eLearning Design: Methodology & Tools

I have always believed that the design process is a highly collaborative one that should integrate all team members and subject matter experts. When teams of talented people come together the outcomes are almost always stronger. I am of the philosophy that instructional designers should work very hard at being very good designers — instead of the traditional view that designers do everything. I think it is critical to place all sorts of diverse talent together and let them focus on what they do best. In this way, all team members contribute to the piece of the puzzle that they are strongest at.

When I came to the Solutions Institute I had experience designing both eLearning and commercial training applications … coming from the small company I was with in the corporate world taught me the value of methodologies to support huge project loads on tight timelines and budgets. I have also worked in higher education settings where the process followed is the “no process” model. In this sense, you are left on your own to create a course without the support of a team, a process, or a standard toolset. That doesn’t scale and it often leads to failure. Out of these experiences I have made it a priority to put process, tools, and teams first when designing instruction. This is the real reason why I have worked so hard at putting these methods and tools together.

The Methodology

In the systematic design of instruction it is critical to utilize a solid methodology. To this end, when I was brought in to start the Solutions Institute, I laid the foundation for the four-tier methodology. This customized method relies heavily on traditional ID processes, but simplifes the approach. It also takes advantage of a very collaborative tier — the Instructional Media Plot to bring all members of the team together in a series of active brainstorming sessions to collaborativly design courses. It is in this tier that I really wanted to differintiate our approach from traditional methologies.

This process relies on four phases, or tiers, and is built on a revision foundation. The tiers of this process consist of:

ID3 Process

By tying project management strategies to our methodology, I can ensure that the project will be completed on time, within scope, and on budget. Furthermore this makes it very simple to gain huge efficiencies by overlapping teams and individuals on multiple projects.

Tools and Methods Work Together

The foundations of this methodology are built on my custom design and development toolset, the D3 System. This is a distinguishing characteristic of the process; the tools support the methodology and vice versa. That is a critical piece to the overall puzzle of designing, growing, and maintaining a scalable eLearning initiative. I have always believed that typical CMS tools lack the critical pieces that make an eLearning toolset viable — content management, instructional strategy guidance, team communication, and project management. These are the components that have made D3 such a successful toolset for creating and maintaing large bodies of eLearning content.

The tools and the methodologies were implemented in tandem so they support one another throughout the courseware creation process. The tools, when separated from the methodologies are not nearly as powerful. This is not to say that the D3 toolset is not a powerful authoring environment, but rather it is the core technology that supports a team as they move through the methodology. D3 handles tasks, scheduling, and course publishing to enable a very streamlined design, development, and revision cycle.

Delivery Options

I have always been a firm believer of keeping content separate from presentation … this isn’t a new thought, it is the underlying principle behind D3. This led me to build an authoring system that let’s you manage your content that isn’t bound by any one delivery toolset. In this way, people aren’t tied to ANGEL, WebCT, BlackBoard, or any other integrated LMS. Course materials are published as stand alone objects and are integrated (or linked) into the LMS. This isn’t rocket science, but eight years ago, lots of people scratched their heads when I’d discuss it with them.

I feel as though it is just as true today — although I am really starting to wonder how it would work inside a multi-user blogging system to support collaboration. At the moment I push using the Edison Services tools we created at the Institute as the delivery toolset that binds a course together. I know I’ve posted about the concept of the syllabus as the hub to the eClassroom … it has worked well for me, but I could just as easily drop my D3 generated content into an LMS and go.

As we move towards stronger standards in the object space I think we’ll see smaller pieces more loosely joined to create classroom experiences. Things like text (html, pdf, etc) coupled with podcasts, audio books, interactive exercises, and other objects loosely pulled together by an application like Edison. At any rate the idea that you can generate your content — no matter what form its in — separate from your delivery toolset is going to be ever-increasingly important.

I’m sure at some point I’ll revisit some of this, but I just thought it was time to write down some of the ancient history of myself … more as a sign-post to let me know where I’ve been and to remind myself why I think the way I do. Let me know what you think.

2 thoughts on “eLearning Design: Methodology & Tools

  1. Thanks,
    I am interested in learning more about Edison, and I agree with that there is a lot of value of joining smaller applications to better serve student online learning. One of the changes I’m still waiting on is for the publishing companies to start parsing out text books electronically so that an instructor can order by the chapter, and sort of mix together their own text book electronically.


  2. Pingback: A Plea for Some eLearning Help at Cole Camplese: Learning & Innovation

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