My best advice for building elearning development teams

I’ve worked in educational elearning, game based learning and corporate elearning, during that time I’ve been involved in setting up many elearning development teams. I’ve worked on some brilliant projects for clients around the world but what would be my tops bits of advice for setting up an elearning development team? If I was starting from scratch what would I do? How would I set up a team and how would the team work?

I’ve worked in large development offices with hundreds of peoples and also a start-up so how would I set up a development team today? What would be my best advice for building an elearning development team today?

You don’t need an office

There is a whole host of virtual office applications like skype, basecamp and minigroups that can help you run your projects. They can also help you run your development projects and collaborate with your clients and team. You can get an IP phone and also a virtual office address if you still need to get post! People are moving around the world so do you all still need to be in the same location? I’ve worked on a project where the team was based in Russia, England and the USA – everything worked brilliantly. Most large companies have development centres overseas, teams working in Brazil, China, India and the USA. Have you seen some of the amazing work being competed in Argentina? Do you really need to have everyone working in the same office, commuting to the same place, every day? Some companies will want to have a huge development team sat in a massive office but think about whether this is really important to you and your team. If you set your team up around the world you can have 24 hour coverage.

What do you do if you are working with some in the same office and they have to move away from the area, seems a shame that you have to lose their skills when you could work virtually. Basecamp is run completely as a virtual company. Do you really need an office? Can you work part office and part virtual.

Look at other industries and people for inspiration

Several years we set up a link with our local university as they had a game design degree. It was a great success and we were able to share ideas – we learnt a great deal about game design and worked on several game based learning projects together. The project was nominated for an award and we set up several sessions linking game design and elearning, this was several years before the main boom of ‘gamificiation’ and game based learning. We decided to learning by speaking to some experts and sharing knowledge.

I’ve always encouraged the teams that I have worked in to look at other creative industries like graphic design, website design, animation, illustration and film to get creative inspiration. It is a great idea to look at other business to see how other people are working – not just in e-learning. We had a list of websites that we would regularly review and read to ensure that we keeping up to date on what was happening in web. There is so much happening in web that translates to elearning – I’m surprised that so many people don’t look outside of elearning for creative inspiration.

Manufacturing and production businesses are also a great place to see how you can improve your development and processes, they normally have a great way of managing process and also projects. Can you go and speak to another company outside of e-learning to learn from another business? I’ve found that if you call another business and explain what you want to achieve that they are happy for you to visit and learn from them. I’ve learnt a great deal from the engineering industry about job costing and project management, you just need to be able to apply it to your elearning processes.

Get people the right kit

It is really important that people have the right equipment and also that it works. If you have a computer that constantly crashes or is slow that it going to frustration the user and leads to lots of loss time. I worked for business with thousands of users, imagine if all of the PC’s slow down and the loss time.

Do this simple calculation.

Time the number of minutes in a day when the team member can’t work on the machine x days in the week.

You’ll then get how much time you’ll be losing in a week.

I’m not a massive fan of time and motion studies but the point is that over a year you will probably find that it more cost effective to buy a new machine or get it repaired. You also need to think about the impact of the team member working with a machine that doesn’t work correctly.

Make sure that your team has the software that they need to complete the job that they need. Work out what you need, who needs it and get it on the right machines. Also let people evaluate new pieces of software and feedback on its evaluation. Trust people to let you know how the software will work and whether it will make an impact to the projects that they are working on. You need to include money in your project budgets for any new software that you might need – don’t forget this it is often overlooked.

Be flexible

Encourage your team and allow them to be flexible. If you have a graphic designer or has a great script idea then make sure you have a way for them to put their ideas forward, the same applies for the script writer who wants to put forward a graphic idea. Make sure that your team can work together and are able to help each other.

You if you are the team leader you also need to be flexible, allow other people to contribute to the ideas process and act as a facilitate. You need to make sure that you get your project completed but you want to get the best from your team and also the project.

Pick what is in your team before you win the job! Graphic designer, Interactive designer, script writer, programmer, illustrator, animator, 3D designer, instructional designer

Depending on the size of your team and what type of projects you are developing you need to pick the right people for the job. My advice is start thinking about the people who will work on the project before you quote or prepare your proposal and then you won’t run into problems later. You might need to bring in a freelancer and that is fine, it is a good idea to have a list of freelance staff that you can rely on to your work on your projects that meet your quality requirements.

Do timesheets

You don’t need to document every minute but it is a great idea to do timesheets. You need to know whether your project is in budget and if you are building your elearning development team you are going to know whether you need to get more resources in a skill area. Timesheets are a good resource for the team. Top Tip – I’d always make sure that during the week that the team had time allocated for personal research and development.

Conclusion

Have you built an elearning development team? What did you do? What is it a success? What would you again? There are so many development tools available would you select to work with one, two or many more? Do you offer custom or off the shelf courses? Do you have a virtual office or a mix of both? Would you like to work in a company that allowed you to work at home?

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