Part II: Course development – How to achieve a greater impact
When every course you create takes a long time to develop, both you and your customers suffer. Customer Education teams are overwhelmed and customers can’t learn what they need to fully adopt your product. There’s no way to scale or stay current. Learn more about the costs to you and your customers in Part 1: Course development – The costs of going slow. This is why you need to simplify. Rather than being a perfectionist (which so many course developers seem to be), explore the “cheap and cheerful” approach.
Simplify for greater impact
Not every course needs to be highly produced. In fact, most users today are more keen to take up-to-date courses than wait for high production value. So, start with these three ways to build more content easily: know your audience, consider the course shelf life, and leverage subject matter experts. Then, learn in the following sections how to simplify eLearning and instructor-led courses to improve your offerings.
1. Know your audience
Before you start creating new courses, consider who’s taking them. Oftentimes, the user types help determine just how much effort to invest in the production value. For example, if your users are software developers, their most important factor is just in time content that is clear, accessible, and short. Executives tend to like a higher production value, but again, keep it short. Business users might need a different approach than administrators. So determine who’s taking your training and find out from them how they like to learn.
2. Consider your shelf life
If your product updates infrequently, then it makes sense to develop robust courseware that lasts for six to 18 months. However, if your product updates every two weeks, then basic and modularized content makes course development quick and easy so users get value when the new release goes live.
3. Leverage subject matter experts
The Customer Education team at a company I work with builds content on the six different products their company produces. With only two instructional designers they just can’t keep up. They struggle to learn everything about the suite of products and stay up to date on each release. Rather than doing it all themselves, I suggest they leverage subject matter experts (SMEs). When you work with SMEs, you focus your efforts on course development, not learning the product. You build templates, style guides, and standards, and work with SMEs to input their content into your course outlines. Then you take what they provide to turn it into “instructionally sound” content with real-life use cases and troubleshooting, to drive more impact in your courses.
The best way to simplify eLearning courses is to move to a “cheap and cheerful” approach. This means moving away from complex course development tools to something that’s easy to learn and use. I’m a fan of developing eLearning in simple recording tools. I find both course development teams as well as SMEs ramp up on them quickly. Plus, they are inexpensive, so every SME has a license to help you build easily consumable content. In addition, I recommend developing eLearning in bite sized modules to shorten course development and delivery time. Modularized courses are also easier for customers to digest. In addition, increase learner retention with hands-on labs. When you use remote training environments like Strigo there’s no need to labor over sophisticated simulations and storylines with branches that take hundreds of hours to develop accurately. Scale back your efforts to provide more impact. Any time you provide a hands-on experience, even in eLearning, the impact is greater.
Simplify Instructor-led training
Whether you deliver live classes online or in a classroom, leverage these suggestions to simplify and reduce course development time and effort. First of all, stop taking screenshots! I worked at a company where I inherited a course that included a dozen slides just to walk users through every button on the toolbar. When you capture an image for every product feature and function, it takes a lot of time to develop each course. In addition, no one wants to look at a bunch of slides with static images. I quickly removed those 12 slides and introduced short product demos throughout the course instead. I recommend you do the same. Keep hands-on labs simple as well, rather than creating high production manuals and workbooks. Plus, when you have a unified approach that embeds the classroom with the virtual lab this significantly simplifies things and reduces the burden on training teams.
One company I work with creates highly customized instructor-led classes for their customers. Each short class takes about 100 hours to create, and once the course is delivered the content is quickly obsolete. I recommend you avoid customizing courses for customers. Instead, use a tailored approach. Teach generic content and have an instructor speak to and demonstrate what’s unique in each customer instance. It saves you a lot of time and effort.
Simplify course maintenance
In addition to knowing how long it takes to create a course from scratch, I also recommend you track course updates and maintenance. I found course updates took me about 25 hours for each hour of content; I had a 25:1 development to delivery ratio. That’s often because there’s less to learn than for a brand new product. When you develop basic content, with less screen shots and smaller modules, then your course maintenance will be much easier. In addition, determine a maintenance cadence. At one company I worked with, we updated courses at every major release, not minor.
There’s a saying that “done is better than perfect.” So, don’t let perfection get in the way of enabling your customers. Rather than plodding along with slow course development cycles and minimal output, know your audience, consider your shelf life, and leverage subject matter experts. Then, create eLearning and instructor-led courses that are simple and clear to create, deliver, learn from, and update.
This article originally appeared on the Strigo blog on December 3, 2020.