eLearning Development: A How-To Primer

Steps to develop elearning

This how-to primer outlines what considerations need to be made when beginning a custom eLearning project.

It will be helpful if the project is developed internally, or if working with a development partner.

Starting an eLearning Program

Once the decision has been made to develop eLearning, the question is, now what? If your organization is planning to develop eLearning internally, or will be contracting with an eLearning vendor, this decision can seem daunting. However, if you understand the foundation from which eLearning is designed, you’ll be on your way to planning a successful project.

The first step is to identify the criteria for a successful custom eLearning project. This includes:

  • Creating a clear definition of project goals

  • Determining project size and scope

  • Identifying budgetary requirements

  • Setting a delivery date

  • Confirming availability of suitable and sufficient resources

  • Ensuring an IT infrastructure that can support eLearning

  • Targeting learners’ needs

  • A defined evaluation process for post program delivery

Additionally, it is helpful to have the following variables firmly in place in order to “set the stage” for success:

  • Early support and belief in the project from senior management

  • Support and commitment from stakeholders

You may have other success factors that are specific to your organization. After you’ve identified what constitutes success for you, then you need to begin to get the support and “buy-in” from all required players.

After it’s decided to go ahead with an elearning program, the project team needs to be identified, including who has what role:

  • project owner

  • key stakeholders

  • instructional designer

  • project manager

  • graphic artist

  • technical support.

The project team, led by either the project manager or instructional designer, identifies project goals, followed by requirements identification and documentation. These steps, and the assurance that all areas of the organization are included in this early phase, will impact how well the project progresses, and its ultimate success.

Project Kick-off

A project kick-off meeting is the official start of a project. At this meeting a project schedule is created. To create a realistic development schedule, work backwards from the required delivery date of when the training program must be “live”. This establishes the length of the development process and ensures all steps will be completed.

Other discussion and decisions reached during the kick-off include:

  • The project size and scope

  • Determination of clear expectations of the final deliverable

  • Onboarding project stakeholders

  • Addressing known risk factors

Following the kick-off meeting, the high-level design phase begins, followed by the identified QA, and review and approval by stakeholders and the business owner. At this point, the project is well on its way.

Phases of eLearning Development

There are five major phases in eLearning development, with a follow-up evaluation phase. Listed below is each phase, including sub tasks:

  • Planning

Project requirements identification and collection

Project schedule and milestones

High-level content design

Develop hierarchy of content with learning objectives

Subject matter review and stakeholder approval

Script development

Create full text of course content

Subject matter review and stakeholder approval

Assessment of technical infrastructure and program needs

  • DesignStoryboard development

Graphic and animation design

Subject matter review and stakeholder approval

  • Development

Course development in authoring environment

  • Quality Assurance and testing

  • Delivery and deployment

  • Evaluation

The Project Manager

It is important to have an experienced custom eLearning project manager leading the development process to oversee the project and its players. There are two distinct teams the project manager oversees in slightly different ways: the business team and the development team.

The business team includes:

  • the project owner / sponsor,

  • the subject matter expert(s),

  • key stakeholders, and

  • external team members (i.e. communications and legal) for review and approval

The development team includes:

  • instructional designers,

  • graphic artists,

  • developers,

  • editors,

  • testers and QA reviewers.

In managing both teams, one key factor is to ensure ongoing, open, two-way communication among team members, and between individual team members and the project manager. Also, when scheduling tasks and creating deliverable milestones, it’s important for the project manager to talk with each team member (such as the instructional designer, and graphic artist as well as the subject matter expert, and client reviewers) to gain buy-in around the schedule to be sure the timeframe is realistic.


Creating an elearning course is an iterative process. On the development side, it requires many different skill sets to complete each of the tasks, and on the review and implementation side, there are many players who must approve and signoff at various milestone points of the project.

To keep projects moving forward without anything falling through the cracks, it’s helpful to be aware of some common challenges during eLearning development:

  • Project scope creep

  • Subject matter experts who aren't available

  • Missed review deadlines by senior management

  • Additional reviews by previously unidentified stakeholders

  • Technical infrastructure not supportive of program and delivery

Having an awareness of these potential issues can help mitigate them before they compromise the project’s development process and timeline, and ultimately its success. There are steps and processes that can be put in place at the start of a project to ensure these issues are managed effectively.

If you have questions or challenges around your elearning development needs, please email rkustoff@knowledgeadvantage.biz to talk through the issues.

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