Instructional designers face a great deal of organizational issues when developing e-Learning courses. Turns out, some problems can be solved by the right project management software. See a brief overview of authoring approaches and PM tools in this article.
Changing the world’s education landscape, e-Learning is a field that evolves at an astonishing pace and actively embraces new technologies and approaches. When creating courses, many instructional designers these days are incorporating project management (PM) methodologies and tools into their authoring processes. From kick-off to delivery, smart PM helps teachers to come up with engaging courses and make them accessible to the audience. The process may involve multiple stakeholders and subject matter experts, so well-built communication is key to success, as well as a good rapport and clear goals. Project management also helps to stay on time and on budget – in e-Learning or any other industry. In this article, we’ll look into PM software employed in web-based training and the standard tasks it tackles.
First off, how are e-Learning projects different from traditional courses, e.g. instructor-led training? Designing online courses generally involves two concurrent streams – a software project and a training project. This synergy implies even greater scope, risks, duration and budget constraints. For a nice outlook on PM specifics in e-Learning course development, check out this CommLab whitepaper.
Speaking of software, there are a bunch of cloud-based and desktop tools on the market that mostly apply in software development projects, yet can greatly benefit instructional designers as well. Most modern PM programs follow agile methodologies (Scrum, Kanban) rather than waterfall or its e-Learning sibling, ADDIE. A few options right off the bat: Atlassian JIRA, Freedcamp, VersionOne, Pivotal Tracker, Targetprocess – the list goes on almost indefinitely.
Scrum and Kanban, supported by the majority of PM tools, can help trainers with fast course planning and iterative delivery. It’s always better to split up the work into chunks and get feedback throughout the development process, rather than coming up with a flawed deliverable that has never been market-tested in beta. Embedded Kanban cards enable users to keep an eye on the agenda and quickly respond to the changing requirements. Talking to sample learner groups and gleaning their thoughts and suggestions will be of great assistance in prioritizing your work and keeping it on the right track.
To see where you are headed, take advantage of the reporting functionality. Project management tools invest a lot of time and effort into making stats and progress checkup fast and efficient. Most of the tools enable multiple pre-configured and custom report views so you can monitor sprint-by-sprint performance at a given moment or from a certain time perspective.
More often than not, PM tools like JIRA or Zoho Projects are modular structures that can be scaled up with proprietary or third party add-ons. This is your chance to add some extra e-Learning gloss to your software ecosystem. See if you can incorporate timelines, quiz and poll options, and other collaboration elements to emulate your actual courses.
Since PM software is poised for cross-industry proliferation, teachers may choose to create custom workflows that match their procedures. A popular concept in both agile software development and e-Learning, ‘story’ becomes a building block in auxiliary software like Pivotal Tracker. This software allows the user to generate and elaborate stories and epics, share them with fellow project members and exchange opinions. Like in a Scrum structure, stories may be placed into a backlog, moved across the iteration plan and accumulated in larger groups for creating complex long-term roadmaps.
There is a nice series of videos by Anna Sabramowicz on YouTube unveiling different approaches, project tools and handy services that could be of use to project managers and instructional designers alike. In Episode 2: Managing eLearning Project Files, Anna talks about Basecamp PM software, Dropbox, Google Docs and other stuff that makes content management easier. Highly recommended!
When working out dependencies in your e-Learning projects, make sure your teammates or stakeholders are on board with your general plan and objectives. There is a multitude of PM tools out there but your personal pick should accommodate specific needs like custom workflows, mobile support, APIs (in case other systems in your pool need to be integrated), etc. Avoid common pitfalls of training projects – business or academic – and stay focused on your goal. It doesn’t have to be meticulously documented, but you always need ballpark estimates.
e-Learning leverages cutting-edge tech – multimedia, high-quality visuals, even augmented reality – serving a certain objective. Your course does not necessarily need to include all the bells and whistles. The rule of thumb here is: Tailor your course development and delivery tools to your learners’ performance and retention, and let project management software facilitate the thinking and designing process.