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Skills requirements for information system professionals in the e-learning sector
This research project is an investigation into the skills required for Information Systems (IS) professionals working in the commercial e-learning sector. This involved determining the perceived skill requirements for IS professionals, the actual skills held by current employees in this sector, and identifying any skills gaps that existed.
The survey obtained information from a representative selection of the IS professional population. The questionnaire sample included IS professionals at all levels and grades of employment and reflected the composition of participating organizations. The table below summarises the objectives of this investigation: Identify the state of the UK IS workforce and the e-learning industry, Investigate the skills required to work as an IS professional in the e-learning industry in Berkshire, Investigate what skills gaps exist and Investigate the possible causes of these skills gaps.
The main outcome of the study was a matrix of the skills required that can be used by universities and training organisations to tailor their course content to suit the constantly evolving demands of this industry. To combat the skills gaps that emerged and prevent performance problems arising, a number of recommendations need to be adopted to address the problems discovered: (1) Improve training strategies for IS professionals within the sector, majority of organisations have no set training strategy or budget; this is something that needs to change, (2) Create an annual ‘e-learning skills report’ detailing gaps and shortages, allowing education and industry to understand emerging and established skills needs. It would allow changes in demand and type of skill to be monitored. This would allow organisations to structure their internal training strategies, to eliminate skills gaps and (3) Form direct links between industry and education partners to allow course content to be improved and improve employment prospects for graduates. The most important action is to integrate education with industry. If courses as specialist as-learning could be developed with an industry partner, the correct content would be guaranteed.
Many organisations have come to realise that certain new technologies can optimise efficiency and make processes more effective. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can bring industry closer to their customers, partners and suppliers through more integrated business and communication systems, and can provide enhanced educational opportunities. “There is a well-established relationship between improvements in Information Systems (IS) skills and increased productivity.” (Dress, 2001) The opportunity to gain competitive advantage through technology has consequently contributed to demand for skilled IS professionals outstripping supply. The label used to describe this effect is a ‘skills shortage’.
The Computer Services and Software Association estimate that IS skills shortages will cost the UK over £30 billion over the next three years(e-skills NTO, 2001). There is a growing recognition that the gap in skills for IS professionals is widening. The gap in skills does not only affect the ICT (primary) sector but all other sectors (secondary)which apply information technologies in their production, processes, products or services.
The E-revolution of the information industries has created a new labour force, professional IS roles are becoming diversified and a generic IS curriculum will not meet all the needs for all IS jobs in the future. It seems that in any system that has an “E” placed in front of it; e-learning, e-business, e-commerce, are the development of new skills. Never before have new skills appeared at such a rate. Even if industrial structure is only changing slowly, employers of ‘IS ‘practitioners rarely found it easy to articulate their current and particularly future skill needs very precisely.
“Nearly one third of the IS skills in the market today have only emerged in the last year. Sixty seven of the one hundred and thirty three internet related skills are totally new.” Chris Bennett, MD SAP Australia (Hawking, 2002) New curricula need to be developed which consist-’of separate distinctive concentrations, which target specific roles in the job market. A new stronger relationship needs to be formed between educational institutions and companies; to allow the required skills to be taught and help alleviate the current IS skills shortages. In the rapidly changing field of IS, educational programs must be continually re-evaluated and revised. “There is presently a gap between what industry wants characteristically in it IS personnel and what academia provides to them.” Gupta and Watcher( 1998)
The first step in the curriculum revision process is to conduct a study to determine the expected skills and knowledge required for IS professionals in industry. This will allow academic institutions to create programs that more accurately reflect the demands of the marketplace. At present, there is no identifiable data about the requirements of IS professionals specific to the e-learning sector. This is the gap in knowledge that needs to be investigated.
This dissertation has been commissioned to do precisely that; to investigate the skills required for IS professionals working in thee-learning industry. The results can then be used as a foundation for developing a suitable postgraduate course at the University level. The main outcome of the study will be a matrix of the skills required that can be used by universities and training organisations to tailor their course content to suit the constantly evolving demands of this industry.
The research carried out in this project can be used by other universities to clarify the skills required for employment in this sector, allowing course content to be tailored to suit the changing demands of industry, and improve the opportunities for students seeking employment upon graduation.
2. Aims & Objectives
The research will be cantered on the key area of skills gap analysis. This will involve determining the perceived skill requirements for IS professionals and the actual skills held by current employees, then determining the differences. This study aims to obtain information from a representative selection of the IS professional population, and from that sample the researcher will then be able to present the findings as being representative of the population as awhile. The characteristics of the total population will be represented justly in the sample to enable the researcher to say with fair confidence that the sample is reasonably representative.
The sample will include IS professionals at all levels and grades of employment and will reflect the composition of participating organisations. The study will allow users to simultaneously score both their own self-assessment of their ability and their perceptions of the levels of skill actually required by their job. The sample population will include organizations in the e-learning sector with a history of close association with Business Link Berkshire and Wiltshire.
Summary of Research Objectives
• Identify the current state of the UK IS workforce and the e-learning industry
• Identify the most important/prevalent issues from the literature
• Investigate the skills required to work as an IS professional in the e-learning industry in the Berkshire region
• Identify the skill gaps from the perceived and actual skill levels
• Discuss the finding and compare against those of relevant previous studies
3. Literature Review
The foundation for revision of curriculum process is the review of literature and investigation into the expected industry skills and knowledge for IS professionals. In the introduction chapter an outline of this study was given. This section will focus upon academic literature related to the subject area, which will go onto further support the data already mentioned.
As well as academic literature, reports are of particular importance to this dissertation, due to the dynamic nature of the industry, reports are able to offer the very latest up to date information, which may take months to be peer reviewed and published in journals. There are a number of reports, which have been consulted in the preparation of this report that have provided valuable insight into the subject area. In addition the background chapter that follows this contains greater detail into the region and industry trends, separated to avoid over-powering the critical issues highlighted here.
The literature in general Skills Requirements Analysis (SRA) is extensive. Related areas include Training Needs Assessment (TNA) and the broader area of Learning Needs Assessment (LNA). Recent work in the area, such as that by Sine (1998) and earlier, by Kidd (1984) in knowledge acquisition adds to more traditional texts from skills training practitioners including Peterson (1998) and Major (1988).
These papers all identify skills training as one of a number of initiatives to solve performance problems in an organisation. Using the performance problems identified, how far the skills identified are present, and how big is the gap between the performance objectives and the performance resulting from actual skills in place. This process is referred to as a skills audit. The skills audit links directly to the research questions in chapter one. A skills assessment or audit has three main objectives:
1. To determine what skills are required by each employee;
2. To determine which of the required skills each employee has;
3. To analyse the results and establish the specific training needs.
Authors such as Hamel (1994) openly express the increasing value of employee’s skills, leading to knowledge within an organisation. More recent articles, such as Birch all and Tovstiga (1999) describe how this knowledge manifests itself primarily as organisational competencies and capabilities, leading to that all-important competitive advantage. Onaway to increase a company’s organisational competencies and capabilities in order to gain competitive advantage is through carefully implemented training and development, Schuler (1984).Education and training provision are important strategic practices in the development of organisational competence, but without understanding the precise skills needs first, how can the appropriate training be applied?
3.2 Information System Curriculum
There is extensive literature surrounding the area of IS curriculum design. Although this study will not involve any design of curriculum, it is none the less useful to have an understanding of some of the issues that arise in designing IS curriculum; if the findings of this study will be used as a foundation to develop IS curricula.
A common theme in the literature is the difficulty in creating curriculum that can fulfil all requirements in an industry that evolves so rapidly. Martinson and Cheung (2001) suggest that recent developments of IS industry jobs and career paths have made understanding the knowledge/skills requirement of an IS professional even more difficult. This is supported by Latham (2000) who explains that the complexity and multi-disciplinarily nature of Information Systems makes identifying a common curriculum both difficult and contentious.
Skills requirements will inevitably change over time and it is important to take a strategic view of the needs of industry. There are a number of papers that highlight the differences between industry and academia strategies, and strong suggestions that these need to be merged and greater links formed between the two.
Kim, Shim, and Yoon (1999) found that, “IS organisations perceive managerial and organisational issues as more important than educators”. They also found that educators consider emerging issues more important than industry organisations. Curriculum should be developed working with corporate partners. Similar work of Srinivasan, Duane, and Wright(1999) supports the importance of this idea of improving links between education and industry. In Lightfoot’s (1999) research on IS curriculum design, it was suggested that curriculum needs to be developed to satisfy both the current and future needs of the industry at the sometime. This is impossible without the links mentioned above.
3.3 Information System Skills
Although the growing demand for IS professionals is evident, the exact combination of skills required is not. This could be attributed to the scope and divergence of IS roles that are now available. Hedge (now known as Dress) highlighted that “The fast-moving technological change in 1CT and rapid innovation, mean that it is much more difficult than in the past to determine the type and combination of skills that are needed” (Dee, 1999).
While the reported growth of demand for IS workers is very evident, the identification of specific skills required for the variety of positions in Information Systems is not as clear” (Noll and Wilkins 2002).Research by Young and Lee (1997) and Lee, Trough, and Farwell (1995)confirm the increasing importance of these “soft skills”, which include writing, teamwork, presenting, project management, and interpersonal relationships.
E-skills NTO, the industry representative body for IT skills, recently published a comprehensive report detailing the current situation regarding the supply and demand of IT and telecommunication professionals in the United Kingdom. This survey, called e-skills 21(2002) was the most comprehensive study of IT and Telecom Professionalism the UK in history, it included over 4000 interviews with professionals at all levels and across all sectors during 2001. The results of the comprehensive e-skills 21 survey mentioned earlier are characterised into technical and generic skills. More detail into what each compromises of will be given later. Aspects of the e-skills study have been used to develop the research instrument used in this study, to allow the skills gap findings to be directly compared.
This E-Skills survey revealed a consensus among the companies that there was no major skill gap among the IS workers. However the one’s that did mention about a gap, pointed out the skills gap related to operating system, application usage and networking skills. It was common opinion among most of the respondents that technology was evolving at a much faster rate than they could grasp. These issues will be looked at during the study.
Several studies indicate that verbal skills, work in cross-functional groups and written communications skills were the three most highly rated qualities to seek in staff Gupta and Watcher (1998) This view is supported in a recent report (lackey et al., 2000) quotes one respondent who said that: ‘There is a real lack of people who can combine ICT and business acumen.’ The biggest challenge for technical CT staff is in understanding the dynamics of business; including sales and marketing processes, supply chain processes, and internal processes. They also need to continue to develop and evolve customer facing business systems to enhance and improve the end user experience. CT staff were also identified as a central resource in teaching skills to other areas of the business; consequently communication skills and an understanding of the organisation are essential (E-skills 21, 2001).
Another requirements paper by Lewinski (2003) suggests that IS skills can be more effectively developed through on-the-job training. The classification of requirements was not as specific as the other literature mentioned, but similarities can be seen in the results. With regard to technical skills; troubleshooting was required by 97 preceptor respondents, 91 services and facilitation, 82 installation of hardware/software and configuration, and 67 expressed a need for systems operation, monitoring and maintenance. Equal importance was placed upon non-technical skills, including; good communication, analytical/problem solving, flexibility and the ability to learn quickly. The only other study to include both a perceived and actual approach to skills assessment (as this study does) is by Hay (2003).
The report by Hay (2003) concludes that there are four skills that are consistently higher than perceived needs of the job; basic computer use, word processing, spread sheet and database use. The areas repeatedly below the required level were presentation and graphics software, and use of a browser. There was also a reported “clear gap in the market” in the areas of knowledge of operating systems and networking. These skills gaps are readily identifiable by the employees themselves, with over 50% of participants lacking the required skills in at least one area.
There are so many papers, with so many different classifications that comparing them directly was extremely difficult in writing this literature review. The common themes that came out were the technical and generic split of skills. There is a need for combination of both sets of skills. The skills gaps appear to be entered on OS and Networking skills on the technical side, and all skills related to the generic side. The only way to breakdown the mixture of skills from various papers to be able to understand and compare in a scientific way is by using an industry standard framework. The chosen framework and a number of other frameworks are described inspection 3.5.
3.4 E-Learning Skills
Any employee, in any role, requires some overall, understanding of the business within which they work. Therefore, as this study is of IS professional skills in the e-learning industry each individual employed is required to have some understanding of the basics of teaching, tallow them to function as part of an educational organisation. The skills mentioned in this section will be required, though the depth of pedagogical skills will by dependant on the individual’s role. For example, the pedagogical skills of a training professional should be considerably stronger than that of a programmer.
There was surprisingly little literature in the area of IS professionals working in-learning. The most useful research found was by Massy (2000 and2001). Both these studies were critically analysed by the Scottish enterprise research report published on their website. Both the papers suggested that the skills and competencies required by on-line training professionals can be broadly categorised as technical, pedagogical and managerial.
Massy (2001) pointed out that there has been a consistent shift from the importance laid on Information Communication Technologies skills requirements with increased efforts now being placed on the acquisition of the above mentioned categories. The SFIA framework appears to cover every aspect of IS skills, the area of education and training was looked at closely being of particular importance to this study, and was found to give enough detail for IS professionals in general. Although more detail was required in the design of the instrument used in this study. “In line with developments in technology generally, the impact of technology-supported learning (TSL), and in particular e-learning(EL), has given rise to new combinations of skills, featuring how people learn with a sound understanding of the available technology in the design of learning experiences.” (Massy, 2000a cited in SERR, 2005)
The first survey by Massy (2000) showed some interesting differences from the follow-up survey (2001). There was a marked change in focus of skills from technical (ICT) to pedagogical skills. The key concern in2000, was that technology had become the central focus for e-learning development, appeared to have been address in the 12 months that passed before the second survey. Greater emphasis was now being placed on the managerial and pedagogical attributes required for producing and presenting e-learning. In the same 12 month period, over 60% of respondents had taken part in some informal training, and a further 30% formal classroom-based learning.
The step down in attaining ICT skills was reportedly due to the basic fluency being established and the focus being directed to attaining new skills in e-learning content design. This requires a greater understanding of management and pedagogy. The study by Martin and Jennings (2002) followed the same approach as Massy. In this survey a distinction was made between users and suppliers of e-learning. Unfortunately it is not possible to make that distinction, as more often than not they are the same person. This problem of identifying groups was also expressed in the report, “Unreality, most user organisations are also providers of e-learning, such as universities.”
Suppliers identified an increased interest in gaining in-depth Information Communication skills; others suggesting this were a major problem. Stronger leadership and ‘championing’ of projects is also required. The most important ICT skills identified, with regard to-learning were: To effectively utilise web-page design, including text, audio and video conferencing materials, E-mail, Bulletin boards, Discussion forums for communication with and between learners (SERR,2005).
These are relatively common and well-developed skills for IS professionals. Another important issue, which has continued to braised throughout this literature review, is the need for better collaboration between industry (supplier) and academia. To aid this it is also suggested that e-learning needs to be integrated further in to university and college education.
3.5 Information System Frameworks
IS management and occupational analysts in different-organisations and countries have tried to distil the structure of the industry, from the constantly evolving picture, so it is understandable that a number of different occupational frameworks have therefore emerged. The most important frameworks to this study are those that have been used for surveys. While there are broad similarities, different surveys, using different frameworks, produce different results, and although they may enrich the overall picture of the industry, they cannot generally be usefully compared.
A number of academics have developed their own skills frameworks. Allot these follow the same format of grouping technical and business skills, against various levels of competency. Examples of academic frameworks developed include early research by Ashen Hurst (1972) that identified 37 skills and abilities that a student in a graduate IS program should expect to acquire into six categories: people, models, systems, computers, organizations, and society.
Similarly the work of Todd et al. (1995) classified IS knowledge into seven categories: hardware, software, business, management, social, and problem solving, and development methodology. It was also reasoned that interpersonal and managerial skills are more important than any technical skills for IS managers. Nelson (1991) classified 30 skills into six groups: organizational knowledge, organizational skills, organizational unit, general IS knowledge, technical skills, and IS product. This paper found that IS personnel were deficient in general IS knowledge followed by organizational knowledge, technical skills, organizational skills, IS product, and organizational units (in that order).
Lee and Gosling (1999) classified three key abilities of IS professionals: ability to learn new technologies, ability to focus on technology as a means (not an end), and ability to understand technological trends into technology management knowledge and other technology-related knowledge into technical specialized knowledge. There port classified non-technology-related knowledge into business functional knowledge, interpersonal and management skills, letting interpersonal and management skills contain some personal traits. Also included was the ability to teach others interpersonal and management skills. It was found that non-technological knowledge is now more important than technical skills.
A skills framework gives organisations: A clear, well-structured view of their staffs skills; A tool for more accurate planning and management of resources; A tool for accurate development of careers, so improving retention; A better way of targeting training; A method of risk assessment for the loss of key skills; A tool for accurate and efficient recruitment (Taken From Skills Framework ).
In the UK, in June 2001 e-skills NTO published a Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA). It provides a common reference model for the identification of the skills needed to develop effective Information Systems making use of Information Communications Technologies. It appeared to be a simple and coherent two-dimensional framework consisting of areas of work on one axis and levels of responsibility on the other (SFIA ). Previously there was no industry benchmark for organisation to measure the skill levels of their organisation. The methodology for this study will be developed to allow the results to be mapped directly onto the framework. Therefore, the findings can be compared to those of previous research carried out by-skills NTO.
The literature presented has highlighted some important issues, provided grounding for this study and has helped eliminate some of the preconceptions of what was expected. The purpose of identifying skills gaps is to allow the appropriate training to be adopted, therefore eliminating the performance problems that exist. The career paths of the IS industry are no longer straight forward and the complexity and diversity of the sector makes understanding it in a scientific way very difficult.
The literature suggests that as the industry is so dynamic, relationships must be improved between education and industry. The problems that exist relate to academic and training practitioners not providing the correct skills in their graduates. Research focused academia tends to provide graduates with the latest emerging technologies, these skills quickly become out-of-date, while the more fundamental technologies appear to be neglected.
This is expressed in the views of many industry speakers, it is assumed that an IS professional will be capable of learning new programming languages, once the method of logical thinking has been established. It is more important to develop the established fundamental technologies, and allow the professional to develop the niche skills required as they move into a specialist area, for example e-learning.
The technical skills gaps that exist are focused around Microsoft Programs; including Windows/NT, MS Application skills (especially MS Access), and Networking technologies. The generic skills gaps that exist include both written and oral communication, user IT skills, industry awareness, and problem solving. The combinations of these two types of skills gaps are from literature that investigated the whole IS industry. It will be interesting to see how they compare with thee-learning sector, which you would presume at this stage to have stronger focus on generic skills.
The literature that was focused one-learning highlighted all forms of communication (e.g. oral, written, and electronic) as the most important generic skills. The most important technical skills required included web related technologies and presentation or audio visual skills. The final area to look into was to see if the focus change from technical to pedagogical was visible in this study. This could not be done in the same way as the literature by repeating the study again after a 12 month period. As different approach the structure of the instrument could be written in way to allow comparisons to be made between importance levels of the three categories of skill.
The main reasons cited for skills gaps in the ICT sector are a lack of skills/experience of new technologies and organisations failing to train/develop staff sufficiently to meet their needs. This in turn causes difficulty in introducing technological change. The other effects highlighted include delays in the development of new products/services and difficulties meeting business objectives. Much of the literature suggests the most obvious actions to address the problem of skills gaps would be to provide further training and increase recruitment of direct staff. These can be included in the changing of working practices.
The chapter on research methods will explain exactly what instruments are used and the approach taken. The literature was used extensively to create the instruments and followed previous research to allow comparisons of the results to be made. They follow the form set out in this review; combining technical, generic and pedagogical skills. Instruments used in the literature were modified and extended for the purposes of this study. The results chapter also uses some of the literature as a source of ideas for the descriptions and highlighting the most significant findings. This is to allow direct comparison with previous studies.
The main gap identified in the literature is with regard to quantifying the pedagogical skills mentioned. In Masons work the skills are mentioned but not in enough detail. In the e-learning industry the pedagogical skills will not match that of a “normal” teacher or lecturer, as there is not only a significant difference between the methods of teaching and learning, but also in content provision. The student in an e-learning environment is a researcher, which is quite different from classroom based taught learning.
There are also further technical skills that are only required in this sector that need to be assessed.
This study should provide the reader with an understanding of the requirements of an IS professional working in e-learning and highlight the gaps that currently exist in this sector in Berkshire. It will be of particular benefit to persons working within the industry or closely linked to it. This study can be used as a basis to start an investigation into the requirements of an IS e-learning undergraduate or postgraduate course.
3.7 Research Hypothesis
Null Hypothesis is defined as ‘The state opposite to that suggested in a hypothesis, postulated in the hope of rejecting its form and therefore proving the hypothesis.’ Hence the null hypothesis for this research may be stated as
H0: “There is no skills gap among Information system professionals in the e-learning sector.”
The following research hypothesis is derived from the literature and will be tested using the primary research conducted by the researcher.
H1: “There exists a skills gap among Information system professional in the e-learning sector”
4. Research Methodology
An appropriate research methodology is a general plan of how the researcher will go about answering the research questions considering the sources to collect data and the constraints that one might have(access to data, time, location and money, etc.). It should reflect the fact that the researcher has thought carefully about why a particular strategy/method has been employed. Data intended for almost any study can be obtained from two sources: Primary Data and Secondary Data. This chapter describes the process of method selection and justification for the method chosen. The sample selection method is described and the design of the instrument used is included. There is an introduction into how the results were analysed before the results chapter which holds greater detail. Then there is a short description of how the methods chosen could have been improved or expanded on given greater time or financial resources.
4.2 Choice of Methodology
A small-scale research study of this kind can use a survey to obtain large amounts of data in a short space of time. This study has produced a statistical analysis of the skills requirements by this industry. The highly-structured data collected is quantitative; survey was the only way to unobtrusively collect large amounts of data industry wide in such a short period of time.
If this study was for one organisation, a case study or action research approach may have allowed specific problems and gap in an organisation to be solved. This study is looking at a broader view of the industry and the general requirements so they were not appropriate methods. This study has been written to be open to allow further studies to be developed in detail over the initial findings of this investigation.
There are some deficiencies in the survey method, it can provide answers to questions beginning with what, where, when, and how, but not why. Casual relationships can rarely if ever be proved by survey method, but this is not a problem in relation to this study as the data to be collected is not complex and relationships found were direct. The main problem with the highly structured method chosen was that it can ‘muffle’ informants into respondents. The participants may have had a lot more they wished to say on the subject, but the structure did not give them the opportunity to do so. It doesn’t allow respondents to convey the complexity of their experience, perceptions and feelings.
This was not a huge issue for this is purely an initial investigation into the area. This study is based on simple structured data about a number of skills, so after open-ended piloting and literature review the survey method was found to fit the research purpose perfectly.
4.3 Research instrument
After the hypotheses identification process, some decisions could be made in terms of what data to collect and how the project will be conducted. It was decided that to test the hypotheses, a survey would be conducted. The survey method is often associated with the deductive approach and it is a popular strategy in business research (Saunders teal., 2000). First, it provides the ability to collect a large amount of data from a sizable population in a relatively economical way. Usually with a questionnaire, the data can be encoded in a way for easy comparison. Second, using a survey approach might allow the researcher more control over the research process. Another reason may be that the result of a survey is easily understood. Nonetheless, there are some disadvantages with questionnaire instrument. Designing and piloting the questionnaire, analysing the data will be time consuming. Research progress may also be delayed by the dependence on the respondents for information. The data collected by the survey method may not be as wide-ranging as those collected by qualitative research methods, which is due partly to the number constraints of questions in a questionnaire.
4.4 Questionnaire Design
The majority of questions in the instrument are fixed response due to low complexity of data, this limits the scope of the study, but the outcome is a definite set of statistics about the skills required. The questionnaire was split into 5 categories; Demographics, Technical Skills, General Skills (including generic and pedagogical), Skills Gaps, and a Further Information section. Please see Figure 4.5 in Appendix for a copy of the instrument. The demographics section simply contained fixed-response questions on age, sex, employment status, hours, and role, taken from the SFIA.
The two skills sections used a self-developed scale, similar to liker scale, but not just a look-a-like. The scale aims to identify whether or not the skill is required, at the same time as the respondent gives the level to which the skill has been developed. The four possible responses are: Not Required Under-Developed, Adequate Over-Developed, Skills not required in current role and Less than adequate level of skill to be fully efficient in current Role.
A five-button liker scale was used for the optional skills gap section. This section and the final further information section were optional-and ordered at the end of the questionnaire for that reason. The skills gap section allowed users to identify the reasons for their skills gaps (identified as any skill marked as under-developed), the noticeable impacts on their organisation, and suggested actions to address the situation. The final section was a request for contact details for possible follow-ups. The readability of the questions was important; so the questions were ordered clearly and used plain English. The patter at beginning of the questionnaire was short and stated the data protection strategy, with instructions explaining the questions and the levels preceding each section.
A few questions were adapted from the published study e-skills 21principally because it provides a way of associating the findings with what has already been established. It is a form of replicating instruments as experiments do. The first draft of the questionnaire was written and given to a number of colleagues; they completed the questionnaire under the same conditions and provided feedback on time to complete and any questions about content. The main reasons for piloting the questionnaire included:
See if people can complete it in reasonable time See if responses suggest problems with some questions or ratings - Make you think carefully about how will code and analyse data. The times recorded ranged from 5 to 6 minutes. This is a reasonable time to expect someone to give, without getting bored and not reading the questions or failing to complete at all.
The design of a questionnaire also differs according to how it is going to be administered i.e. the amount of contact the researcher will have with the respondents. In this respect, the design of a questionnaire can be divided into categories:
1. Self-administered: These questionnaires are completed by the respondents without the intervention of the researcher. Such questionnaires are delivered to the respondents through email, Internet or by post and are returned accordingly.
2. Interviewed administered: These questionnaires are recorded by the interviewer on the basis of the respondents’ answers. For example :Telephone questionnaires in which telephonic interview is taken and structured interviews in which the researcher meets the respondent facet face and ask questions.
In this research, the choice of questionnaire was determined by a number of factors like the time available to complete the data collection, financial implications of data collection and entry, availability of interviewers and ease of automating data entry. Keeping all these factors in mind, self-administered questionnaire was chosen to be distributed to the sample through email.
4.5 Sampling Process
This study uses a structured sample of the IS professionals working in commercial e-learning organisations in the Berkshire region to prevent key groups being unrepresented. The skills of IS trainers is of particular interest to this investigation and attempts were made to ensure a significant number of responses from people in this role. Over half of the potential participants approached were IS training professionals. This is to ensure the pedagogical skills mentioned are investigated fully. In other roles this type of skill may not be required and it will therefore not be possible to investigate if there are any gaps.
The questionnaire sample included IS professionals at all levels and grades of employment and reflected the composition of participating organizations. The survey allowed users to simultaneously score both their own self-assessment of their ability and their perceptions of the levels of skill actually required by their job.
The sample population (although small) is likely to be broadly representative of the region. The sample population comprises of organizations in the commercial e-learning sector, many with a history of close association with Business Link Berkshire and Wiltshire another such organisations. To add to the contacts offered by BLBW, other organisations have been approached to reduce concerns that this could cause the results to be invalid.
4.6 Analysis of data
This study used a highly structured questionnaire. It provides clear, unambiguous, easy-to-process and easy-to-analyse data. A small-scale research study of this kind can use a highly structured questionnaire to obtain large amounts of data in a short space of time. It was also relatively cheap to obtain and cheap to handle data, in comparison to qualitative analysis, with regard to both time and financial costs.
The responses were received as text e-mails that could then be transferred relatively easily into an analysis software package. The data obtained was run through the statistical software SPSS, and allowed probabilities and relationships to be found and displayed graphically and in table form. Perseus survey software was also used to complete some of the graphs. The nominal data such as age, sex, salary were tallied up. Each individual skill was used for descriptive statistics, to show what skills are required, to what level and what gaps exist.
The reasons, effect and impact section were analysed using descriptive statistics to find the mean responses to the liker scale, to say what the level of opinion of the respondents was. This use of the mean values was also used for the importance levels of specific skills.
The highly structured nature of the methods used meant that the analysis process is relatively simple. The results from SPSS were compared in the discussion chapter with some of the issues raised in the literature review chapter. This was the most complex part of the analysis. It is important that the results are collected in a reliable and valid way to allow comparisons with the literature and the author to make statements about the findings with understanding and confidence.
4.7 Future methodological Improvements
Ideally, with greater resources this study would have used triangulation of method to support the findings and conclusions put forward. The use of a combination of methods such as interviewing the participants or other persons involved in the sector would have strengthened the claims made by this survey.
This was initially part of the suggested methodology, to interview members of the human resources departments of the participating firms. As the project and particularly the literature review progressed, it was clear that to extend the study in this way to include issues surrounding requirement would have been too much to tackle on a small-scale research project.
Concentrating on a small area of investigation allowed the author to develop an understanding of the sector to produce significant claims. However, the use of triangulation to support the findings of the questionnaire would have improved the validity of this investigation. The key area to focus on improving was in detailing the pedagogical skills the training professionals have. Given more time this qualitative data could have been investigated in greater detail. It has not been carried out in this initial study, but could be developed onto of the findings of this investigation.
The strengths of the chosen method are that the skills can be collected, quantified and analysed statistically very easily. The method chosen, using a highly structured instrument to provide a simple clear outline of what skills IS professionals working in e-learning require. The validity of the instrument is supported by the process of development using the literature review.
5. Results and Analysis
The objectives and process of the research methodology for this study have been discussed in the previous chapters. This chapter aims to present and analyse the data collected with the survey instrument.
5.1 Detailed analysis of results from Survey
The URL of the questionnaire was sent with a covering e-mail to potential participants. These participants were selected via locating relevant organisations using the Internet, then contacting the companies and asking for the most suitable persons to contact. The questionnaire was attached to the electronic emails and sent to the convenience of 40 IS professionals working in the commercial e-learning sector in Berkshire. Two follow-up email reminders were sent ton on-responsive individuals after five days. These follow-up messages took the form of pleading for each person's reply due to their importance to the validity of the study. The total number of responses following two further follow up emails was 12, plus 1 response that was incomplete and could not be used. This gave a response rate of 30%,this is less than expected, but the results have provided some very interesting findings.
Section 1: Demographics
The majority of respondents (75%) had over 2 years of experience in their current role.
Figure 1 - Experience of respondents
The sample were also on average aged over 40 (83.3%), male (83.3%) and permanently (83.3%) working full-time (91.7%). Salaries were evenly spread (approximately 30% each) in the £20 to £3Ok, £30 to £40k Andover £40k brackets.
Figure 2 - Sex
The ICT roles of the sample using the SFIA framework were biased towards the Internal Operations sector (41.6%), and Strategy and Planning sector (33.3%). Table 1 below shows the frequencies by individual role. This may be attributed to the type of non-ICT dedicated companies this survey was investigating.
Table 1 - Current Role
Valid Internet/Web Professional
Services Project Manager
Section 2: Technical Skills
In this section the technical skills required were identified. Then these skills were ranked in the order of their importance. The results are in both graphical and table form to ease understanding.
The 64 technical skills were identified; they were split into 10sections: Networking, Security, Internet, IT Operating Systems, Hardware, Manufacturing, Telecoms, Database Applications, tools, Multimedia/DTP, Other technical.
This section also highlights the skills gaps found in the sample as well as the skills that have been over-developed.
There are five technical skills questions that are answered in this section:
1. What technical skills are required?
Technical Skill Frequency Tables
Generic Frequency Tables
1. Problem solving
Pedagogical Skill Frequency Tables
1. Instructional Design
2. What technical skills are not required?
The results identified 10 skills not required by 100 % of respondents, and a staggering 26 skills not required by over 75%. That is 36 of the 64technical skills identified (over half) not being required by this sector.
The Telecom and Manufacturing skills were not expected to be required, but the other skills that were not required such as Lotus Notes, UNIX were expected to have been used by at least a few of the respondents.
3. What technical skills are most important?
The five most important technical skills were ranked by respondents, on a scale of one to five, five being most important. The MS Word and MS Excel skills were clearly ranked highest which was in line with the results of the required skills. Server, HTML and MS PowerPoint knowledge also appeared to be rated as very important. Given below figure below summarizes the perceived most important technical skills(highest being MS-Excel and MS-Word).
Figure 3 - Importance of Technical Skills
4. What technical skills gaps exist?
The biggest surprise in the results was the number of respondents(83.3%) identifying some form of technical skills gaps. The majority of these skills are database related; Oracle, MS Access, VB, VB Script, and SQL. These skills, along with XML have already been identified assume of the most important technical skills required.
This is a very important issue; if the most important skills are also the skills that are least-developed there will be significant performance problems. All the identified security skills are under-developed; Encryption, Firewalls, and Disaster recovery. These are skills that are becoming increasingly important to professionals in Internet related industries. Given below figure shows only the skills gaps identified by over 25% of respondents.
Figure 4 - Technical Skill gap
5. What technical skills are over-developed?
The only technical skills respondents believed that they have expert knowledge in were three MS Office programs, listed below. This category was defined as being overdeveloped, the professional had the expertise to develop and expand on their current role in this technical skill.
MS-PowerPoint – 41.7%
MS-Word – 33.3 %
MS-Excel – 33.3 %
These skills are probably the most common used by any IS professional in any industry. The use of PowerPoint is higher because of the high number of Internal Operations professionals in this sample.
Section 3: General Skills
The general skills were made up of both the generic and pedagogical skills. This section covered the following questions.
1. What general skills are required and not required?
All of the general skills above were required by around 80% of respondents, with the exception of Design (PRMs) or scripts for e-learning content that was not required by 36.4%.
2. What general Skills are most important?
The five most important general skills were ranked by respondents, the results of these have been analysed. Then using the mean importance on a scale of one to five, five being most important, given below figure has been created.
Figure 5 - Importance of General Skills
It was clear to see that the generic skills are rated much higher in importance than the identified pedagogical skills. The most important skills by a considerable margin are written and oral communication, and leadership skills. The majority of pedagogical skills were not rated in the top five at all.
3. What generic skills gaps exist?
The main areas in which generic skills gaps were identified included awareness of industry issues, financial issues, and self-improvement. These gaps are fewer in number and less common than the technical skills gaps mentioned previously. Given below figure shows the percentage of respondents identifying their skills as underdeveloped.
Figure 6 - Generic Skill gap
4. What pedagogical skills gaps exist?
There were clearer gaps in the pedagogical skills; gaps were identified in all but one of the pedagogical skills listed. The most common gaps were in design of e-learning content, online coaching, and-moderation/e-assessment. The identified pedagogical skills gaps are shown in the given below figure.
Figure 7 - Pedagogical Skill Gap
5. What general skills are over-developed?
The sample identified a number of skills as being overdeveloped sufficiently to expand on their current roles. This was much higher than the equivalent technical skills identified. The majority of these general skills were the generic skills, including problem solving, numeric, and user IT skills. The only pedagogical skills identified were e-learning project planning and management.
Section 4: Reasons, Impact and Actions
1. What are the reasons for the skills gaps identified?
The respondents who identified their own skills gaps were asked to complete the optional final section that allowed them to describe the reasons and impacts of their skills gaps and the actions they would like to be taken to combat this problem.
The main reasons cited for skills gaps were recruitment problems and training issues. This included a lack of time to train and develop staff, and the organisation failing to train and develop staff. See Figure below for detailed description.
Figure 8 - Reasons for Skills Gaps
2. What are the impacts these skills gaps have had on organisations?
The impacts on organisations were an increase in operating cost, which could be linked to the heavier reliance on contractor market and difficulties meeting quality standards. A high percentage of respondents also cited there being no particular effect on their organisation.
3. What actions should be taken to combat these skills gaps?
Respondents were finally asked to identify the actions that they would like to take to combat their skills gaps. The results were as predicted, with respondents suggesting the action needed was to provide additional training and increase recruitment of direct staff. Also cited as a possible response to the problem was to change working practices, this would be in-line with the other two responses.
6. Discussion and Conclusion
The results of the study have been displayed in the previous chapter. In this chapter the meaning of the findings and how they link into the literature are looked at. The discussion takes the form of answering and discussing the three research questions stated in the introduction chapter. This section includes a discussion on the limitations of this study and how they may have affected the findings.
6.1 ‘IS’ professional’s skills in e-learning organisations in Berkshire?
The combinations of skills types given in the literature were made following investigation into the whole IS industry, it was suggested that the e-learning sector would have a stronger focus than other sectors on generic skills. The responses received in this study supported that view. Every single generic and pedagogical skill put forward in the questionnaire was required by over 80% of respondents. In comparison the distribution of technical skills required was quite different. The exact technical skills were very different for each response, and no patterns could be found even when comparing combinations of skills by role. It is believed that once an understanding of the basic technical skills and logical thinking is established a professional can build on these with ease independently. It is much harder to develop the generic and pedagogical skills without formal training.
The literature that was focused on e-learning highlighted all forms of communication (e.g. oral, written, and electronic) as the most important generic skills. The most important technical skills required in e-learning included web related technologies and presentation or audio visual skills. The analysis of this survey supported this view of the importance of communication skills compared to other generic skills. The importance of communication and leadership above other skills is clear. This survey also supports the views within the literature with regard to the importance of certain technical skills. Internet and presentation are amongst the five highest ranked technical skills. These skills are surrounded by Networking, Operating System, and MS Office skills.
The final area to look into was to see if the focus change from technical to pedagogical was visible in this study. This could not be done in the same way as the literature by repeating the study again after a 12 month period. As a different approach the structure of the instrument was written in a way to allow comparisons to be made between importance levels of the three categories of skill. This study could only use the perceived importance of the three types of skill to attempt to attribute focus levels. It was clear during the analysis that there could not be any claims regarding difference in importance of technical against general skills.
There was however a very clear difference between the respondents rating of importance between generic and pedagogical skills. The respondents ranked only 2 of the 12 pedagogical skills within the top18 general skills. This was very surprising in that around half of the respondents were training professionals. It was assumed that pedagogical skills would have been regarded as very important to this section of the sample population. All pedagogical skills were stated as required by over 80% of respondents, but nobody appeared to rate themes having any significant importance. This is an area the author would have liked to investigate further.
6.2 Skills gaps within this sector?
The number of respondents identifying some form of technical skills gap was a huge 83.3%. In the literature the technical skills gaps that existed were focused around Microsoft Programs; including Windows/NT,MS Application skills (especially MS Access), and Networking technologies. This conflicts dramatically with the findings of this survey, with the exception of MS Access.
All of the skills in the survey (excluding Oracle and Encryption) makeup the technical side of the required skills matrix. They have already been identified as some of the most important technical skills required. This is a very important issue; if the most important skills are also the skills that are non-existent or under-developed there will be significant performance problems in the participating organisations. The generic skills gaps that exist in reports from the literature include both written and oral communication, user IT skills, industry awareness, and problem solving. The majority of the literature findings conflict with the results here. The only skill that confirmed the literature was industry awareness that was highlighted as being under-developed by 37% of respondents. In this study the main areas in which generic skills gaps were identified included awareness of industry issues, financial issues, and self-improvement. These gaps are fewer in number and less common than the technical skills gaps identified.
There were clear gaps in pedagogical skills; in fact gaps were identified in all but one of the pedagogical skills listed. The most common gaps were in the design of e-learning content, online coaching, and e-moderation/e-assessment. As there had been no pedagogical skills gap analysis in the literature there was no data to compare with, butte weakness of the skills identified ties in with the perception of little importance given by respondents with regard to pedagogical skills.
Hence we can say that we have tested hypotheses H1 as positive implying that there is definitely a skill gap among the IS professionals in thee-learning sector be it technical or pedagogical.
To combat the skills gaps that emerged and prevent performance problems arising, a number of initiatives may be adopted to address the situation:
Improve training strategies for IS professionals within the sector
The results have highlighted significant deficiencies in training provision by e-learning organisations for their own staff. This seems strange that a commercial training organisation fails to provide sufficient training to their employees. In the literature this was highlighted as being a particular problem in Berkshire so there may be significant regional element to the results. The majority of organisations have no set training strategy or budget; this is something that needs to change.
Create an annual 'e-learning skills report' detailing gaps and shortages, allowing education and industry to understand emerging and established skills needs
There would be great benefit in having an annual report similar to the annual e-skills report. It would allow changes in demand and type of skill to be monitored. This would allow organisations to structure their internal training strategies, to eliminate skills gaps. Integration of emerging techniques and skills can be planned, rather than being forced on the organisations as the old methods become obsolete.
Form direct links between industry and education partners to allow course content to be improved and improve employment prospects for graduates
The most important action is to integrate education with industry. If courses as specialist as e-learning could be developed with an industry partner, the correct content would be guaranteed. This would also improve employment or promotion prospects which are generally the reasons for taking further study. If these links are not formed it is possible for courses to continue to miss the target when it comes to providing their graduates with the correct combination and depth of skills.
The findings of this study have provided answers to the questions the study set out to examine. A study can be judged as a success if this is the case. The limitations and detailed findings were given in the previous chapter so they have not been needlessly repeated here. This dissertation was commissioned to investigate the skills required for IS professionals working in the e-learning industry. The results can now be used as a foundation for developing a suitable postgraduate course at the University level. The main outcomes of the study can be used by universities and training organisations to tailor their course content to suit the constantly evolving demands of this industry.
The results define the expected skills and knowledge required for IS professionals in industry. This will allow academic institutions to create programs that more accurately reflect the demands of the marketplace. There was little identifiable data about the requirements of IS professionals specific to the e-learning sector. This is the gaping knowledge that was investigated. The research carried out in this project can be used by other universities to clarify the skills required for employment in this sector, allowing course content to be tailored to suit the changing demands of industry, and improve the opportunities for graduates seeking employment.
The implications of the skills gaps identified will be different. These gaps need to be addressed as soon as possible. There are a number of actions suggested to solve these problems in the next section. The larger issue of improving links between education and industry will take much greater effort, and is not something that can be solved quickly. For that reason this issue has been added to the final section on recommendations for further study.
6.5 Limitations and Further Study
The limitations of this study meant that the study could not cover all of the topics the author would have liked to. This study would have ideally used triangulation of methods to support the findings and conclusions put forward. As the study progressed further questions emerged, such as why the pedagogical skills were given so little importance when these organisations were commercial training companies. The use of a combination of methods such as interviewing the participants or other persons involved in the sector would have strengthened the claims made by this survey. It would have also allowed these further questions to be put forward.
Unfortunately the constraints of this small scale research study did not allow the time to carry out these interviews. It may have expanded the study too far to cope with, so it was judged to be suitable for recommended further research. Concentrating on the small area of skills gap investigation allowed the author to develop an understanding of the sector to produce significant claims. The summary given in the next section provides valid answers to the initial research question. The key area to focus on improving was in detailing the pedagogical skills the training professionals have. Given more time this qualitative data could have been investigated in greater detail. It has not been carried out in this initial study, but could easily be developed to support the findings of this investigation.
Another suggestion would be to pilot or perform a case study investigation of a postgraduate course that has been developed with an industry partner for Information Professional in the E-learning industry. This investigation could study whether or not this action could, as imagined, solve some of the skills gap problems highlighted in this study.
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