Design And Development

Managing a distributed eLearning project

Managing a distributed eLearning project

Introduction

In this hectic digital age of ours, online education is more popular than ever, being easy, flexible, cost effective and engaging for the learner.

A lot goes on behind the scenes when creating informative, visually attractive and interactive eLearning courses. Projects like this require commitment, ownership and full dedication.

At Knowledge Train® our eLearning courses go through a long journey and are executed through tremendous team effort. They need to meet the criteria set by the accreditation institutes, as well as being interactive and visually appealing. Read on to learn how we managed our eLearning projects.

The programme

As a company we decided that a strategic focus on eLearning was required in order to meet changing customer expectations and technology capabilities. We knew therefore that we wanted to develop more than a one-off course. In fact, we had a whole programme consisting of different projects.

We had 2 options to deliver these projects. One was to outsource the projects to specialist eLearning developers, and the other was to build the capability inhouse. We chose the latter option.

Recruiting the team

For our first project, our eLearning Development Manager started the hunt for instructional designers, a graphic designer and developers with the experience and skills needed for the project. Shortlisted applicants were given a small trial to demonstrate their storyboard and eLearning development software skills. Successful candidates were appointed and given a short induction to the company and project.

The tools

It turned out that our team members were in 3 different countries, 3 different time zones and 2 different continents. We therefore required tools that enabled collaboration across the differing time zones.

We used Skype and email for communication, an online Kanban board for task assignment, Microsoft PowerPoint for storyboarding, Articulate Storyline for course development, and Microsoft SharePoint for file sharing.

The project process

We kicked off with a virtual meeting with all stakeholders of the project, assigned the roles and decided on the estimated deadlines for all three phases.

The planning phase

The first phase required the instructional designer to come up with a road map. After reviewing any existing course materials, study guides and course syllabus they were able to break down the project into distinct steps to form the road map. The eLearning Development Manager and the subject matter expert (SME) were made available to answer any questions about the content.

The final road map was approved by both the eLearning Development Manager and SME and then the project moved into phase 2 – the storyboard phase.

The storyboard phase

During this phase, the work was divided into sprints. Each sprint lasted a week and comprised of several tasks assigned on the Kanban board. The aim was to complete the tasks on the Kanban board during the sprint. Each task was given a priority (Must, Should, Could) which helped the instructional designer prioritize his work.

Each sprint was planned at a short Skype meeting prior to starting the sprint. After the instructional designer finished one storyboard task, it was reviewed by the SME. Comments and feedback were provided to the instructional designer, who would apply revisions as necessary. This short feedback loop would repeat until the SME was satisfied with the content.

At the end of this phase, the instructional designer had delivered all the storyboards for the course. Each storyboard had an audio script and designs for images. The image designs were then sent to the graphic designer and the audio script sent to a narrator.

During this phase, the eLearning Development Manager reported progress weekly to the Managing Director.

The development phase

The next phase required converting the storyboards into a workable eLearning course using Articulate Storyline. The phase started with an initial meeting with the developer, instructional designer, SME and the eLearning Development Manager. The developer then provided estimations for the work.

These estimations were the main input into breaking down the work into separate tasks. Just like during the storyboard phase, the work was planned one sprint at a time, and prioritised tasks were added to the Kanban board.

During each sprint, the completed modules were tested by the SME to ensure they complied with the storyboard and to ensure there were no errors. The work to fix any errors were planned as part of a following sprint. Once the eLearning course was completed and fully tested mand any errors had been fixed, the project was ready to move into its final phase.

The closing phase

During this phase, the Development Manager sent the course to the professional association for accreditation. When accreditation was received, the course was uploaded to the LMS on our website ready to be used by our customers.

Challenges

There were challenges with these types of distributed projects. Some of them were:

·        Communication

Since our team members were distributed all over the world, all meetings were virtual. Meeting in this way is a different experience from working directly with people in person.

The time difference of the team members was 8 or 9 hours ahead of UK time. Therefore, it was sometimes difficult to find a suitable time that fitted everybody’s time table for online meetings. Either members would be available very early in the morning or would stay up till very late in the evening.

Even though Skype can be a very effective tool, sometimes the call would break up because of a poor connection. This made voices difficult to hear, so work instructions might be misheard, which led to mistakes.

·        Cultural differences

With different members located in different areas in the world, their cultural and language differences were reflected in the work that they did. Whilst it enriched the work it was sometimes a challenge to ensure the project remained aligned to a common standard.

·        Sharing documents and files

Team members with slow internet connections suffered when syncing the project documents onto our cloud database.

Lessons learned

We went through many trial and error phases, but we ensured that lessons were learned from them. These lessons were then fed back into later phases of a project, and into later projects. The main lessons were:

  • Ensure what was discussed and agreed in meetings was documented in minutes and then circulated via email to the team
  • Ensure that agreed standards and processes for the work were documented so everyone knew what was expected
  • Ensure all communications were done in a simple and clear manner
  • Ensure that each stakeholder’s role was clearly understood and documented
  • Ensure that honest and firm relationships were established with team members
  • Ensure any issues or red flags were resolved as soon as possible and were not left to fester
  • Ensure that attention to detail was applied during all tasks
  • Ensure the team remained open to suggestions and best practices

Conclusion

We’ve now had our distributed project teams working on projects for over 18 months. During that time we’ve improved a lot and have achieved a level of capability which we never realised we could achieve as a small business.

Maybe you are a small or medium size business which is developing its own eLearning courses. There are many benefits to developing your own inhouse capability. As our experience shows, it can be done, will bring you many benefits, and can be a hugely rewarding experience too.

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