We’ve all been there. Your training center has a need to rapidly deploy an e-learning course. Whether in response to a change in laws or simply arising from the need to improve a specific business practice, the ability to rapidly create e-learning content can challenge even the best training manager. There are five steps you can take that will help you overcome the challenges of rapid e-learning development. You can’t create great e-learning overnight, but you can take steps to make the process rapid and relatively painless.
1. Have an Advisory Group
No, this is not a suggestion to increase the oversight of the training center. One of the best assets a training manager can have is a trusted circle of advisers. In some organizations, this can be a formal advisory group. In others, it can simply be four or five individuals whose opinion is trusted. The name, structure, and relationship of the group are up to the training center.
Any advisory group must be kept reasonably up-to-date on the training center and its place in the larger business model. This group should be well informed enough that no more than a quick phone call or e-mail is all that is needed to get them engaged in this situation.
When these situations arise, consider using the advisory group to help establish the purpose and set the initial parameters or requirements for the course. If you have group members knowledgeable in the subject matter, consider working with them to develop or review the highest level student learning outcomes. As you move through the development and design process, this group should serve as the check and balance to the rest of the creative team.
2. Set Standards and Build Reusable Components
One of a training center’s best tools for rapid e-learning development is a library of components and assets.
- Develop consistent messages and themes for your courses. This would include standardized color sets. Use Pantone™, RGB, or hexadecimal color values. Create a logo size and usage guide. Generate a library of common visual elements.
- Create templates for your most common authoring platforms. Identify components that must be consistent with the message and branding, as well as areas where developers can have freedom.
- Identify specific standards for audio and video production (codecs, size, frame rate, etc.). Establish guidelines for titles, credits, overlays, intros and cuts.
- Establish a common area on your network for storage of development assets. The “library” should include photographs, graphics, artwork, and other common files. Use folders and tags to facilitate searches. Establish a naming convention for files.
- Encourage your development staff to take “extra” unedited creative elements such as photographs or video. Include these in the library. If you use contract video production, be sure to obtain rights to all their “b-roll” footage for the project. A photo or video that seems irrelevant to the original project can prove invaluable at a later date.
Simply developing the desired outcomes and establishing proper structure take time. Having templates, clear guidelines, and a well-developed library can greatly reduce the overall development time.
3. Maintain Focus & Avoid Scope Creep
When faced with rapid e-learning development, “scope creep” is a huge threat to the schedule. Scope creep is defined as uncontrolled growth in a project’s requirements or capabilities with no corresponding change in resources or schedule. Essentially, scope creep has occurred when a project gets larger than necessary to meet the original purpose. 
As stakeholders review training materials and documents, each will have comments or feedback. Reviewers tend to add to content, and are generally fearful of deleting. With each level of review and comment, the developer will typically find the content has grown slightly. This is where the advisory group becomes crucial. By involving the Advisory Group early in the process and clearly defining the project, they can help maintain focus on the purpose of the project and constrain the scope to the purpose you initially provided. By bringing the development group’s work back to your Board of Directors at critical design steps, you can minimize opportunities for scope creep.
Some considerations to help you manage scope creep:
- Be sure you thoroughly understand the purpose.
- Understand the priorities of the training program.
- Define the deliverables related to the program.
- Break the deliverables into actual work requirements.
- Break the project down into major and minor milestones and be aware of the schedule.
- Expect a limited amount of scope creep in every project.
4. Leverage Institutional Knowledge / Assets
Institutional memory is a collective set of facts, concepts, experiences and know-how held by a group of people. It becomes institutional knowledge when that collective information is placed into use. In many ways, your organization requires the ongoing transmission of these memories between members of this group. Institutional memory may influence the organizational identity, the association of individuals, and actions of the individuals interacting with the institution. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Institutional_memory]
“Who in our organization knows this topic best?” While this may seem an obvious question, we often fail to leverage institutional knowledge effectively. Once you’ve clearly identified the purpose and scope of the course, take a moment to consider your own internal experts. If the course is related to a skill, capture one of your experienced personnel on video performing the skill for use in the e-learning course. Using your own personnel to explain tasks or simply provide background on why something is important can be extremely valuable. This can also be done with a minimal amount of preparation or scripting, as well.
Another often-overlooked aspect of using your own personnel in support of content development is the instant credibility of the information. Using people that are known to and respected by trainees can often help reduce or eliminate obstacles to implementing the training.
5. Consider Task-Level Outsourcing
Finally, training organizations should consider outsourcing task-level items. Consider the efficiency and professionalism of your staff, especially when coupled with other responsibilities. Joe in accounting may have a great voice and do a great job narrating the course, but how long will it take and who will perform his job duties while he is completing this task? Will he be narrating it on his home computer’s built-in microphone? The need for speed, efficiency and quality of the finished product make outsourcing a specific assignment a very reasonable course of action.
Tasks that you might consider outsourcing include:
- Narration / voice-over work
- Graphic design or preparation of custom visual elements
- Video production and post-production
- Test or evaluation item writing
Identify potential sources and work with them for less urgent projects; you’ll find vendors more open to helping you with these projects if you’ve worked with them previously. You’ll also find they have a better understanding of your needs and requirements.
Rapid E-Learning Development
Rapid e-learning development depends on the steps you take each day as a training manager or instructional designer. Having an up-to-speed group of advisers, a rich library of assets, and awareness of institutional knowledge are powerful tools. These tools can greatly speed content development for all projects, not just those that require rapid turnarounds.