Ask Me Anything (AMA): Basic E-Learning Design & Workflow

Dec 11, 2014

Hello, community peeps!

The Articulate community team currently consists of four members: David Anderson, Nicole Legault, Nicola Appel, and Allison LaMotte. Between us, we have years of varied experience in training, e-learning, and instructional design. We’re going to be hosting a series of “Community Manager AMAs” so you can get to know us a bit more and learn about our training and ID experiences.  

What is AMA, you ask? Some of you may have heard of the term before. It stands for “Ask-Me-Anything” and it’s a type of online discussion where a topic is presented for discussion, and other people can freely ask all kinds of questions about the subject at hand.

This week I’ll be hosting the AMA and I’d love to answer any questions you have about my e-learning workflow or design process. I shared this with the community over a year ago and I’ve gotten a lot of feedback and comments on this topic. So, if you have any questions at all about my workflow and design process for developing e-learning projects, please share them in the comments below.

We’d also love to hear your ideas for future AMA topics.

Thanks in advance!

28 Replies
Nicole Legault

Great question, Ashley! 

It really depends on the specific projects I'm working on, but I'm definitely a list person. Every day I make a list of "to-do" list for that day, then I prioritize the items on my list and re-arrange from most important to least, then I start with most important items.

I also fill out a weekly report where I identify the top 5 things I want to accomplish over the next week, so that helps to identify and clearly establish my priorities, and I structure my week to accomplish those goals. 

If I was working on a project with a client and I needed to meet with SMEs or other stakeholders I would want to plan my workload around the times they are available to meet with me. So again, kinda depends on what the projects are and what's happening that specific week.

Hope that answers the question! What about you? Any tips to share for how you structure your project workload for the week?

Ashley Chiasson

What do you use to make your lists? I have to say that I often use ToDoist, but more often than not, I use square post it notes, with 1 post it per project and different colours. 

Ou  - the weekly report sounds like a good way of holding you accountable. Is this a personal report or an Articulate-encouraged one?

My weekly structure is very similar (minus the reporting - I cross items off my to do list and that makes me feel pretty darn good). I tend to look at my calendar ahead of the post-it phase, and then prioritize my post-it to do lists around that schedule. I also know that my Monday mornings are my most productive, so if my schedule allows, I jump right into work (sometimes even before the post-it phase) to reap the benefits of when I know myself to be most productive.

Nicole Legault

@Ashley - I feel very low-tech admitting this but my list is good ol' fashioned pen and paper. I have a notebook where every day I start a new page with my to-do list for that day, and I add my notes or comments for that day (from meetings and whatnot) on the page. It creates an ongoing work record.

It's nice because this way I can see which items from the previous days didn't get done (eek!) and move them into my new daily to-do list. At the end of the week it's easy for me to go back through the week and see everything I got accomplished by looking at what's crossed off. (I've learned to cross things out while still leaving the original item as readable hehe). 

The report I fill out is indeed a work requirement but I quite like doing it because it keeps me on track and also keeps me accountable!

I know what you mean about the great feeling you get when you cross an item off the list. Sometimes I put an item or two that are already done when I make the list just to get that satisfying feeling of crossing things off right away, haha!

Nicole Legault

@Holly - Hi Holly! Thanks for the questions -- good ones!

I start by sharing my typical process for approaching an e-learning project and include some “whys” (why I do it a certain way, explaining the reasoning behind the process). I want to give a good sense of what’s involved at a high level, but also help them understand that this process can vary depending on the projects needs, who’s involved, etc. At the end of the day, what’s critical is to have a clear process identified with my client and the specific expectations defined in writing. I think how much hand-holding, guidance, visuals, and explanations they need depends on the specific client.

When it comes to envisioning the final product I think examples are the key. Whether it’s from my own portfolio, from the community showcase, or from elsewhere on the internet. To manage the expectations, I want to share examples that are in-line with what the client expects me to develop, so I can give them a realistic sense of what final output can potentially look like.

Hope this answers your questions! I’d also be interested in hearing from you on the same topic, Holly! As a consultant, do you often deal with clients who are brand new to e-learning? How do you help them understand the design and development process if they have never been through it before?

Ashley Chiasson

I'm quite fond of my pen and paper to do lists; however they can have their limitations. I distinctly remember working on military job task analysis and scalars...the SMEs would sit around a room for a week or more and write down each task on a stick note until the wall was covered in them - it sort of mimicked some process I saw with programmers; however, the glue would eventually break down from even the sturdiest of post-it notes, and you would lose items in the process - in this instance, a digital process would have been better, but thankfully my post-it notes aren't around for very long :P

I also cannot say that I've added already done tasks to my to do list - once they're done, they're done. Although, I may try this as a self-esteem boost in the future :P

Carolyn Dickerson

Hi Nicole,

How do you get inspired when trying to design an interface and graphics that relate to the course subject matter? Usually my internal clients don't have a logo, color scheme, or any type of standard graphics to work from.  Its like starting from scratch each time and this really slows us down.


Nicole Legault

Hi Carolyn! Thanks for the question. 

It's really awesome that you get such creative freedom, although I know what you mean about the time it takes to make these design decisions!

I often use Google Images as my source of inspiration. I'll do searches of keywords on Google and just look at what images come up related to the subject matter. I look to see what colors and imagery appears a lot. Often this will inspire me and give me ideas to use as a starting point. I'll also often look at "web designs" and "infographics" on Google Images to get inspired. For me, this is really one of my favourite parts of designing e-learning is coming up with the design, colour schemes, fonts, etc.

You might also consider looking at my co-worker David Anderson's design map tool. There are some great tips for choosing the right look-and-feel for your course.

Also, if possible, re-use past templates, assets, graphics, etc. It's a great way to save time, and it also serves as an example you can use to show (if you clean it up from any info) to your clients. If they like it: great! Saves you a lot of time. 

Hope these tips help a bit!

Tracy Parish

Hi Nicole:  

How often have you come across a client, that against your better judgement and advice, just wants the READ, CLICK, READ, CLICK?  Have you had to just throw your hands up and go with what the client wants regardless if your inner ID is screaming no?

And Caroyln: 

I really got a great appreciation for David's Design Map tool when we used it in small teams at the Toronto Community Roadshow.  Using it with others, brainingstorming ideas to fill it out was really interesting and the creativity that came out because of it was great. 

Cheryl Theis

The challenge I continue to have is working with SMEs whose goals and priorities do not include developing training.  I am able to get the storyboard to 95%, but it sits for weeks waiting for the final details about a product and/or approval of the storyboard to move to programming.  At the beginning of the project we agree to a schedule of milestone dates along with the objectives/results of the training. I have incorporated, when possible, to have a back-up SME to work with, but the Lead SME has the final storyboard approval. Any suggestions on how to encourage your SMES to complete projects in these types of situations?

Holly MacDonald

I do the same, although I tend to now include information on the process in the proposal itself rather than waiting until the statement of work is ironed out. I have had a half finished "course" on this built, but haven't had time to finish it! I do work with lots of clients who are new to e-learning, as I tend to seek out small/medium companies, not big global organizations. The education process is part of the relationship building that I do. 

For the final product I also use examples - the new showcase is fantastic - and we talk about what's possible. I also do this at the proposal level, and then we have a better idea of what they would like and what they can afford, which are not always the same things! I also have a course that I've mapped out called "good learning", which would give them some context/background to design decisions. Still haven't finished that one either.

I was mostly looking for ideas of what you did to see if there were things I could add to the mix. Sounds like we are on the same page.


Nicole Legault

@Tracy - I've had a lot of clients who preferred a click-and-read approach. I would try to explain the instructional value and show great examples of e-learning that goes beyond "click Next" to try to illustrate what's really possible, but at the the end of the day, the customer is the one shelling out the dough so it's their final decision. 

Really glad you saw some value in the design mapping exercise at our Toronto event, Tracy! So glad to hear that. I'm already looking forward to next years event :) 

Nicole Legault

@Cheryl - Hey Cheryl, thanks for the question! That is a great one, thanks for bringing it up.

IDs have probably all been in your shoes before (I know I certainly have) and waiting for SME feedback can definitely be stressful and agonizing! I've been in situations where (just like you) I'm stuck and unable to move forward until I get a review back from a SME. I hate to say "it's part of the job" but sometimes it is, although there are definitely things you can do to help the situation. 

Get buy in from the SMEs manager. This is kind of obvious, but if a SMEs manager thinks the project is important and a priority, the SME is also more likely to think so. If you can also get the manager to give the SME a few hours to dedicate specifically to this project and/or help alleviate the SMEs regular duties (which they usually, of course, still have to do even when they get SME duties piled on top of their regular work) that can be a huge help. Even just displaying that you want to help by doing these things can gain you big SME points which will help  you in the long run. 

Set consequences for not getting SME feedback. You might include specific consequences for what happens if you don't receive SME feedback in the project plan. This may not always be possible, but sometimes it is. We know all too well how it's sometimes impossible to move ahead until you get SME feedback and you need to plan for the WHAT IFs in your project plan and one big one is What If the SMEs don't give you the feedback you need on time. It might be that for each day the SME is late returning a review document, an extra day gets added on to the delivery date of the project. Again, it depends on your project, but try to plan for this possibility in your project plan and agree on the consequences with your client/project stakeholder. 

Set a meeting to review with the SME. If you're really close to being done and you just need that one final review and you can't seem to get the SME to do it on their own time, why not just schedule a meeting with them and walk them through it. The meeting could be either online or in face-to-face, depending on your situation. This way you don't sit around waiting for them to get to it, you are proactive about getting what you need. This might be extreme in some cases and more difficult if you have a large project, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do!

Hope this helps Cheryl! This is a really great subject and I'd love for you to post it in the forums to get input from others about their tips and tricks for dealing with difficult SMEs. Would you do that? You can literally just copy and paste that exact question you posted in the Build Better Courses part of the forums... I would love to get ideas from other community members about this.

P.S. I know we also have some articles (4 Easy Ways to Win Over Reluctant SMEs and Overcoming Challenges of Working with SMEs) and some great past forum discussions (that are compiled here) on that very topic. Hope this helps you out! Thanks again for the question. Good luck with your SMEs.

Nicole Legault

@KAtie - Hi Katie! Thanks so much for your question.

I would also advise you to checkout Articulate community manager David Anderson's Design Map tool. Sounds like you're looking for some advice and guidance for choosing colours and font combos mostly. This can be a really personal choice based on what you like most, but I think David's tool can really help generate ideas and get you thinking of your content in new ways.

My personal approach is often to look to Google with key words from your industry and see what images, colors, fonts, come up in images that might inspire you and serve as a starting point.

Melissa Milloway

Fonts: I would Google some guides on pairing fonts:

Use to find new fonts.

Use Adobe Kuler and search color schemes and stick to the colors on that scheme I would do like three of the 5 colors they give you.


If you have a logo or picture that you want to use the colors from you can use to get a scheme. I even recommend "borrowing" color schemes from successful companies and maybe tweaking the color just a bit to make it your own.

I think I will write a longer post on all of this with examples!

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