E-learning course design can be time-consuming and costly. But you can save time and money by collecting the content you need for a project in an efficient way. Here are some practical steps to gather the right content for your project, without needlessly spinning your wheels.

Start by Determining What You Need

You might be tempted to jump in right away and create an inventory of all the subject matter available. But you can save yourself a lot of trouble by first completing a needs analysis, outlining your course goals along with the learning objectives that will help you get there.

When you do a thorough needs analysis, you’ll identify the specific types of content needed for your e-learning project. Then, it’s pretty easy to weed out any content that doesn’t apply to the audience, goals, and conditions for your project.

Try to resist the temptation to use material just because it’s available. Whether you’re starting from scratch or have a mountain of content from well-intentioned experts, let the course needs drive the content you choose, not the other way around.

Collecting Content

The quickest, most convenient place to source content is online. However, don’t confuse volume with quality—you may find a wealth of information, but be particular in what content you choose to use.

Plan how you will make use of all available tools. When using electronic resources, write down keywords and determine when to use the search operators and, or, not, and near (known as Boolean operators) to limit, widen, or refine your searches. Check out the help sections of search tools and databases to learn more about using tools effectively.

While online materials are easy to access, remember to also use physical materials such as books, periodicals, manuals, and videos. When using printed materials, read the introduction to find out how to digest the information. You can also check a book’s index for specific subjects or names.

Document as You Collect

Whether your resources are electronic or print, make sure you record each one you use and where each is located. If the item is from an electronic source, write down the search terms you used to find it. This way, if you need to revisit a particular resource, you can find your source material faster.

Connecting with the Right People

To help you gather the best content for your course goals, it’s important to find people with the right expertise and experience.

Your needs analysis will help identify subject matter experts (SMEs) that will be helpful for your project. Be aware that it’s not always possible, feasible, or prudent to get everything you need from a single person, so you may need to link up with a few experts. For example, you may need one SME to provide on-the-job, contextual insight, and then another to provide technical or process information. The objective is to get the information you need, and it may come from multiple sources.

In addition to helping you with existing materials, SMEs can act as sources for new content to bridge the gap between what you need and what you’ve already found. When you talk with your SMEs, be sure to clearly explain what you want. You may want to guide the conversation with an outline to stay focused on the specific skills and tasks targeted for your training. Also, ask open-ended questions that help them share their expertise, such as “What are the most common questions about this subject?” and “What are the most common mistakes you see with this subject?”.

Sometimes it’s hard for SMEs to winnow the information they give you, simply because they know so much. One strategy you can use is to ask them how a new learner can practice using the information in the course and in a real work environment. You can get their help filtering responses with a simple, “Does a person need to know that in order to perform the task?”.

SMEs are often busy, with tight schedules. Get onto their calendars as early in the process as possible, and build time into your project plan for content collection. You can refer SMEs back to your project plan when you’re trying to meet with them to gather or review content.

Also, show up at meetings with SMEs prepared. Taking the time to learn background information will help you ask better questions. Use reflective listening to paraphrase, summarize, and confirm what you’ve heard so you can minimize the need for follow-up conversations.

Validating Your Content

The final step in the content collection process is to synthesize and organize the course content into a format that can be reviewed easily. After your SMEs confirm that the content is complete and accurate, you can move forward with designing your e-learning course.

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