eLearning Course Development: A How To Guide
By Quintus Joubert
Editor's note: While I'm not a fan of e-learning (whatever that's supposed to mean), there may be situations where it fits and is economical. As you read the following consider several things; the initial costs of elearning development are huge, as can be the cost of updating and maintaining the elearning courseware, and e-learning is not a complete replacement for face-2-face training.
Developing a Successful eLearning Course
This eLearning White Paper provides an overview of the steps involved in the development of an eLearning course. It is intended as a guide to avoiding common pitfalls that frequently occur during the development of a new eLearning course. Depending on the scope of your course some steps may not apply.
The 10 steps that will be discussed are:
1. Defining and maintaining a realistic project scope throughout the development process.
2. Defining and documenting the business case/need for the training course.
3. Identifying and recruiting business sponsors/champions.
4. Identifying and recruiting team members to assist in the course development.
5. Identifying and selecting the eLearning vendor.
6. Developing the eLearning course.
7. Testing the eLearning course.
8. Deploying the eLearning course.
9. Ensuring that there is sufficient technical support.
10. Adding content to future versions of the course.
STEPS TO DEVELOPING A SUCCESSFUL ELEARNING COURSE
1. DEFINE THE SCOPE OF THE ELEARNING COURSE
This may seem like a logical place to start and most companies do start at this point. Unfortunately, most companies do not document the course scope and as the course grows so does the scope. Considering that this may be the first time that you have developed an eLearning course, combined with the fact that you will be working with a new vendor my recommendation would be that you limit the scope of the project. Keep it simple and allow for expansion once the first version of the course is deployed. Generally the second version of the course will require additional functionality based on end user's input and feedback. You will also most likely need to add content based on feedback.
One of the keys to successful course development is to stick to the original scope for the first version and to share this scope with the user community when you deploy the course. Don't get distracted by comments from the Beta testing group that are outside the scope of the course. As I mentioned it is important to document the scope during the course development as Beta testing may be several months later, at which time you may be a little fuzzy on the exact scope of the initial project.
2. DEFINE BUSINESS CASE/ NEED FOR THE ELEARNING COURSE
Once again make sure that this is done right up front. Having a clear and defined business case/need for the project will be important during all phases of the project. Having a document that you can reference (and point naysayers to) will be invaluable to you. You can also use the ideas that you developed for the business case in your deployment letter to reinforce the value of the course to the target audience.
3. IDENTIFY BUSINESS SPONSORS/CHAMPIONS FOR THE ELEARNING COURSE
This is not only an astute political move, but business sponsors will also be an excellent financial and political resource during the development, testing and deployment phases of the project. Try to get business sponsors from diverse functional areas as there will most likely be cross organizational interactions that can be smoothed out by having the right mix of business sponsors on board.
4. IDENTIFY AND RECRUIT TEAM MEMBERS TO PARTICIPATE IN THE ELEARNING COURSE DEVELOPMENT
Before describing any of the details for this step I would like to make it clear that it is essential to identify and assign project leader/s for the project. Who will be the main contact between the eLearning vendor and your company? Who needs to be copied in on emails? Who is ultimately responsible for making the final decisions? I would recommend assigning one team leader. It is great to have technical people within your organization that can help your eLearning vendor with technical questions that they may have regarding your software and hardware standards. However, ultimately the team leader in consultation with the group experts needs to make the final decision. If you don't have a central contact/team leader your eLearning vendor may become confused about who they should contact with questions that they have.
Use your business case/needs document and message to promote the course and recruit team members prior to the actual selection of an eLearning development vendor. You will need a wide range of expertise in your team including content providers; content verification and translation members; IT support such as networking, Learning Management System (LMS) staff and helpdesk. In addition, you should recruit a test audience based on the target deployment locations. These members of the team will be useful throughout the development process if you are using an eLearning vendor that develops prototypes. Regardless of prototypes, the test group will be essential during the Beta testing phase. Ensure that you select members that represent all your deployment sites. Members should also represent your user demographic in terms of technology setup. So ensure for example, that if most of your intended users have access rights restrictions on their computers that your test group represents this audience.
5. IDENTIFY AND SELECT YOUR ELEARNING VENDOR FOR THE ELEARNING COURSE DEVELOPMENT
Although this document describes this as one step, it is in reality a rather involved process. Please read CMC's white paper entitled "Selecting an eLearning vendor: A guide to making an informed decision" for a detailed overview of the vendor selection process in the eLearning industry.
6. DEVELOP THE ELEARNING COURSE
This step generally involves numerous interactions between the customer and the eLearning vendor. The process should not be dictated by the eLearning vendor, but rather you should be actively involved during the development process. The critical factor to consider during the vendor selection process is whether the vendor is flexible enough to meet your eLearning needs. Most often the development process requires regular interaction between the client and the eLearning vendor. This is an important consideration prior to beginning an eLearning course as in most cases the team leader and members will need to dedicate a significant amount of time during all phases of the course development.
7. TEST THE ELEARNING COURSE ACROSS THE VARIOUS DEPLOYMENT SITES
Prior to deploying the course you need to do extensive Beta testing. Depending on the media/program/platform that is used for deployment your testing needs will change. The main thing to bear in mind with Beta testing or prototype testing during the development process is that you need to replicate the final deployment conditions of your target audience as closely as possible. This relates to issues such as rights management, firewalls/security, internet access, software configuration, server bandwidths etc.
8. DEPLOY THE ELEARNING COURSE
Prior to deployment, you need to send out a deployment letter to your target audience describing the course and what the minimum technological requirements are, the location of help files and the main contact person/s regarding specific issues or feedback suggestions. If the deployment letter is not very specific you will get feedback from users that could easily have been avoided. For example, if people don't realize that the disc that they received is a DVD rather than a CD they may try to play the DVD on their laptop which only has a CD drive.
In addition to sending the deployment letter to all end users, it is also advisable to send any course specifications and help files to all of the local helpdesks to assist with technical issue resolution and support. You may also want to ask the eLearning vendor to put together a document that describes the main technical features and requirements to the local Help desks. This will be most valuable for course deployment on your corporate intranet or LMS.
9. FOLLOW UP TO ENSURE ADEQUATE TECHNICAL SUPPORT FOR THE ELEARNING COURSE
After deployment, follow up to ensure that users are getting the technical support that they require. If you are using an LMS for deployment you can follow up to see how many people have registered and completed the course and then compare these figures with the number of technical issues that you are facing. Generally, you will need to provide technical support to 5-15% of your end users depending on the complexity of the course and the deployment arena.
10. DETERMINE WHAT ADDITIONAL CONTENT CAN BE ADDED TO NEW VERSIONS OF THE ELEARNING COURSE
Once your course has been in the field for a couple of months get some feedback from your user community to see if there is a need to add or correct any content. If your course is successful you will most likely get content suggestions very early after deployment. Although suggestions and changes are great because they will most likely strengthen the course and broaden your audience's knowledge base, it is important to create, maintain and update a comprehensive change control system. It is important to track such data as content changes, graphic design changes, course numbers, course descriptions, scripting and functional changes.
Quintus Joubert is originally from South Africa where he received his Bachelor’s and Honor’s Degrees in Economic Sociology from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Quintus also holds and Master’s degree in Economic Sociology from Rutgers University, Piscataway. After graduating, Quintus joined a Princeton-based Knowledge Management (KM) consulting practice. In his position as a senior analyst, he was responsible for developing the first comprehensive industry-wide survey of Indian software companies; researching and conducting a needs and competitive analysis for an integrated KM and collaborative suite and assisting in development of several prototypes that were integrated into the final KM suite. Client engagements were focused on integrating knowledge flow through the customer’s organization by integrating processes, technology and enabling meaningful collaboration. In December 2003, Quintus joined Cyber Media Creations (CMC) as Director of Business Development. Duties and responsibilities include sales, marketing, business development and project management.