Our e-Learning courses really don't just grow on trees...

We faced some interesting challenges this week in the My Development Zone team as an update to Microsoft Edge highlighted the issues we overcome on a regular basis in ensuring our content is delivered in the manner in which it was designed to be displayed. It was, therefore, a good time to sit down with the creative content team at RWA to discuss how they curate, design and review a growing course catalogue of over 600 online learning courses.

Hazel Brewer & Lisa Powell: e-Learning Designers

Dr. Nathan Matthews: e-Learning Technical Content Curator

Tell me about the work that goes into creating our e-Learning content:

NATHAN MATTHEWS – To start with, we work with the wider My Development Zone team to identify the areas in which we require new learning content. This usually comes from our learners and customers. I will then begin the process of research, which may involve looking at studies and reports, getting feedback from clients and obtaining ideas from colleagues across the business.

We aim to develop courses that help workers to do their jobs more effectively, build strategic skills and better understand the world of business and the society in which they operate. It’s key to ensure our content is timely, relevant and up to date.

Once the drafting is complete, I will work with Lisa to compile assessments and ensure that the content is aligned to the learning objectives. We then, of course, start the proofreading and peer review process.

LISA POWELL – Once the content is created, I will then work with the team to storyboard the written material so that it fits effectively into the online format. Course creation is a creative process – it involves graphic design, building interactive elements and delivering engaging and well-presented content.

HAZEL BREWER – I also support the creative design process. The main elements that I enjoy are bringing the content to life using imagery and animation. We must make sure that the learning is delivered in bite-sized chunks for the learner to easily process and engage with. A lot of the work that I do involves creating graphics and animations to aid those learners who have a visual learning style. We also include interactive elements which take time to produce and test.

LISA POWELL – Once the content is completed, it then goes through a rigorous testing process to assess compatibility and proofreading. This can be a challenging process because of the number of variables we have to consider when producing content that will work on over 13,000 different computers and browsers.

HAZEL BREWER - That’s an interesting point. With so many of our learners using MS Edge and Google Chrome, for example, and with so many different browser versions and computer set-ups, then it’s not a simple process.

It’s an interesting element of your role that not everyone appreciates; what are the other challenges that you have to overcome?

NATHAN MATTHEWS – My Development Zone has a diverse audience with very different needs. With over 800 firms accessing the system then we must produce material that is aimed at different groups and ability levels. For instance, one day we might be designing courses for job-seekers and the next day, writing for senior managers. Therefore, audience considerations are key, and we will adapt our style and designs to meet the requirements of the end-user.

HAZEL BREWER – My biggest challenge from a creative design point of view, is the ever-changing technology that surrounds us and ensuring that we are aware of the latest trends. We must keep in mind the different devices that the learner may use, so to overcome this we create courses that are compatible with different monitor sizes, browsers, mobile devices and tablets. Every time that there is a browser update in Chrome and Edge then we must test that the content still maintains its functionality and we are lucky that our community of learners work with us to identify where updates are needed.

LISA POWELL – Testing our content is a major part of what we do. Quality control is an important part of this process and we must conduct a lot of research to ensure that the imagery we use is relevant and appropriate. We think very creatively and working together very closely helps this process. We are proud of the way that we react quickly to changes when they are needed.

NATHAN MATTHEWS – We embrace the challenge of writing a lot of material and for a team of three we achieve a lot which does not always get seen by the learners. Typically, if a learner asks for a course, we will turn it around pretty quickly and make it a priority. The processes we have put in place mean that we all know who is working on which course and at which stage. We also find ourselves ‘working in moving sands’, as many of our existing courses require updating (e.g. legal and regulatory courses). With over 600 courses this is a challenge, but one that we work hard at.

The team ethic is really strong, and I see that every day. How important is teamwork to the roles that you each perform?

NATHAN MATTHEWS – We are a small team, but the three of us have a great relationship which helps us work closely together when producing content. We meet weekly with the whole My Development Zone team to understand what is happening across all channels including sales, marketing, customer service, etc and this helps us start looking at demand. Lisa and I then meet regularly to discuss ideas for content and to review existing courses. These are stimulating and candid sessions where we explore content and ideas in depth, whilst offering constructive feedback on each other’s work. The end result is better content. There’s excellent communication and collaboration throughout the design process. We all help each other and discuss our work at every stage of the process.

LISA POWELL - Producing course content is a collaborative effort at RWA. Ideas for courses are welcomed from all areas of the business as everyone has different skills and expertise. We typically consider what is relevant to our learners, whether this is from a regulatory perspective (i.e. GDPR) or something topical such as sexual harassment and safeguarding.

HAZEL BREWER – Bouncing ideas off each other is a key part of how we collaborate as a team. We use the brand guidelines to help us stay consistent during the design process and have a thorough testing process before the finished content is sent to the technical team for integration. We have a clear and concise way of producing our courses and we make sure we are aware of progress throughout the whole stage and support each other as much as possible. The teamwork doesn’t just stop here, either. We regularly support other areas of the wider business with design and creative work as well as work on one-off e-learning course production contracts. This means we are always keeping our skills fresh and up to date.

LISA POWELL – Teamwork also extends to our learner base. We receive regular feedback from our learners on the courses and we work with them to not only choose new courses but to understand how they interact and use the courseware.

About the author

Tom has worked at RWA for over 12 years, starting as Operations Manager before taking on roles as Operations Director, CEO and most recently as Director leading the company into the digital age.

Before joining RWA, he was involved in helping develop the operations of one of Wales’ fastest growing utility consultancies as well as leading the Key Accounts team of a major commercial energy supplier.

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