Is this ID Job Right For Me? Ask About the eLearning Production Process.
Here’s an inside look at how online course production really works. Plus the questions you should ask in an interview to understand your role.
Ask five people to describe the eLearning and online course production process, and you’ll get five different answers. Every organization has their own way of transforming a list of behavioral and learning objectives into an effective training or course. These variations can make it difficult to know exactly what you’re getting into when you accept a new, instructional design (ID), project management or content creation role.
So allow us to lift the curtain. We’re giving you an inside look at how eLearning production really works across industries and phases of maturity. Plus, we’ll share some of the questions you should ask at the interview stage to make sure you understand your new role.
Course Production Processes Vary By Industry
Organizations of all types engage in course development. That includes corporations, nonprofits, colleges and universities, edtech companies, and even sports teams. Whether they are creating formal online education courses, career pathway curriculum, compliance training, upskilling, or even setting up a training ecosystem – the way organizations grow their course production process tends to vary depending on the industry and stage of eLearning maturity. This means the work and daily responsibilities can be very different across ID roles.
The Basic Stages of Course Production
Although the process varies across programs, industries, and organizations, the basic process of elearning and online course production process looks like this:
1. Analysis and Planning
- Identify a need
- Conduct research
- Select resources and/or a subject matter expert
- Develop learning or behavior change objectives
- Create an outline or learning experience plan
- Create a prototype
- Develop activities and assessments
- Write drafts of the content
- Produce graphics and multimedia assets or videos
- Review and edit material
4. Build and Launch
- Load all materials into the system
- Set up all system preferences and optimize look and feel
- Complete final quality checks
- Complete any facilitator training
5. Then Evaluate, Improve, and Relaunch
The person or group responsible for each step in this process varies depending on the size of the team. In small teams, one or two people may bear responsibility for nearly every step. Larger teams usually have a clearer division of labor.
3 Phases Dictate How Course Production Works
Over time, usually years or decades, organizations progress through three phases of organizational development. Which phase the organization is in at the time your project starts will impact everything from your workload to your responsibilities.
Phase 1: Growth Phase
New organizations or those that are just starting to ramp up course production. These organizations tend to have small teams. Each team member likely fills many roles and the work is intensely collaborative. Timelines are likely to be tight.
Phase 2: Scaling Phase
As organizations enter the scaling phase, they grow the team and start testing new tools and processes. There’s a lot of room for innovation and development here and the pace of change is likely to be quick.
Phase 3: Equilibrium Phase
The organization has established processes and built out the team. They’ve found what works, so they’re likely to be more process-focused. Job roles are more clearly delineated. Established processes are more difficult to change and the organization may be less open to innovation.
Organizations in all three phases of development need eLearning experts. You may find that you prefer working with organizations in a particular phase.
eLearning Development in Corporate Organizations
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Corporate organizations often already have human resources departments with established onboarding, compliance training, and role specific training and curriculum. Generally, they start by setting up a Learning Management System (LMS) and populating the LMS with relevant training, job aids, and content. At this point, they are beginning to hire instructional designers to take current in-person or zoom training and create interactive, asynchronous training using an eLearning authoring tool such as Articulate Storyline or Rise.
Speed to delivery can be a serious challenge when organizations need to create training, potentially for multiple types of roles, and get the information out quickly enough to meet business needs. This leads into creating more formal processes and standards. In addition, they’re likely also considering how to use the LMS system more dynamically to track completion rates, career pathways, employee skills, etc. They will continue to build out their team to include project managers and more instructional designers with a special focus on the skills mix – what strengths does each person on the team bring to the table. For example, they often want to ensure they have strengths across multimedia and video editing, eLearning tools, technical writing, etc.
In addition, many organizations supplement their internal team via two sources. If they have a large project or need a fresh perspective they may outsource the project to a full-service agency. The second approach is to supplement their team by contracting with freelance instructional designers. Many organizations use both of these to maximize innovation, speed, flexibility, and resource or budget constraints. For example, they may not have the budget to hire a new instructional designer who specializes in software training development, but can contract with one to complete the project.
Course Production in the Education Industry
Generally speaking, education programs start by asking faculty to take an existing course and put it online. Often this is a move born of necessity. They’ve realized that online courses could help them reach more students and they’re willing to experiment with the material they already have. At this stage, instructional designers are usually assigned as “catch-all” course production assistants. You’ll need to be strong in instructional technology and able to work in a flexible manner that accommodates each instructor’s needs.
Soon, the education program realizes that in-person courses don’t usually translate directly to online formats without structured support. At this point, they will have instructional designers walk instructors through a formal course design and development process. From there, a desire for better multimedia production encourages them to bring video and graphics experts on board. Then, many realize that bringing on a content writer will ease the burden on subject matter experts, so they start hiring writers.
They’ll keep growing until they have a full production team including scheduling and project management staff. By the time the team reaches this size, the look and feel of the courses really changes. Education programs may decide to go back and rework earlier courses to bring them up to the new standard.
Interview Questions to Understand the Role
As you’re applying for jobs, there are some key questions you should ask to get insight into how the team works and what phase of development the organization has reached.
During the interview process, ask:
- Who is on the team?
- What does your eLearning development process look like?
- What specialists are on your team? Which parts are they responsible for?
- What skills are most important for success in this role?
- How do you handle project management and sign-offs?
- What is the planned schedule and delivery cadence?
- What are the major initiatives on the roadmap that the department is responsible for?
The answers to these questions can help you understand where the organization stands. You’ll begin to get a feel for both how the organization works and its phase of development. Most importantly, you’ll have the information to decide whether the skills required, the team, and the organization are right for you.
For help finding your next role in digital learning, visit the Teamed job board or reach out to us directly. We connect digital learning experts with the organizations that need their services to produce quality courses at scale.