Tips for Working Successfully with an eLearning Partner

According to the old saying, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Similarly, in eLearning, it takes a team to create a course. You might have a different person in each role or you may have a few people wearing multiple hats, but it’s unlikely you’re creating an online course alone. Three of the most common roles in any eLearning production are Project Manager (PM), Subject Matter Expert (SME), and Education Director. Sometimes these roles are filled by people outside of your associations, such as an eLearning vendor, an independent consultant, or a volunteer. Regardless of who your team is comprised of, it’s important to have a good working relationship with each member of the team. Here are some best practices for managing your team and working successfully with an eLearning partner.

Working with an eLearning Partner

Start Everyone on the Same Page

Hold a kickoff meeting with all members of the project team. Use this time to go over the goals, vision, intended scope, and estimated timeline for the course. Sharing examples of previously produced eLearning which used a similar approach to your current project can help team members create a mental picture of how the course will work. This is the time to see if everyone is on the same page. If not, discuss differences of opinion and try to come to an agreement before the project is in full swing.

Respect Everyone’s Time

Everyone is busy, so make the best of the time you have. Scheduled meetings are easier to plan for than ones that are called at the last minute. Be on time and do what you can to keep them from running late. Have an agenda prepared and take notes so you don’t have to go back and ask for the same information again later. Consider sharing a summary of the meeting notes with everyone on the team so they’ll have access to the same information. Meet your deadlines and send all team members a list of “Action Items” that were agreed upon during a meeting or after a long e-mail conversation so everyone understands what they need to do next.

Working with the Project Manager

“I’ll send everyone an updated schedule. Our next meeting is Thursday at 2pm and the feedback on the storyboards are due that morning. If anyone has questions about the review process feel free to e-mail me.”  The PM is the keeper of the schedule and “communications officer” for everyone working on the project. No matter your role in the project, the best thing you can do to keep everything running smoothly on your end is to communicate effectively with the PM. Answer messages and meeting invitations promptly. If the PM is the point of contact, do not go over their head and communicate directly with other team members, unless it has been agreed upon in advance. If you do, it undermines the PM’s authority and puts them out of the production loop.

Working with the Education Director

“Our members are expecting a lot out of this. It’s intended to be the first lesson in a multi-part series though, so maybe we can trim this section down a bit. It’ll be less intimidating if it’s shorter too.” The Education Director is the bridge between the learners and the educational offerings. It is their responsibility to look out for their member’s needs and ensure the course fits cohesively into the organization’s overall training and education programs. Sometimes this responsibility and “big picture” view makes it more difficult to accept changes or relinquish control. This can cause differences in opinion but be flexible and give reason for every technical modification. Keep in mind that the Education Director is trying to communicate the needs of hundreds to thousands of learners, not their own.

Working with a SME

“Here’s the text book for the existing course, everything you need is in there. You should be able to follow it exactly. I’m travelling all of next week, so I probably won’t be able to meet or review anything until after I get back.”

SMEs tend to have years of experience, be in high demand, and may have even written the existing learning materials. That can raise a number of challenges. For one thing, SMEs are not instructional designers so they may know “what” the learners need, but they likely don’t know “how” it should be presented to them.

Sometimes having a new learner or two weigh in, in addition to the expert, helps keep content scaled and phrased so it’s appropriate to the audience. SMEs are often hard to get in touch with. Consider drafting a set of questions that they can answer by e-mail, or other means, on their own time. You can also try sending them drafts to review, rather than asking for content from scratch. Always thank them for their time and input. Pride of authorship can be a real concern if you’re working with material they’ve written previously. Let them know that their contribution is keeping the content up to date and will make a real difference.

Starting a project on the right foot and making good use of time are musts for working with others on an eLearning course. Each role in the project has its own special considerations you should take into account too. Do you have a helpful story about working with an eLearning partner (no names please)? Share it in the comments section.

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Jennifer Ritter

Jennifer is a newcomer to the eLearning field and has happily dived right into the world of storyboards and module creation. She earned her B.A. at Rollins College and got her first look at how people learn while serving as a peer history tutor in both high school and college. Jennifer has also been able to draw on her past life as an occasional amateur film maker and Director of Operations at Rollins Television for insight on the zaniness of the production process. Today, she’s putting the hours of writing practice accumulated from a small mountain range worth of history papers to good use on scripts, design strategies, and blog contributions as a writer and budding instructional designer.

Spirit animal: Hawk
Diet-breaker: Ice cream
Comfort object: Throw blankets
Personal vice: Medieval-fantasy novels
Useless talent: Remembering useless facts
Unreasonable paranoia: Rollercoasters
Wishes more people cared about: Other people

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