How to Build Effective Online Courses, Part 2

Part 2: Project Management for eLearning

Best practices for properly managing eLearning projects to maximize efficiency and please stakeholders with courses that are completed on time, on scope, and on budget.

Brushing up on project management skills and best practices can benefit all instructional designers, from beginners to experts. Even if they don’t hold the title of Project Manager, instructional designers tend to find themselves in this role as they are ultimately responsible for delivering effective courses and programs that meet the educational objectives and the learners’ needs. A firm grasp of project management techniques can distinguish you as a professional who is capable of staying cool under pressure and who is able to lead projects rather than simply work on them.

Project Management Tip #1: Properly Launch Your Project

ELearning projects tend to involve long timelines for delivery, having to satisfy numerous stakeholders, juggling competing demands,and quite often learning new technology as the instructional designer incorporates engaging audio, video, and visual components into the course. Properly launching the project to define the scope and deliverables is a critical first step that ensures the instructional designer has a clear understanding of the work to be done and can hit the ground running.

To gain the information you need to define the project scope, hold a project kickoff meeting to ask the project stakeholders the following questions:

  • What are the learning objectives?
  • How will the learners be assessed?
  • Who will provide content to the instructional designer?
  • Who are the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) that will review the content for completion and accuracy?
  • Who is the final approver of the course?
  • What accessibility factors must be considered?
  • How often will the course need to be updated?
  • When does the course need to be available for learners to access?
  • What milestones must we hit (such as storyboarding, reviews, and revisions) to meet the final deadline?
  • How or where will learners access the course?

Project Management Tip #2: Communicate with Stakeholders

Make a plan for how and when you will communicate with your project stakeholders, and then follow this plan throughout the project. If you have any delays, communicate them immediately to your stakeholders. Proactive communication goes a long way to smoothing out any frustrations when timelines need to be adjusted.  

One approach for creating your communication schedule is to base it on the project milestones. For example, you may decide you will want to meet early in the project to discuss the course content and how the content will shape the overall flow and structure of the course. You may wish to then meet again when you present the initial storyboard, and/or each draft of the course for review.

A second approach for a communication schedule is to set regularly occurring meetings that are independent of project milestones (or you could choose to combine these two methods and set project milestones to coincide with a regularly scheduled meeting cadence). Based on the needs and overall timeline of your project, you may choose to meet weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or at whatever interval you see fit.

However you set your schedule throughout the project, don’t neglect holding a conclusion meeting after completion of the project. In this final meeting, you can celebrate the success of the completed project, as well as discuss any lessons learned or process changes you wish to make to future projects when you work with the same stakeholders again.

Make sure to also inform your stakeholders how you will communicate with them. You may choose to meet in person, use virtual meeting software, communicate on the phone or through email, or maybe use a project management tool such as Slack or Basecamp. No matter what method or methods you choose, ensure that every stakeholder knows how to reach you and how to use the communication method you choose to use.

Project Management Tip #3: Manage Processes and Workflows to Mitigate Risks

As you gain experience as an instructional designer, you’ll notice strategies that led you to be successful on one project can likely be adapted or repeated on future projects. It’s helpful to reflect on your processes and develop routines for yourself that allow you to work smarter and not harder.

At the onset of each project, brainstorm ideas on what could potentially go wrong over the course of the timeline. What will happen if one of your SMEs or other stakeholders leaves the organization or has to abandon the project? What if they are still technically involved, but quit communicating with you? What could cause you to go over budget? How will you manage scope creep if your stakeholders ask you to change the project significantly along the way? What other issues could you encounter at any point?

Making a plan for risks does not mean you are being negative; it means you are being prepared. After you identify possible risks, consider what impact each could have. Would it be a big issue or not? Then ask yourself how you could either avoid this risk entirely or how you would address it if it were to occur. Having these plans in place (even if they never come to fruition) will allow you to calmly and capably resolve stressful situations while keeping your project on track for completion.

Want more help or guidance with refining your practices? We’re committed to your ongoing success and we offer business process reviews to help you maximize your efficiency. Reach out to us here so that we can help you find the solutions you need.

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