All projects, whether training, eLearning, or something else, encounter the age-old dilemma of time, cost, and quality. What do I mean by that? In any given project, you’ll need to overcome at least one of those three constraints. A well-known adage says “you can have this fast, cheap, or good. Pick two.” Rapid eLearning design can help you navigate time, budget, and quality constraints.
Have you encountered one of these?
- You have a big budget and great content and tools but only a few weeks to throw something together.
- You have a year before a 30-minute course needs to launch but the budget is non-existent.
So what do you do? Well, you could try to negotiate more time or a larger budget. You could compromise on the quality of the end design. What if you don’t want to do those things? Enter rapid eLearning design.
What is Rapid eLearning Design?
Rapid eLearning design is a subset of rapid instructional design. It is not about speeding up or skipping design steps. It’s completing those steps as efficiently as possible – cutting out extraneous time in the process. Let’s look at five tips for rapid eLearning design:
Tip 1: Set Clear Expectations
Do you find that your projects start off on the right path only to get derailed in the first review cycle? Why? Often because project roles and tasks weren’t clear and agreed upon right up front. All projects start with a kick-off meeting. We outline the process in detail along with who’s playing each role. What does each review cycle look like? Who provides feedback? To what extent can they provide feedback? Who will collate feedback and provide clear, actionable edits? Most of this is covered in our initial project scope document but we always review it at kick-off too.
Later, if clients ask for additional review cycles or add new stakeholders, we discuss the impacts with them. We’re always flexible – there just might be impacts to time, budget, or quality if we have to stray from the plan.
Tip 2: Avoid Analysis Paralysis
Too many training projects get stuck before they even start. Often, a lot of time is spent gathering and analysing content. For rapid design to work, you need to get to design and development quickly and without fuss. Most eLearning projects don’t need extensive analysis. Larger, more complex projects might. Many projects we work on are short (less than an hour), targeted, audience-specific training. For these, we use key, tried-and-tested, questions to uncover all the details we need to organize and design effective training.
We start all projects with an information-gathering session. Key stakeholders and subject matter experts (SMEs) come together. Then we use targeted questions to identify project goals, desired outcomes, audience characteristics, and readiness of content. After this, we take all of the answers, information, content, etc. and organize it. We match content and information to the training topics and move quickly to the best design for that content.
Tip 3: Focus on Your Ultimate Goal
It’s common for SMEs to want to include ALL of their knowledge about the topic. They know it, so it must be important right? Not necessarily. Information-heavy courses more effort to create. Also, they’re not as effective.
Our kick-off process helps clients focus information on the ultimate goal. What do learners need to DO at the end of the training? Why are they taking the course? If the information doesn’t directly support the goals, ditch it.
It’s hard to convince SMEs to remove content they think is important. We work with them to map every topic and each individual piece of information, to their ultimate goal. Literally ask them “what will participants DO with this information?” If it’s anything “nice to know”, we help them see how it can be removed without impacting outcomes. Are they adamant about including lots of nice-to-know content? Suggest alternative options for it. We’ve used job aids, additional reading, knowledge bases, and even optional additional training to give SMEs ways to present their vast knowledge without including it in the core eLearning course.
Tip 4: Skip the Storyboard
We’ve written before about using storyboards in eLearning. However, developing a full storyboard does take time. Most of the time it’s not necessary. Instead, we create a detailed outline. It includes the course description, learning goals/objectives, audience details, a project timeline, topic and interaction outline, etc. Clients get a clear picture of the shape of the course. We don’t need to write out every word or describe every on-screen interaction.
If you’re aiming for rapid eLearning design, ditch the storyboard. You’ll save time by eliminating time-consuming review cycles. Contrary to popular belief, storyboards can actually hinder creativity and make it harder for clients to “see” your design. Instead, after getting sign-off on the full outline, jump right into development in your selected tool. We’ve found that clients appreciate being able to see it all come together faster. They provide more meaningful feedback when they’re interacting with a working draft.
What Can You Do Instead of a Storyboard?
However, if you’re at all unsure about the approach or look and feel for the course, you might do a short prototype first. Build your prototype, a handful of representative screens, in your selected tool and let the client see it. They can give you feedback on the design before you go too far but they still get to see a “live” version. This is easier than trying to approve a design on paper. We recently worked on a project where the client was new to the development tool we proposed. They were also concerned about timelines. Finally, they weren’t sure whether their content would translate to quality training based on our recommendations. The client wanted a full storyboard but there wasn’t time. Rather than go right from an outline to a full draft of the course, we designed just one lesson in the tool. They got to review how we translated their content and the look and feel. It gave us direction early and them the confidence that the plan would work.
Tip 5: Stick to the Plan
This tip is arguably the hardest to accomplish. It means following the outline right through to the end while still allowing room for adjustments (e.g., AGILE). To do this, avoid tacking on extras as development continues. Let stakeholders provide feedback regularly and often but guide them back to the outline and original goals.
In our projects, each development phase has two review cycles. For example, the client reviews the outline, we make edits based on feedback, then they get another chance for review and feedback. We try to give them updates and sneak peeks throughout so they aren’t waiting weeks or months before seeing progress. This helps avoid project scope creep. The more time that passes, the less stakeholders seem to be tied to the original plan. We also use the outline document to help them compare the original plan to what we produce. Where needed, we’ll gently remind them of the plan and how substantial changes impact that plan and goals.
What Else Can I do for Rapid eLearning Design?
There are many other ways you can speed up eLearning development time. These were just a few. Here are a few bonus tips:
- Limit audio and video – these require scripting and recording. Formal videos take longer to develop.
- Reduce complex, custom graphics – try to use stock images if it makes sense. Involving graphic designers means more review cycles.
- Choose rapid development tools – Articulate Rise is our favourite rapid eLearning design tool. The tool doesn’t make good design though. You still need to plan appropriate learning and use the tool wisely.
- Use templates – we have a standard outline template, standard project kick-off agendas and lists of questions. This means we don’t have to start from scratch at the beginning of every project. The same is true for your tool – Articulate Storyline 360 has ready-to-use templates that can speed up your development.
What if Rapid eLearning Design Isn’t Enough?
We always strive to use the most efficient work processes. However, sometimes it’s just not enough. Some things just take more time than the project has or cost more than the budget allows. If your project bumps up against time, cost, or quality constraints, be prepared to compromise. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Can you shorten the training? Instead of a 30-minute eLearning course built in Articulate Storyline, could you do a shorter course in a different format?
- What about releasing mini training sessions over a period of time?
- Can you use a series of job aids to supplement a shorter training session?
- How about having a SME record sessions or lead a webinar instead of formal training?
In the end, if you’re experiencing time, budget, or quality constraints, you’ll need to come up with alternatives. These tips for rapid eLearning design are just a few ways that could help.
Want to Learn More?
We can help with your project. Contact us today to discuss your ideas. We’re always eager to hear what you need and help you overcome obstacles.
Check out some resources we’ve gathered about instructional design and rapid eLearning design.
- Rapid Instructional Design: Learning ID Fast and Right by George M. Piskurich
- Real World Training Design: Navigating Common Constraints for Exceptional Results by Jenn Labin
- Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown and Henry L. Roediger III, et al.
- Leaving ADDIE for SAM: An Agile Model for Developing the Best Learning Experiences by Michael Allen