The review process is undoubtedly one of the most time-consuming and stress-inducing parts of the e-learning course creation process. It’s the part of the project where you collect feedback from all the stakeholders including project sponsor, subject matter experts (SMEs), and a control group of learners.
The more people involved, the more complex it can be. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Here are a few tips to make review cycles easier on everyone involved.
1. Explain The Course Creation Workflow
If your course reviewers have never participated in the creation of an e-learning course before, set aside time to explain the course creation workflow to them, pointing out when they’ll need to be involved. Having a bird’s eye view of how the course comes together will help them understand where the review process fits into that process.
Check out this article to walk through a typical course creation workflow step by step.
2. Define The Number and Nature of Each Review Cycle
One of the most frustrating things about the review process is that it can feel like it’s never-ending. That can actually happen if you don’t set some ground rules at the beginning of your project.
When you get to the review part of the process, outline the number of review cycles, who will participate in each review, and the type of feedback you’re expecting.
The number of review cycles can vary widely from project to project, but let’s take a look at an example of a typical review cycle.
Review Cycle 1: Storyboard
- Deliverable: A fully functional storyboard built in the authoring tool. All the content and navigational elements are there, but the graphic design components are missing.
- Reviewers: The project sponsor (person who initiated the project), the SME(s), and an “average” learner, if possible.
- Feedback Type: Focused on the content and flow of the course. Does the content fit with the course objectives? If not, what should be taken out? What should be added? Does the course follow a logical order? Navigation? Do learners know where to click and how to get around?
- Pro Tip: It’s super important to take your time during this phase and make sure you’re focusing in on the content and how it relates to the learners’ needs. Any content changes made in subsequent review cycles will be more time-consuming and could result in a much longer course development process.
Review Cycle 2: Prototype
- Deliverable: A fully functional and fully designed course that’s been updated based on the feedback received in Cycle 1.
- Reviewers: The project sponsor, the SME(s), and a content editor/usability tester.
- Feedback Type: Focused on user friendliness, design elements, and mistakes (typos, buttons that don’t work, etc.).
- Pro Tip: At this stage, it’s still possible make small changes to the content if needed, but all of the big changes to the content and course flow should have been taken care of in Cycle 1.
Review Cycle 3: Beta
- Deliverable: A fully functional and fully designed course that’s been updated based on the feedback received in Cycle 2.
- Reviewers: A control group of learners.
- Feedback Type: Focused on ease of use and the relevance of the course to their training needs. This is your chance to see how learners actually perceive your course.
- Pro Tip: If you decide to do a review cycle with a pilot group, be prepared for the possibility that their feedback may reveal some larger issues in the way you’ve built your course. If that’s the case, you’ll have to decide whether or not to go back and make substantial changes or just make some minimal changes to improve the usability of the course.
When making that decision, make sure to think back to your learning objectives. If you leave the course as-is, are those objectives still going to be met? If not, then it’s worth it to go back and make those changes.
Review Cycle 4: Final Draft
- Deliverable: A fully functional and fully designed course that’s been updated based on the feedback received in Cycle 3.
- Reviewers: The project sponsor, your SME(s) if the content itself has changed, and a content editor/usability tester.
- Feedback Type: Focused on mistakes. For example: typos, buttons that don’t work or don’t go to the correct slide.
- Pro Tip: At this stage, there should be no “game-changing” or substantive feedback. This is the final review before the course will be delivered to learners, so the goal is to make any final fixes or tweaks—not rethink the decisions you made in the beginning!
3. Explain How To Give Feedback
While this may seem self-evident, anyone that’s ever been through a review cycle will tell you that it’s not. Inexperienced reviewers often leave stream-of-consciousness-style feedback, without thinking about how you’ll interpret and apply it.
You can avoid this issue by explaining to your reviewers how to formulate their feedback in a way that’s specific and actionable. You can use these two examples to illustrate the difference between specific and unspecific feedback.
Unspecific Feedback: I don’t like the colors. Please change.
Specific Feedback: I feel like the shade of orange used in the header text is a little too bright. Could you please change it to a lighter shade?
In the first example, all you know is that they don’t like it. But you don’t know why, and you don’t know how they want you to change it. This kind of nonspecific feedback leads to more back and forth conversations, and therefore, more wasted time for everyone involved.
4. Walk Them Through The First Review Cycle
When it’s time for the first review cycle, schedule an in-person or web conference meeting with your reviewers so you can walk them through the process and help them get familiarized with the documents or tools they’ll be using.
I like to use Articulate Review, which is part of Articulate 360, so I’ll use that app in my example walk-through. If you haven't started using Articulate Review yet, this video is a great walk-through of how it works.
This is what I’d tell my reviewers during a walk-through of Articulate Review:
1. They need to have an Articulate ID to add comments in Articulate Review. Let them know they’ll be prompted to create an Articulate ID when they go to leave a comment.
2. Comments are slide-specific. The comment will be attached to whichever slide and slide layer is open when they leave the comment. You’ll see exactly what your reviewers saw when they make a comment.
3. They can reply to other comments. This is especially important for review cycles with multiple reviewers since you’ll need them to come to a consensus on any contradicting feedback before you can make any changes. It’s also a great way for you to ask questions about any feedback that’s unclear.
4. They can view all comments at once in the Feedback tab. This is a great way to get an overview of all the feedback. And to make sure all the necessary context is there, a screenshot of the slide is shown so everyone knows where the comment was made.
5. If the course has multiple versions, they can always go back and view an older version and the comments associated with it. This is great if they want to make sure all the feedback from a previous version was applied.
And that’s all they’d need to know to get started! While Articulate Review is super easy, doing a walk-through like this, no matter what tool you’re using, will help make sure reviewers are on the same page about how and where to provide feedback.
5. Set A Due Date For Their Feedback
The last thing to do is agree upon a deadline for each review cycle. Without a set due date, you could be waiting for your reviewers feedback for the foreseeable future! The reality is that your reviewers have many other things on their plate, and reviewing an e-learning course is probably not their top priority. But if they know they only have a small window of time to give their input, it encourages them to prioritize it.
When you’re setting the deadline, it’s important to talk to your reviewers about it and choose a date that is realistic, so you can plan to work on their course again once that date comes around. If you’re too optimistic, they won’t be able to make the deadline you’ll end up having to change your schedule and extend the overall project timeline.
The Bottom Line
The more you guide your reviewers through the review process, the smoother it will go. When you lay out the processes and their role within them, they won’t feel lost along the way, and will know exactly what you expect of them each step of the way.
And using a tool like Articulate Review to streamline the process allows you and your reviewers to save time and avoid some of the headaches associated with review cycles. If you’d like to see for yourself how Articulate Review can facilitate your review cycles, click here to download the 30-day free trial of Articulate 360, which has everything you need for every aspect of course development, including Articulate Review.
For more tips on how to optimize your project review process, check out this great article.
What’s your secret for making the review process run more smoothly? Share your best practices with the community in the comments section below. And don’t forget to come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly to stay up to date on the latest tips and tricks.