Time = Money: The Driver for Rapid eLearning
The drivers to produce more quality eLearning more quickly are things like shorter product life cycles,very quick and frequent business process changes, time-mandated compliance in a number of areas, etc. Some traditional means of eLearning development do not accommodate these immediate demands and business pains quickly enough. It is of no use to anyone if the training is ready, but it is too late (in terms of having employees knowledgeable about new products as they are released, being able to execute a new process as these come online, or being in regulatory compliance when mandated, etc.). Or, in the case of a learning institution, after the new semester has started.
Not to mention the fact that the longer it takes to produce eLearning, the more likely this type of training in itself will be more expensive.
When an organization faces a real and immediate training challenge that needs to be addressed, the higher-ups do not want to hear things from their training department like "it generally takes us six months to produce an eLearning course," or "you can count on it costing X thousands of dollars per instructional hour." For some training challenges, the old rules (if they ever were rules!) no longer apply.
Quality eLearning can be produced quickly without necessarily having to sacrifice too much quality.
There are three ways to approach the challenge of rapid eLearning.
Tools are important, but I prefer to focus on people and processes in looking for ways to speed up the eLearning development process. Development cycles can be compressed significantly when you have the right people on the job, with the right skills, with streamlined processes that allow decisions to be made quickly and sign-offs to occur infrequently and only when absolutely necessary.
I also think it is important not to rely too heavily on SMEs to produce eLearning content. In my experience, SMEs are often the biggest bottleneck in the process. They are typically very busy people, not always good at articulating what they do, and rarely produce material in a timely fashion. It is better to have instructional design experts interview SMEs, distill a lesson down to its essence (less is more), and bring the learning alive with relevant stories.
Remember also that eLearning does not have to be a course. Sometimes a timely job aid or electronic performance support system (EPSS) can be produced much more quickly, and will be much more effective. (See my previous post on this topic).
Finally, perhaps the greatest improvement to eLearning development cycle times is better management. Too often those managing eLearning development projects are training personnel who have little or no experience at managing what is, in essence, a software development process. They let the process (and the programmers, instructional designers, IT staff, etc.) manage them, rather than the other way around. Sometimes eLearning development projects take six or nine months to complete because the person in charge allows it to take this long.
The field needs more leaders who know how to orchestrate tools, people and processes to meet organizational training needs at the speed of business.