Rapid e-learning: the efficient way to create e-learning courses (part 1)
Executive Education / 14 April 2020
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Project Management Product Manager
Barbara Rave (M.A.) is a product manager in Frankfurt School’s Professional & Executive Education department. She designs continuing education programmes covering Strategy & Change Management and Technology & Operations.

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The amount of time required to develop an e-learning course depends on a wide variety of different factors – and, as every e-learning developer knows, usually ends up extending over schedule. But why is this, and how can you shorten time to market when producing an e-learning course? Potential obstacles include too many variables, such as multiple levels of interactivity, use of voiceovers, video elements or similar material, but other pitfalls also occur in project planning and above all, when collaborating with specialist content creators. Any or all of these issues can prolong the time required to develop an e-learning course.

How long does it take to produce an e-learning course?

Over the last ten years, there has been little change in the development time of traditional e-learning courses. A 2017 survey suggests that on average, a basic e-learning course – i.e. a course with a limited number of interactive elements, where the user is primarily a passive recipient of information – needs 71 hours of development time (for further details, cf. 2017 ATD study). A similar survey dating from 2009 mentions 73 hours of development time for a conventional e-learning course (for further details, cf. 2009 ATD study).

In both surveys, identical reasons were given for the lengthy development time:

  • inadequate or inaccurate assessment of the organisation’s needs by the project manager in charge, and/or inadequate communication of/support for the project within the company;
  • underestimation of the complexity involved;
  • imprecise definition of the target audience(s) and/or inadequate analysis of their requirements;
  • lack of time available to the external and internal experts responsible for providing the project’s e-learning content, and/or lack of prioritisation of content creation;
  • lack of knowledge or underestimation of the complexity of the programming involved in an e-learning project, and/or incompatibility with the organisation’s IT systems.

What is rapid e-learning?

The term “rapid e-learning” is a conflation of rapid prototyping and e-learning. As part of an agile project management approach, rapid prototyping describes a straight-line approach to achieving clearly defined goals, coupled with lean production processes. Based on this approach, rapid e-learning courses are presented to select user groups as prototype solutions after a very short development period. Unlike traditional e-learning courses, rapid e-learning courses can be put together and rolled out to students in a matter of weeks.

This is achieved primarily by formulating a strategy that includes crystal-clear learning objectives, a clearly defined set of target users, as fine-grained a structure as possible, and a limited or preselected range of interactions. Templates with fixed layouts for content and subtitles, restricted character counts and so on help to streamline the work of the content creators. The various ways of presenting content (e.g. as graphics, videos or text only), as well as the various ways of interacting with the content, are all defined in advance so that the expert putting together the course content has a clearly defined frame of reference. Wherever possible, content creators should be given the opportunity to use material they have already produced. For e-learning developers, this also means less work when transferring existing content into e-learning presentation formats. So for example, an existing PowerPoint presentation can be transformed into an online course by adding explanatory text and interactive modules such as quizzes – an approach that only works, of course, with PowerPoint presentations that are already text-heavy. Alternatively, explanatory videos can be filmed, assuming that the expert concerned is relaxed about speaking directly to camera. But in any case, any decisions on e-learning presentation formats should only be taken after discussing them thoroughly with the expert in question.

In part 2 of this blog post, we show you how to implement a rapid e-learning project. If you would like to know more about agile development methods, check out the interesting executive education courses on offer in our Strategy & Change Management section.