E‐learning assimilation in SMEs

I was exploring factors influencing the adoption of technology in small and medium enterprises. I wanted to find out what these factors are – why companies decide to use or reject or postpone using the technology to enhance training. This article summarises an interesting finding in that area. Authors noticed…

I was exploring factors influencing the adoption of technology in small and medium enterprises. I wanted to find out what these factors are – why companies decide to use or reject or postpone using the technology to enhance training. This article summarises an interesting finding in that area. Authors noticed the contradiction between the perception of e-learning as an attractive complement to traditional training and expectations that it will grow fast and the actual speed and level of adopting technology in SMEs and try to find factors and determinants of adopting and assimilating e-learning in SMEs. As there is not much literature about an e-learning adoption and assimilation, the authors hope to draw from the literature on IT adoption and present factors that could be relevant to the e-Learning context. It is a conceptual paper so they focus on analysing available literature, drawing conclusions and making generalisations. The paper is structured:

  1. State of eLearning usage in SMEs
  2. Literature review giving context on IT adoption and assimilation factors
  3. Recommendation for future research

What are authors saying that is relevant to what I want to find out?

They point out the contradiction – despite being perceived as an attractive complement to traditional training the adoption of technology is relatively slow (slower than it could have been expected).
They distinguish between technology ADOPTION and ASSIMILATION. This is quite interesting – I never thought about that this way.

1. State of e-Learning usage

Authors bring up some interesting European reports. Report from 2002 doesn’t even include e-Learning (there is no question specifically mentioning this). It confirmed that the internet was used by 7% of companies but only in the context of recruitment, no training. I think this seems to be quite often the case in today’s companies. Another research from 2005 concludes with the statement that it was very difficult to find companies that experimented with e-Learning. Analysed literature offers a number of reasons, interestingly some of them were on the list possible barriers which I drafted when working on my research project (e.g. time and resources, lack of time, lack of hardware, difficulty to evaluate. (p.594)). One of the common themes in all research was the management attitude. It is deemed to be one of the most important factors influencing the technological innovations in SMEs. I think this can be expanded and could be considered an influencer in the context where the management is free to follow their preferences and could have an independent strategic approach.

2. Literature review giving context on IT adoption and assimilation factors

Authors start with giving the definition of e-Learning as a tool or procedure closely related and linked to information and communication technologies (definitions by Wang, 2011 and Cheng, 2011) and list and analyse factors/determinants of technology assimilation: A. Technology, B. Organisation and C Environment A. Technology Factors – authors note the differences between adoption levels of different types of technology (standardised -v- customised) but it is not clear which of them is higher in rankings. Another study looks at the attributes of innovation and their role in e-Learning adoption stating that only two out of four, namely relative advantage and trialability influence e-Learning adoption decisions. Finally, there are technological barriers such as complexity, incompatibility and cost of systems. In summary – they identify three main technological factors:

  • IT assets ,
  • e-learning complexity,
  • e-learning cost

B. Organisational Factors – Authors identify two factors present in literature namely, firm-specific factors (sector, size, structure, ) and employee-related factors (education, position, demographics, competencies) and propose slightly different grouping:

  • Manager strategic orientation – typology based on how managers respond to problems (prospector, defender, analyser and reactor). I can see how relevant this is – we are not a small firm, but the differences in management style are visible and influence the strategy , innovation, etc.
  • Manager Competencies – IT skills, managerial skills and business and general management skills (where change mgmt is important)
  • Employees Competencies – While adoption decision lies at the managerial level, the individual level of adoption translates to assimilation. e-learning assimilation hinges on employees’ willingness and capabilities. Authors propose three main categories of employee-related factors:
    • technical skills (computer self-efficacy, internet self-efficacy)
    • learning capabilities (cognitive absorption, learning goal orientation)
    • business competencies (business and interpersonal knowledge and skills)
    These factors are closely related to motivation which is not mentioned here.

C. Environmental Factors – these factors are understood as ‘external or environmental pressures’.

Authors grouped them into 4 categories
  • Social – external or interpersonal influences impacting how e-learning is perceived (influence attitudes ie whether certain behaviours should be/is expected to be occurring or not). These influencers could be press, reports, opinions of experts but also friends, relatives etc.
  • Institutional – closely related to so-called best practices – the pressure that institution will undergo to ‘align itself to common practices’
  • Competitive context – making decisions out of fear to be at a competitive disadvantage.
  • Sector or industry-related – sector which company operates within , the characteristics of the industry can be a major driver for adopting specific initiatives or innovations. Depending on the sector different factors (level of required skills, sophistication and complexity of used technology, the pace of changes, demand for renewable knowledge) have an impact on learning and e-learning needs.

3. Recommendations

Authors then propose their own research framework and put forward 20 research propositions.

In conclusion – what use can I make of this? Relevance

The most valuable part was the literature review – I found many titles that I haven’t come across yet.
Also, the analysis and synthesis of literature and findings were really helpful – it puts things in perspective and gives me a pretty good understanding of various factors impacting on the assimilation of technology. The paper also shows how, in the situation of lack of literature closely related to the topic, the findings from other related contexts could be generalised and used.
Finally, reading this paper, I came out with a few more possible questions for interviews and questionnaires (p.594).


Authors are professors and doctoral researchers from Canadian universities. Audience – possibly managers that could use the knowledge created before deciding to use technology and to plan how to implement e-learning


Here, assimilation differs from adoption in that it refers to the breadth and depth with which a technology is used in an organization, that is, its “infusion” and “routinization” (Gallivan, 2001). E-learning assimilation is deemed very important as it is generally accepted that “the potential business value of IT applications cannot be fully realized until they are extensively assimilated in an organization” (Liang et al., 2007, p. 60). p.593
It is at the individual level that one will see if the e-learning technology adopted has been well assimilated, i.e. has become an integral part of the firm’s culture and routines. p.598

Louis Raymond, Sylvestre Uwizeyemungu, François Bergeron, Stéphane Gauvin, (2012) “A framework for research on e‐learning assimilation in SMEs: a strategic perspective”, Vol. 36 Issue: 6, pp.592-613, https://doi.org/10.1108/03090591211245503

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