The ABCs of the eLearning Content Development Stages

Mario Cruz | 06/04/2015

Well, technically this title should read “The A, B… Gs of the eLearning Content Development Phase”; the acronyms, of course, standing for “Alpha”, “Beta” and “Gold” (even though (the collective) “we” decided to break the string of using the Greek Alphabet for the first two and then switch to English for the final phase.) But that’s not really why we are here, is it? 

Regardless of the names, I wanted to talk about what each of these stages of eLearning content development involves. And believe me; in my experience as project manager, designer and developer, I’ve seen the gamut: Alpha, Beta, Beta2, Pre-Gold, Gold, Gold2… Is it possible to stop this madness?!

In an ideal world, there are three stages (again, for facility sake, I’ll stick with the conventional names): Alpha, Beta and Gold. In the remainder of this post, I’ll discuss what I see as the components involved in each stage.

Assumption: 

It is absolutely critical that for any successful pass-over to the content development team, you have produced - and received sign off on - a solid and complete Storyboard. (See my separate blog article on Five Components You Should Have in Your eLearning Storyboard).

Alpha Stage:

It is important to keep in mind that in the Alpha stage, it will be the first time the client will see a “live” working model of the eLearning content. As good as the Graphical Wireframe and Storyboard have been, it’s never quite the same as experiencing it on-screen. Given this, no five words have made me shudder more than “It’s only the Alpha stage.” If you are true to this model, remember that you really only have two more shots after this, so make it as complete as possible… which to me means including:

  • Audio narration, if applicable (generally an internal, in-house ‘placeholder’… often my voice)
  • Fully functioning navigation
  • All graphics,or minimally, mock-ups with notes/comments explaining the omission or what is still needed
  • Other on-screen components as instructed (e.g., Menu, Glossary, etc.)
  • A thorough QA review! 
  • Confirming the format in which the client would like the review files throughout the process
Omniplex_Blog_ABC_Illustration_Twitter

So yes, it is indeed just the first version, and I can see how there might be the hesitancy to go full out in the interest of getting “something” out for review sooner than later. However, ask yourself if in the end, does it really makes sense to have the client take the time to send you feedback on items that you know are missing or will be fixed? Or,having the client assume that something will be included or corrected only to have it not be so?

Speaking of feedback, be sure to agree in advance how you want that exchange to happen. I find it most useful to either use a Tracking Spreadsheet or Change Document with the ‘Track Changes’ feature enabled.

TIP! When feedback is received, make sure to also update the Storyboard. At every step of the way, the two should always be in sync!

Beta Stage:

Now you’ve completed the Alpha version, have received feedback/comments from the client and are ready to make edits to produce the Beta version. What are some things to focus on in this phase?

  • First and foremost: how much has the content changed with these edits? Meet with the Instructional Designer (ID) and Project Manager to review the changes. Remember that the content itself should have already been signed off on the Storyboard. If there are significant changes to that, it could affect the timeline and budget, which is better to address sooner rather than later
  • Is the feedback clear? If edits are not clearly marked, don’t guess.  Get on a call with the client or SME and clarify any questions. 
  • Do you need to re-record any of the placeholder audio? 
  • Revisit timelines if necessary. If the client took longer than agreed upon outlined in the Project Plan to return  edits from the Alpha version, you should discuss whether adjustments need to be made to the schedule 
    (If you will be having professional audio narration) Remind the client that you will be needing final sign-off on the voiceover narration script along with the Beta edits. This is critical since the voiceover artist and studio time need to be booked and completed before making the final Gold version edits (See my blog article: Narrating Audio for Your eLearning Course? Here Are the Top 3 Things Your PM Hopes You've Considered)
  • Complete another thorough QA review and updating of the Storyboard
  • Be sure the client  understands and acknowledges that this will be the last opportunity for feedback/edits

Gold Stage:

We’ll assume all has gone well up to this stage and you’re ready to make any final edits to prepare for the final Gold version. Some key points for this phase are:

  • Again, is the feedback clear? Clarify any open items 
  • Revisit timelines, if necessary
  • (If you will be having professional audio narration) Account for extra time to record and integrate the audio files, then be sure to re-synch all on-screen animations! The timing will be different than the “placeholder” narration you have recorded
  • Complete the final QA and update of the storyboard
  • Remind the client that upon delivery of the Gold version, you are looking for sign-off and no further edits

Conclusion:

The primary areas of focus as you progress through the stages of the content development process are clarity, consistency and communication, every step of the way! Clarity for making sure you understand what the client is requesting; consistency in process and deliverables; and communication in all aspects of the project. With some good planning and attention to detail your project could go off without a hitch. 

Now do you know your A, B… Gs?

Mario Cruz

Mario is a Project Manager with Omniplex