eLearning Development is a Sprint Not a Marathon

If your course development projects are taking longer than a week or two you may need to rethink your strategy. In many cases I’d argue that your first course release should take less than a day. But I’m also practical enough to know that every situation is different. And there are many factors, outside of the course designer’s control, complicating the process. It’s  release a course within a day because the content already exists. The cry for training on topics with existing content usually grows from lack of access. In which case simply uploading the content in it’s existing format is good enough to get started. And that’s why you can launch a course in less than a day. It’s possible.

The Marathon

I often refer back to the early days of CBT, WBT, and eLearning development. Those were the days of the development marathons. I remember them well. It’s how we all learned tools like Authorware, and Toolbook. Most courses took 6 weeks to 6 months, or longer, to design, develop, test, and release. And it wasn’t just eLearning developers that required so much time. Every other type of software development was equally time-consuming.

But then the internet arrived and changed everything.

Today app developers have updated their processes. Developing software systems for the internet presented a completely new set of both challenges and opportunities. Without the need for floppy disk, or CD distribution, software teams could release new updates, features, and bug fixes quickly and easily with little to no disruption to the user experience. They no longer needed to develop within 12-18 month release cycles: The marathon.

Teams of software developers adapted to the changing landscape of technology brought on by the internet. elearning development teams have been slow to embrace this change. Even when simple to use, powerful, and flexible SaaS based learning management systems like Litmos arrived, the practices and processes of developing courses remained mostly unchanged. The idea of what software can be changed while the idea of what a course can be did not. The marathon process of eLearning development mostly remains “one and done”. Meaning we create a course as a product and after it’s release we forget about it and move onto the next course.

With software development the work of development is never “done”. And this is the mindset that eLearning developers need to adopt. Courses should never be done. They should be continual works in progress. If we are focusing less on training products and more on supporting the learning process then why not rethink how we create our learning solutions?

The Sprint

The idea of a development sprint is exactly what it sounds like: Get from point A to point B as fast as you can. Slow and steady no longer applies. The concept was originally created at Google ventures. Here is how they begin to describe the sprint:

“The sprint is a five-day process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers. Developed at GV, it’s a “greatest hits” of business strategy, innovation, behavior science, design thinking, and more — packaged into a battle-tested process that any team can use.” – Google Ventures, Sprint

Obviously there is more to a sprint than just the ability to act quickly. My favorite part of this process is the concept of combining so many elements of product development into that short period of time. The learning industry draws from many different disciplines, and we discuss them quite a bit. However I rarely here anyone speak of putting all the pieces together. I’ve heard people talk about brain-based learning. I’ve heard of emotional learning. Research based learning is popular. Learning based on cognitive psychology and what anthropology may or may not have to do with our work. We talk about a lot and that’s good. But I have heard few, if any, discuss how all the elements of training, learning and development, work together in creating a learning solution.

The specific tasks of the sprint created by Google ventures is obviously not exactly how it should be applied to course development. The tool provides a good framework for us to start with. It’s been tested and proven success for other businesses and products, and I see potential in adapting our development processes to something similar.

I have created courses in less than week, but I’ve never specifically used the GV sprint process. However, I’ve done enough course development to know that it feels like a useful framework that our industry can leverage. Let me know what your thoughts are. And if you are already doing something similar I’d love to hear about your experience.

Don’t forget to register for the Future of Learning C3 event coming May 9-11 to the Wynn in Las Vegas!