Last week, I was browsing my weekly newsletters when I came across this article titled “Basic E-Learning Workflow And Design Process” by Nicole Legault on E-Learning Heroes. Much of the article is spot on and a great read for someone getting started with e-learning. There are two things I believe are truly missing from this article, and possibly others like it.
Legault’s article outlines a general process for anyone starting an e-learning design and development project. The process includes:
- Chat with the Client
- Gather and Organize Content
- Review and Edit
- Develop the Course
- Quality Assurance and Testing
- Publish and Deploy
I like articles like this because even if it is different from what I might do, it sparks my critical thinking. In a way, this is a method for me to do ongoing self-evaluation of my methods and process.
Specifically, I start many of my projects by asking questions, meeting with the people on the project, and getting a full understanding of the needs, just as Legault suggests. In many ways, this is my step in gathering information to do a needs analysis. Often, this step is skipped for many e-learning projects and sometimes the solution to a perceived problem is not even e-learning but a job aid or a resource webpage.
I had a project in college in which I had to work with a group to determine our training solution to a client’s poor employee performance report. Further, this large company did many phone orders for products. The employees taking the orders had poorly designed product catalogs to place the orders. In the end, the real problem was the catalog. The best solution was not a training program (which is expensive in many ways), it was a redesign of the product catalog. This is where a needs analysis is central to addressing the true issues, even if the client has “hired” you to build an e-learning product. Though, I realize this is tricky when considering respect and trust in the client…
Another thing I have discovered and developed over the years is knowing my process will not always be the same, as Legault mentioned in her article. In other words, flexibility is central to sitting in this liminal spot as an Instructional Designer. In fact, in academics and training design, often backwards design is more effective, efficient, and evaluative, although this backwards design idea is foreign to many.
This is where Legault’s statement “there is no right or wrong way to approach an e-learning project” is powerful for me and likely for others. When first starting this type of work, I was stuck in my ways. Often inflexible because I only had a little bit of experience. Now I am a firm believer that along with my needs assessment, I likely need to formulate a project management and design strategy for specific to each project. I have a feeling this is not specific to the ID field.
Legault hit many nails directly in the center if their heads. Yet, I believe there are two specific things missing from this article and others I recall reading in the past – Evaluation and SME Involvement.
One thing missing is the mention of evaluation of the program after deployment. I truly hope we are all getting the message from around the community, especially the academic community, that launching a program and never looking at it again is one of the worst practices we could employ.
Sometimes, only sometimes, is this how it works. For instance, I built a few things for my Master’s Degree which will never receive evaluation or edits. There are other times when a client will hire you for a certain amount of hours or the budget runs out and evaluation is simply impossible.
Still, evaluation is so very important in determining what is working, what the learners are gaining, and how to make the program better. Just imagine if our educational system worked the same way it did back in the 1940’s when the US Army was rapidly training hundreds of soldiers using Televisions.
We aren’t teaching that way anymore because we have evaluated our programs, invented new methods and technology, and implemented many iterations of instructional strategies in response to our program evaluations. We are learning in ways that are different from how our parents did because of evaluation and educational redesign. Why wouldn’t we do the same for our learners as we move forward through time?
Another idea missing from this is getting your Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) involved in some heavy lifting of writing content. Sometimes I am both designer and content expert, but most of the time I am working with someone else who is the expert on the topic for which we are developing a program or course. And in academics, these experts are the ones teaching the course or content to the learners, so they must be involved in the design to place their expertise and teaching style in the course.
This is one of the trickiest parts of my job and I am still determining how to do this best. For instance, do I ask your SME to write all their content first and send it to me for analysis and parsing to different sections of a course? Do set up weekly meetings with them to solely talk about the topic and lessons? Do I have them do some content gathering and send me what I have to re-write or edit the content for the course?
Well, none of those have worked very well for me due to various reasons. One of the reasons being I am usually working with experts who wear many hats and writing or gathering content for one out of 400 projects is likely not going to be a priority… ever. It’s important for me to know this, too.
Anyway, I have found that following the design process of doing the content at the very end is the best method. I have done this by using the Dick and Carey model to get my outcomes, assessment, instructional strategies, and even course outline developed prior to any long-form content writing. This is helpful in knowing what gaps need to be filled with content at the end as opposed to trying to fit everything in that seems necessary to the expert, but is actually extraneous content given the course outcomes and assessment design.
The point here is 1) SMEs should be hands on and do much of the heavy lifting on gathering content. They are the experts, after all. 2) There are strategies to getting a busy SME to provide you with the correct amount of information for the course or program you are designing together. This is, in fact, a form of project management.
Overall, the article by Nicole Legault is a great start to the e-Learning design process. She shares an easy to understand 7-step process by which to follow when getting started with e-Learning. Like other articles I have skimmed in the past, this article misses two major points about the importance of evaluation the program and involving the SMEs.