eLearning Project Management: Putting the “Pro” in Project
Being an eLearning professional can feel like a delicate balancing act while juggling many balls. From writing and editing to design and development, it takes many hands to get the job done. But even with a talented team, incredible ideas, and the best tools on the market, you won’t go very far without proper planning and oversight. Now meet eLearning project management – the practice of making sure that every part of the eLearning development process runs synchronously, on time, and to standard!
In this article, we’re going to guide you on how to manage an eLearning project, and why it’s important.
What Is an eLearning Project?
An eLearning project aims to create an engaging and informative online course that helps learners achieve the desired learning outcomes, but this is from the macro perspective. From the micro perspective, an eLearning project involves the effective coordination of your development team to build the course to standard and launch it.
In short, eLearning projects are highly collaborative and multi-functional accomplishments that often include the following roles:
While each role is critical to the success of an eLearning project, such a variety of specialists, experts, and stakeholders poses a few obstacles…
Typical Obstacles for eLearning Project Teams and How to Overcome Them
Collaborative work is great and can be highly rewarding. But the more people with their hands in the pot, the more opportunity for communication breakdowns, differing opinions, conflicting schedules, late submissions, etc. Like a link in a chain, each connection point or node is a potential bottleneck that can throw off the entire developmental process. That’s why eLearning project management is essential. Here are a few examples of common challenges an L&D department might need to navigate:
1. Lack of synchronization for distributed team members
To attract the top talent, sometimes you need to source them from afar. But managing remote-collaboration teams can pose challenges with scheduling and time zones. Of course, you can always schedule conference calls and Zoom meetings, but ensuring that these meetings are structured and accessible for all is key to project success. An alternative would be to send regular emails and messages, but that can also prove cumbersome.
How to overcome it
- Break the eLearning project down into smaller tasks and teams. For example, the designers needn’t sit through a writing review, and vice versa.
- Use online collaboration tools like Slack, Asana, or even eLearning-specific tools like zipBoard. These are not only great for file-sharing, but teams from different divisions can view everything at a glance.
2. Communication breakdowns
A typical eLearning project team has a top-down hierarchy with stakeholders, project managers, and subject matter experts up top, and production teams underneath. In simpler terms, there are the decision makers and the developers. But during this trickle-down flow of information, production teams might misinterpret instructions and disseminate this version amongst themselves. Or, they might make assumptions (e.g., so and so will take care of that) which can lead to chaos and missed deadlines.
How to overcome it
- Discourage the division into decision-makers and developers and work more collaboratively.
- Keep the channels of communication open to everyone. Let all parties express ideas to one another.
3. Poor time management
The eLearning project manager is responsible for creating a well-defined project plan. Without clear milestones and corresponding deadlines, it can be difficult to measure your overall progress. Besides, eLearning projects pose unique bottlenecks, given how inherently collaborative each role is and how entwined they invariably are.
For example, the designers depend on the content writers, while the eLearning developers depend on both of those. So, this can create many bottlenecks, without even considering the chaos that can ensue from scope creep, cumbersome revisions, or project overhauls.
How to overcome it
- Ensure that the project plan is specific, yet flexible. Any deadlines you set should allow for potential delays.
- Get a realistic expectation of how long it takes to complete each task by consulting with each team member before creating the project plan. Unrealistic goals and deadlines are also time-management killers.
eLearning Project Management Process
To avoid the abovementioned hurdles, proper planning, realistic goal setting, and using the right project management tools and methods are indispensable. Let’s take a deeper look at the whole eLearning project management process.
Step 1. Develop an eLearning project plan
Though this is the first step in the overall eLearning project management process, developing a project plan is a whole process unto itself! We’ll briefly outline how to create a plan and provide you with a customizable template. This section assumes that you have already conducted a Training Needs Assessment (TNA).
A Training Needs Assessment (TNA) is the method of determining if a training need exists and, if it does, what training is required to fill the gap. A needs assessment usually includes the following steps:
- Analyzing the present situation
- Defining a business goal
- Identifying the main cause of the problem
- Determining what employees have to do to achieve the goal
- Finding out why they aren’t doing it
Then, you’ll have all the information you need to begin building your project plan! Here are the steps:
1. Define project milestones/deliverables
The ultimate goal of the TNA is differentiating between what people have and what they need. Once that’s accomplished, you can begin breaking their “needs” down into project deliverables. Simply put, you need to split a large course development task into steps.
As a result, you’ll have 6 project milestones:
2. Specify what resources you’ll need for each milestone
After you’ve identified the milestones, you need to decide who will be involved in the process and what tools and resources are required for each task. Take a look at this example of how it might look:
|Milestone||People involved||Tools and resources required|
|2. Research notes||Content writer, SME||Internet resources, books|
|3. Course content||Content writer||Google doc|
|4. Storyboard||Instructional designer, graphic designer||Figma, stock-photo library|
All these things come at a cost, so by specifying the resources, you’ll also be able to specify an appropriate price. In a sense, you could say you bag two birds with one stone here. Not only does this step enable you to determine and gather everything you’ll need, but it also lets you justify the total cost of the project to stakeholders.
3. Set deadlines for each milestone
Once you know what you need and how much it will cost, you’re well on your way to creating a project schedule. After all, it’s impossible to determine how long the project will take without being able to assess how much time each part of the process requires. At this point, it’s great to consult with team members from each role about realistic timelines. From there, as mentioned, you can create deadlines that are flexible, in order to account for any unforeseen circumstances.
|Milestone||People involved||Tools and resources required||Deadlines|
|2. Research notes||Content writer, SME||Internet resources, books||08.10.21|
|3. Course content||Content writer||Google doc||08.15.21|
|4. Storyboard||Instructional designer, graphic designer||Figma, stock-photo library||08.22.21|
Sample eLearning project plan template
In the above, we have explained and shown an example of how to create a project plan, and here’s a complete eLearning project plan template. Please download the Excel spreadsheet and feel free to customize it to your unique business needs! Just fill out the cells according to the row/column descriptions.
Download an eLearning project plan template →
Step 2. Gather your resources/materials
Once the project plan has been created and you’ve determined your deliverables, you can see all the resources and tools that you’ll need at a glance. As mentioned above, there are two main types of resources you’ll need: human resources and software/tech. As far as people go, it’s clear that during the course design stages, you’ll need stakeholders and a project manager who may or may not also be an instructional designer. Then, during the latter half – the course development stage – you’ll need some combination of human resources and tech tools. This is where things get particularly sticky.
Between managing stakeholder expectations and ensuring that your writers, designers, voiceover artists, and development team are in working order, you also have to ensure that they, themselves, have the right tech tools to perform their roles adequately. For example:
- The writer may require access to the appropriate literature and editing software.
- The designer may need access to photo libraries and eLearning assets.
- The voiceover artist may require a professional microphone and editing software.
- The developer may need the right authoring tool to put a course together.
And so on and so forth.
From an eLearning project management perspective, both sourcing and managing this many resources can be costly and cumbersome. Fortunately, you can cut course development costs and easily streamline this step with the right authoring tool. There are many great, one-stop shop solutions that allow people with minimal technological know-how to create professional courses effortlessly. iSpring Suite Max is among them.
Anyone who can use PowerPoint can use iSpring Suite, as it’s neatly embedded, as a tab, within the top ribbon of the interface. So, navigating the software should be a breeze!
As you can see in the image above, you have all the resources you need at a glance. No voiceover artist or external software is needed to edit or record professional audio or videos. There’s also a dialogue simulator, and a wide variety of interactions and quiz types right out of the box. So, there’s no need to pay for a savvy programmer to bring your course to life. In fact, you don’t even need to hire a designer for a professional looking course with quality visuals, because iSpring Suite Max comes with a built-in content library.
Apart from an authoring tool, you’ll also need software to deliver courses to your learners. The best way to do this is with a Learning Management System (LMS) that will let you assign courses to your learners and keep track of their results.
If you still don’t have an LMS, you might like to try iSpring Learn. With it, you can publish your course seamlessly, without having to hire an LMS admin or pro to tediously transfer everything. As it is integrated with the iSpring Suite authoring toolkit, it delivers your course flawlessly without compromising on any interactive or sophisticated features that you’ve incorporated.
So, in essence, with the right resources, you might only need to hire a single developer during the next phase of the eLearning project management process – development.
Step 3. Develop the course
Whether you choose to hire help or streamline course development with key authoring tools, this step is where most of the action happens. It’s also where most things go wrong, including extending deadlines and going over budget. So here, you’ll need to stay on top of everything while simultaneously taking a step back. It’s now your team’s responsibility to construct the deliverables and present them to stakeholders. And your role, as someone who liaises closely with the stakeholders, is to catch any hiccups early on and get the team back on track.
Thus, in keeping with our sample eLearning project plan, the first part of project execution is initiating it. It’s quite customary for project managers to host kickoff meetings involving both stakeholders and the production team. Once everyone knows who’s doing what, you can encourage the team to ask questions, discuss deadlines, and ensure that everyone’s on the same page.
The rest of the eLearning project, from writing the outline to launching the course, involves managing the people, processes, and communication to ensure that everything is occurring on time, within budget, and to standard. For example:
- Did the SME provide enough support and feedback for the writers’ content?
- Did the instructional designer create the storyboard?
- Did the stakeholders provide the branding information needed for the designers to create the visuals?
- Is everything that the eLearning developers created functional?
- Is everyone performing their roles on time and to standard?
- Are we conducting enough meetings to ensure that everyone’s on the same page?
This naturally requires some back-and-forth movement between the stakeholders and the production team. This is especially true once the first (beta) version of the course has been created. At this point, the project manager presents the draft to the stakeholders for feedback. Once the production team has successfully incorporated this feedback, the course is ready for pilot implementation!
Step 4. Beta-test your course
At this stage in the eLearning project management process – pilot implementation – you test your beta course. Many eLearning project managers make the mistake of skipping over this step and launch the course. But there’s nothing better than having a fresh pair of eyes on the project before it’s finalized. In essence, the project manager organizes a trial run by assembling a group of learners that reflects the demographics of the target audience.
These “test learners” go through the entire course, providing feedback on the content, technological issues like browser incompatibility, and overall user experience. Because they’re first-time viewers, they’re more likely to catch any bugs or glitches, enabling you to fix them before the course is officially launched.
In order to conduct beta testing, the project manager needs to:
- Develop questions to ask the test users.
- Determine which test users best reflect your target audience (while still ensuring diversity).
- Figure out the ideal sample size (you don’t want the number of testers to be too small, but too many can lead to redundancy).
- Choose a location that best mirrors where most learners would learn (e.g., should testers take the course at home or in a lab?).
Step 5. Finalize the project
The hardest part is over. But there are some final quality assurance measures that need to be taken. The first would be implementing key feedback gleaned from the testing stage before handing all deliverables to the project stakeholders.
During this stage, verify if everything’s been completed to satisfaction. This can occur during a project close-out meeting, where you both celebrate your wins and discuss what can be improved upon in the future. As such, all team members should attend the meeting, since everyone can gain from hearing each other’s perspective. By the time you’ve completed this meeting, you’re ready to officially distribute/launch your course!
Also read: → 30 best eLearning examples to inspire you
eLearning Project Management Tools
Earlier, we provided examples of eLearning project management software like Slack and Trello, to show how you can overcome some common obstacles. The market is flooded with a great number of software, so you might not know where to start. In this section, we’ll highlight 5 awesome project management tools to start you off on the right foot!
Slack is one of the most common eLearning project management tools, given its comprehensiveness and ease of use. A team collaboration tool, it supports instant-messaging, audio, and video calls, and makes file sharing a breeze. Another core feature is its Slack channels, an easy means to organize your workspace into groups! In this way, its flexibility makes it easy for a eLearning project team of any size to organize itself by role/function while keeping communication “channels” open to everyone.
Monthly cost: $0 (Basic), $6.67 (Pro), $12.50 (Business)
Trello is a great project management tool that differs from Slack in that, rather than clicking on separate channels, your eLearning project team can see everything at a glance. It organizes things into cards and rows. Each card represents a project phase (e.g., beginning, middle, end). And within each card are small rows which represent tasks associated with each deliverable (e.g., course outline, written content, etc.). These phases can be rearranged easily with a drag-and-drop tool; the idea is to slide the tasks into each phase to see what has and hasn’t been done.
That said, given its linear functionality, it might not be the most efficient choice due to the iterative nature of eLearning. In any case, it’s free…
Asana is another eLearning project management tool that helps teams plan, manage, and even automate their work. One feature that sets it apart is its many viewing modes. With a simple click of a button, you can view all tasks in a list, timeline, or calendar. And because the status reports virtually build themselves, you can keep stakeholders up to date without lifting a finger. That said, like Trello, it doesn’t support video or audio conference calls without third-party integrations. So, this might not be the best choice if you’re working with distributed teams.
Monthly cost: $0 (Basic), $13.49 (Premium), $30.49 (Business)
Built for bigger teams, Wrike enables many impressive features for end-to-end project management. Unlike many other eLearning project management software that are organized based on a project plan, Wrike actually assists with the project conception stages. Not only does it feature a Gantt Chart, which serves as a visual timeline for effortless stage tracking, but it comes with customizable dashboards, workflows, and groups for your unique project needs. And given its breadth of third-party integrations, you can bypass any communication hurdles that can arise with large and/or distributed teams.
Cost/user/month: $9.80 (Professional), $24.80 (Business), or contact them for custom quotes.
Basecamp is a user-friendly and highly social collaboration tool. As with many other eLearning project management software, there are discussion boards and chat rooms for your team to huddle together, come up with ideas, and solve issues. But a major differentiator is the user interface. Basecamp organizes project details into “camps.” For example, you might have a camp that focuses on to-dos, project scheduling, or one that’s just for hosting documents and files. And while it doesn’t offer many time tracking or audio/video conferencing options, it accommodates a wide range of integrations for these purposes.
Monthly cost: Free (Professional), $99 (Business)
eLearning project management can be likened to conducting an orchestra to play a prolonged, well-timed, and harmonious piece. If one group/person plays off beat, it throws off the rest of the musicians off. And eventually, this could lead to a disastrous musical performance (or end product).
Likewise, project managers have to pull elements in many different directions to ensure that everything runs according to the project plan (or “musical notes”). In both cases, there are plenty of potential points of failure. But the team’s ability to quickly get back on track is dependent upon the project manager’s abilities.
That said, this process can be streamlined with the right techniques and tools. iSpring Suite is super simple and all-encompassing! So, sign up today for a free 14-day trial, credit-card and commitment-free!