It’s the process, stupid (not the product)

Time to bang on again about the “product fad” that is course management systems and higher education.

A couple of weeks ago I participated in a by-invitation event looking at “e-driven organisational transformation”. We were asked to talk for 10 minutes about how experience/views on such transformation.

The title of my presentation was It’s the process, stupid (not the product) and gave an overview of my experience with e-learning at CQU since about 1996. It’s available on Slideshare. The presentation gives a different take on the generations of development of Webfuse as described in a previous paper.

(Apparently the presentation slides have gone down quite well in terms of design. Slideshare selected it to feature on the home page. I left doing the presentation until I got to London. This caused a problem as Internet access in the hotel was significantly less than promised. Which is one reason why I had to rely more on personal photos – those are my boys in the presentation.)

View the presentation on slideshare

The major point of the presentation is one I’ve made previously. i.e. that when deciding how to do e-learning universities are spending way too much time and energy on the product and ignoring other important considerations. In the missing Ps presentation I identified a collection of these including: place, people, purpose, and process. It’s process which I believe is a major consideration.

Not only are other considerations ignored, but the understanding of product that is demonstrated is limited.

Problems with the product focus

Christopher Sessums recently talked about a number of the limitations of how people consider products.

The internal-audience problem. The problem that the people designing systems are often very different from the users and consequently problems arise. This problem seems to be extended with CMS evaluation at universities through the selection process often not involving significant numbers of academic staff and generally only very limited input from students.

Sure, academics and students might be involved with focus groups, but when it comes to make the final decision, at least at CQU, it was the input of technical staff and instructional design staff that had major influences on management (who actually made the decision). Then once chosen these same staff have significant influence over directions. Even the best governance structure is going to limit the input that “real” users have.

Consumers are irrational. Even if you can involve all the people with equal input you have the problems of bounded rationality and various cognitive biases. Chistopher Sessums talks about the tendency for people to select systems that have more features, more complexity over simpler systems. Even though they will never use all of the features.

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