Better e-learning – Day 5: Sanity check!

It’s Friday morning and you’ll be glad to know that the intensive hands-on stuff is over.

But today is crucially important!

We’ll be taking a step back and reviewing the improvements we’ve made, making sure we’ve got a coherent course and not a Frankenstein’s monster.

  • Carry out the triple check: TVF

First things first: you need to do a full and thorough QA of your course. Some people hate doing this, other people (like me!) love it – whichever camp you’re in, you’ve got to do it. You could get someone else to do it for you (and certainly having someone else do a second QA is never a bad idea) but I tend to believe that QA-ing a course is part-and-parcel of producing it. Having QA-ed more e-learning courses than I care to remember, there are two key lessons that I’ve learnt.

The first is that there are three ‘layers’ to a QA, or three things you need to check: text, visuals and functionality. And don’t be fooled – we may not have played around with graphics or code this week, but you still need to check each of these three areas. Clearly the text needs a detailed review to pick up any typos, grammatical errors or text that simply doesn’t read quite right. Trust me, even if you reviewed any text you edited during the week, you will undoubtedly have missed something. All of those text changes might well have had an impact on the layout and design, so you need to do a visual review to make sure text isn’t truncated, formatting is as it should be, headings are all in place and so on. And finally, even though we haven’t been making any true development changes and even though I said editing basic stuff in XML isn’t hard, I have been known to ‘break’ an XML file from time to time. So you also need to double check that everything is still working as it should be.

The second thing I’ve learnt is that you can’t review these three layers simultaneously. If you try to do one QA that looks at all three areas, you will miss things. So my advice is to QA the course three times over, taking each layer in turn. I know this sounds time-consuming and laborious but I’m fairly sure it saves time in the long run by reducing the risk of rework after go-live.

  • Get a second opinion from an SME

You’ll probably need to have scheduled this in prior to Friday and, no matter how difficult it might be to pin down your subject matter expert, I really encourage you to try hard because this is important. The last thing you want is to release your newly improved e-learning course and then have to take it down when word gets back to the SME that you didn’t get their sign off and/or there is content that’s no longer accurate.

Having said that, I would also advise being very firm about the scope of their involvement and review. They can confirm that the content is still accurate and that they as SME are happy that the course covers the appropriate topics. They can’t undo your improvements to tone, structure, flow and interaction design. You should probably find a nicer way of phrasing that, but essentially they need to know what kind of review you need from them.

Incidentally, if you are the subject matter expert as well as the designer, it might be worth consciously taking off your ‘designer hat’ and putting on your ‘SME hat’. Just as you can’t look at all three QA layers simultaneously, I’m not sure that you can look at the detail and the overall picture at the same time, so a separate SME review is probably advisable.

  • Get a third opinion from an end user

The good news is that this can be going on at the same time as the SME review, but of course your test or sample learners will be looking for different things. What you need to know from them is their general impression of the experience – hopefully all your hard work this week means that this experience is vastly better than when they took the original course. Their feedback will also be really useful in terms of identifying any specific sticking points: any interaction instructions that aren’t clear enough, any screens that don’t seem to flow from one to the other smoothly, and so on.

You might want to consider giving them some kind of questionnaire to guide their review. I would include questions such as: to what extent did the interactions help you learn, how enjoyable was the learning experience, how user-friendly was the structure of the course, and were there any points at which the content did not flow smoothly for you? Where possible provide a 1-4 scale (this way they can’t always simply select the middle number) as well as space for free text.

  • Don’t be lazy – do one last check yourself!

Unless you are also the SME, you will have had some time today to think about other things while those external reviews were taking place. But there is a little more work for you on Friday afternoon. Inevitably, you’ll need to spend a little time making whatever small changes are required as a result of your SME and user reviews.

Once you’ve made those tweaks and adjustments, it’s time for one last burst of energy and attention as you do the final check through to make sure that your course is as good as it can be. I guess my advice here would be to not overdo it. I sometimes find it hard to step away and declare something finished – and of course there’s more you could do if you had more time and more money, but you don’t. So give your course the attention it deserves during this final check through, then take a deep breath, press ‘save’ and step away.

Now all that’s left to do is put your feet up and go into the weekend feeling happy and proud of your vastly improved e-learning course. Well done!

(After the weekend, if you’re so inclined, you can come back for a quick debrief and recap of everything we covered in our five days to better e-learning. I won’t be offended if you don’t – but I hope you do!)

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One thought on “Better e-learning – Day 5: Sanity check!

  1. Pingback: Five days to better e-learning: recap | Good To Great

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