The typical advice when you start a new e-learning project is to find out as much as possible about the problem you’re trying to solve, the audience you’re creating it for, and your stakeholders’ vision for the solution. And while this is a best practice for a reason, sometimes it doesn’t go as planned in the real world.

Maybe new regulations require you to provide training on a topic but don’t specify much other than course length. Perhaps your only guidance is that doing anything new is better than what your company is doing now. Or you could be dealing with the problem our Articulate User Conference attendees faced in this Training Trailblazers activity—stakeholders who don’t know enough about training to understand what exactly they need.

So, what should you do when you need to know a lot more about a project before you can move forward? Let’s look at some useful strategies community members suggest for digging up that information!

1. Start by outlining what you do know

If you feel overwhelmed by project ambiguity, sometimes the simple act of summarizing everything shared with you so far in one document can give you a better sense of what to do next. Also, if all the project conversations and decisions up to this point have been fragmented across lots of meetings and teams, your stakeholders and subject matter experts (SMEs) may not realize how little has been settled. Rounding up the few facts you have and sharing them with those partners can make it easier for you to highlight critical project gaps.

2. Create a list of questions—and experts to answer them

Another way to narrow down next steps is to list the big questions that come to mind as you consider the project. Once you’ve finished your initial list, consolidate what you want to ask, ensure you’re covering all your information gaps, and triage the items so you’re asking the most vital questions first.

When you finish the list, review each question and identify the best person to answer them. Project stakeholders or SMEs are logical places to start. But also consider if there are others inside or outside your organization that could have helpful information to share. 

3. Analyze the problem with the project requester

One source for answers can be the person or group who first contacted you for assistance. Even if they’re not experts in the material, they may have insights into what problem they want this training to solve and what they want people to do differently after they take it. If the project requester doesn’t know the answer off the top of their head, it’s worth spending some time chatting with them to try and uncover the answer. After all, if the requester doesn’t know what performance gap the training needs to fill, you’ll be hard-pressed to make that happen.

4. Get to know your audience

It’s hard to design training when you don’t know much about who you’re designing it for. Learning more about your target audience can answer lots of questions about what your project should cover and formats likely to work well for them. Not sure what information is most important to find out? This article on how to do an e-learning audience analysis can guide you along the way.

Your audience is also a valuable resource when your stakeholders know the gist of what they want your training to address but are foggy on the specifics. Interviewing and surveying your audience members can fill in those content gaps and give you practical ideas for what training experiences would help them the most. Not only that, but their feedback can also point out aspects of the topic you can leave out because your audience already has them mastered.

5. Research common problems and solutions

If the initial request is vague about what exactly your training should cover, try exploring the most frequent issues people have with the topic and best practices for overcoming them. That way you can uncover tried-and-true ideas for your course content.

This approach may not work well for niche, company-specific content or challenges. But it’s a great starting point for more general training topics, like leadership, communication, or compliance training.

6. Dig into metrics

If your stakeholders aren’t sure about the specific areas your audience is struggling with, data may paint a clearer picture for you. Performance metrics can give you direct information about learner strengths and gaps. And you can infer a lot by looking into what company goals they aren’t currently meeting.

This approach also has a bonus—it gives you concrete numbers to compare pre- and post-training. That’s a handy way to show the impact of what you create.

7. Consult official documentation or regulations

When designing compliance training—or any courses related to legal requirements—the regulations themselves can offer guidance on the content your project needs to cover and what behaviors need to change. While it may take some work to convert this information from legal theory to real-world application, that effort puts you in a much better position to craft learning experiences that effectively meet your compliance regulations and land well with your audience.

8. Review historic courses and related training

Has this training topic been covered by your organization before? Digging into what’s been done in the past may give you inspiration for what to do in the future.

Old or retired courses can point out what approaches click with your audience and which fall flat. And you may even discover that you don’t have to create your project from scratch after all, but can instead rework existing course materials to meet your new training needs.

To keep your course content streamlined, try investigating related courses too. That way you can spot if there are subtopics you don’t need to touch on because they’re covered in other training your audience is taking.

9. Investigate what other organizations are doing in this space

Chances are, other companies are tackling similar challenges to yours. And thankfully, we work in an industry where people tend to be generous about sharing their work. Webinars, white papers, conference sessions, podcast interviews, social media posts, and articles are some of the many places you can learn about the training approaches other organizations have used.

But publicly available insights aren’t the only resources to check out. Consider reaching out to former colleagues and industry connections outside your company to chat one-on-one about what training they’ve created or seen on your topic.

10. Do a needs assessment

Finally, if you’re not in an emergency time crunch, one of the best ways to get all the answers you need and more is to take a step back and do a full training needs analysis. This process helps you analyze the business problem or performance gap your stakeholders want to address and determine the best approach to help—sometimes even identifying when interventions other than training are better suited for the job.


Vague project requests can be stressful and confusing. But these approaches can help you cut through the ambiguity, giving you the details you need to make your e-learning a success.

Want more practical tips for starting a project on the right foot? Try these articles:

And if you’re looking for even more ideas to make every stage of e-learning design and development easier and more effective, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest e-learning inspiration and insights directly in your inbox. You can also find us on LinkedIn and X (formerly Twitter). And if you have questions, please share them in the comments.

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