Whether you’re building an eLearning course, a tree fort, or a house, it’s easy to oversimplify the development (or construction) process from beginning to end. But following an ordered development process pays off.

Let’s say you’re building a house. It’s easy to look at a pile of raw materials—wood beams, bricks, nails, doors, windows, and flooring—and envision how they’re put together to create a finished, move-in-ready home. Unfortunately, getting from those materials to the finished product is not that simple. Before you even hammer the first nail into a piece of wood, there are dozens of questions that must be answered:

  • What style home are you building?
  • How will it be laid out?
  • How many bedrooms and bathrooms will it contain?
  • What are the first, second, and third steps in the construction process?
  • Will the owners of the house get to approve the design before you start building?
  • How often will they get to review the construction process?
  • Can changes be made during the construction process?
  • How long will the construction process take?

The truth is, designing and developing an eLearning course is a lot like building a house. There isn’t a straight line between obtaining raw content and having a finished, learner-ready eLearning course. The path is usually twisted, multifaceted, and complex.

Having a solid eLearning development process helps tame this often confusing process. It provides structure and organization for you, as well as your stakeholders and subject matter experts.

Elements of a good eLearning development process

While there are many different eLearning and instructional design and development models you can follow, I’ve always believed any good eLearning development process should consist of three simple principles.

  1. Iterative design: The process of rapidly designing, testing, and redesigning a product to achieve the best results.
  2. Frequent review: The process of regularly collaborating with stakeholders to obtain their feedback on the design of a given deliverable.
  3. Quality design: The process of achieving the highest levels of design quality, both in terms of aesthetics and content.

What are the risks of not following a development process?

Too often, I interact with new eLearning developers who attempt to develop their eLearning courses without following any kind of development process. More often than not, I see these folks stumble to the finish line with a project that is over-budget and past-due, and that results in upset stakeholders.

The truth is, following a development process isn’t just for your own benefit; it’s also for the benefit of others contributing to the project. It’s easy to assume your stakeholders and subject matter experts understand the overall eLearning development or project management process. Although your SMEs may have been involved in many different projects, that’s no guarantee they’ll understand things like storyboards, prototypes, or review cycles.

When working with your stakeholders, don’t make the mistake of letting them make assumptions. When you fail to set expectations with stakeholders, you run the risk of losing control of the project or finding they have disengaged altogether. Make sure to explain to your stakeholders and subject matter experts what you need from them throughout the process. This will help instill a sense of organization and trust and decrease the likelihood that they will attempt to manage the project.

A 5-step eLearning development process

When I am developing an eLearning course, I follow a practical, five-step process. My process starts after I’ve completed my needs analysis, and I’ve verified that there is indeed a performance issue that can be fixed with an eLearning course. In other words, my eLearning development process starts once I am ready to build an eLearning course!

1. Plan the project

Project planning should happen before you even start organizing content or building your course. Planning is crucial to the overall success of your eLearning project. This is when you work with your stakeholders and subject matter experts to align expectations, help them understand your and their role(s) within the process, and agree to a project plan and timeline.

2. Draft a storyboard

The second step is to draft a storyboard. An eLearning storyboard is simply a written document that outlines the learning content; slide-by-slide or screen-by-screen. The purpose of a storyboard is to provide your stakeholders and subject matter experts a preview of how the course will flow and how the content will be presented. The storyboard also allows reviewers to easily make edits and change the course content before you begin development.

3. Develop the course

The next step is developing the course. When you’re new to eLearning, you might imagine that most of your efforts would go into the actual building of your eLearning course. However, if you’ve done a good job designing a development-ready storyboard, building your eLearning course shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.

I like to recommend starting with a prototype or sample of the course for stakeholders to review. This can help you make sure your stakeholders are happy before you spend too much time developing the full course.

4. Review & QA the course

The fourth step in my eLearning development process is to review the course and perform quality assurance (QA). Up until this point, you’ve been working hard building your course and reviewing it with stakeholders and subject matter experts. But is your course really ready for prime time? Well, you don’t want to risk launching your course to hundreds or even thousands of learners to discover you made a typo, or worse, something doesn’t work properly! The best way to avoid this by conducting a QA check.

QA testing is the process of reviewing your eLearning course to identify any outstanding errors, typos, or other glitches that must be fixed before the course is published. Although I am a big advocate of QA testing early and often, you should always QA your course once you are done with development and before you deliver it to your learners.

5. Deliver the course

The fifth and final step of my eLearning development process is to deliver the course. After weeks, maybe even months, of hard work, endless review cycles, and a tedious QA process, , you’re ready to publish your course and make it available to your learners.

How you ultimately deliver your eLearning course to your learners largely depends on your organization. It’s likely you’ll be publishing your course into a learning management system (LMS).

The bottom line

When you’re new to eLearning, the process of creating an eLearning course may seem like a total mystery. Taking a bunch of raw content and turning it into an interactive eLearning course can seem overwhelming! However, if you break the process down into simple and repeatable steps, you’ll see that developing an eLearning course doesn’t have to be so hard.

Learn more

Get tips on working with stakeholders and using this five-step eLearning development process in Tim Slade’s daylong workshop, “Getting Started With the eLearning Development Process.” This pre-conference workshop is on October 21, ahead of DevLearn 2019 Conference & Expo, October 23—25, in Las Vegas.