Are We Right about Defining a Scope by Seat Time of an E-Learning Course?

You are welcome to see the same post in Chinese in my FB.

Over the past 10 years, although I never exactly count how many e-learning development cases I've been experienced, but there should be nearly a thousand e-courses. Whether deal with negotiations or a signed contract, usually my first concern and will ask is "How long will you expect the course to be?" Yes, it's a matter of course to ask the question for past me, and on commercial considerations, we do need to know the expected seat time as its scope before price negotiation, don't we?

Let's see how the length of a e-learning course comes out.

In short, when an e-course development need appears (could be one or multi-courses, but following we discuss by one course), the host department will submit the need subject and its expected length and outsource to a supplier. Both sides will discuss and negotiate price according to the subject, length and type of the e-course.

As an instructional designer, I always plan and design according to the course length of the contract. It means that I map out the length of each segment and theme of the outline after analyzing materials, and then design and develop the content to meet the length of the plan. Well, I did feel a little fettered by the frame of time, but couldn't do anything as it seems a universal truth.

Few month ago, I start to help an oversea NGO designing an e-learning course as a volunteer.

At the beginning, when I looked at their project plan, the first question came out of my mind was 'How long is the course expected?' But because I am a volunteer, I won't get paid, and I didn't know what was my responsibility at that time, so I didn't bring up the question. Next, I received some fragment materials one after another, more and more materials came and deadline was closing. Therefore, I decided not to wait for a complete material but to analysis the topics I got and raised the design plan to be discussed.

Gradually, I designed the learning model base on the learning objectives which was set according to the module goal and had content developed without knowing the expected length of the module/course. In the process of the entire development, although there were new topics added into the module when reviewing the storyboard, SMEs could provide relevant material/content which meet the need so the whole content could be easily extended due to having a agreement of the learning model.

By the new design experience, I couldn't help to rethink the difference of the development model between past and this time.

  1. Contract specifications: Subject/course length→receive materials→outline plan→set learning objectives and develop content completely using the materials.
  2. Contract specifications: Subject/course length→receive materials→analysis/a plan of outline, learning objectives and learning strategy→(additional materials if need)→develop content base on outline and learning strategy.
  3. Subject/materials for reference→need analysis→set learning objectives→plan learning strategy→ask for additional materials according to the learning model→develop content base on the learning strategy.

Well, '1' is the earliest way which I did so in my first half year in the line, an inexperienced instructional designer might probably use this way. '2' is the way I use for these years, the design quality and its learning effect could be very different by different designers. '3' is the new way for this time, because it focuses on the goal of need, it would be easier to achieve the expected training effect and are less likely to go wrong if the initial analysis outcomes was correct.

Some of you might doubt about the differences whether or not an expected length of a course was set in advance? Here are my experiences:

  • If the material isn't enough for the expected length, and the client doesn't have additional materials to add in, an instructional designer will try to add some quizzes or scenarios to fulfill the time need.
  • If the material is too much for the expected length, a deletion will be required, and if the client willing not to loss any material, a scope change issue will raise and an additional budget will be requested due to the extend length of the course.

Are you aware? When considering if a material is enough or not, an instructional designer doesn't focus on whether or not the material include enough information it needs to reach the goal or how it might affect the learning outcomes, but on the question 'Am I able to meet the required length of the contract with the material. In fact, in e-learning content development projects, normally we have a lot more problems with too much material but not too less.In that case, most clients do not want to add budget, so they might cut materials without considering if it might affect the goal achievement.

Well, it seems impossible to begin negotiation without an agreed course length in an outsourcing e-learning content development project. And I don't have any good idea to suggest so far, but I will post again once I got one.

You are welcome to leave your opinions about this article, I will be happy to have a discussion.

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