Salmon 2000, Rosenberg 2001), and one respondent verified that this could be done by “good instructional design, and often simple is good, but it has to be engaging”.

Finally, two respondents mentioned the importance of deciding who will create, develop, and host the content. For this organisation, an external vendor was chosen, and one of the reasons was to ensure accountability for the support of the system. One respondent believed internal politics could have created: “a nightmare for all involved if the IT department had been given the task – not that it probably could not have done it, but no one would be financially and ethically accountable for the product”.

E. Organisational and industry factors

The three respondents believed e-learning is particularly effective when there is a requirement to meet some training standard, and mentioned the organisation’s high compliance requirement where it had to comply to certain regulation as an example of this.

One respondent believed the type and structure of an organisation could be either a facilitating or restraining factor for the success of e-learning, and mentioned manufacturing organisations as an example, where people are tied to assembly lines and do not have direct access to training via an online environment. For these organisations it would arguably be more difficult to implement and be successful with an e-learning solution targeted to all employees.

Two of the respondents proposed that e-learning is most suitable to large organisations, particularly if they are in a high risk, high compliance business industry and have a geographically diverse workforce. One of the respondents defended that belief by pointing to the high cost of implementing e-learning, arguing that: “it costs to build a quality product”, and: “you need to get volumes before starting getting value out of it”. The other respondent agreed on that in a large organisation the cost benefits are greater, but believed that smaller organisations also could have cost benefits and should not not consider e-learning, as “it really depends on what type of training you use”.

5.4.3. Summary

The three respondents identified several factors of e-learning readiness, particularly in regard to the organisation’s culture. Table 8 below shows a summary of the main readiness factors that derived from the interviews:


Table 8: Readiness factors, case organisation C

 

Individual learners:

§         Learners need to be comfortable with using computers

§         Learners need to have some basic computer skills

§         Learners need to see some benefits from e-learning

§         Learners need to see technology-based learning as viable alternative to traditional methods

§         Learners need to do some compulsory training online

Organisation’s culture:

§         The organisation must support learning efforts (including top management)

§         Learners must be given time and opportunities to learn

§         A business case for e-learning must be done

§         There need to be previous knowledge about e-learning in the organisation

§         There need to be good communications in the organisation

§         E-learning should be aligned to broader organisational goals and strategies

§         The right people, having the right skills, need to be involved in the process

Technology:

§         Learners need to have access to computers and network

§         The network must be reliable

§         Bandwidth issues must not be a problem

§         There need to be good relationships with IT department

§         There need to be conformity in systems

Content:

§         Content must be user-friendly, interesting, and well-designed

§         There need to be good relationships with e-learning vendor

Industry and organisational factors:

§         E-learning is particularly suitable when there are legal requirements

§         The organisation should be large and have a geographically diverse workforce

§         The type and structure of an organisation can facilitate or restrain the success of an e-learning solution

§         The organisation should be in a high risk, high compliance business industry

§         The organisation need to be financially stable

 

Case organisation C has proved that e-learning can be successful, but only if processes are well designed and carried out, and readiness issues are accounted for and dealt with. The respondents argued that much of the success for their organisation lies in the transformation of the organisation’s culture, which included helping employees see the benefits of the e-learning system, providing support and resources to make them more comfortable with using the technology, and ensuring that technology and design facilitated the applicability of the system.

5.5. Questionnaire Data Analysis

This section discusses the major findings from the web-based questionnaire used as an instrument in the multiple-case study. A link to the questionnaire was distributed to a sample of employees in two of the three organisations (case organisations A and B), as discussed in section 4.4.2. The questionnaire aimed at exploring employees’ attitudes toward e-learning and e-learning readiness factors that had been identified from within the literature. Refer to Appendix I for a more detailed summary of the statistical data obtained.

5.5.1. Section 1: Respondent characteristics

Section one of the questionnaire was concerned with the characteristics and backgrounds of respondents. Out of the 61 questionnaires returned (27 from case organisation A and 34 from case organisation B), 57.4% of respondents were males and 42.6% were females. 44% of the respondents were between 25-34 years old (44.3%), and 78.9% were between 25 and 44 years old. None of the respondents were under 18 years or over 55 years, and the average age of the respondents was 36 years. Over 60% of the respondents had a Bachelor’s degree or higher, with the rest having at best completed Year 12 or obtained diplomas of various kinds. Close to half of the respondents held some form of managerial position within their organisation (45.9%), while the other half were either full-time or part-time salaried employees (47.5%), or paid on hourly basis (6.6%). There was some variety in how long the respondents had worked for the organisation, and the data shows a rather even spread in responses from 1 years of working for the organisation up to 15 years and more.

5.5.2. Section 2: Current and previous experiences of e-learning

Section 2 asked questions about respondents’ current and previous experiences of e-learning or other computer-based learning. 44.3 percent responded that they had or currently are participating in a computer-based training course, while the remaining respondents had not or were not sure. Previous participation in computer-based training may influence attitudes and opinions to e-learning, although there is no empirical research that supports this statement. It is also possible that managers would have had more opportunities to participate in computer-based training during their career, which might further bias respondents’ attitudes and opinions. However, cross-tabulation statistics showed no such link, revealing that slightly more ‘traditional’ employees had had experience of computer-based training (44.8%) than persons in managerial roles (42.9%).

5.5.3. Section 3-4: E-learning and factors of e-learning readiness

Section three was the main section in the questionnaire, asking a variety of questions about e-learning and factors of e-learning readiness. The first part asked questions about the respondent’s degree of agreement to various issues regarding the current and future potential use of e-learning. Figure 3 shows an overview of the questions and their respective mean responses, ranked in order from the statement that received the highest on-average agreement, to the statement that received the lowest.

The findings show that respondents agreed in general on that e-learning is a method of delivering training that is likely to increase in the future, and that there can be various benefits for organisations in introducing e-learning solutions. However, they clearly disagreed to that e-learning would eventually replace other training methods, believing it to be just another training strategy that could be used in combination with other training and learning methods.


Figure 3: Current and future use of e-learning

Neutral

 

Agree

 

Disagree

 

Strongly

Agree

 

Strongly

Disagree

 


The second part of section three asked respondents about e-learning readiness factors in regard to the individual learner. It should be noted that some of the questions in this section were coded into other readiness categories for the interviews, such as the organisation’s culture and technology. The reason for this is that the codebook was developed and modified throughout the interviews, whereas the questionnaire was developed and distributed at an earlier stage when the thematic analysis and final categorising of readiness factors had yet to be done.

The means of the responses are summarised and ranked in order of agreement in figure 4 below. In general, respondents agreed on most of the issues that had been identified in the literature as e-learning readiness factors related to the learner, in particular that learners must be willing to learn via computers, be motivated to learn, and possess some basic computer skills.

Some questions in this section discussed readiness factors that were later categorised as issues in regard to the organisation’s culture and technology, including a strong agreement on that learners must have easy access to a computer if e-learning is to be successful, and easy access to technical support.

The findings show that most respondents in case organisation A and B seem to agree on that there are several factors of learner readiness that should be assessed for successful e-learning. Respondents from case organisation B (natural resources) seem to agree slightly more to the factors explored than do the respondents from case organisation A. However, independent groups t-tests for each of these factors show no significant difference, (p<.05), except for the factors professing easy access to support, t(59) = 2.17, p<.05 and strong self-motivation, t(59) = 2.23, p<.05.


Figure 4: readiness factors relating to the individual learner

 

Agree

 

Neutral

 

Disagree

 

Strongly

Disagree

 

Strongly

Agree

 
 

 


The third part of section three contained questions in regard to organisational, technological and cultural readiness factors. Figure 5 below shows a summary of the findings from this section.

In general, respondents in both case organisation A and B agreed, if not strongly agreed, to most of the readiness issues questioned about, and there were no huge differences in opinions between the two organisations. The factor that received the highest average score related to the speed and reliability of the network connection, which respondents considered an important determinant of e-learning readiness. It was also considered imperative that the e-learning content must be relevant and up-to-date, as well as appealing to the user. Most of the other factors related to the organisation’s culture in terms of support, communication, and attitudes, and they all received high average scores. The overall agreement to the factors explored in this section verifies findings from the literature about the importance of content, culture and technology for e-learning readiness.

Finally, the last part of section three asked respondents about their opinions as to the relative importance of the five main factors of readiness that has been explored: the individual learner, the organisation’s culture, technology, content, and organisational and industry characteristics. Respondents were asked to mark on a Likert type scale from 1 to 10 for each of these factors, with 1 indicating a factor having little importance for the assessment of e-learning readiness, and 10 indicating a factor being of much importance. The results are shown in figure 6.


Figure 5: Organisational, technological and cultural readiness factors

 

Strongly

Disagree

 

Strongly

Agree

 

Agree

 

Neutral

 

Disagree

 


Figure 6: E-learning readiness main factors

 

Little importance

 
Much importanc

Establishing theoretical framework and

identifyi

g res

arch objectives

e

 

 

 

Respondents seemed to consider issues in regard to the content, individual learner, and technology being the most important factors of e-learning readiness, closely followed by issues in regard to the organisation’s culture and organisational and industry characteristics.

Because these five factors cover a broad array of issues that were not included in detail in the questionnaire, respondents might have varied considerably in their understanding of what each of the factors means and what specific issues they include. Thus, the averages are difficult to interpret or commented upon, but they do indicate that no factor ‘stands out’ compared to the others, and thus it could be argued that respondents see them all as important factors that should be part of an organisation’s e-learning readiness assessment.

The last three questions in the questionnaire asked whether respondents believed some e-learning solution would be introduced in their organisation within the next few years; whether they believed that an e-learning solution could be a successful complement to traditional training methods in their organisation; and whether they would support a initiative to introduce e-learning as a complement to traditional training methods. 91.8 percent of respondents believed e-learning would be introduced in the near future – only two respondents (3.3%) did not believe so and three respondents (4.9%) were not sure. All respondents believed that e-learning could be a successful complement to traditional training methods, and 96.7% of them would support an initiative to introduce e-learning as such a complement.

These results show that employees do have a belief that e-learning is something that organisations are likely to introduce in the near future – if they have not already done that - and most respondents would support such as initiative. However, several respondents took the opportunity given by the open-ended questions to comment on how and why e-learning could be successful, recognising that it is a training strategy that needs assessment of various readiness factors if it is to be successful.

5.6. Between-Case Analysis

The interview and questionnaire data from the three case organisations have revealed that there are several issues that organisations should consider before embarking on an e-learning project. This section discusses the various attitudes and approaches to e-learning readiness that have been identified from the interview and questionnaire data and reflects on why these may differ between the organisations.

The analysis has shown that managers and employees have different opinions to what readiness factor are of most importance, and how they should be assessed and dealt with for e-learning to be successful. In general, however, interviewees and questionnaire respondents have verified findings from the literature, acknowledging the importance of all five main factors of e-learning readiness. However, differences have been found in what the respondents consider being more or less important e-learning readiness factors, and some of these are discussed in the next sections.

5.6.1. The individual learner

The within-case analysis revealed that interviewees in case organisations A and B seemed cautious, maybe even hesitant, to whether e-learning would be successful in their respective organisations. On the other hand, findings from the questionnaire data indicates that employees believe e-learning could be beneficial and stated that they would support its introduction. Still, several factors of readiness in regard to the individual learners were considered being critical for the success of e-learning, such as learners being comfortable with and willing to use computers, and having basic computer skills. This is in accordance with findings in the literature that suggests that skills should be identified and taught before e-learning is introduced (Black 1998; Bernard et. al. 2000). Respondents in case organisation C also agreed that these factors are important, but that they can be taught in advance. They further believed that people would be more willing and comfortable with the use of computers if they were required to access the e-learning system.

However, Urdan and Weggen (2000) argued that there will always be people that may never be comfortable or willing to use computers for learning, and this might be a bigger obstacle to overcome for case organisations A and B than it was for case organisation C - due to the particular nature of the workforce and the types of jobs that exist in these two organisations. It is also possible that case organisation C – being a large organisation in the financial sector - has an advantage in that employees are more receptive to technology due to that jobs in the organisation may necessitate some use of computers, and people would understand that they therefore must have some basic computer skills. On the other hand, employees in case organisation A and B may have more ‘hands-on’ types of jobs, and thus do not see benefits with using computers. A large percentage of organisation A’s workforce are also volunteers, making it harder to provide e-learning in terms of time and access.

5.6.2. The organisation’s culture

All three organisations verified findings in the literature that it is important that good support structures and communication patterns exist in the organisation if e-learning is to be successful (Neef 1997; Bernard et.al. 2000; Rosenberg 2001). Case organisation C, in particular, argued that the organisation’s culture is one critical element of e-learning success, and that a well-planned e-learning strategy is a key source to ensure that success. Questionnaire respondents also saw the organisation’s culture being an important readiness factor.

One reason for case organisation C’s success with e-learning – according to the respondents – was having the right people aboard and linking the e-learning strategy to broader organisational goals. The literature only talks briefly about having people with a good ‘mix’ of technical and pedagogical skills involved (Salmon 2000; Rosenberg, 2001), but rather more about having top management support and linking e-learning to broader goals and strategies (De Long 1997; Neef 1997; Koprowski 2000; Hall 2001:1; Rosenberg 2001). It is also plausible that because case organisation C had gone out with a policy of becoming “e-everything”, employees realised that they had to follow that path if they were to remain in the organisation. Additionally, providing employees with cheap computers at home was one strategy utilised that aimed at making people more comfortable and used to computers.

5.6.3. Technology

Having a fast and reliable network was something that all respondents saw as an important readiness factor, verifying findings from the literature that employees must have easy and fast access to the network if e-learning is to be successfully implemented (Bates 1995; Bernard et. al. 2000). Bandwidth issues were also reported by all respondents to be a critical success factor, as restrictions in the transfer of data could hamper e-learning operations and thus frustrate learners (Gilbert 1998; Swanson 2001). However, interviewees in case organisation C argued that it is possible to create good e-learning solutions for low bandwidth networks, and that it was more important to ensure compatibility and reliability of systems. Case organisations A and B seem to have less developed networks than case organisation C, which may be a reason to why issues in regard to technology were seen as a more critical readiness factor to both interviewees and questionnaire respondents for these two organisations.

5.6.4. Content

Content was considered by questionnaire respondents to be an important factor, receiving the highest average score for the question concerning the relative importance of the five main factors of e-learning readiness. They also highly agreed on that the content must be up-to-date, relevant, appealing and user-friendly (cf. Salmon 2000). As earlier pointed out, interview respondents in case organisation A and B believed e-learning could be useful for some learning in their organisations, but not all, due to the amount of ‘hands-on’ type of skills that people need to learn that may be difficult to teach via a computer (Inglis 1999; Farrell 2000). Additionally, respondents in particularly case organisation C believed that the design of the e-learning content is important for attracting and keeping learners using the system. It has previously been argued that issues about design is past the scope of this study, but it is worth noting here that respondents in all organisation believed this to be an important factor for successful e-learning.

5.6.5. Organisational and industry factors

Finally, most interviewees agreed that certain organisational and industry factors could have an impact on the overall success of the introduction of an e-learning solution. From the literature it has been argued that e-learning is particularly suited to large organisation with a geographically disperse workforce (Bastiaens and Martens 2000; Rosenberg 2001), not only due to the flexible nature of e-learning which allows access anywhere, anytime (Hefzellah 1999; Oliver 1999; Swanson, 2000; Rosenberg 2001), but also because it can be costly to implement in the short-term perspective (Inglis 1999; Peoples 1999), and thus requires a relatively financially stable organisation that can budget for large short-term expenditures. Because case organisation A and B are mainly funded by the government, interviewees in these organisations saw a barrier to the introduction of e-learning due to costs, whereas case organisation C may have had better opportunities to get funding.

Respondents in case organisation C strongly believed that e-learning is most suitable for large organisations that are in a high risk, high compliance industry. Because case organisation A and B are not in an industry that requires constant change and delivery of speed and knowledge, it might therefore be more difficult for them to justify a large-scale implementation of e-learning. However, respondents in all three organisations also believed e-learning would be suitable when there is some legislative requirements for training, which thus may be a facilitating factor for case organisation A, as it was for case organisation C. This is an e-learning readiness factor that has not been widely discussed in the literature.

5.6.6. Summary

In the end, findings from the three case organisations indicate that every organisation has its own sets of readiness factors to assess due to various contingencies that organisations are facing. This between-case analysis has highlighted some reasons to why organisations need to determine their e-learning readiness independently, but again, most of the findings from the case study support findings from the literature about what organisational and individual issues could be important to consider before an e-learning solution is introduced.

Some ‘new’ factors have been identified, such as what impact a need to meet legislative requirements have on e-learning readiness; how various job and workforce characteristics can be barriers to successful implementation; learners having basic language literacy skills; the importance of compatible computer systems (such as browsers and operating systems); and the importance of having the right people involved in the process. The study has also shown that requiring learners to go online and supporting them in various ways may successfully deal with some learner readiness factors.

5.7. A Model of E-learning Readiness

From the findings within the e-learning literature and the multiple case study, a general model of e-learning readiness can be developed (figure 7). The model contains the major factors of readiness that have been identified in this study, and aims to provide managers and persons in the field of training and development with a useful tool in the assessment of their respective organisation’s readiness for e-learning.

It has been argued that this model should not be seen as a ‘blue-print’ of readiness assessment for every organisation, but that it gives an overview of what issues some organisations might need to specifically look at to enhance the potential success of an e-learning solution. The model is not only useful for an organisation’s initial assessment on whether e-learning could work as a training solution, but it can also provide useful information throughout the whole e-learning process.


Figure 7: A Model of E-learning Readiness:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The model shows that e-learning readiness is determined by five major factors – all of which have been discussed in this study. The organisation’s culture, the individual learners, and technology form the core of an organisation’s e-learning assessment, but various content and organisational and industry factors strengthen the justification for using e-learning as a training solution. What organisations might need to specifically assess or consider within each of these factors are summarised in table 9 below. These are the factors that have been identified from the literature and the multiple case study research.


Table 9: A Summary of E-learning Readiness Factors

 

The Individual Learners:

§         Learners can take responsibility and manage time for own learning (L,R)

§         Learners are motivated and willing to use computers for learning (L,R)

§         Learners see e-learning as a viable alternative to traditional methods (L,R)

§         Learners have basic computer skills (L,R)

§         Learners see the needs and personal benefits with learning (L,R)

§         Learners are comfortable with computers (L,R)

§         Learners have basic literacy and learning skills (R)

§         Learners are willing to collaborate and share information and knowledge (L)

§         Learner characteristics (age, education, type of employment) (R)

The Organisation’s Culture:

§         Learning is supported and encouraged (L,R)

§         Time and opportunities are given to learn (L,R)

§         Learning is accepted and communicated at all levels (L,R)

§         Training/learning is seen as an investment, not as a cost (L,R)

§         The right people are involved (R)

§         Some people have previous knowledge about e-learning (R)

§         Learners are required to do some e-learning (R)

§         E-learning logistics, processes and strategy is clearly planned and followed (L,R)

§         E-learning is aligned to broader organisational goals and strategy (L,R)

§         Learning management systems exist to support learners (L,R)

Technology:

§         Learners have easy access to a computer and the network where the e-learning content is hosted (L,R)

§         Bandwidth issues do not hamper the e-learning effort or limit its capacity (L,R)

§         An internal network exists and is reliable (L,R)

§         IT department (support and development) are well resourced and used (L,R)

§         Network systems and components are compatible (R)

§         Communication with the IT department is strong (L,R)

Content:

§         Content is suitable for e-learning (L,R)

§         Content is made user-friendly (L,R)

§         Content is easy to create and put over the network (L,R)

§         Content is easy to update and modify (L,R)

§         Content is made interacting and/or rewarding (L,R)

§         Content is designed to accommodate for different learning styles (L,R)

§         Content is appropriately targeted to learners (L,R)

§         Relationship with vendor is good (L,R)

Organisational and industry factors:

§         The organisation has a large, geographically spread workforce (L,R)

§         The organisation needs quick delivery and access to knowledge and information (L,R)

§         The competition level in the industry is high (L,R)

§         The organisation is in a high risk, high compliance market (R)

§         The organisation is financially stable (L,R)

§         Training legislation requirements exist (R)

L = E-learning readiness factor identified from the literature

R = E-learning readiness factor identified from the research

 

It was argued in previous chapters that it is important to take a contingency approach to e-learning readiness, recognising that organisations face different contingencies, and thus will have different ways of assessing their e-learning readiness. The multiple case study has also shown that organisations may need to focus more on some factors than on others. However, the proposed model should be a useful tool to managers and persons in the field of training and development in that it highlights areas where problems may occur if e-learning is not properly introduced. The model does not guarantee success– it simply aims to provide organisations assistance in the transition from more traditional training methods to e-learning. Whether an e-learning solution succeeds in the end depends on many other factors in the whole e-learning process, such as design and implementation, but the model can provide a good starting-point for that process.


 

 CHAPTER 6: CONCLUSIONS

6.1. Objectives of this Chapter

The objective of this chapter is to present the final conclusions from the study. The chapter commences with a discussion of the practical and theoretical implications of the findings. Methodological and conceptual limitations of the study will then be outlined. This is followed by recommendations for future research and an overall conclusion of the study.

6.2. Practical Implications of the Findings

There are several practical implications of the findings of this study. Firstly it provides information about a relatively new topic area: e-learning - discussing what it means, and what advantages e-learning solutions can bring organisations and individual learners. This adds to the limited information available in current literature, thus providing managers and persons in the field of training and development with some increased knowledge about issues surrounding e-learning and e-learning readiness.

Secondly, the study has identified that e-learning is different from more traditional methods of training in that various organisational and industry factors may affect the overall success of an e-learning solution. It has been argued that several issues in regard to the individual learners, the organisation’s culture, technology, content, and other organisational and industry factors, should be assessed before an organisation designs and implements an e-learning solution. To use a more general term, it has been argued that it is important for organisations to understand the context in which e-learning solution is to be delivered. Sheinberg (2001) writes that: “context may be the most important element that can help determine the success of an e-learning initiative”, arguing that an in-depth analysis of the context should be the departure point of every e-learning design effort.

This study has proposed a model of e-learning readiness that can be used by organisations in their readiness assessment which aims at understanding the context in which e-learning will be delivered. Although organisations face different contingencies and vary considerably in their experiences of, and attitudes to, e-learning (and learning in general), the study has practical implications in that it provides organisations with a useful summary of issues that may need extra attention before they decide to introduce e-learning solutions. Findings from the multiple case study have not only shed some light to the problems and opportunities that e-learning can bring, but have also verified the contingent aspect of the topic area and the need not to generalise findings but rather realise that each organisation will have to find its own way to ensure that an e-learning introduction becomes successful.

In the end, successful learning implementation is about careful analysis and advance planning. Determining e-learning readiness does not ensure e-learning success. It is but one part of an overall complex process that starts from realising a need through stages of readiness assessment, design, implementation and evaluation (Rosenberg 2001).

6.3. Theoretical Implications of the Findings

Various writers in this topic area have realised the need for organisations to assess their readiness for e-learning if its introduction is to be successful (Oliver 1999; Chapnick 2000; Anderson 2000; Bernard et. al. 2000; Golladay et. al. 2000; Salmon 2000; Urdan and Weggen 2000; Hall 2001:1; Hall 2001:2; Rosenberg 2001), and some of them have tried to summarise the major issues of e-learning readiness that needs to be assessed (Chapnick 2000; Golladay et. al. 2000; Redmon and Salpek 2000; Hall 2001:2; Rosenberg 2001).

None of them, however, have provided a model that not only is simple to understand and useful as a tool in an organisation’s e-learning readiness assessment, but is also comprehensive in that it summarises a wide range of issues in regard to organisational and individual factors that have been identified both through the literature and empirical research. Therefore, the findings from this study should be a valuable contribution to the e-learning literature, as the study proposes precisely such a model of e-learning readiness.

The in-depth analysis of the three case organisations also revealed issues of readiness that have not been widely discussed in the e-learning literature – thus being another contribution to the literature. Some of these issues include what impact a need to meet legislative requirements have on an e-learning solution; how the type of workforce complicates issues of access and willingness to learn (for example, volunteers); how the type of job can be a major barrier to e-learning; and how learner readiness problems can be minimised by requiring them to do some e-learning and providing support mechanisms so that they can become more comfortable, willing, and skilled in using computers.

6.4. Limitations of Research

Several methodological and conceptual limitations have been identified with this study, and will be discussed below:

·        The first limitation regards the sample size of case organisations. Three organisations participated in the study, and it would have been preferable with more participating organisations from different industries and with different organisational characteristics, in order to get a wide range of attitudes to e-learning and how e-learning readiness can be determined. The sample size was limited due to time constraints and self-selection by respondents within these organisations.

·        A similar limitation applies to the choice of sample method and sample size of interviewees within the participating organisations. More interviews with people in various positions would have resulted in a more holistic view of the topic area, but again, time constraints and self-selection were the two limiting reasons to this.

·        Another limitation is that the questionnaire could not be distributed to case organisation C. Because this organisation seems to have quite different characteristics than the other participating organisations, it would have been valuable for the between-case analysis to see whether attitudes toward e-learning would have been different. Additionally, it would have been preferable to use random sampling, rather than distributing the questionnaire via e-mail lists, to ensure better representation of the workforce. It has previously been noted that almost half of the respondents to the e-mail invitation had some managerial position, which may have biased the findings. However, it was not practically possible for this study to get random samples of the two organisations’ employees, and e-mail lists were considered the next best option available.

·        One overall limitation of choosing a qualitative, exploratory research design for this study, is that findings may not be generalised to a larger population of organisations. However, the aim has not been to generalise, but to explore some factors of readiness that organisations may want to assess.

·        Finally, as e-learning is a relatively new and under-explored concept, it is possible that the design of interview and survey questions may not have included all the relevant issues and concepts. For example, findings from the interviews revealed that one factor of e-learning readiness is whether an organisation has a need to meet some legislative training requirements, which might be a barrier to the introduction of e-learning. As the questionnaire was distributed before the interviews, this factor was not included and could thus not be assessed within that part of the analysis. Additionally, people may have different understanding of what the various factors of readiness involved. For example, “The organisation must support learning” could be understood as a need for support in practical terms (giving opportunities to learn, providing PC’s at home, having a support call centre) or a need for support in a more encouraging sense (communicating the need for learning, tie learning outcomes with payment or other benefits).

6.5. Recommendations for Future Research

This study has identified a need for organisations to assess various organisational and individual factors of e-learning readiness, before introducing an e-learning solution, if it is to be successful. However, the study has focused on the readiness assessment part and not on all stages of an e-learning project, including design, implementation, and evaluation. Several writers argue that e-learning is a process that needs careful planning and actions throughout several stages if it is to be successful in the end (Oliver 1999; Anderson 2000; Berge et. al. 2000; Golladay et. al. 2000; Salmon 2000; Urdan and Weggen 2000; Frankola 2001; Hall 2001:1; Rosenberg 2001). Therefore, further exploratory research could provide a better understanding of success factors throughout the whole e-learning process, and the links between the various stages of that process.

By adopting a more quantitative design to evaluating how organisations can determine their readiness for e-learning, future research may be able to come up with a model of readiness that could be more specific and generalisable than the model presented in this study. It may be possible to find some factors of readiness that all organisations should assess, thereby laying the ground for a more sophisticated and valid theory of e-learning readiness. This however, would need the participation of many more organisations, within different industries, and a much stronger research design (in terms of sampling procedures and analysis) than has been used for this study.

6.6. Concluding Remarks

This study has argued that due to various developments in society and technology, there may be a need for organisations to look at new approaches to workforce training that better facilitate quick and effective learning and knowledge creation and delivery. An e-learning solution can provide such an alternative approach to more traditional methods of training, and it has been shown to have particular advantages for larger organisations with geographically spread employees, and who are in a high risk, high compliance and competitive industry.

As early as in 1987, Knowles (1987) wrote that it was his belief that by the end of the 20th century, most educational services would be delivered electronically to learners at their convenience in terms of time, place and pace. Although this has shown not to be the case, there is evidence that more and more learning is delivered via electronic means – especially within the corporate sector (Gotschall 2000:1; Gotschall 2000:2). Various e-learning success stories begin to make their way through appearances in daily newspapers to learning magazines and journals, and it is clear that e-learning is not just a ‘fad’ but an approach to training and learning that could have huge effects on organisations’ effectiveness and competitiveness. According to a recent independent report from Nucleaus Research (2001), e-learning delivered a 2284 percent return on investment for IBM – a figure that exemplifies its potential success.

However, it has been argued that e-learning is not a training strategy that can be introduced without careful planning and assessment of various organisational and individual ‘readiness factors’ relating to the organisation’s culture, the individual learners, technology, content and other organisational and industry areas. Therefore, it is imperative that managers and persons in the field of training and development understand in early stages what could ‘make or break’ an e-learning solution, and take steps to ensure that the e-learning experience becomes as smooth and successful as possible.

This study has aimed to explore how organisations can determine their readiness for e-learning, and a model of e-learning readiness has been proposed that includes these various ‘readiness factors‘ and can be a helpful tool to persons that are planning to introduce an e-learning solution in an organisation. The model identifies issues that could be potential barriers to successful e-learning, thus requiring to be dealt with or considered before and during the e-learning implementation stage. The model itself is not a formula for success, but a valuable ingredient to the e-learning success mix.

 

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[1] For more information about the ADDIE model and instructional design, go to: http://edweb.macarthur.uws.edu.au/foe/Subjects/Postgraduate/mmidsite/page2ADD.htm

[2] “Cold Feet” is a British television drama series about three couples, and “Startrek”  is a science-fiction drama series.