How To Outsource eLearning Curriculum, Part 1
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How To Outsource eLearning Curriculum: Create A Project Charter & Know Your Audience

The Cheshire Cat said it best to Alice: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any way will get you there.” One of the most important steps in creating an eLearning solution that produces optimum results is identifying the clear business problem and both the desired organizational and business outcomes.

Keys To Outsourcing A Results-Driven Curriculum
Discover how to create effective curriculums that ensure your solution precisely meets the needs of the learners and achieves both organizational and business objectives.

Creating A Project Charter

At Kineo we push our clients to think outside the boundaries of traditional learning and development practices to enable them to develop solutions that precisely meet their organizational and business objectives. That means ensuring project sponsors and stakeholders can articulate the current state and desired outcomes in concrete, measurable terms. It’s broadening your perspective beyond the training context and spending a lot of time asking “why”. If sponsors and stakeholders can’t articulate their need in these terms, it’s a red flag, and they’re likely not to develop a solution.

Whether you’re converting a curriculum from instructor-led to online, or building a new online or blended curriculum, the key to success is articulating the problem and desired result. And this doesn’t mean jotting down fluffy statements like “our managers take on too much, so we’ll train 100 managers in delegation,” or “we’ve developed a new process and need product managers to understand the eight steps of our new process.”

This is about pushing project sponsors and stakeholders to articulate the current state and desired outcomes in concrete, measurable terms. It’s broadening your perspective beyond the training context and asking “why” a lot. If your sponsors and stakeholders can’t articulate their need in these terms, see it for the red flag it is and push back on whether they are ready for your team to develop a solution or not.

A well-stated business outcome has 4 parts to it:

  1. Problem Statement
    What is the impetus for the initiative and what are the associated symptoms?
  2. Business Goal(s)
    What will change if the initiative (both training and other activities) is successful?
  3. Definition of Success
    What is your definition of success?
  4. Measures of Outcomes
    How will you measure your outcomes?

There may be more than one goal and, if so, each goal should have its own definition of success. Let’s take the following example.

XYZ Fire Association is a network of fire chiefs, emergency officers, and support staff from around the world. The association’s mission is to provide thought leadership, best practices, training, and other services to enhance the capabilities of volunteer-run fire rescue organizations.

Through their network, they identified a business problem: Higher than expected volunteer turnover jeopardizes financial stability, quality of service, and ultimately, public safety. Below we share how this business problem is fleshed out using the model above:

Problem Statement

Running a fire station is like running a business: it requires business acumen and operational skills, which volunteers often do not have.

When it’s not run effectively, the morale among volunteer and career staff drops, resulting in high turnover. This high turnover then requires recruiting and training new volunteers and addressing concerns of existing volunteers/staff.

Every decision and action of volunteers in key positions affects morale. Therefore, it is essential for these volunteers to have the knowledge and skills to do their job efficiently; and in doing so, keep the morale high and turnover low at the fire stations.

Managing Scope Creep

One of the issues we all deal with in a project is scope creep. The project charter can be an effective tool to determine if content belongs in a curriculum or not. If in doubt, ask team members to explain how content supports one of the goals. If they can’t, it probably belongs outside of the scope.

Business Goal(s) Definition of Success Measures of Outcomes
Fire stations have an operational plan.
  • Roles are clear
  • Staff know who to turn to for what
  • General operations are clear and managed appropriately
  • Quarterly pulse surveys
  • Training time for new station management
Fire stations have a financial business process and meet financial record keeping requirements.
  • Every station has a picture of the costs of operation, what needs to be tracked, and how
  • Tax filings completed, and on time
  • Clear financial records are kept
  • Internal annual financial process audits
  • Anecdotal experiences of hearing finances being discussed in more contexts
The fire station has a people engagement plan to recruit and retain volunteers.
  • Recruitment pipeline is strong; the application process has a less than 40% fallout
  • Reduce volunteer turnover within the first year of their service by 20%
  • Retain volunteers by providing an incentive plan
  • Annual turnover rate
  • Application process success rate
  • Percentage of volunteers reaching productive status
  • Quarterly pulse surveys
  • Anecdotal observations

While these will likely get refined over the course of the project—the more clarity and specificity you have on the desired business goals and outcomes, the easier it will be for all team members and stakeholders to make project-based decisions that move in the right direction.

Publish these in an official Project Charter document and share it with everyone on your project team now or as they come onboard in the future to keep all eyes on the prize.

Knowing Your Audience

Peter Drucker said about marketing: “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” As it is with marketing, when developing an eLearning solution, it’s essential to know and understand the business and the learners so well that the curriculum, and the solution as a whole, fits accomplishes the target objectives.

At its core, training is about getting people to start, stop, or do more of something to achieve a business goal. So needless to say, people are at the heart of what we develop and why we design the solutions we do.

One common fault with many training programs is that they have a large, homogeneous potential audience— “all members” or “all new employees” or “our entire organization.” And a common trap we see designers fall into is trying to design one solution that meets the needs of all of these potential audience members. Unfortunately, this one-size-fits-all approach will leave you coming up short for everyone.

Let’s revisit our fire fighter example.

The audience for this program is anyone who takes on a leadership or management role within a station. Some are fire fighters who no longer want to be out in the field fighting fires but still want to help. They understand the firefighting process and all that’s needed to support that process. Others have retired from traditional, corporate-based jobs who want a way to give back to the community. If you design a training program focused on firefighting, you’re doing a great disservice to the retired corporate individuals who already know about firefighting by taking their focus away from the business skills they need to learn. The same holds true if you design with only the firefighters in mind—you’ll end up alienating your retired corporate individuals with too much focus on remedial business concepts.

So, while it may seem obvious, a critical step is to identify and know your primary audience or audiences. If there are more than one, you may need to create multiple versions of your solution. Conversely, if you choose to create one solution, you’ll need to make accommodations in the design of that solution to allow your different audiences to focus on the content most relevant to them.

How To Segment An Audience

One way to segment an audience is based on roles. Role-based perspectives consider differences in individuals’ roles and how each role will relate to the program—what will they bring to the program and what will they need/want from the program?

Another way to segment your audience is to consider the goals of different individuals. What will learners need to be able to do and how does that relate to what they want or need from the program?

Whether you take a role-based or goal-based approach, aim for the smallest number of groups possible, adding more only if there are important distinctions to consider as part of the design.

Personas

Personas are a great tool to make your audience groups more tangible and operational. For each audience, you’ll imagine and craft a profile for a person who embodies the quality of that audience.

Each profile will include:

  • Who they are: e.g., gender, age range, job, and location.
  • Background: e.g., relevant experience, education level, how they like to work, etc.
  • How they spend their day. (On the road, at their desk?).
  • Technology they access on a daily basis.
  • Their attitude towards training or education in general.
  • Examples of their best and worst learning experiences.

That information will give you a general snapshot of your learners. Take some time to also think about the learners in the context of this program or curriculum by asking:

  • Why will they go through this program?
  • What will they want from this curriculum?
  • What’s their current skill level and experience with the topic(s)?
  • What motivates him/her? Are they intrinsically or extrinsically motivated?
  • What are their pain points?

Finally, assign each persona a name and even a photo as this will make it easy for existing and new project team members to reference each audience when assessing how well the project is meeting needs and requirements.

Stay tuned for the second part of this article series on successfully outsourcing eLearning curriculum.

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