So, your association has decided to create a new online course. Yay! But whether you’re teaming with an experienced eLearning provider or have decided to go it alone, this may be the first time you’ve ever served as the project manager on an eLearning project. What do you need to know in order to ensure the best possible outcome for your course, and perhaps even more importantly, which tools can help you get the job done – on time and in budget?
In our experience partnering with nonprofits and associations, one of the concerns we hear most often is about managing eLearning projects without having project management (PM) training or the budget for dedicated software like Microsoft® Project. In a recent blog post, we addressed the question of training, so in this post, we’ll talk about creative ways to manage an eLearning project effectively with just a basic set of tools.
Organization and Workflow
You already know the importance of good organization and having a well-documented, step-by-step process with systems to aid organization. Hence why associations are called organizations J. You can use something as simple as a pencil and paper, or the drawing tools in Microsoft® Word, to design a system for organizing your online learning. For instance, you can draw a simple flowchart of boxes with arrows to show the hierarchy of your folder structure for storing project files, with the project folder at the top level and folders for the various modules on subsequent levels. Depending upon the complexity of your eLearning projects, you may want to organize your project with one or more sub-levels. Sketching with pencil and paper lets you try out different organization schemes to find the one that works best for your course.
Flowcharts are also a good way to visualize the workflow process you want to follow. For example, you can sketch out a flow diagram showing each deliverable, the number of reviews allowed, which stakeholders are involved at each round, and the method of collecting feedback. A great digital flowchart tool you could use is Trello.
Spreadsheets are also a good tool for organizing and can be used in lots of ways. If you’re just starting an eLearning initiative, you may not have all that many assets to keep track of, but it won’t take long before you build a substantial library of multimedia files. A spreadsheet will help you keep track of all your assets and organize them by category, type, file name, project, key words, permissions, and so forth. If your spreadsheet tool allows for more than one worksheet in a file, you can set up a worksheet for each asset category to help you manage a larger volume of files without having to scroll through an individual worksheet. Another time-saving feature is the ability to sort the data by columns, which is extremely useful when you’re searching the library for a particular type of asset.
Here are some other ways you can use spreadsheets to help you organize:
• Track the assets used for an individual project
• Maintain a library of voice over talent
• Create a shot list for a photo or video shoot
Last time, we talked about the importance of having a project schedule to guide you from one milestone to the next during the course of the project. Here again, a spreadsheet is a good tool to use for this, or even a table created in a word processor. Starting with the first task in the project, you simply enter each task in a row, sequentially, with the start and end dates, the person or team responsible, percentage complete, and any dependencies. You can even color code and indent the task to create a hierarchy for each milestone group and use highlighting to call attention to critical dependencies. As tasks are completed, just check them off or note the percentage complete as you go along. What’s important is to keep the schedule up to date and to notify team members when changes have been made that affect them.
The project budget defines the project scope and is one of the three elements that constrain an eLearning project, along with time and quality. As the eLearning project manager, you’re likely responsible for keeping close track of the budget so you can be prepared to make adjustments when needed during the project. You may not have the funds for sophisticated accounting software, but that’s okay. Again, you can use your trusty spreadsheet to do the job. It takes a little work and some knowledge of spreadsheet functionality to get the budget set up, but once you apply the built-in formulas, they do all of the math. Then it’s just a matter of making adjustments along the way to reflect what’s happening in the project.
Pencil and paper, word processing software, and spreadsheets are just a few of the basic tools you can use to manage eLearning projects effectively on a shoestring budget. What are your “shoestring” tools and how do you use them? Let us hear from you.
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Dr. Pam is a serial student, having earned more degrees than everyone at Digitec, combined. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Miami, an M.B.A. from the Crummer Graduate School of Rollins College (go Tars!), an MME from Winthrop University, a B.A. from Pfeiffer University and engaged in post graduate studies at the University of Central Florida for good measure. Pam also served her time on the other end of the classroom, having taught K-12 and at the university level prior to joining Digitec in 2003. In her 10 year tenure as Digitec's Instructional Design Director, Pam has designed dozens of eLearning courses for organizations including The Walt Disney Company, Yum! Brands, FINRA, Council for Economic Education, and the North Carolina Community College BioNetwork.
Spirit animal: Dog
Diet-breaker: Hand-cut fries
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Personal vice: Reality TV
Useless talent: Can flip eyelids inside out
Unreasonable paranoia: Anything that slithers
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