Lessons from product for e-learning

This post contains the last section of the “Product” component of chapter 2 of the my thesis, at least a rough first draft version of it. This is getting to the crux of my argument and problem with how most universities implement e-learning (adoption of an LMS) and it refers back to many of the other components of the Ps Framework. This will eventually become part of my EDUCAUSE’09 presentation and I’m thinking of re-working the following from thesis speak into something a little more leading.

Since this post relies on many of the other sections of the thesis (including one that isn’t written yet) and that the way I’ve been blogging these sections means that there is probably no easy way for you to connect all the dots. Going to the thesis page is probably the easiest, as all the posts should be linked from there.

Lessons from product for e-learning

Based on the above examination of the Product component of the Ps Framework for e-learning this section draws two lessons for e-learning: that the outcome of technology implementation is emergent and unpredictable and that the LMS model of e-learning is inappropriate.

The outcome of technology implementation is emergent and unpredictable

The impact and outcomes of the implementation of technology within a social system like a university cannot be predicted. The nature of the technology will interact with the people, processes and requirements of the organisation in complex and unpredictable ways. In ways that only become obvious after the fact and are not likely to repeat.

The LMS model appears to be inappropriate for e-learning

The selection and implementation of a learning management system embodies (at least) two standard assumptions: the product model and the procurement strategy. The product model of an LMS is an integrated, enterprise system sourced from a single vendor. The procurement strategy, using the three efficient procurement strategies proposed by Saarinen and Vepsalainen (1994), is that of package acquisition. Both of these models are inherently inflexible. This creates a problem in that the nature of e-learning within universities is such that it needs high levels of flexibility.

Best practice advice for the implementation of integrated, enterprise systems is to implement vanilla, to implement the system as provided (Robey, Ross et al. 2002; Pozzebon, Titah et al. 2006; Wagner, Scott et al. 2006). This advice recommends that it is cheaper to modify the organisation to fit the capabilities of the enterprise system (Gosain 2004; Strong and Volkoff 2004). The modification of the system to meet organisational needs, either initially or in response to lessons and changes in context, is deemed to be too expensive. The enterprise systems themselves are often designed in a way to make such modification or integration with other external systems difficult. The package acquisition procurement strategy is most appropriate for routine systems (Saarinen and Vepsalainen 1994). Routine systems are those where requirements very stable, they do not change, and there is high certainty that they can be identified correctly.

Based on the examination of the Ps Framework in this chapter it is suggested that a key requirement for e-learning within universities is flexibility. Table 2.4 presents a summary of the lessons from each of the components of the Ps Framework and suggests a connection between these and requirements for flexibility (the table uses a simple scale of high, low or none to indicate requirements for flexibility). For example, the lesson that a university represents a type of complex adaptive system (insert cross ref) in which on-going change is a traditional and increasing suggests a need for a high level of flexibility. Table 2.4 suggests that 4 of the 7 Ps components suggest a requirement for high flexibility and the remaining three suggest a requirement for low to high flexibility. This suggests that e-learning within universities requires significant levels of flexibility.

Table 2.4 – How flexible does an e-learning system need to be: Lessons from the Ps Framework
Ps Component Lessons
Requirement for flexibility
Place insert cross ref Change is traditional, inherent and necessary
Inconsistent requirements, tensions and paradox
It is complex
People People mean variety
Academic staff aren’t prepared or rewarded for teaching
Most students, academic staff and people are conservative
People mean agency
People are central
Process Assumptions of teleological processes appear not to hold
Process must be aware of and match the context
Revolutionary change and its relationship with teleological and ateleological design
There appears to be a need for both teleological and ateleological
Purpose Problems with a singular view of purpose
Problems with purpose proxies
low to high
Past experience Consisting in change
Retentiveness – or lack therof
The technology-mediated learning hype cycle – perpetual infancy
Pedagogy There is no one learning theory
Most academics don’t use any
low to high
Product The outcome of technology is emergent low to high

There is significant literature suggesting that there should be a fit between organisational requirements and its information technology. Weak fit promotes the existence of risk-related behaviours in organizations (Hogarth and Dawson 2008). The recognition that the assumptions within an LMS provide little or no flexibility and that the components of the Ps Framework for e-learning within universities suggest a requirement for significant flexibility suggests a weak fit between organisational requirements for e-learning and the predominant form of information technology used to fulfil those requirements.


Gosain, S. (2004). "Enterprise Information Systems as objects and carriers of institutional forces: the new iron cage." Journal of the Association for Information Systems 5(4): 151-182.

Hogarth, K. and D. Dawson (2008). "Implementing e-learning in organisations: What e-learning research can learn from instructional technology (IT) and organisational studies (OS) innovation studies." International Journal on E-Learning 7(1): 87-105.

Pozzebon, M., R. Titah, et al. (2006). "Combining social shaping of technology and communicative action theory for understanding rhetorical closuer in IT." Information Technology & People 19(3): 244-271.

Robey, D., W. Ross, et al. (2002). "Learning to implement enterprise systems: An exploratory study of the dialectics of change." Journal of Management Information Systems 19(1): 17-46.

Saarinen, T. and A. Vepsalainen (1994). "Procurement strategies for information systems." Journal of Management Information Systems 11(2): 187-208.

Strong, D. and O. Volkoff (2004). "A roadmap for enterprise system implementation." IEEE Computer 37(6): 22-29.

Wagner, E., S. Scott, et al. (2006). "The creation of ‘best practice’ software: Myth, reality and ethics." Information and Organization 16(3): 251-275.

One thought on “Lessons from product for e-learning

  1. Pingback: Learning theories and e-learning « The Weblog of (a) David Jones

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