The following is a guest blog article originally published by Jeff Cobb of Tagoras, a leading expert in strategy, learning, marketing and technology to organizations in the business of lifelong learning.

Here’s a three-part series to look at learning technology selection from a broader perspective and provide organizational leaders with a framework to support long-term success. There are seven steps to the process. In part one, the first two are covered.

1. Take time to really understand your current situation.
Decisions about learning technologies should be driven by strategy. As Richard Rumelt has argued persuasively in his (highly-recommended) book, Good Strategy, Bad Strategy, a “great deal of strategy work is trying to figure out what is going on. Not just deciding what to do, but the more fundamental problem of comprehending the situation.” [79, Kindle Edition]

In our experience, organizations often leap to decisions about learning technologies based on assumptions and a general desire simply to do something to make it feel like they are keeping up with the times. Opinions—usually untested—about what millennials will do or boomers won’t do tend to fly around the room. Someone on the board has seen platform or product “X,” and it’s really cool. You know the drill.

There’s no way around it. Really understanding your situation requires work. Ideally, it’s work that takes place consistently, over time, using tools and approaches like those captured in the Market Insight Matrix. Regardless, a good situational analysis should be driven by asking the most relevant questions, doing the work required to get valid answers, and perhaps, most importantly, a willingness to face up to the answers.

In the case of learning technologies, key questions typically include:

  • What are the types of learning experiences your members most value? Why? What outcomes and value do these experiences create?
  • Are you currently making use of technology to access, support or augment these learning experiences? How and why?
  • What are your sources of technology for learning? Are you compelled to switch? Why?
  • Are some segments of your audience better candidates for using technology than others? Why? How would the use of technology create more value for or improve the condition of your learners?
  • What are the obstacles or challenges that could interfere or prevent you from serving these learners?
  • What particular advantage do you or could you have in overcoming the obstacles?
  • What might change in the coming three to five years that could significantly impact any of the above? What are the most compelling opportunities for capitalizing on that change?

This list is far from exhaustive. Many more questions could be asked. Indeed, a major part of the work at this stage of technology selection is ensuring the right questions are asked. Which leads to the next point.

2. Gather diverse input.
When it comes to understanding your current situation and then deciding where you want to go, getting input from key stakeholders is more important than ever.

This means, at a minimum, there should be a cross-functional group sitting at the table (both figuratively and literally) when you ask and answer the above questions. This same group should collaboratively work to shape the objectives and measures learning technologies must ultimately support.

For market-facing organizations, this group generally needs to include, in addition to the education department, people with responsibility for marketing, technology, finance and—if relevant—credentialing and certification and/or publishing.

For membership organizations, the people in charge of membership and meetings should also be there. And, finally, if none of the people covered so far include someone from the executive level of the organization, get someone from that level to the table as well.

If you represent a small staff organization that does not have employees in all of the roles indicated above, it’s important to keep the perspectives of these roles in your own mind as you work with your board, volunteers, contractors or others who may be involved.

You will, of course, also need to get input from learners. This should typically include a combination of surveying and brief interviews to get answers to questions like those posed above, with any modifications or additions proposed by the cross-functional group. It should also include ongoing observations of actual behavior, including any data collected through tools like Google Analytics, learning platforms you may already use, and other approaches indicated in the Market Insight Matrix.

As noted, there are other steps to share in this LMS selection process. So, there’s another post to come next week, when we go into a few more.

In the meantime, learn more about Learning • Technology • Design™ (LTD), a virtual conference set for March 1, 2017 through March 3, 2017. This online event is designed specifically for professionals in the business of lifelong learning and education—those who are committed to finding new and better ways to market and sell educational programs, engage learners and create lasting impact.