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ATD Blog

Make Changes Early to Save Time

Thursday, September 8, 2022
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The e-learning creation game has changed. Rather than spending months creating long, pristine courses, you likely find yourself managing a pipeline of dozens of micro-learning requests from many different stakeholders.

The good news is that authoring tools are making it easier than ever to create and iterate content. The bad news is that you still have to do the work of aligning stakeholders to keep your pipeline moving forward. You don’t have to be in the learning game long before you find yourself in a meeting that you think is the final review of a course only to be told that a key element is missing, and you have to redesign the entire thing.

So how do you keep this from happening? You have many tools at your disposal: design documents, scripts, storyboards, and prototypes. Which tools you need will be based on who you are talking to and what you are trying to decide at each stage of the development process.

Understand Who You Are Working With

When working with a new stakeholder, there are several things you need to understand about them to help the creation process go smoothly. First, how much experience do they have with learning creation? Many people assume you are creating either a static slide show or a video, so you will need to do some work wrapping their mind around what is possible in terms of look and feel as well as interactions and quizzes.

Another critical aspect of a stakeholder’s personality you need to know is their attention to detail. If you send them a basic outline of a course, will they want to talk about word selection? You can try to fight this if you want, but if someone likes to correct grammar, they are going to correct grammar. It is better to know who you are working with, and then spend the appropriate amount of time preparing what you are going to send them, so they will focus on the feedback you need.

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The final thing you should understand about a stakeholder is how to convey visual information to them. For individuals with some design experience, they will be able to imagine an idea themselves with a short description from you. Others may require a sketch on a whiteboard or potentially fully formed visuals before they understand what you are describing.

First Steps First

Once you understand who you are working with, it is time to start creating. But what should you create first? A big reason learning projects fall behind on deadlines is a failure to properly order the review process. Your goal is to make content decisions when it takes the least amount of effort to make changes. For example, deciding on the exact words in a voice-over before you record, not after.

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Start with a simple design document or course outline in Word or Google Docs. This doesn’t need to be anything fancy; it is a place for you to align with the stakeholders on the purpose of the course, what will be included, and how it will be organized. While you create this document, focus on what you are trying to get across with the course, not how you are going to say it or show it.

Once the informational outline is complete, block out the types of modules or interactions you plan on including in the course. This could be the time to bring in some low-fidelity storyboards depending on who you are working with. If someone doesn’t have much experience with learning courses, some quick sketches or examples from other courses can help show what you are planning to do.

Next, decide how you will present the information in the course. This could be the text that will be displayed on the screen or the words that will be heard in a voiceover. Take the time to fully spell it out so that stakeholders can give approval before you go into the production process. Again, something like Google Docs is great for this because stakeholders can easily make suggestions or changes directly.

Now, real visual production can begin. If you are creating an animated video or a storyline course, a great way to make a high-fidelity storyboard is to create the content without the animations or interactions. This allows you to show stakeholders what you are designing while still allowing for changes without too much extra work.

By the time you get to a final review of the course—if you have taken the time to understand your stakeholders and use a structured process—you should no longer be questioning if the lessons are in the right order; you should be ensuring all the interactions work correctly. Your goal is to make changes when they cost as little as possible to make. Though you may want to jump into Storyline and start creating, taking the time to get to know your stakeholders and walk them through a well-defined process will save you time in the long run.

About the Author

Matt Gjertsen is the founder and chief learning officer of Better Every Day Studios, a consultancy focused on delivering learning solutions that deliver business results.

He began his instructional career in the United States Air Force as an instructor pilot in the T-1 and KC-10. After 9 years of service, which included missions to Afghanistan and over 1000 instructor hours and 2500 flight hours.

Matt left active duty to become manager of training and development for SpaceX. In this role, his team was responsible for new hire orientation, employee and leader development, as well as various aspects of technical training from environmental health and safety compliance to production and engineering skills. After four and a half years at SpaceX, Matt moved on to join a technology start-up, where he built a sales bootcamp and leader development program for a growing global team.

Today, he works with businesses of all sizes to create custom learning content and facilitate impactful employee training designed to change behavior and improve performance.

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