A Study On Achieving Competitive Advantage

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Cisco's chief executive officer, John Chambers (1999) posits that "the biggest growth in the Internet, and the area that will prove to be one of the biggest agent of change, will be e-learning.

"E-learning is the online delivery of information for purposes of education, training and knowledge management" (King et al., 2006). E-learning is recognized as a relevant method for the provision of learning across all areas of society and is of paramount importance to all learning institutions at all different levels since this technology offer tremendous opportunities to teaching and learning for both the teacher and student. This paper provides an overview of e-learning and demonstrates how College X could achieve competitive advantage through the use of e-learning.

The researcher will conduct a review of other institutions that currently utilize e-learning technologies. This is done in order to gain ideas and insight on how e-learning works. Opportunities and pitfalls will be explored such as whether e-learning will open up new markets for the institution or may cause a further decline in student intake. The required resources for setting up e-learning programs will also be examined as these are critical factors to be considered in order for the institution to achieve competitive advantage over its rivals.

In this paper, research activities are presented along with expounding research questions. An outline of the research methods used to investigate these research questions is also given.

2. INTRODUCTION AND RELATION TO PREVIOUS RESEARCH

Introduction

As technologies surface from areas such as mobile, universal computing and the evolution of the internet, the possibility exist that new opportunities may emerge for College X through e-learning. E-learning is one of todays most talked about words in the academic world in Jamaica and most of the world in general. E-learning is a new way of learning that presumed by many to be more cost efficient than traditional learning methods and strategies and which allow students to better control the process of learning. This is because the students gets the chance to decide when, where and how fast to learn.

College X is one of eight (8) Community Colleges in Jamaica. It five (5) departments which offer programs in areas of Computer Studies, Business Studies, Tourism, Continuing Education and Teacher Education. After a review of the institution's record, and based on observation, student intake for some programs that were initially very successful has been on the decline over the past two years. Over the period, management of the institution tried different strategies to reclaim market share, but these efforts proved unsuccessful, and as a result, the institution was instead at a competitive disadvantage.

It is for this reason the researcher chooses to conduct this research on e-learning to determine if there are benefits to be achieved from it, and if yes, how can the benefits help College X to achieve competitive advantage.

2.2 Research Questions

This paper will examine if a new approach to teaching and learning - e-learning - will help College X achieve competitive advantage, thus regaining market share.

The research will therefore look at the following main areas:

The different forms of e-learning activities that can be implemented in College X.

Opportunities and barriers that will arise as a result of employing e-learning technologies in the teaching and learning environment at College X.

Resources needed to successfully implement e-learning at College X.

The central question of the research is:

How can College X achieve competitive advantage through e-learning?

The sub-questions arising from the central question are:

What is the current status of e-learning in other selected tertiary institutions in Jamaica?

What are the different forms of e-learning activities that can be implemented in College X in order to achieve competitive advantage?

How can College X benefit from the implementation of e-learning programs?

What are the required resources (e.g. equipment, materials, human resources) to successfully implement e-learning in order for College X to achieve competitive advantage?

What barriers could arise from employing e-learning at College X?

Why this question is interesting

This paper is extremely important because the institution has been loosing its clients to other providers of similar offerings in the market and in order to help the institution regain its market share, the researcher would like to reinvent the wheel by exploring a different and new approach to teaching and learning through the use of emerging digital technologies through the internet and the world wide web (WWW) since researches have shown that there is increasing interest in computerized delivery of higher education programs (King et al. 2006). Additionally, as an employee of the institution, and as an Information Technology Lecturer, my contribution to make recommendation on how to strategically implement change which will give the institution a competitive edge over its rivals is of paramount importance.

2.4 Literature Review

The literature review will provide a context for the research (Wiersma, 2000). It will review some important issues related and relevant to the research questions. Firstly, it will review the definition of e-learning, and then review the different forms of e-learning that are implemented in other similar institution in Jamaica and other parts of the world. The importance of e-learning in the development of the institution will also be discussed. Next, the benefits and limitations of implementing e-learning in a school institution will be explored. Lastly, the required resources that are needed to successfully implement e-learning will be examined.

3. PROPOSED METHODS

3.1 Research Method

Qualitative and quantitative research methods will be used to achieve the aims and objectives of the research since both methods will provide the researcher with more insight into results that will be gathered (Wiersma, 2000). .

3.2 Data Collection

Data collection for the research will follow the following procedures:

Information for Literature Review

Information for the literature review will be primarily based on a survey of related academic researches and applied studies that have been conducted on the theory of e-learning and the practice of e-learning. The benefits of e-learning will also be reviewed. These benefits will also be explored to review how they can help institutions to gain a competitive edge over rivals. This will also provide the researcher with possible research designs and methodological procedures that may be used in the research study. Data for the literature review will be sought from the World Wide Web (WWW), Journals, periodicals and academic thesis.

Information for primary and secondary data

Personal interviews and questionnaires are the main methods which will be used for data collection.

Interviews will be conducted to seek to gather information pertaining to research questions. Personal interviews will provide interactions and the opportunity for in-depth probing which is necessary to obtain information on the forms of e-learning available the benefits and limitations that will arise as a result of employing e-learning. Interviews will be conducted with personnel from E-learning Project, Jamaica, and administrators and principals/managers of at least six (6) tertiary institutions in Jamaica that currently deliver programs via e-learning.

The questionnaires will consist of questions and prompts for the purpose of gathering information from respondents relating to some research questions. Questionnaires will be used to gather information from following persons on their views of e-learning:

Current students at College X.

Current students who are enrolled in e-learning programs in other institutions in Jamaica.

Administrators from at least six (6) institutions in Jamaica that employs e-learning technologies in program delivery.

Anticipated participants will be given a cover letter introducing the study and explaining the context of the research focus since it is a mechanism for introducing individuals to the instrument and motivating them to respond (Wiersma, 2000).

The information gathered will then be analyzed and used to support this research project.

3.3 Sampling Method

Because the study is focusing on the institution in relation to its competitors in Jamaica, the study will conducted in Jamaica. Random sampling will be used for participants in most cases. This is to ensure the sample selected is unbiased, therefore all members of the population has a nonzero probability of being selected for the sample (Wiersma, 2000).

Selected participants of the sample will be obtained from the list of students that are currently enrolled in College X. Participants will also be selected from a list of students that are currently enrolled in e-learning programs in six other institutions in Jamaica. Selected students from College X will be given a cover letter where the researcher explains the context of the research focus. They will also be notified of the date and time when the questionnaires will be completed. Students selected from other Colleges will receive their cover letter and questionnaire via e-mail.

Purposeful sampling will be used to gather information from all participants with whom interviews will be conducted. A cover letter introducing the study and explaining the context of the research focus will be given to them prior to the interview.

3.4 Analyzing Method

The information sought for the literature review will be sorted and analyzed based on relevance to the research questions. Results generated through the data collection instruments will be analyzed mainly through the use of statistical analysis facilitated by a personal computer.

4. REFLECTIONS

4.1 Barriers

The researcher foresees several obstacles which may present a few challenges. The time needed to ensure that all deadlines as outlined in the timetable are met is of great concern. Access to some persons mentioned above who are to be interviewed may pose a problem, since their timing and the researcher's timing may differ. Questionnaire sent out to selected participants may not come in on time, or not come in at all, in order for the researcher to meet the deadlines which will result in a low response rate which can be devastating to the reliability of the study. The researcher acknowledges the need and importance to follow up on non-respondents; however, the time to do this is limited. Another major problem is that managers from other institution may not be co-operative because they might fear that if the results of the findings of the study are positive, then College X will implement e-learning technologies and therefore cut in on their market share.

5. CONCLUSION

In a few years from now, it is anticipated that e-learning technologies will be employed in almost all tertiary institutions across Jamaica because of the advantages it offers. The government of Jamaica has already initialized and embraced this technology through an e-learning project managed by e-Learning Jamaica Company Limited, the organization formed by government to manage the project. The project got underway last year in thirty one (31) institutions across the island - 28 high schools at the grades 10 and 11 levels, and three teachers colleges. Avrill Crawford, Project Manager of the e-Learning project cites that the objectives of the project are to improve the quality of education, enhance the learning experience and ensure high levels of passes in External examinations. Jamaica's Education Minister, Maxine Henry Wilson also posits that "e-Learning will provide flexible access to information and that is what is going to determine the extent to which we are able to compete with our neighbors". This research will explore these and more benefits to be achieved from employing e-learning technologies. The researcher will also examine if these benefits can aid in creating competitive advantage for College X.

The next step in the research process is to review and circulate questionnaires. The researcher will also seek to make appointments with all participants with whom interviews will be conducted. These will be done promptly to ensure on time completion and analysis of the data.

6. TIMETABLE

The following chart provides details on how the dissertation will be managed:

TASKS

ACTIVITIES

START DATE

END DATE

1

Source data for literature review

April 1, 2007

May 30, 2007

2

Review questionnaire

April 22, 2007

April 28, 2007

3

Distribution of questionnaire

May 1, 2007

May 4, 2007

4

Collection of questionnaire

May 7, 2007

May 9, 2007

5

Conduct Interview

May 10, 2007

May 15, 2007

6

Analyze data collected

May 17, 2007

May 25, 2007

7

Write up chapter 1 & 2

May 27, 2007

June 8, 2007

8

Write up chapter 3

June 11, 2007

June 22, 2007

9

Write up chapter 4

June 25, 2007

July 6, 2007

10

Write up chapter 5 & 6

July 7, 2007

July 8, 2007

11

Write appendices

July 9, 2007

July 20, 2007

12

Prepare first draft

July 23, 2007

July 27, 2007

13

Review first draft

July 30, 2007

August 3, 2007

14

Prepare final draft

August 4, 2007

August 8, 2007

15

Review final draft

August 10, 2007

August 18, 2007

16

Submit final copy

August 20, 2007

REFERENCE

Anonymous (2006). Cable and Wireless Launches E-Learning Project. Thursday, August 17, 2006. http://www.jis.gov.jm/commerce_science/html/20060816T090000-0500_9741_JIS_CABLE_AND_WIRELESS_LAUNCHES_E_LEARNING_PROJECT.asp Kingston (JIS). (April 11, 2007).

Chambers, John (1999). Keynote talk to the Fall 1999 Comdex Trade Show. Las

Vegas. November 16th, 1999

King, David; Viehland, Dennis; Lee Jae (2006). Electronic Commerce 2006. A Managerial Perspective. Pearson. Prentice Hall.

Linton, Latonya (September 05, 2006). E-Learning Project to get Underway this Month. http://www.jis.gov.jm/education/html/20060902t140000- 500_9923_jis_e_learning_project_to_get_underway_this_month.asp. . Kingston (JIS). (April 11, 2007)

Wieserma, William (2000). Research Methods in Education. An Introduction. 7th edition. Allyn and Bacon.

Sarojni Choy. Benefits of e-Learning Benchmarks: Australian Case Studies.

Queensland University of Technology.

Marcus Pailing. E-learning: is it really the best thing since sliced bread? Industrial and Commercial Training Journal. Jul 2002. Volume: 34 Issue: 4 Page: 151 - 155

Bob Little. Shaping the blends. Industrial and Commercial Training Journal 2006. Volume: 38 Issue: 4 Page: 190 - 195. Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Tracey Leacock. Building a sustainable e-learning development culture. The Learning Organization Journal. Aug 2005. Volume: 12 Issue: 4 Page: 355 - 367. Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

APPENDIX 1

DRAFT SURVEY QUESTIONNAIRE FOR COLLEGE X STUDENTS

VIEWS ON E-LEARNING

For the questions below, please respond where necessary by circling or placing a tick beside the appropriate response.

What are your views on how the content of the course(s) you take are being delivered?

a. boring b. interesting c. in between

Would you accept a change in how your content is delivered?

a. Yes b. No

3. Do you understand the meaning of the term "e-learning"?

a. Yes b. No

4. Do you enjoy using the computer?

a. Yes b. No

Do you understand how to use basic features of a computer, e.g. word processing the internet, send and receive e-mail etc.?

a. Yes b. No

Do you think you will be able to learn better given the following situation as long as you are supported by a facilitator?

Check ( ) the appropriate response

Yes

No

a. by using your computer and the internet

b. by learning at your own pace

c. by learning from home, work, or anywhere in the world

d. you are able to make suggestions without your classmates

knowing who you are

If you were given a choice, would you prefer to take the course by e-learning instead of by traditional approach?

a. Yes b. No

APPENDIX 2

QUESTIONNAIRE FOR STUDENTS THAT CURRENTLY USE E-LEARNING

VIEWS OF E-LEARNING

For the questions below, please respond where necessary by circling or placing a tick beside the appropriate response, or write your response in the space provided..

What are your views on how the content of the course(s) you take are being delivered?

a. boring b. interesting c. in between

Would you accept a change in how your content is delivered?

a. Yes b. No

Do you think you learn better using e-learning?

a. Yes b. No

Do you enjoy learning in the following situation as long as you are supported by a

facilitator?

Check ( ) the appropriate response

Yes

No

a. by using your computer and the internet

b. by learning at your own pace

c. by learning from home, work, or anywhere in the world

d. you are able to make suggestions without your classmates

knowing who you are

If you were given a choice, would you prefer to take the course by traditional approach instead of by e-learning?

a. Yes b. No

Has e-learning helped you to be more successful in your studies?

a. Yes b. No

Please rank by number (1-14) the most important benefits of taking an e-learning course. 1 is the most important benefit, 14 is the least.

Benefits

Ranking

No costs of time or travel to go for learning.

Flexibility

Fit in with other commitments.

Learn where and when suits.

Learn at your own pace.

Learn what you need and want.

Vast resource available through the Internet.

Tailored to personal needs and style.

Can make mistakes without immediate observation by peers and tutors.

Can receive immediate and personal feedback.

Opportunities to practice and control progress.

May provide more opportunities to interact

with other learners.

Can be matched to learner's preferred style.

May be cheaper fees than a traditional course.

Please rank by number (1-15) the most important limitation of taking an e-learning course.

Barriers

Rank

lack of human contact with teacher and student

Lack of motivation

Limited access to suitable IT equipment.

Costs of equipment eg. computer.

Costs of access to the Internet.

Social dimension of a learning community.

May not possess the IT skills.

May lack the interaction skills

Is there any comment/suggestion/recommendation you would want to make about the e-learning program at your school?

_________________________________________________________________

_________________________________________________________________

_________________________________________________________________

_________________________________________________________________

_________________________________________________________________

_________________________________________________________________

APPENDIX 3

QUESTIONAIRE FOR PRINCIPALS/MANAGERS

For the questions below, please respond where necessary by circling or placing a tick beside the appropriate response.

PART A - THE STATUS E-LEARNING

1. How many courses are delivered using e-learning? ___________________

2 a. Are the same courses offered now by e-learning delivered in your traditional

classroom?

a. Yes b. No

b. If yes, give an example of the enrolment for a course taught using both methods.

Total Enrolment

E-learning (%)

Traditional (%)

c. Do the students that take e-learning programs perform better that those in the traditional classroom?

a. Yes b. No C. Same

3. What forms of e-learning technology is currently employed at your institution?

________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________

4. Are e-learning programs offered in conjunction with other traditional methods of

delivery?

a. Yes b. No

5. Can e-learning approaches substitute for traditional delivery methods?

a. Yes b. No

PART B - THE BENEFITS OF E-LEARNING

Would you agree that e-learning is a paradigm shift in the way education is viewed and delivered?

a. Yes b. No

Do you think delivery using e-learning is better than delivery using traditional approaches?

a. Yes b. No

What are some of the advantages of e-learning approaches over traditional approaches you experience? Rank (1-10) the most important advantage; 1 is the most important benefit, 10 is the least.

Advantages

Rank

Widen participation.

Match or beat the competition

Increase student body without demands on student

accommodation for living or classrooms or computers.

Cheap to support extra students.

Interest of staff in new technology applications.

Widen revenue base to recover development costs.

Participate in strategic alliances.

Access government development funding.

Able to offer lower fees than a campus-based course.

Learning matched to individual needs to maximize success

rates and minimize dropout rates thereby maximizing

revenue per student

a. Does e-learning increase student enrolment?

a. Yes b. No

b. If yes, please state by what percentage enrolment has increased over the past 2 years.

Year

% Increase

2005-2006

2006-2007

a. Does the introduction of e-learning cause the institution to gain customers out

of it's target market?

a. Yes b. No

b. If yes, explain briefly.

___________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________

a. In terms of cost, what impact does e-learning have on the institution?

a. Negative b. Positive

b. Are you able to provide education at a cheaper rate due to the implementation of e-learning?

a. Yes b. No

Provide an estimate of the impact of cost for a student for a 2- year period.

Year

Cost Using Traditional Approach

Cost Using

E-Learning Approach

Loss/Savings

1

2

TOTAL COST

a. Is your institution more successful in terms of enrolment as a result of the implementation of e-learning?

a. Yes b. No

b. If yes, what would you say are the key benefits and contributing factors that

has helped your institution to be successful?

____________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________________

PART C - BARRIERS

13. What barriers are you faced with that are associated with e-learning? From the list

below, rank the top 3 most important barriers as they affect your institution.

BARRIERS

Costs of developing e-learning.

Loading resources into presentation not learning.

Staff capabilities to support e-learning, IT and e-tutoring.

Staff development costs.

Honesty of students' on-line assessments.

Re-sourcing staff to provide individual tutorial support.

Encouraging and supporting all learners to access and continue to use the system.

Some learning cannot be achieved through e-learning.

Ranking:

1st _______

2nd _______

3rd _______

14. Do you consider the other barriers from the list that were not selected important?

a. yes b. no

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