How to Save Time and Money When Creating Courseware
Quoting costs on eLearning courseware creation and development is a lot like when your mechanic gives you a quote for work on your car. There are always one or two "surprise" items and something always costs more than expected. It's just the way it is.
But, because you want to keep your clients happy, you want to look for ways to keep costs down. From start to finish, there are ways that you can trim client costs. In this article, I'll explain a few of the ways that I've discovered to save time and money when creating courseware.
In the beginning...
You can start saving your client money right from the start by:
1. Avoiding the SME Panel
Some clients will insist that all of their stakeholders have input on the project right from the start. And we all know the old saying about "too many cooks...". If you are working with a group of subject matter experts (SMEs), some will offer opinions and contribute to the process in a meaningful way, but others may feel that they have to contribute something even though they have nothing substantial to offer. This bogs down the initial information gathering process, slows the writing and completely mires the review process even before the course gets to the developers.
When faced with a panel, convince the client that a single point of contact between you and them is the best and most efficient way to go. Ask that one SME be appointed to be the final arbiter in cases of conflicting viewpoints and that only one version of the course content with all SME comments sorted out and combined be returned to you after each review. This tactic saves a lot of time, and that means dollars saved.
2. Creating clear learning objectives and sticking to them
SMEs are experts in their fields. They are not experts in building eLearning. And they shouldn't be; that's why their company hired you. So, you should not be surprised if they don't understand the importance of learning objectives when you start the interview process.
By establishing learning objectives at the start, you can keep the SMEs on track and keep the material relevant by avoiding the tangents and additional information that SMEs often like to throw in. It's also a great way for you to show the SME your vision of how the course will be structured.
3. Planning your content
Planning your content is another way to reduce the time you spend writing, which brings the client's cost down. Create an outline, just as you would for most writing assignments. I like to use this learning guide format.
This layout lets you list each learning objective and list key content points. The learning resources column lets you make notes of what exists (e.g. PowerPoints, graphics, web links, etc.) and what you need from the SME such as in-house photos, charts and supporting documents. This layout is easy to edit, and it lets your SME see how things will fit together before you start writing your storyboard.
4. Knowing who your key players are
You'll meet your client's team at your project kickoff meeting. Make sure you get everyone's contact information. This could be very useful through your project's lifespan. If things get bogged down or you're not getting the response you need from your SMEs, you'll be able to contact the project lead or someone else higher on the corporate ladder for action. It's amazing how a well-placed phone call or email can spur people into action!
After the ship leaves port...
Once your project is up and running, you can still save time and money by:
1. Managing your end of the project
Save time and money by ensuring you're organized and meeting deliverable targets by creating a detailed schedule. You'll be in control when you streamline the writing and review process with your SMEs, prioritize tasks (theirs and yours) and track your progress as time goes by.
Your schedule should include significant target dates and deadlines and key dates for designers, managers and course creators so that you're all on the same page. It's not unusual for the client to cause setbacks in the project workflow and still expect you to meet their deadlines. It might be up to you to push back and point out that a deadline was missed because of inaction on their part, not yours.
2. Using storyboards
Storyboards are a paper-based representation of what the online course will look like. We use a tabular format Word document that looks like this:
This format gives the SME an idea as to how the course will look, what content will appear on screen and what will be narrated (we also provide closed captioning for learners with hearing difficulties), and how the interactions will work. The SME can edit the content and leave comments and send the storyboard back to you after the review is done. Each time the storyboard is changed, a new file name is used. This can be handy when someone wonders, "Why was this cut out?".
3. Using internal content resources
Imagine that you are creating a 7-module course where each storyboard is an average of 45 screens. The client wants photos on 30 of those pages to help illustrate the content. As you write, you search for photos at an online site such as iStock and find that the photos cost a licensing fee of $30.00 US each. That's a potential of $900.00 per module, or $6300.00 just for pictures! There has to be a cheaper way!
Your client can help you reduce this cost by providing their photos and other graphics for the course. If they do, ensure that they have copyright clearance to use them. The last thing they need is to be sued for copyright infringement.
The other option is to have your graphics department provide custom graphics or photos from a library that your company has purchased and is licensed to use, although it may not be less expensive than the online graphics sites.
4. Incorporate External Content Resources
The driving force behind eLearning is delivery of information. Can it be delivered anywhere, at any time? Can it be delivered in small, easy to use chunks? Can it be easily shared? Another question that you should ask is, "Is that information available elsewhere?".
The internet is the world's largest learning resource, so use it! Integrate links to external content within your course. Doing so saves having to create your own content and provides learners with the initiative to go out and learn more on their own. If you can find videos or other content that relates to your teaching points on the internet, why spend time and money creating something that already exists and is available for free?
In this article, I've described a few ways that you can save time and money when creating courseware. You most likely have an item or two to add to the list.
Remember, your client wants quality courseware, but they don't want to spend a fortune on it. Your efforts to save their time and money will be appreciated and most likely will result in repeat business. And, that sort of business is the kind we all like!
Jill is an Instructional Designer at BaseCorp Learning Systems with more than 10 years of experience researching, writing and designing effective learning materials. She is fascinated by the English language and enjoys the challenge of adapting her work for different audiences. After work, Jill continues to leverage her professional experience as she works toward the development of a training program for her cats. So far, success has not been apparent.