Customers. Stakeholders. The success of your e-Learning project depends on meeting their expectations. It could almost go without saying, but customer relationships on some projects are easier to manage than others. Having a solid process in place can help keep the business relationship, as well as the project, running smoothly.

Instructional designers are trained to think of analysis as the first step in creating an e-Learning program. But before you conduct any content analysis, learner analysis, or gap analysis, you should lead your customer through a joint analysis of the e-Learning product you plan to develop. Creating a shared understanding of the customer’s expectations is the key to fulfilling them. Conversely, failing to develop a shared understanding can negatively impact the project at every stage along the way. Here’s where to start.

The journalistic questions that help build agreement

As an erstwhile journalism student, I’ve often found it useful to approach the training request armed with the Who, What, Where, When, and Why kinds of questions a journalist might ask to generate the lead of a news story. The questions that follow can help you build a common understanding with your customers.

Who are the subject matter experts that can help with the content? Who will write the script?

The level of subject matter expert involvement can vary from project to project, and customer to customer. Subject matter experts might actually write the first draft of the script or might not be involved at all except to review each stages of the project as it is completed. The question of how involved the expert plans to be in the development of the course is best answered early in the process so your team knows how to budget their time.

What does the course look like?

The answer to this question can be especially sticky. Customers often have preconceived ideas about what constitutes an online course, and they expect that your definition matches their own, often without recognizing the assumptions they’ve made. Before you meet with your customer, bring along a portfolio of different e-Learning methods and media you might use. Ask your customer for examples of courses they’ve seen and liked, too. Providing common points of reference lets customers speak to the elements they value (or don’t value) in a course. It also gives you the opportunity to demonstrate different ways of approaching similar training problems, so you can help the customer make informed decisions about questions like whether the course should be self-paced, narrated, simulation, or demonstration.

What kinds of metrics does the course require?

Some customers are satisfied that learners have completed a course if they have viewed an entire video; others want a detailed assessment and item analysis. Starting a conversation about metrics can lead to information about the customer’s goals for the course, the content analysis and the gap analysis.

Where can you find other resources to help you sort through the content?

Most subject matter experts are pressed for time. They probably don’t have time to write the script, and they may have a limited amount of time to meet with team members to point you in the right direction. It makes sense for the team to be as familiar with the content as possible before talking with the expert, if only for the sake of good time management.

Why do students need the course?

Like asking about metrics, asking why the students need the course can lead to good information about the customer’s goals for the course and the gap analysis.

When does the course need to be completed?

As a rule of thumb, the more media-rich the course, the more hours it will take to produce. Although e-Learning professionals understand this rule well, customers can be surprised by the extra time and constraints building media-rich material adds to a project. Putting a time boundary on when learners will need to be able to take the course can help customers decide how much media to add to the course.

Next step: start writing!

After getting the answers to so many questions, you may believe that everyone has the same set of expectations about the upcoming project and the resources that will be available to you. Just because you sat at the same table, however, doesn’t mean you attended the same meeting. Write down everything you believe you and your customer agreed to, and ask the customer to respond with questions about anything that doesn’t match his or her recollection of the events. It’s a step that can save you frustration later.

With that part finished, you’ll have started creating a common understanding with your customer. The second part, working from the same process, will be covered in next month’s column.

Next Month: Make Your Process Transparent