Knowing Your Role: Thoughts on Collaboration in eLearning

You know what would be great…

As a Project Manager, a lot of time is spent overseeing the execution of a project - from its beginning to its end. In the eLearning world, however, I focus a lot more of my time ensuring the collaboration between Subject Matter Experts, Instructional Designers and Course Developers.

A smooth project plan is about hitting deadlines and yet, as a Project Manger, I want to do more. I want to provide the space and support to create truly great eLearning experiences and that requires creativity, communication and most importantly, trust between all participants.

At Simple Movement, we generally provide the Instructional Designer and Course Developer, and our clients provide the Subject Matter Expert(s) (SME; I.e. a professor whose course will be hosted online). Often I will spend the pre-development phase getting to know the SME and gain an understanding of how they see their role. Sometimes a SME is interested in solely providing the course content and participating in development reviews to ensure course objectives, timelines and course material/concepts are accurately represented in the online environment. Other times, however, SMEs want to take on a larger role and be involved in the course design, functionality and look and feel of a course. This is where, as a Project Manager, I have to ensure that all roles - SME, Instructional Designers and Course Developers - have a strong understanding of each other’s skill sets. I encourage each stakeholder to speak to their background and experience, share with each other past projects and ideas/brands that spark inspiration. I then create a project plan that, outside of deadlines and other general project plan goals, articulates the design process and how each role is designated in the process. This is a long-winded way of saying: I create a plan where everyone knows their role.

A Subject Matter Expert is just that: an expert on course subject matter/content They are, however, generally not trained nor experts in online content and/or course design. While it sounds harsh, it’s not! It’s an important distinction - a distinction that helps to illustrate our limitations despite our enthusiasm. Similarly, Instructional Designers and Course Developers are generally not experts in on-site classroom experiences nor trained in the course subject matter. Again - another important distinction! Distinctions help create great eLearning experiences, I promise.

eLearning projects draw on participants’ passions. In most great projects, there are a lot of opinions involved, some of which move the project forward and others which can take the project off-course. Despite the many shifting winds, finding, and staying on, common ground is possible.

As noted, setting a pre-development meeting with the SME, Instructional Designer and Course Developer (both individually and as a group) to discuss course goals, design ideas and overall vision is a fantastic way to arrive at a mutual place of inspiration and trust. Creating friendly boundaries before development is crucial. In my experience people work better and more efficiently when everyone is aware of their role and expectations of that role. So, Subject Matter Experts can offer feedback on design elements, but ultimately defer to the expertise of the Course Developer and Designer in the final decision. In turn, Instructional Designers and Developers can offer their feedback on course content and how it is organized, but ultimately defer to the expertise of the Subject Matter Expert in the final decision.

Is it easier said than done? Of course. But I am committed to bringing the best minds and skills together into one “room” to create the most compelling and beautiful eLearning experiences for learners and clients. Hard and inspired work is the best work, I say.

Happy 2019!


Matt Foran