How to Manage the Course Authoring Process Like a Pro
One of the most overlooked aspects of an e-learning designer/developer’s job is the amount of time it takes to manage the course authoring process itself. In addition to the time you spend creating e-learning, there’s always a big chunk of time devoted to good old-fashioned project management.
E-learning developers are often responsible for everything from collecting, organizing, and managing all of the digital assets (e.g. content source files, images, audio, and video), to scheduling meetings, coordinating releases, prioritizing review feedback, and holding trade-off conversations with subject matter experts (SMEs). Sometimes it can seem like the actual design and development part of the course creation process is easiest of all!
Here are a few step-by-step pointers to help make the entire course authoring process smooth sailing.
Step 1: Prep Like a Project Manager
A good project manager anticipates obstacles and plans for workarounds to help keep projects on track. You can apply this same proactive approach to managing your workload, too.
Start by asking yourself a few questions and taking note of the answers. A few basic questions to consider, include:
- What are my goals for this project?
- What obstacles am I likely to encounter?
- How can I work around these obstacles?
Sometimes creating a task list and a preliminary timeline can give you and your project team a better sense of what it will take to get the course ready for launch. You may also find it helpful to use an accountability matrix or a similar tool to get everyone on the same page.
Pro tip: If you aren’t sure how long certain tasks might take you to complete, give your best estimate and then try using an online time-tracker like ClickTime or Toggl to keep track. This may seem tedious at first, but after a few projects you should have a pretty good benchmark for how long it takes you to complete certain tasks. Not only will having this information inform future estimates, it may also help you make the case for more realistic timelines on future projects.
Step 2: Get Organized
When you’re kicking off a new project, it’s common to become overwhelmed with tons of cryptically named source files from your SMEs and stakeholders. Take some time to establish a filing system and some file naming conventions before diving in.
Since most of my projects are very similar, I’ve followed some great advice from Jeanette Brooks and created a boilerplate project folder with subfolders on my computer’s hard drive. That way, when I begin a new project, I can just copy and rename the project folders to match my new project.
My boilerplate project consists of 3 sub-folders to start and I try to ensure that all of my project files reside in one of those three folders: Project Admin, Source Files, and Published Output.
- Project Admin is a good place to house files related to the management of the project: things like timelines, SME contact information, meeting notes, style guides, and eventually, reviewer comments or feedback.
- The Source Files folder includes all source materials (Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, etc.) provided by the project team as well as the results of my design work, including content outlines, storyboards, and my .story file if I’m using Articulate Storyline, or my .pptx/.ppta files if I’m using Articulate Presenter. Eventually this folder also houses subfolders for other project assets like audio, video, or approved images for the course.
- Finally, the Published Output folder is where I store my published project files.
File Naming Conventions
As you’re organizing files, you might find that the names of the files you receive from others don’t mean much to you. When I receive files from a SME, I find it’s helpful to copy and then rename the file to something that’s more meaningful to me. So if a file comes to me with the name “Project_StarLord_rev12.docx,” I’d duplicate it and rename it “ProductSpecifications.docx.”
Pro tip: If you think you might need to reference the original file name again, you can always play it safe and add the original file name to the cover slide in PowerPoint or the top of the first page of the Word document as a reference.
One final tip: Always avoid using filenames with spaces or special characters. You can read more about the dos and don’ts of file naming here.
Step 3: Streamline Communications
Good (and ongoing) communication is the key to project success. Strong communication helps align everyone around a shared understanding of the project goals, the expected results, and the limitations around budget and timing.
Tools like the accountability matrix I mentioned in Step 1 are handy for determining the “who’s-who” in a project and assigning responsibilities during the initial planning phase. But such tools are also a useful way to guide your decisions on whom to communicate with, when and how, as well as the level of detail to share.
Another great way to enhance collaboration with SMEs and other reviewers is to use tools like Review 360. Review 360 keeps the lines of communication open by gathering feedback from everyone in one place. This saves you the time and frustration of juggling multiple tools, spreadsheets, or documents full of comments.
To read more about how Review 360 can streamline the course creation process, check out these helpful articles:
What are your pro tips for managing the course authoring process? Share them with us by leaving a comment.
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