For anyone who has not worked on a significant sized eLearning project, all the moving pieces can make it feel like a Rube Goldberg machine. Clients undertaking these projects for the first time end up surprised by how much goes into it, and it always takes longer than the uninitiated would assume. With this much going on, it shouldn’t be a surprise that there are a lot of roles needed to complete the end product. Sometimes multiple roles can be performed by a single person. Creating the perfect eLearning team that works best for you really depends on your staffing, structure, and bandwidth.
There are at least 8 different roles that need to be performed on a typical eLearning project. As you consider your eLearning team, you need to determine where these skills are going to come from. If you want to create all training in-house, you need to develop your process and figure out who will do what within it. Conversely, you may choose to keep some tasks in-house and find outsource partners for the skills your team doesn’t have (and may not make sense to hire). Regardless of who actually carries out the various functions, let’s take a look at all the responsibilities needed to create the perfect eLearning team.
Every good circus needs a ring leader, and this is no exception. Smaller projects don’t necessarily need a dedicated project manager, but they still need someone keeping track of all the tasks. Between creating a look-and-feel, designing the course, the various (and diverse) development tasks, and all the revision cycles, there’s lots to keep track of. The larger the scope of the project, and the larger your eLearning team, the greater the need for a dedicated PM.
Regardless of who you assign the PM responsibilities to, you should definitely use some type of technology to plot out your timeline and keep resources accountable. There are many options for this, from MS Project, to tracking spreadsheets. At ThinkingKap, we like to use a hosted tool called Teamwork. It’s a project portal where we can keep everyone involved in the project on the same page, literally. One of the best features is the ability to turn task lists into a Gantt chart and share it with everyone involved, especially the client.
Gantt charts provide a visual timeline. This helps everyone see what’s done, what’s currently going on, how long they have to complete it, and what’s coming up. It also makes it much easier for the PM to manage to the timeline when everyone can see it. You don’t have to use any specific software, but you have to create a system that allows you to actively manage the resources. If you don’t, your project is in deep…you know what.
Subject Matter Expert (SME)
As the group that is creating training, you’re providing people that *do* stuff, but you also need to involve someone that *knows* stuff. Often times this is someone at the client, possibly the project sponsor themselves. We can’t all be experts at everything—and that’s where the Subject Matter Expert comes in. You’re often given content at the beginning of a project, but you then need someone’s assistance to interpret the info or help explain how it relates to the project goals. Therefore, the SME can give context to existing content, provide critical review feedback, and insert background perspective into quiz questions.
One of the most crucial aspects of training is ensuring it’s relevant and realistic for learners, otherwise they won’t buy what you’re selling. This is the SME’s biggest role. You need their expertise to make things accurate and relatable.
The Instructional Designer (ID) helps gather information from the SME and other experts, determines the appropriate scope and sequence in which to present the content, and creates instructional design documents, such as storyboards. Since we’re talking educational content here, the ID is arguably the most important cog in this machine. No matter how cool your graphics are, or how awesome your eLearning developers are, if the course isn’t designed in a way that benefits the learning process, you will not have a successful course.
Too often the importance of this role is minimized. Think of all the terrible courses you’ve taken over the years (shudder). Now think of a great course you’ve taken, one you actually enjoyed and where you learned something. The difference between these experiences is mainly the ability of the ID to take foreign content and connect it to learners in meaningful ways. They’re the mad scientist in this equation. They’re someone who can stare at a lifeless pile of content and breathe life into it.
Great courses need to be educational for sure, but they need to look good too. If you design a course that looks dated or uses cheesy graphics, users will write it off. We’ve all heard the statements about first impressions, this goes in training as well. If you don’t hook your learners early, you’ll lose them and likely never get them back. This starts, before anything else, with how the course looks.
The graphics in a course go beyond the pictures themselves. It starts with color schemes, alignment with branding guidelines, and an intuitive user interface. Often times this starts with any requirements from the client’s marketing department. From there, the look-and-feel needs to reflect the company culture. Will the audience be into illustrations or real photos? Contemporary design, or a more conservative corporate look? These things matter.
When it comes to the educational graphics, the ID certainly provides direction. But ultimately someone needs to execute and make everything look professional. Sometimes this is a full-on graphic designer. Sometimes it’s the ID themselves. Other times it falls to the eLearning developer. Budget can play a part in this, for sure. Lower budgets can mean using templates or other basic designs. Larger projects can allow for a more custom and engaging look. Make sure to align the visual investment to the project visibility / priority of the project. If this is a high stakes project, make sure to put your best foot forward by upping the visual engagement. If this is a quick-and-dirty one-off course, consider saving the budget for the bigger splash.
In almost all cases, we would suggest narrating at least portions of your course. Many times companies try to handle this internally using someone who “sounds good,” but this doesn’t typically come out well. Reading a script is harder than it sounds, and novice narrators can make a course feel homemade in all the wrong ways. Narration is relatively cheap, so if you need to skimp, there are better places to do this. There are TONS of good narrators out there. Find a few you like and use them.
The Developers are the ones who write the programming code, input content into eLearning authoring tools, create interactions and activities, insert all assets, and then publish the course. These are the people who finally put the ID’s vision on the screen.
Back in the day, eLearning development used to be much more of a “black box” situation. Creating anything cool required legit developers (often Flash) which created a real barrier to entry. These days the tools to create good eLearning are FAR more approachable. Articulate Storyline remains the top eLearning tool. It uses a familiar interface (very similar to PowerPoint) and is easy for someone to jump into.
The problem is that now many people view Storyline development as a commodity: you know it or you don’t. This is SO FAR from the truth. Just because you “know” Storyline does not mean that you are a good developer. That’s literally like saying anyone that knows MS Word is a good author. Storyline is a multi-layered tool. Despite how approachable the basics are, it still takes a programmer’s mentality to make it really sing. Details matter and there is a lot of nuance to carrying out a great course. Great content, design, and visual assets can still fall off the rails without the right developer.
This person is typically provided by the client, but is still a key part of the eLearning team. They’re the interface with the LMS provider, and the first line of tech support for any issues accessing courses. If the client doesn’t have an LMS, this responsibility often falls to someone in their IT department to post the courses on an intranet or something similar.
That said, most companies are loading eLearning courses into an LMS of sorts. So, this individual provides LMS settings and guidelines, communicates publish settings for developers to follow, defines the file directory and file management protocols, and acts as an internal resource for any technical troubleshooting. At the end of the day, eLearning is technology, and if it can go wrong, someone will find a way to make it go wrong. For this reason, make sure there is a support structure in place so learners have someone to call when things don’t work as intended.
The Perfect eLearning Team
As we’ve outlined, there are (at least) 8 distinct roles in the eLearning creation process, but you don’t necessarily need a single person for each role on your perfect eLearning team. Sometimes you’ll need multiple people in one role. Other times you might have a single person perform multiple roles. Much of this is driven by how much training you create, what your budget is, how high the training priority is, and whether you plan to handle the tasks internally or externally. There are pros and cons to these decisions, which we’ll dive into further in an upcoming article.