Elearning Development process in action
January 14, 2022
We are thrilled to have Laura Shaw from Cats Protection as a guest author. We have worked with Laura for a number of years and can confirm she really knows her stuff!
I’m lucky enough to develop online learning which helps to improve the welfare of cats. I am also very grateful that, as of this year, there is a team of four of us dedicated to the development of digital learning for Cats Protection. We have a wonderful bank of courses for our 12,000 volunteers and employees, ranging from the main diseases seen in the rescue environment, courses on cat behaviour to dedicated induction resources for roles such as treasurers and fosterers. Every year we are developing several more courses, updating existing content and supporting our learners. Next year we are also planning the development of a major new platform to host all of our learning opportunities.
With so many pieces of content in development at any one time, we would struggle without some tried and tested development processes. We’ve been working with Little Man Project (LMP) for several years, as well as supporting us to develop content when we don’t have the capacity, they have shared with us their ways of working and we have stolen and adapted them! I met Gill many years ago when we both worked for an organisation called Jisc that support the education sector with all things digital. I met her again, and Jen, at a Charity Learning Consortium event. At the time I didn’t have a team and could not keep up with the demand for online learning at Cats Protection so they helped me to develop some compliance training. I loved the way they worked and this was when I was first introduced to their process. I also admired how they understood the charity sector and worked above and beyond to ensure what they were developing for us would work for our people.
We now have a development process that we have been using successfully for several years, we are often making changes to it and as no one project is ever the same it needs to be adaptable. For my team and I, we could not work without this process. It has so many benefits; we use it as a tool when working with new teams to help them understand their roles in the projects, to develop realistic project plans and to ensure a quality end product. To set expectations we make sure people understand that even the tightest of projects will still take a few months to develop, this is because we ensure the content goes through three review cycles, I have been asked to reduce this in the past (and sadly during COVID we had to) but without these, we would receive user support queries and spend more time fixing issues.
Our process is ever-evolving and is accompanied by various templates and checklists, from project initiation forms to email templates for our reviews. We are always looking for ways to improve our ways of working, all of this work makes our projects so much easier. Recently a member of our team sadly needed several weeks off work, because of our processes we were able to see exactly where their projects were up to and shared the remaining work out across the team meaning a very minimal delay in the project plans.
We have a wonderful regular meeting with other animal welfare charities around the development of digital learning and at least one of those has also taken and adapted our process. We are more than happy to share our process and speak to other charities that could benefit from using it. Whether you are working individually or in a team and are aiming to regularly develop online content I think a process like LMP have created, and we use now, is a must. Feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So (very briefly) what does each stage achieve?
Proposal – find out what is been asked for prior to a meeting, ask meaningful questions to help you work out if online learning is the right solution and ask who needs to be involved in the project to make it a success.
Kick-off meeting – this is the time to set out expectations and go back to the basics about what the project will achieve and who is going to do the work. You can also show examples of other pieces of learning so your subject matter experts (SMEs) start to get a feel of what they are working towards.
Design workshop – a chance for you to start thinking about how you are going to create the course and come up with some ideas that will make this learning unique and effective.
Project plan – I am a great believer in a plan even if as the project manager you are the only one that looks at it! Sometimes we develop a really basic plan just with dates, deliverables and who is responsible so that teams who are not familiar with complex project plans can easily see the information that is relevant to them.
Source content – gather everything you can that might help you, writing content for an online course is a skill so what you really need from your SMEs is any content they already have rather than asking them to start with a blank page.
Script – this is your chance to give them something to edit, expect red pen all over it but again better than asking them to start from a blank page. Push to get sign-off on this content by a deadline and make sure you have this before you start any development or else your Alpha review could take much longer and be less effective.
Alpha build and review – this is when development starts. You have your script and you have agreed on the format of the development so this is when your development and creative skills come in. This is then reviewed but only by those that have been involved so far in the project. We try really hard to encourage ‘actionable feedback’ but will inevitably end up with numerous comments that need further work, we track all of this work and usually have a meeting with the project team to try and finalise any comments that were not actionable.
Beta build and review – we have a spreadsheet that aims to cover all areas of Cats Protection, we use this with the project team to get them to think about who are the stakeholders and need to see the content at Beta. This is the chance for end-users and stakeholders to review the content and spot what we have missed, it is incredibly valuable especially the end-user feedback.
Gold build and sign-off – This should be the time that the project team review the final version and sign it off but inevitably there will still be some changes people want to make. Prior to this we also get the content proofread and we have a launch checklist to ensure that everything has been done prior to launch. Once everyone is happy you then also need to do some thorough testing to ensure there are no glitches for example in the navigation. Only once this is done can you launch!
Post-launch evaluation – I must admit this is the bit we fall down at, we collect feedback and stats and have recently started a project to make sure we are using these effectively. This is a time for you to come back together with the project team to review how the course is going but we are often so busy working on the new projects that this is not prioritised. This is something I know we need to get better at and to do this it’s about looking at this stage and coming up with a process for managing it.
Quarterly stats and feedback overview – this is a new part of our process and isn’t fully functional yet but when it is we plan to send meaningful data and feedback to our course owners to help them plan for future updates or comms.
Updates – we aim for a major update to courses every two years and a minor update every other year if needed. This is time-consuming as we now have over 30 live courses but it is worth it to ensure the updates are quick and our content is relevant.
My top five tips if you are going to implement a process like this:
- Do it! It will save you time in the long term and make managing multiple development projects much easier.
- Review it and see updates to it as a positive not a failing in the process
- Review whether you are achieving it all – I must admit writing this has made me realise there are some bits we need to get better at so this will be something I will be discussing with my team.
- Don’t be complaisant about the start of the project with new project teams. I find it so tempting to leap in without doing the basics, for example ensuring everyone is clear about who has responsibility for what, our expectations of each other and the ways of working but this can really backfire on you later down the line.
- Get support, people like LMP have been doing this brilliantly for years, everything I have said here I have taken from them! So, steal these ideas and make them fit for your organisations but reach out to people who can help you.