The missing Ps – Purpose and place

A continuation of the elements of the “missing Ps”.

This one looks at the Purpose and Place. The idea is that before a University starts thinking about selecting an LMS, or even starts to question whether or not an LMS is what it needs, it should think long and hard about the purpose to which it will put the LMS (need to try and avoid that label). In doing so it needs to think hard about what it considers to be the purpose of information technology and all of this needs to be driven by consideration of place, the context of the individual University.

Sections include

  • What’s the purpose of the tool
  • What’s the purpose of IT
  • Place – moving beyond purpose

What’s the purpose of the tool

Suppose I give you the choice of three vehicles

  1. Ferrari Enzo
  2. Humvee
  3. Toyota Prius

and I ask, “Which is the most appropriate car?”

The response of most people will be something like, “Most appropriate for what?”. An Enzo is a great car for completely different purposes than a Humvee and a Prius. The same applies to information systems.

You can’t choose the most appropriate tool unless you know what the purpose is.

For an elearning information system it’s often argued, quite logically, that the purpose/focus should be on learning. It also happens to be one of the most forgotten aspects.

One of the most crucial prerequisites for successful implementation of e-Learning is the need for careful consideration of the underlying pedagogy, or how learning takes place online. In practice, however, this is often the most neglected aspect in any effort to implement e-Learning. (Govindasamy 2002)

George Siemens (2006) suggests a review of LMSes should start with an organisational definition of learning, created through input from all stakeholders, as the foundation of decision making and the boundaries of platform selection.

A concern for learning is certainly an important consideration for an organisation making choices around technology to support education. But there are problems created by trying to start with an organisational definition of learning. Many of these problems are associated with this being an example of a plan-driven process. It assumes that it is possible for an institution to define a single view of learning and that such a single view is actually a good thing. Both are somewhat questionable and are (or will be) addressed in more detail in the process section of the missing Ps framework.

While an emphasis on education is essential it is not the only potential area of consideration for an organisation attempting to choose a technology platform for elearning. An organisation like CQU that has undergone considerable growth and expansion in the complexity of its offerings has a number of other problems and future aims to consider. There may be other business needs to consider.

Once the company’s business needs are clear, the technologies it requires will come into focus. (McAfee, 2006)

McAfee goes onto say in his Harvard Business Review article

I recommend that business leaders accept three IT-related responsibilities: selection (picking appropriate new tech investments), adoption (getting the technology ready for first use) and exploitation (maximizing value delivered once the system is up and running). Rules of thumb are:

  • During selection, work ‘inside-out’ by first determining what IT-based capabilities are required, then looking out at the technology landscape. This is in contrast to an ‘outside-in’ approach that attempts to determine IT needs by examining available technologies and deciding which ones to bring in.
  • During adoption and exploitation, put in place the organizational complements that will maximize the postive impat of the selected technology

The missing ingredients from most e-learning programs are clear and measurable objectives and cohesive strategies. Before an organization can evaluate any offerings from an e-learning provider or implement any internal initiative, it must first create a cohesive strategy that clearly defines and documents the value each program must deliver—before any program moves beyond the concept stage (Ismail 2002)

What’s the purpose of IT

Executives usually operate without a comprhensive model of what IT does for companies, how it affects organisations and what they must do to ensure that IT initiatives succeed (McAfee 2006).

Place, moving beyond purpose

Much of the enterprise systems IT world, including the LMS idea, is based on the assumption that a single piece of software and its encapsulated processes are equally applicable to just about every different organisation. This assumption ignores the central importance of context. In fact, it assumes that the type of organisation and the characteristics of that organisation and its environments are either the same or will exert no influence over the potential fit or success between the organisation and the enterprise system.

ERP systems grew out of the manufacturing industry. …need to say more about that type of organisation and then talk about the move of ERPs into other organisations eventually leading up to Universities and the characteristics of those institutional types. The various references I have will fit in nicely here.

Even within one organisation type there is significant difference due to a range of factors associated with the place and purpose of the University. For example, CQU is a very different organisation than MIT. What makes sense for MIT, does not make sense for CQU.

Scenario-based evaluation covers some aspects of this.


Govndasamy, T. (2002). “Successful implementation of e-Learning pedagogical considerations.” Internet and Higher Education 4(3-4): 287-299

McAfee, A. (2006). “Mastering the Three Worlds of Information Technology.” Harvard Business Review, November 2006.

One thought on “The missing Ps – Purpose and place

  1. Pingback: Moving beyond functional evaluation - scenario-based evaluation at David’s WebLog

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