online course development
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Creating custom elearning solutions can be a complex process comprising many stages involving many internal and external experts. Below we identify and discuss 14 of the most common constraints during online training development. Armed with these, an experienced project lead and learning some trade-offs to keep your project on time, on budget, or within the scope will result in delivering a superior instructional product.
Before we get into the details of identifying and discussing the common constraints when creating custom elearning solutions, let us quickly review what custom elearning solutions are.
The term ‘custom elearning solutions’ covers a variety of training delivery methods, including:
Customized means that the online training development meets your unique needs, performance issues, and circumstances. In essence, customized elearning solutions provide organizations with tailored ways to fill training gaps using online delivery. Whether those are directed toward employees, the general public, or customers of your product.
The benefits of online training development solutions have become more well-known in recent years. And they include
But there are also several benefits of custom elearning solutions. These include
To create high-quality custom elearning solutions, a proven and robust process is needed. We’ve developed a proprietary process at Spark + Co. after making hundreds of custom online training development products. It consists of four major stages, summarized below.
Within each stage, there are many process steps. For example, in the first ‘Engage + Analyze’ stage, we develop new learning objectives in collaboration with our client’s key stakeholders. But the Engage + Analyze stage consists of many steps and outcomes, including
In a previous blog post, we discussed Why The Kick-Off Meeting Is So Important. Now, we tackle the crucial step of identifying constraints when creating custom elearning solutions. For this discussion, we assume the elearning solution is an online course. It will allow us to cover many limitations of the elearning solutions we identified earlier.
We’ve identified 14 constraints to consider and overcome, so they don’t derail the success of your online training development project. And which will help you create a superior instructional product and enable a smooth process.
We’ve divided these up into five categories of constraints:
Most projects to create custom elearning solutions are complex and require the coordination of many experts, resources, and media, and require a detailed project plan and an experienced project manager. And while there are many potential limitations, the most common constraint is balancing time, scope, and cost.
At the start of a project, it’s vital to discuss balancing time, scope, and cost constraints. These are all interrelated, and adjusting one affects the other two, as depicted in the figure below.
We must balance time, scope, and cost to deliver elearning solutions successfully. Ideally, they are set at the start, but changes to one or more during the project impact the ability to deliver on the others. The adage is that you need to “pick two.” But which two are the most important? And which is least critical?
For example, you can have a quality product quickly that is inexpensive, but to do so, you have to sacrifice and limit its scope. Conversely, adding to the scope part way through means that you either have to increase the cost or the timeline for completion.
Similarly, you can have a large project completed at a reasonable cost, but it will take more time. Or you can have a large project completed quickly, but it’ll increase the price. While these constraints need identification at the start of the online training development, an experienced project manager can frequently make trade-offs during the project. For instance, the timeline is strict, but new content needs adding. This requires either extra resources or changing the scope of the elearning solution elsewhere. Perhaps an interactive video doesn’t need to be as long, saving production time and costs to use to include the new content.
A lack of role clarity in any project can result in wasted effort, delays, and confusion. Projects to create custom elearning solutions are no different. We use the RACI model to ensure role clarity. This model clarifies who is accountable for a deliverable or task and who is responsible for undertaking the job and completing the deliverable. But as essential is defining who on the project team consulted for input and when. And who is only to be informed about the project.
The RACI model clearly defines who is responsible for completing each task and confirms who is not responsible and who is not consulted. Without such clarity, confusion can occur when people are only informed about a project but believe they are being consulted about it. Or they start working on tasks because they think they are responsible. Such confusion can result in unnecessary additional work, jobs left uncompleted, and delays in the project.
Most online training development projects rely on a combination of people and resources. Some people are from the instructional design agency or firm managing the project. However, the client also has people from their organization fulfilling roles in the project team. Experienced consulting firms and agencies are good at aligning resources with timelines and schedules. Their business depends on it. However, not all organizations have the same experience, and often this is an added task to an already full work schedule.
You’ve collectively agreed on a project plan, timeline, and responsibilities. The course will launch 14 weeks from when the project kicked off, but the organization’s subject matter expert(s) is on vacation for a week when they are to provide input. Or they’re overcommitted with other work, or something beyond their control has come up.
In our extensive experience, a few stakeholders on a client’s team think, ‘oh, that won’t matter’; we’ll still meet the deadline. But the project lead has previously secured resources (instructional designers, videographers, voice-over experts) on a specific timeline lined up with the other parts of the project. And that includes having content completed by the subject matter expert. So the project is delayed a week. If these resources can’t be rescheduled easily because of prior commitments, the project might be delayed longer unless another solution is found, such as using a different subject matter expert.
The situation is the same if the client’s organization has assigned people to provide feedback at specific project stages, but they don’t meet their deadline. For example, consider pilot groups used to review a working draft of the course. If members of the pilot group are internal to the organization, they need time to complete the review. And if the pilot group are external representatives of your target audience, incentives might be required to ensure the completion of the evaluation.
At most organizations, people are busy. But sometimes deadlines are firm, perhaps for a product launch or a regulatory requirement. When agreeing to the timeline and resourcing for your online course training development, the availability of internal client resources and other stakeholders can be a significant constraint.
Have the people on the client’s internal team previously been engaged in a project to create custom elearning solutions? If not, then that’s a constraint as well. People who are familiar with and have participated in online training development projects are usually more productive than those who haven’t. So, if many people are new to the process, or if it’s the organization’s first time creating elearning solutions, you’ll want to include more time in your project schedule.
In creating custom elearning solutions, there are many potential technical challenges to overcome. Below are a few typical technical constraints arising from an online training development project.
Sometimes the client organization wants to have the custom elearning solutions created in a specific course authoring tool. Often because they have some experience with the tool and want to be able to make future edits to the course. But also, the client might have other requirements, such as having the course developed so that it is fully responsive. Sometimes, their chosen course authoring tool may not be fully responsive.
Identifying requirements and constraints in detail, such as these, is a crucial step to allow for adjustments and decisions in the project’s best interests.
Hosting platforms and LMS can create several constraints for your elearning solutions. And one of the most frustrating things is that these limitations can often be challenging to find. For instance, a course might launch in a specific browser window within an LMS, but the LMS page is a fixed-size frame. Or it might have pre-built styling or functions that conflict with your desired course design. These issues can often confuse the user and cause glitches in communication between the LMS and the course.
Designing custom elearning solutions within pre-defined LMSs can have constraints on navigation, course design, and limited functionality. There are many small details from an instructional design perspective that you’ll want to take into consideration. For example, do you have the ability to turn off or configure the navigation menu for the LMS? If not, and you use an authoring tool to create content, you may have two sets of navigation. You want the ability to turn the navigation menus in your LMS on and off. In the illustration below you can see the various navigation menu’s which can easily confuse a learner.
Another common limitation is that, as the course designer, you might want a user to go from one-course module to the next in the series. But the LMS may require you to exit the course and return to the LMS dashboard before going to the next lesson. Understanding the capabilities and limitations of the hosting LMS or platform when doing online training development is essential. And needless to say, rigorous testing becomes vital.
Some typical constraints regarding elearning solutions relate to the user, or learner, and the technology or location from where they are accessing the online course. For example, suppose the custom elearning solutions are for field-based workers in remote areas. In that case, the technical constraints might include accessing the system on their phones outside of high-speed internet. You will need to factor in these constraints during the instructional design phase.
Similarly, the online training development would need to be adjusted if the course was to be accessed by users within an organization that doesn’t allow access to YouTube or other sites. Embedded videos from YouTube or other blocked sites wouldn’t be able to be used.
If the general public is accessing your elearning solutions, the range of devices, browsers, and locations used to access the course multiplies severalfold. And this creates additional limitations or constraints on what you might include in the online course.
Your organization’s IT department may have some security limitations built into its systems. For example, they will often prevent the use of TikTok and Zoom. Or you may be blocked from accessing specific sites because of a bandwidth limitation. Again these are essential technical constraints to understand early on in the project.
When starting a project to create custom elearning solutions, the engage + analyze stage also involves identifying design constraints. The following are three typical design constraints.
Does your organization have a brand book or a brand style guide? If so, this must be provided to the instructional designers as it helps content creators communicate a consistent message to your audience. And allows the custom elearning solutions developed to have consistent, on-brand content.
While many organizations will have a brand style guide, often, this isn’t created with elearning solutions in mind. Not covered in the brand style guide specific to elearning, include many on-screen elements, such as
The above are only a few examples of where there may be constraints from a brand perspective. In most cases, it might be because the style guide does not include these, so it’s essential to know how much latitude there is to create these elements.
Content created for elearning solutions for organizations might be constrained if the organization has a writing style guide. A writing style guide might specify bullet list styles, capitalization, reading level, and tone, among other items. But if the organization doesn’t have one, there will need to be agreement on the writing style used throughout the online training development.
The final area of common constraints when creating elearning solutions relates to limitations on the content used.
If new content needs creating or substantial modifications to existing content are required, are there limitations on where to source new content? If so, do these sources contain all the necessary information?
If you need to create new content from scratch, who will undertake this? If the client organization has a subject matter expert, that could be an additional resource constraint for the client. A solution might be to have an external person prepare the new content. However, it’s unlikely that an external person will have the same context and understanding of the organization as an internal subject matter expert. So there will still be a need for an internal person to review and edit the new content.
If the content exists, that can reduce the time required. However, many organizations aren’t fully aware that adapting content to an elearning format still takes time. It takes time to convert content in a PowerPoint (or other) format for use in elearning courses for it to be instructionally sound. Similar to how it takes time to transform and adapt content from a book to a movie format.
When an organization starts a project to create elearning solutions, such as an online course, there are many constraints and limitations they’re unaware of. And especially if this is their first online training development project. But many constraints are familiar to the experts who develop custom elearning solutions. However, it’s essential for the client’s stakeholders in the project to understand the limitations as well. Understanding the constraints allows for a more effective engagement and smooth running project. And it’s also crucial for the client to help identify specific organizational restrictions and limitations that might not be as common. It’s then the job of the project team and the project manager to overcome the constraints and limitations and ensure that the online training development is successful.
The above 14 common constraints in creating elearning solutions don’t cover all the potential constraints within a project. But they are the most common ones. And some constraints, such as design constraints, can be beneficial because they define more clearly what can and can’t be done. In our process it’s essential for the effectiveness of the project, not only that constraints are identified, but that they are communicated and understood by the project team. Doing this step well significantly reduces the chances of something arising that will derail the project.
Understanding the typical constraints in online training development by the client helps enable a productive and smooth process. However, despite limitations emerging in a project, all is not lost. An experienced project lead will recognize the trade-offs to get the customized elearning solutions project back on track by balancing time, scope, and cost constraints. Which two are the most critical for your project?
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