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e-learning project planning

A successful e-learning project requires good planning!

Years ago, I designed a simple generic project plan in Microsoft Project. It had all of the basic steps required to manage e-learning projects. The plan showed that an e-learning course could be built in about 45 days assuming none of the steps took more than one day.

I would start with this generic plan and then plug in the data specific to the current project. This gave me a ballpark idea as to when the project could be completed. Then I could go to the client and show them how long it would take to complete the project and we’d be able to establish a workable timeline.

Sounds good, huh? Guess what? It’s all half true.

I did have a generic project plan. I’ve had it for about 30 years. I’ve modified it a few times. However, I have never really used it; at least not to manage a project. I tell you this, because as I was starting this post, I was going to pull out the old project plan and ramble on about how to manage your project.

Then it struck me that I don’t really follow those steps, at least, not in a formal way. I find that while I have a formal plan, I don’t really reference it. The reality is that the idea of the plan makes more sense than actually using it. A lot of that is because the projects move so fast, I don’t ever get to go back and update the plan.

Instead of giving you a structure for a project plan, I’m going to give you some things you need to consider while you’re working on a project. They need to be part of the plan and you’ll need to figure out where they fit. Don’t view these topics as a linear progression of one step to the next. Instead, see them as activities that need to happen to get your project done.

E-Learning Project Initiation

Meet with the client to discuss project goals. Come prepared with a list of questions so that you can begin to establish the course objectives, timelines, resources, etc.

You also need to know who is signing off on your work and the decisions that need to be made. You don’t want to spend a lot of time and money on your course only to find out later that it needs to go through a final review by someone who has not been involved in the project or provided any guidance or feedback. Find out who the final authority is and find out what that person’s expectations are.

This is the key point: leave your meetings with some action items or next step activities.

Build a Network of E-Learning Project Contributors & Resources

Basically you want to assemble a group of people who will either work on the project or provide the valuable feedback you need to make the training viable to both the customer and the learner. Ideally this resource consists of your client, subject matter experts, learners, IT support, programmers, and multimedia developers.

Develop Course Content

The organization (or customer) has specific needs. The learner has specific needs. Your analysis is about marrying these two needs. What does the organization want to do and what to the learners need to do? Use your contributors to help you build your content. You want to keep it in the real world and begin to plan on the types of scenarios and interactions that can teach this content.

Develop a Learning Strategy

There are many ways to present the content. What approach do you take? The e-learning course can be very linear where it’s information-specific. On the other hand, you can make it learner-specific and build a course that mimics real-world interaction. As you collect the content and talk to the learning audience you’ll get a sense of what works best.

A key thing to remember is that typically the learners want what they need to do their jobs better. They don’t want to spend their valuable time playing silly games or doing extra activities for the sake of making the course slick or “fun.” You want the course to be useful and engaging but in a real way.

Develop a Look & Feel for the E-Learning Project

In the past, a lot of time was spent trying to determine the navigation and interface. That’s not the case now. You’ll save time if you use rapid e-learning tools. The players that come with the tools are standard and generally intuitive.

Part of what makes a course engaging is that it looks good and professional. At the same time, it doesn’t need to have a sophistication that goes beyond the subject matter. Find the right balance. Make time to pick templates, colors, images, and fonts.

If you want custom art or images, make that decision as soon as possible. Looking for the right images is time-consuming.

Consider the E-Learning Project Multimedia Needs

Today’s rapid e-learning tools allow you to record audio, insert video, and use additional flash resources. You need to determine how all of that will be pulled together. Who is going to create the audio-visual resources? What needs to happen to get them into the project?

Recording audio is easy and straightforward in many of the rapid e-learning tools. However, you get what you pay for. If you plan on using non-professional talent to do the audio then plan on getting, what I like to call, presentation quality audio. It’s inexpensive, gets the job done, yet isn’t going to be perfect.

From my experience, using non-professional audio is one the biggest issues in getting the projects done on time. Many customers want to do their own narration or don’t want to spend the money. However when they hear the presentation quality audio they request a lot of additional edits or retakes. This is time consuming. If possible, use an inexpensive service like Voice123. You get competitive rates and outstanding results; and you might find you actually save time by avoiding edits.

Think Through the Technical Issues of the E-Learning Project

Since you are designing an e-learning course, you need to consider where the training will be hosted and how the learner will access it. Do the users have access to computers? Audio? Video? Who has access to do upgrades or maintenance on the training? Will it be on an LMS? Does it need to be AICC or SCORM compliant? How is it tracked? How will reports be generated? Are there any disability concerns?

There are a lot of questions and potential issues. That’s why it’s important to bring an IT person in on the project at the forefront. They’ll be able to tell you if there are any technical issues that could impact the training.

Training Roll Out & Evaluation

Once the e-learning course is complete, it’s ready to be rolled out. How will this happen? How will the learner’s know that the course is available? How are managers able to discern if their staff needs to take the training or not? When will you collect feedback on the training effectiveness and determine if you need to make adjustments? What are the ongoing maintenance plans for the e-learning course?

If you want the course to be successful, think through the project roll out and how users will know the training’s available.

These basic activities make up your e-learning project. Instead of building a big project plan, break the project into specific sections and then make a list of things that need to happen. Assign a person and a due date. It’s a lot easier to manage this in a spreadsheet or even simple table than it is in a complex tool like MS Project. That will help you cover your bases and get you moving in the right direction.

In our next post, we’ll look at ways to get the most out of your subject matter experts.


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29 responses to “Build A Simple E-Learning Project Plan”

I find that for audio recording, putting a BIG, BOLD sign on the door letting other people know that a recording is in session works just as well (perhaps in addition to all that yelling) because yelling only works the first few times but a sign stays there til you take it down. I find most people will respect you more for less yelling in the office. 🙂


I like to think of myself as an evolved Teddy Roosevelt. I speak loud and carry a big stick.

August 27th, 2007

Hi Tom,

Again a very good post. I really like the idea of seeing the work
as group of networked tasks. Having said that a project plan should be
preceded with workbreak down structure. WBS if detail can act as
a check-and-balance to the schedule.

If you create a project plan and realise that you are not formally
using it, it suggests that something is missing. The missing link
could be the day to day progress data being fed back to the plan.
If this information is not updated then the plan quickly becomes stale.

I agree with your comment that project speed is also a hinderence to
updation of plan

Wholeheartedly agree. Plans have a way of sucking the life out of you. I start with the behaviours.What behaviours need modifying? Increased sales? Reduced Average Handle Times in the call centre? Once that’s been settled, we try and discover the skill gaps; product knowledge, orginizational skills, soft skills, etc…

Now, armed with all that we develop a framework. Blend ILT, Self-paced eLearning, mediated eLearning, apply liberally. Make it fun, engaging, fire the sage on the stage, boot the guide on the side and make the learner responsible for delving deep enough for their needs.

We then begin the learners on the journey and place exercises and tests along the way.

What we found is that both cognitive and affective learning is positively affected.

You are so right. Anyone can make a PowerPoint, but only God can inspire an ISD to make it great.

I really like your project plan. The most successful projects are better served if a project plan is in place. It really does help you check your process steps.

Very good information that I will pass on to my colleauge.

There was a famous general (don’t know which one) who was quoted as saying “Plans never work, but planning is everything.” After reading your post, I think I understand what he was saying.

Good quote. I’m reading a book on pre-Civil War U.S. history and ran across that just recently. Can’t remember of the general was Scott or Lee. Either way, you can’t control everything, but having plan helps you think through what you need to do.

I was told it was Lee, and then later, Patton. Maybe Patton was just quoting Lee. Who knows? But I’m just glad your post finally helped me understand it.

i want to know fro where can i elearning projects as i want to start my own elearning company in India

Where’s the project plan?

@Ann: The post outlines some of the project plan consideration.

“Instead of giving you a structure for a project plan, I’m going to give you some things you need to consider while you’re working on a project. They need to be part of the plan and you’ll need to figure out where they fit.”

It was Dwight D. Eisenhower (I love google), and yes this is a great post. I tend to write an initial plan and then rarely go back to it once the project gets really going. These “things to consider” really helped me organize my thinking around the needs of a project.

Can anyone point me in the direction of an actual template of this model? The organization that I am working with would like to standardize this process (or one very similar to it) and I’d love to see an example on which to base ours. thank you!

As an e-learning project manager who frequently using MS project to manage course development projects, I squirm at the notion of creating a plan and then not being able to use it or be accountable to it. Some simple things that i find helpful in managing a course development project is yes, ensuring that your plan has all the essential development considerations Tom mentioned, but making sure that the other producers, SMEs or team members are aware of the major milestones and keeping up with periodic status-checks on these.
The planning ahead can checking in is key especially if you are looking at ROI or measuring costs and productivity.
As well and debriefing on your project once complete to see what the production challenges were and how to overcome for the next time around.

Just my two cents!

Loving e-learning course production,

The world has change and the computer program are very ahead of today learing. Nice to see this going .Maybe the kid will have more motivation to stay in school.Or to get on line to take class. Thank you

I think this is great of the audio .

[…] particular. I recommended a planning document for the late lamented site and an entry from the Rapid E-learning Blog. Does anyone have any other suggested […]

February 12th, 2010

What a relief!

I am glad I am not the only one who doesn’t refer back to the project plan once it’s completed.

I’ve made many project plans. In the end, they were just that—another project plan. I love these considerations and would add going through the exercise to plan out the project is a great way to connect and assimilate your own ideas about how it will look.
Thank you!

March 10th, 2010


Do you have a generic project plan in Microsoft Project? I would appreciate it. This is my first time working on eLearning project.

@Venice: check out William Horton’s site. He has some good resources and documentation.

Good article Tom. I would love to see your take on a learning strategy document.

Hi Tom,

Do you have an advice on building topic headers within a elearning project? For example, I’m working on a course and I’m finding a lot of “what is ….” headers. I can’t help but feel it’s the learners who should be asking the “what is…” questions and not me!


@Maisy: I think a good approach to topic headers might be how you copywrite headlines for a blog post. Copyblogger has some good tips. The question approach is nice because it helps put the information into context relevant to the learner.

Instead of text, you could do something like I did in this post where I created an image.

This is exactly what I was searching for! Simple and practical, Ilove it!

This is too abstract but no doubt it is worthed to read. Although it is not in my plans to design an e learning course, it is e learning courses that i use more and more every day. It is interesting to know the proccess these programs are designed instead of just seeing these as simple products that i use

[…] Build A Simple E-Learning Project Plan » The Rapid eLearning Blog It had all of the basic steps required to manage e-learning projects. The plan showed that an elearning course could be built in about 45 days. […]

Dear Tom,

I like the way you think and write about e-learnig. You turn the things simple. Your blog halped me a lot.
São Paulo, Brazil, feb 20th, 2012

Hi I am a new project manager and I have been assigned an Elearning project.
The LMS will be hosted (SaaS.
What I need is a WBS (work breakdown structure) of a project “from” the customer prospective.
Yes, I am looking for a task list if possible.
Thanks in advance

@Jay: post a question in the forums and I’m sure you’ll get some answers.