SME’s, clients and the e-Learning design process

Recently Christopher Pappas wrote a short article for the US based ‘eLearning Industry’ website. In it he outlined a few key skills for industry insiders to help them work with / manage / empathise with the client SME.

In summary he said:

SMEs need E-Learning/Instructional Design Professionals that can:

  • quickly assess their knowledge of e-learning
  • show that you care about the quality of the finished product as much as the SME does and that you are there for their best interest
  • identify and share only what they need to know to get through the design process (possibly per design project – baby steps)
  • demonstrate effective listening skills to understand their point of view, challenges, needs, and wants
  • identify key indicators for past failures or successes and recommend how to use “what they’re accustomed to” and take it to the next level
  • provide visual recommendations like storyboards or prototypes that display what they want Vs. what you can provide and let them decide – even if you disagree (if their choice proves ineffective then they’ll learn to trust your judgment)
  • demonstrate self-control and don’t give off a sense of frustration or anger verbally, with your body language, or via your facial expressions – aka no “stink face”

And that reminded me of the advice I penned for SME’s a while back. After all, as Christopher points out, we’re talking about two sides of the same coin and we all have a responsibility to make it work.

The more clients and SME’s understand the process the better because delays, re-writes and extra amends all add to the direct and hidden costs.

The rest of this article may be for you if you fall into one of the following categories:

  • You’ve never worked with a supplier developing e-learning before
  • You are an SME within a project and want to refresh yourself
  • You’re not sure what a timeline might look like
  • It’s unclear what you need to do

It’s not possible to cover all of the facets of a development process in one short article and so this document does not try to do so…it IS however a good place to start.

‘e-Learning’……. even the word itself draws varying responses, emotional ones (both positive and negative), rational ones that vary depending on the individual, even the definitions of the physical thing people think of when they hear the word e-Learning vary.

It’s no surprise then that many individuals/organisations feel a little unsure when designing and developing e-Learning.

What is e-Learning?

e-Learning is any learning that is technology enabled; of course it includes traditional linear e-Learning courses hosted on traditional Learning Management Systems but it also includes a number of other elements like webinars, Forums, Podcasts, Videocasts, mobile enabled tools, performance supporting reference libraries and a host of other tools including those with a social and collaborative function. If you’re involved from the very start on a project then it would be well worth considering the options available to you.

Being an e-Learning SME/Client

Firstly; don’t forget that the supplier has a lot of experience in developing projects; if you liaise with them (directly or through a project lead) you should be able to discuss and agree all of the following points before you begin.

If you’ve been identified as an SME for a project then there are number of things you would benefit from considering:

  • Do you have a copy of the project plan?
  • Have you been told when your input will be needed?
  • Have you been told how long you will have to review the content?

It’s important that you know when you will be involved. All projects vary but you may be required to input into the first draft content (Often a Word Doc), and you will probably be asked to review and feedback on the accuracy of the content at a number of stages throughout the development of the project. Sometimes that even includes reviewing the final version of a course online before launch.

Good tips are:

  • Free up diary space to allow you review time
  • Make sure you know who you are sending feedback to and how you will do it
  • Identify your responsibility from the start (factual accuracy, grammar, look and feel of the course, functionality) different people are sometimes responsible for different elements.
  • Keep it simple – If you are the project lead then control the number of people feeding back and consolidate their responses. Clear communication is key to remove confusion.
  • Finally; Is it clear to you at what point your involvement finishes?

Make sure that the end of your involvement has been identified to remove any confusion. It also ensures focus around the review process.

Typical development timeline

There are many similarities between an e-Learning project and any other. But there are also other elements that are unique. Due to technology requirements, for example, there are two obvious examples of differentiation:

  • Ability to change from scope mid project is greatly reduced due to the technical build of a course running parallel to the content. Therefore ‘Scope’ and artwork phases have significant impact.
  • e-Learning projects (when compared to classroom materials) often need a larger than normal sign-off phase to accommodate possible technical testing and pilot phases.

All projects vary and each supplier may have a slightly different methodology and naming conventions but in general there will be; a Kick-Off Stage, Content Development, Story Boarding, Artwork Review, First Draft (Alpha) review (90% complete), Second Draft (Beta) review (100% complete) and sign-off.

An alpha review is your chance (within reason) to check the overall piece of learning and to specify changes within the initial scope of the project.

At Beta review you should expect to be checking that the changes you requested have been made, not requesting new changes (Unless an error was made within the changes you requested)

SME’s can be involved in all areas but usually it is those that are underlined and the associated feedback that concern an SME.

As most seasoned professionals recognise, e-learning development is a process of partnership, often between a number of areas (Comissioner, Supplier, client SME and often other stakeholders). Clear expectations of responsibility and accountability will help to make the whole process, faster, more efficient/effective and more enjoyable.

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