Scoping Large-Scale eLearning Projects
eLearning is an indispensable component of most modern learning strategies. Whether it stands alone or is blended with other modalities, its value continues to evolve as more uses are uncovered and new technologies with new features are introduced to the market (e.g., responsive, adaptive, micro, multi-format, video, gaming, gamification, etc.). Because so many options are available and more are emerging, successful eLearning scoping – in which all parties end up working with the same expectations – is also evolving. It is part science, part art.
While many of the fundamentals remain the same, scoping eLearning changes as the scale grows. Unlike instructor led training, where scoping the development of more hours of courseware or more courses is linear and comparatively simple, scoping large-scale eLearning or blended initiatives is almost exponential, quickly becoming more challenging and complex.
What do we mean by scale?
To get a sense of what we mean by scale, here are snapshots of two recent client projects.
To train users for a system implementation, we designed and developed 88 new micro-eLearning courses (no content was repurposed) that were blended with 12 hours of instructor led training, 6 hours of coaching, and 260+ online procedure resources. The due date and budget were fixed, allowing about 9 months for development.
As part of a brand activation initiative, we designed and developed 60+ new eLearning courses (no content was repurposed) blended with 6 hours of instructor led training covering brand attributes, sales techniques, product and product merchandising. The due date was fixed and included about 8 months for development, but in this case, there was some budget flexibility.
Scoping Starts with Alignment
No matter the scale of the project, an important component of scoping establishes the relationship between the anticipated training outcome and the business goal(s) it is meant to serve. Such traceability allows business stakeholders to breathe easier knowing the project is on the right track.
To align to organizational, performance, and learning goals, start with establishing a clear understanding of
Why the training is needed (business goals, obstacles to overcome, business measures)
Who will be impacted (role or roles)
What performance has to change (for each role to meet the business goal)
Dimensions of eLearning
Not so long ago, eLearning was often described in simple terms like level 1, 2, or 3 (and sometimes 4). It was an easy short-hand that masked scoping details and complexity under the surface. Good for marketing, bad for scoping projects. The lack of transparency between the simple label and the details often opened the door for misunderstandings and differences in expectations, and could lead to the scope-related breakdowns that cause a project to go off the rails.
The reason a probably not a surprise. Compared to other modalities, eLearning simply has more attributes to work with and to agree on. As new technologies, features, options, and attributes are introduced to the market, the complexity will continue to increase and drive the need for clarity.
We’ve found that transparently discussing four key dimensions helps to more fully uncover and reach agreement about the attributes of an eLearning or blended product. These dimensions include:
Level of learning – How far does the learning experience need to go to create the needed change in performance? Level of Learning ties the learning outcome to the business goals, focusing on the Why that is the purpose of the training.
Level of interactivity – How much control will the learner have over their learning experience? The learners’ experience may range from being passive (where they are mainly receivers of information) to substantial control over their eLearning experience (immersive simulation).
Design elements – What is the intended look, feel, learner experience, and emotional engagement with the content? The sophistication and complexity of the graphics, animation, audio, and video used will be a major factor in the learner experience. Determining whether to use public domain, stock, custom, or commissioned elements is an important consideration and driver of the project timeline and budget.
Type of evaluation and reporting – What must be tracked and reported to satisfy the business goal? Often, reporting requirements are handled within the LMS, but this is changing. As EPSS matures and becomes ever more viable, and other modalities like micro-learning and technologies emerge, assessment and reporting requirements and expectations are shifting. Expectations here drive the learning assessment/evaluation strategy.
Locking into an agreement about these dimensions often involves identifying and discussing options and making tradeoffs to balance the needs of the business, the learning function’s capabilities, and the intended learner experience within the constraints of budget and development timeline.
How does scale impact the four dimensions discussed above?
One impact that cuts across all the dimensions is a shift from one-off to bulk thinking and decision making. Referring to example 1 above, contemplating the attributes across four levels for 88 micro-learning modules one-by-one will take much longer than using bulk scoping and decision making – and in our experience yields no more scoping accuracy than using a bulk process.
To successfully make the shift to a bulk process, time and energy must be put into principles and techniques that enable quick identification of and decision making about groups of modules with similar attributes across the dimensions.
Here are a few observations about how scale impacts the four dimensions described above.
While the fundamentals are similar to scoping an hour or few hours of eLearning or blended instruction that includes eLearning, in large-scale development situations like the two highlighted above, complexity naturally increases because there are more moving parts, people, review cycles, and assets involved. All of this means more opportunities for miscommunication and failure.
Success in large-scale eLearning projects requires a shift in mindset:
Creativity of a Different Kind: The importance of timeline and budget adherence increases so the need for uniquely creative one-off solutions is often replaced by mass manufacturing thinking (e.g., using repeatable templates, media or content object libraries, decisions of authoring platform, etc.).
Patterns of Practice: So that every decision doesn’t require a review or confirmation step, establish rules and guiding principles for repeatable decisions made during the design and development phases. If it fits the conditions, follow the rule and move on.
Meaningful Boundaries: Establishing and holding to the boundaries that separate courses is critical. Allowing SMEs or designers to unilaterally make changes to modules often creates rework and frustration, negatively impacting the overall execution.
Project Launch: Project team members need to be crystal clear about purpose, scope, boundaries between products, project velocity and timelines, roles and accountabilities.
Project Management: Project set-up and design, project oversight and governance, diligent activity monitoring, risk identification and mitigation, rapid issue identification, resolution and escalation, and task execution take on greater significance.
Resource Management: In particular, establishing efficient processes, schedules, and accountabilities so SMEs and reviewers know their role and can keep pace with the project.
Decisions and tradeoffs made during scoping can create greater downstream impacts. Said another way, in large-scale development efforts, small misses in agreement or communication about scope will accumulate and add up to big issues – and they can arrive on your doorstep quicker than you might think.
Following a part art, part science approach to eLearning scoping helps ensure all parties end up working with the same expectations.
For more information on how Actio Learning can support your organization with successful large-scale development initiatives, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or (800) 592-2080.