When working in the field of digital learning creation, we can wear many hats; content designer, graphic designer, content developer, content reviewer, quality assurance, software tester, LMS expert, go live support, colleague support, sounding board, and any other hat you can think of..
Everyone talks about the ADDIE model, and while I feel this holds value, I don’t think it is the be all and end all to our learning design processes. While I may have followed ADDIE carefully at the start of my learning career, this has changed over the years, and I have incorporated elements of other models into my working practices giving me an ADDIE/SAM/others hybrid approach that works for me.
I often work on the full project, from sales proposal through to getting the content launched on the desired platform. So, I have a mental checklist of things I need for each stage or hat that I might be wearing. Personal learning is key, and I wanted to take this opportunity to put it all down on paper. This list is by no means exhaustive, and I will no doubt add to it over the coming months and years as things evolve further.
- Do I have the full scope of the project? Is this project clearly defined, or is it still a work in progress?
- Clearly defined – I should have needs and wants from my client, as well as any source content that feeds into the content design. We should have agreed an approach on visual style so that I have something to work towards for the concept. And most importantly, I should have an expected delivery date, so that I can put together a project plan with key milestones and target dates.
- Still evolving – I should have needs and wants from the client, but should also have a clear picture from them on how the project is evolving, and expectations on how this will impact the work I am doing eg software simulations for software still in development. I should still have an expected delivery date so that I can project plan, but knowing how the project is evolving enables me to schedule for updates and changes, and to build buffers into the project plan to allow some slack for any unexpected changes.
- Do I have the client brand guidelines, visual style requirements, and tone of voice requirements?
- Am I designing learning to fit into an established approach? Or is this a stand alone piece of learning with its own unique identity?
- Do I know the clients’ preferred content development tools, or can I use any tools? The tools they use, and the functionality it has will affect my designs and development, so it is good to understand the chosen tool before I start e.g. there is no point in writing an audio script to drive the course if it will be developed in Articulate Rise.
- How is the content I develop going to be shared with the target audience?
- What platforms – web? LMS? Sharepoint? Other?
- What devices – PC? Mobile devices? Android? iOS? Touch? keyboard?
- What reporting is needed – web page statistics? LMS tracking? Other?
- Accessibility and Diversity requirements – what level of accessibility is required for the content, and what assistive technology is in use within the company, for example JAWS, or Dragon software.
- Who will my main contact be, and who are my SMEs? Will my contact with SMEs be direct, or managed through the main contact?
- Preferred contact methods? Some clients like a weekly catch-up call, some like email updates, some like video conferences. Every client is different, and have their own busy jobs to manage, so I need to understand the way I can best slot into their work life causing the minimum of disruption. I don’t want to plan in time heavy weekly meetings, if I can send a quick email at the end of the day or week to outline progress. Likewise I don’t want to bombard with emails if a quick 5 minute call would work better for the client. So I ask, and plan accordingly, and make a note of the preferred comms method within my project documents so there is no chance of forgetting.
I have to be honest… I am not a fan of Microsoft projects for the work I do. While it is a fantastic project planning tool, it is far too detailed, and has a lot of functionality that I really don’t use. I prefer using tools such as Smartsheets, or even a simple excel spreadsheet.
This approach lets me plan out the time frames for each stage in a format I can easily share with the client, whilst keeping it as simple and straightforward as possible. I want to spend my time on the design and development of the content, and not on the behind the scenes project management.
In my project plans I include time for:
- Any annual leave on my or the clients side.
- Concept designs and graphics work.
- Design tasks – storyboarding, script writing, video editing, audio editing.
- Design review cycles for collaboration with client.
- Updates and enhancements following design reviews.
- Audio recording.
- Build tasks – build, final video editing, audio editing.
- Testing and QA of builds.
- Build review cycles for collaboration with client.
- Updates and enhancements following build reviews.
- Delivery phase – providing final publish in required delivery format, and supporting through client testing on intended platform.
- Post go live support – its amazing how many quirks or issues get identified after go live, even when I have extensively tested.
These are just the basic elements, but I find each project is different, and I have to customise my task list based on the requirements for that project.
And I NEVER cut out review cycles as this can lead to more issues further down the line, resulting in more amends needed, and delays to the timescale, which can have a significant impact on that final delivery date.
Understanding the Project
- Is this a build where you have freedom to get creative? Or is it a build where you need to stick to the direction given in the storyboard?
You should be provided with this information; if you are not then ask. Don’t assume anything.
- Is there a predefined template to use as a starting point? or are we fitting in to a predefined learning style (i touched on this earlier as well).
- Software version to be used? I predominantly build in Articulate 360 these days, but need to understand the client software requirements as they may have an older version: SL1, SL2, SL3, SL360?
- Build size – 4:3, 16:9, or custom.
- Brand items needed for build – colour palette, fonts, Logos, backgrounds, Images, accent points etc.
Designing the Content
- Be clear on the timeline for this stage – keep yourself on track
- What style is this content to take – Photographic? Illustrative? People/characters? No people?
- Target devices for this content – ensure I design for the best size and format
- Storyboarding prep – Set up my colour palette and fonts.
- Navigation mechanisms – design and placement for navigation buttons.
- Create the storyboard, making sure to include:
- content broken down on a slide by slide basis
- on screen graphics
- on screen text elements
- audio commentary script
- notes on animation requirements
- notes on interaction requirements
- navigation requirements – locked until completion or where next takes you
- notes on accessibility requirements for page – tab order
- transition slides or exit animations.
Build the Content
- Be clear on the number of days you have available to complete this build. Use your time wisely. Complete the basic build, and then revisit slides to enhance visuals and animation if you have the time available.
- Set up the Storyline file before I get stuck in to building slides – use slide masters to define fonts and colours, and key layouts etc.
- Build slides, making effective use of scenes to organise build content. Label scenes as per the content sections etc.
- Build slides, using agreed look and feel. Use your creativity to animate the slide content
- Preview each slide to check that it is working as you expect. Use this as an opportunity to resolve issues and fine tune your slides
- Preview a scene to ensure that it works as you expect, and transitions effectively from one slide to the next in the sequence.
- Gives you chance to identify any navigation issues within the scene
- Helps you to identify layout issues from slide to slide, ensuring consistency
- Remove any redundant slides, or slide assets as you go. Keep the build as clean as possible – helps to avoid confusion later. Remove redundant variables.
Testing 1 – check the build in Preview
Articulate Storyline 360 provides you with a preview function, so that you can preview your content form within Storyline. I use this functionality as i develop each slide so that I can check it works as I am expecting. But I also use it once I have completed the build, as it enables me to quickly view the finished content and to run through it from end to end, identifying any issues I have missed.
- Use the Preview option to view the course in full within Storyline, but consider that this is not necessarily how it will display once published
- Compare the build to the storyboard
- Have all slides been built, and is the text as per the storyboard
- Have all notes and requests from the Storyboard design been taken into account?
- Confirm you are happy with your build
- Is the slide laid out as you want? Images and slide elements all correctly placed and aligned?
- Check the text. Is all text aligned? Is it consistent in font size, and colour?
- If audio is being used, has the correct audio file been added?
- Are all animations synced to the audio?
- Does the slide animate as you are expecting? Are items displayed in the correct sequence? Is anything missing?
- For buttons etc with hover and selected states – are the states consistent, and displaying as expected? This includes size, location, colour, font, font size, and font colour ( is known to change at times and not display correctly).
- Does the navigation work correctly? This includes next, previous, and any other slide navigation items such as a menu or home button.
- Can you progress through the course from end to end? This ensures that any navigation issues are identified and resolved.
- Resolve all items you identify as you check your work. Seek help for any you cannot resolve.
- is the tab order correct?
- has the alt text for all items been added?
Testing 2 – check the build in a published version
Once I have resolves all the issues I can find within the Storyline preview, I move on to testing it again in a web browser.
- Publish the build – either as a local web or LMS version, dependent on client requirements for finished course
- Check the build from end to end in web browser
- Is all text displaying correctly?
- Are your animations and transitions working as you expect?
- Is the navigation working correctly?
- Can I successfully reach the end of the course?
- Resolve any issues and republish
- Rinse and repeat until everything has been resolved
- Is the course for on an LMS?
- Upload the course to Scormcloud and test again
- Does my progress get reported to the LMS?
- Does my course completion and/or score get reported to the LMS
- Revise build and retest until LMS reporting is correct.