Recently I was asked about common issues for our clients to be aware of when contracting for custom elearning. After all, our goal at Microassist is to provide our clients with a final, custom-built online training product that gets people to learn in a new, engaging, and all-around satisfying format that enables learners to acquire a new skill and perform at a higher level. So how do we get there? It turns out that the client’s role is pretty critical in making that happen, particularly at certain stages. As elearning project manager, I’m going to provide an overview of the stages involved in developing custom training, and what you can do to keep the project on track and within budget as we go through those stages.
Three Stages All Custom Elearning Projects Go Through
At its most basic level, developing a custom elearning development solution involves three stages:
1. Elearning Project Task Analysis
The elearning project task analysis is the foundational document of the online training project. Here, we specify the intended audience for the training, the gaps between what the audience can do and can’t do, and the training needs we’ve identified to fill those gaps. We outline training requirements, learning goals, training objectives, ideas regarding interactions, what determines mastery, how mastery is evaluated, accreditation information and take a stab at how long the training will take. Some of this material will be vague—we won’t know precisely which quiz questions will make up the student evaluation at this stage or the precise length of the training time—but by outlining these items early on in the process, we can define what is to be talked about, and by association, what isn’t to be talked about during the course of the training.
2. Elearning Storyboarding
Much like a movie or video production, our design team will create a storyboard. That is, we’ll outline a description of each and every page or screen of the training, We’ll include a rough visual depiction of each screen and write scripted narration for each lesson component. The storyboard will have proposed images and instructions for our developers.
3. Elearning Production
In this final stage, Pinocchio becomes a real boy. It’s where the development magic happens. We take all the thinking and strategy and expertise from your teams and ours, add a bit of pixie dust and a lot of finesse, and finalize the transformation that started way back when you realized you needed custom training to move forward with your business goals. At the end of production, you have a fully realized elearning module through which the audience can master the goals that were identified back in the task analysis phase, bringing them up to a new and higher standard of performance.
Each of these stages involves you, the client, but how much you’re involved may surprise you. Here’s what I mean.
The Client’s Role: Indispensable Ways You Contribute to Project Success
In the end, the training project is yours. It must meet your needs, fit within your culture, advance your business, and focus on learning goals you have for your organization. Therefore, you are absolutely critical to its success. Here are three indispensable ways you contribute to the success of your custom elearning project, particularly during the first two stages (Task Analysis and Storyboarding):
1. Be clear on your desired outcome for the elearning project.
Most of us know the phrase “begin with the end in mind.” Personally, I love this phrase. I use it all the time. And I particularly love to use it with custom elearning projects. The key word there is “custom” because doing something “custom” means there is no mold to cage you in, and the range of possible outcomes becomes extremely broad. That’s why it’s important for you—the client—to define (and get consensus on) your desired outcome. Know what results you’re looking for, and be clear about whether or not custom elearning can cure what ails you. Otherwise, you can spend a lot of time and money meandering through all the possibilities in search of something that fits. You can determine this before you engage us, or work with us to help refine your end goals.
2. Don’t underestimate how much we need you.
In my eight years here, I’ve heard more than one client say that up front they had no idea how much they’d be involved in stages one and two: the design phase of the project. These remarks make a ton of sense to me. Because when I pay a vendor to do something for me, I think that my only job is to write a check while they do the rest. But custom elearning design doesn’t work that way–it’s more like hiring an architect to build a house. You work with that person to collaborate and make all necessary decisions about your home together. You rely on them to understand the engineering that creates a sound structure. You’d never do the project without them, and you certainly wouldn’t hire them and walk away.
It’s the same with your instructional designer (ID). They “build” learning. Just like an architect knows how to design a building without it falling down on your head, an ID knows how to design your courses without your users wishing they could just log out. Instructional designers know the engineering that creates sound and effective training, but in order for them to leverage this expertise, they need the subject matter knowledge you possess and the guidance you provide. For instance, the task analysis is heavily dependent on working with subject matter experts and other stakeholders to get critical information on what the training is to accomplish. In the storyboard stage, we work closely with the stakeholders to get each visual and word precisely correct. That’s the partnership that generates good custom elearning, and that’s why the client’s role is so critical.
3. Involve any “deal breaker” stakeholders from the start.
I think this is one of the toughest things I ask my clients to do.
What I often see is that my day-to-day point of contact (let’s call him Bob) has been tapped to run the elearning project with us because the higher-ups are too busy with other initiatives. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but it can create risk on the project later. Let’s say that Bob does a great job on the project, and as it nears the end, the higher-ups see Bob’s work for the first time. Right here is where one of two things happen. The first is that the higher-ups are pleased, and the project draws to a quiet close. The second is that the project, having been shaped by Bob, conflicts with the higher-ups’ vision, and the wheels come off at the finish line. So my lesson to you is this: identify all your stakeholders at the outset of the project, determine which of these could override you at the finish line, and get them involved as early and as much as possible.
The Final Stage: Elearning Developer’s Magic
The first two stages are essentially the blueprinting and framing of your custom build. We may check in with you to finalize details as we go, but the bulk of our information gathering has been done. After the client-heavy intensity of the first two stages, you will see a distinct drop off in our questions. You won’t see us as much. Instead, our talented team of elearning developers takes the storyboard, informed by the task analysis, and makes it come to life. And, if we’ve tackled the back and forth of those first stages well (achieving near “mind-meld” status), then all the subject matter expertise, specifications, recommendations, learning goals, training objectives, and various other bits and pieces gleaned through our interaction come together and become a real product: custom-built training that is right for your organization and your learners, and that meets the goals we originally identified.
Now that you know a bit of what to expect, as well as how critical you and your subject matter experts are to the custom elearning development process, we invite you to ask any questions you have about getting your training project started (you can even comment below!).
Maybe you have a good idea of what you want built. Or maybe all you know is that you just need training that’s proven to reach learners with a consistent message and curriculum. We’re happy to walk through your situation with you to see what training method might be best for your situation.
Learning Development Resources
- Curriculum Development and Elearning Case Studies
- Training ROI: Use of Return on Investment for Training Programs
- Kevin Gumienny: What Does An Instructional Designer Do? [Video]
- Learning and Development Resources [Curated list of external resources]
- Accessible Elearning Development