eLearning Development: A How-To Primer

Guest Post by Ruth Kustoff
Ruth Kustoff is a learning strategist with over 20 years experience. As a business and learning analyst, Ruth helps companies identify how organizational learning, knowledge, and training align to business goals. Ruth works with organizations to develop and integrate blended learning solutions to meet business and individual talent needs. You may contact Ruth directly via email or visit her website.

How to Begin to Create an eLearning Program

Once the decision has been made to develop elearning, the next question becomes, 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.

This article 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.

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

In order to create a realistic development schedule for an eLearning project, you should work backwards from the desired completion date. A determination of when the training program must be “live” establishes the length of the development process, ensuring all of the above steps are addressed.

Once the completion date is determined, the next most important step is the planning stage.

  • First in the planning process is identifying who needs to be included in the project and in what role.
  • Next is identification of 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 determine 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, the following is completed:

  • A project schedule is created based on the required delivery date.
  • The project size and scope is addressed.
  • Clear expectations of the final deliverable are established.
  • Stakeholders are brought onboard and up-to-speed on the project.
  • Known risk factors are addressed.

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

The Project Manager

It is important to have an experienced custom eLearning project manager leading the development process to oversee the project’s components and players.

There are two distinct teams of players the project manager must manage in slightly different ways: the client team, and the development team.

The client team includes:

  • the project owner / sponsor,
  • the subject matter expert(s),
  • key stakeholders, and
  • external client members who may be required for project signoff, such as corporate communications and legal.

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 their 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.

Be Aware of 5 Challenges to your Progress

In order to keep projects moving forward, and not to have anything fall through the cracks, you should be aware of some common challenges during eLearning development.

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.

We welcome comments from your project management experiences. If you’d like to discuss an eLearning project you’re considering, you may consult Ruth via email at

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11 Responses to “eLearning Development: A How-To Primer”

  1. Wim Timmerman Says:
    July 15th, 2012 at 2:36 am

    Nice and clear. When the objectives and steps are not well defined it will be disappointing, both for the e-Learning designer as well as for the customer.
    Thanks for the overview, I’ll keep it on file.

  2. ann.shea Says:
    July 17th, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    Glad you enjoyed the post, Wim! Ruth has a lot of common sense as well as a wealth of experience in eLearning projects, so we always welcome when she contributes to the blog. Hope to hear from you again soon.

  3. steven loomis Says:
    July 19th, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    Hi Ruth,

    Thanks for the post—this indeed is a good primer. As to some of the players you referenced, I’ve written several war stories about my experiences here. My last one talks about project sponsors:

  4. Ruth Kustoff Says:
    July 24th, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    Hi Steven –
    Thank you for the comment. I’m glad you found similarities in your experiences in leading projects to what was outlined in the article. I completely understand your perspective re: project sponsors. There is a fine line of balance when managing projects and people. Thanks again.

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