A basic building block of a successful and sustainable eLearning program is a solid strategy. Most organizations say they have one, but when you look under the hood there is often a lot of weakness. Here are ten top mistakes people often make when building their eLearning strategy.

No vision

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” This Alice in Wonderland quote epitomizes the problem of not connecting to a vision – a consensus view of where – and what – you want to be. Start correcting this by asking, “What will people say about us two or three years down the road?” “What would we want them to say?”

Equating technology with strategy

Technology is essential, but if your strategy is to get a LMS, build a mobile learning network, or add a social media tool, your very next question should be, “For what purpose?” Technology is not strategy; it is only an important enabler. If you can’t clearly articulate the value proposition for the technology – in business and learning terms – you don’t have a strategy. Try asking, “How does technology advance the mission and vision of our organization, and what evidence will we accept that it’s working?” Those are strategic questions.

Confusing strategy with tactics

Ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu is noted for pointing out that, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory, but tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Make strategic and tactical (or operational) decisions; both are essential – but you can’t confuse them. Organizations that have strategy without tactics often look good but make little progress. Organizations with tactics and no strategy are likely progressing – chaotically – in too many directions.

Looking at development and delivery rather than the bigger business picture

Focusing too much on the internal workings of the eLearning organization can blind you to bigger challenges and opportunities, and can make you vulnerable to “non-essentialness.” ELearning organizations (and general training organizations as well) that focus too much on the wonderfulness of their technology, facilities, course catalog, processes, etc., are sometimes clueless when their budgets are cut or their support dries up. If you can’t assuredly answer your clients’ primary question, “What have you done for me lately?” you are in trouble.

Focusing on creating a traditional training offer online

Just shoveling your classroom courses online, without considering the changes in pedagogy and instructional design that eLearning offers, will reduce the efficacy of your results. There’s a lot of junk out there, and it may be better – strategically – to have fewer online courses that really work and make an impact, than a whole catalog of marginal titles. Quality, not quantity.

Going it alone; failure to reach consensus

From a strategic standpoint, this is where governance matters. If there’s infighting between eLearning or training groups, or if you’ve not brought all key stakeholders (e.g., IT, HR, procurement, and business units) to the table, early, you are asking for trouble later.

Misreading executive support

Executives love learning and most love eLearning. At least that’s what they say. “Our people are the best trained.” “We are at the cutting edge.” Yeah, yeah, yeah… Then, at the first sign of business trouble, they cut training budgets, slash time for learning, and throw employee development out the window. It’s not what they say, it’s what they do that matters. Do your business leaders have “skin” in the learning game? Are they helping to build a sustainable learning culture in the organization? These are the strategic questions to address.

Thinking this is part time or short-term work

So you have a group of great instructors with a week or two off and you tell them to “go create some eLearning.” Not a good idea. OK, so it’s not that bad where you are. Even so, ask yourself, “Are we really treating eLearning as a major thrust of the organization?” “Are we devoting the proper time, resources, and people to the effort?” “Is this really a high priority for us?” Here’s where management, leadership, and strategy intersect.

Ignoring risks, weaknesses, and threats

People are better at identifying what they’re good at – not so much at focusing on their challenges. Most therapists will tell you that coming face-to-face with your issues is the first step to overcoming them. Try a SWOT Analysis (Google it) with your team and stakeholders; it will help point you in the right direction.

Failure to manage change

The famous quote from the movie Field of Dreams suggests, “If you build it, they will come.” Not necessarily… Moving to eLearning (or any new way of learning) can be stressful and can surface resistance in the organization. Recognizing this, and dealing with it before you launch a new program, is the key. Launching eLearning on day one with lots of fanfare may make everyone feel good, but if you don’t have a long-term change-management strategy, those good feelings may disappear quite quickly.


So there you have it: ten ways we often mess up eLearning strategy. How many do you see where you work? Get your people together and talk about this. The stakes are high; make adjustments and set a better course. As the ancient Chinese proverb puts it, “If you don’t change your direction, you’ll end up exactly where you are headed.”

Note: Building a Successful ELearning Strategy will be the introductory presentation at the eLearning Guild’s eLearning Foundations Intensive program at this year’s Learning Solutions conference in Orlando in March. Much more information is available here.