Do you need to streamline and scale your elearning production? The specification phase is an important step that helps you focus on creating learning experiences that are tailored to your specific learner. In this article we’ll look at how consistency, functionality and team identification can help you in the specification phase.
The specification phase defines what the solution will look like and lists the quality assurance acceptance criteria against which the elearning will later be tested. This can help when you come to evaluate a project.
1. Focus on consistency
The specification phase is particularly useful when you’re working with a team and needing to scale elearning production. Why? Because the specifications work as a set of guidelines to ensure everyone is working on the same page.
Consistency starts with creating a set of principles that your team is going to abide by. You don’t want to lock it down so much that you eliminate creativity, but you do need to provide support structures that enable team members to understand what it is you’re trying to achieve.
- Tools: Everyone needs to know what tools are being used to produce the elearning. You don’t want people heading off in different directions and using their own choice of tools. This would result in elearning that looked inconsistent and was hard to maintain.
- Style: You may find it helpful to develop a style guide: a set of principles around which your elearning is built. This can include your choice of font, graphics style, tone of voice and grammatical and lexical standards (e.g., UK or US spelling conventions).
- Branding: This covers logos and the use of branding, presenting any brand guidelines for using graphics in your course.
2. Determine the functionality
At this stage, you need to lock down exactly how your course will function.
Here are seven key areas to consider:
Platform and browser
You need to decide what devices your end users will be using to access the elearning so you can ensure that the content works on these devices, browsers and platforms. A word of caution here: there are new platforms and devices coming onto the market all the time, so focus on your audience. What devices/browsers do they use? You need to understand them as much as possible. To do this, look at Google Analytics data to see how users are accessing content. This can help you build your specifications around your particular users.
Determine whether your elearning needs to run in an LMS; if it does, find out what its requirements are:
- Completion: How will the course report completion?
- Tracking: SCORM 1.2 or xAPI?
- Metadata: Project title, identifier for LMS implementation, descriptors and keywords for search functions
- Assessment: How should questions behave – will they be randomized? Also, what should the pass mark be?
Specify any particulars regarding graphics, audio, and video. For example, if particular file types need to be used, or if there are bandwidth restrictions, you will need to take this into account for video streaming/downloading.
Specify how learners will navigate the elearning. For example, will they use menus, forward and back buttons, home button, bookmarking?
Determine what standards your elearning will adhere to. At the very least, you will want to consider the following:
- ‘Safe’ colors and contrasting
- Keystrokes for desktop use (Tab, arrow keys, space bar and Enter key)
- Alternative text to describe images and graphical elements
- Captions or transcripts for video and audio.
User interface/creative direction
Decide on the elements of the user interface for your elearning, including interactive elements such as buttons. Some authoring tools, such as Elucidat, allow you to develop a ‘theme’ which covers all these elements. This saves you spending time and money developing the same elements every time you create a new course.
Set out the criteria against which your elearning can be tested and validated. This is generally a simply list of ‘must have/do’ features and functions. You can fine tune these and reuse them when you create future courses.
3. Identify the team
The final step in the specification phase is to identify who’s going to be accountable for the different steps in the production process.
Decide who will analyze the source content, build, proofread, manage the project, do the art direction, sign off deliverables, test, and integrate with the LMS.
Allocate roles to the team if you are working on a larger project. It might be that, in smaller projects, one person does all these tasks, if so, it’s important to select someone who can wear multiple hats!
The specification phase of the elearning development process is where you bottom out exactly what the solution will be and who will deliver it. The key steps are designed to ensure consistency of approach and output, quality criteria, and roles and responsibilities. When you have completed this phase, you will have a set of guiding principles that everyone can work to. This will make it easy to scale your processes and bring new people into the team.
Next phases in the elearning production process:
- Analysis (1st phase): Set yourself up for success with a scope and plan
- Design (2nd phase): Save time and money through testing your ideas before you build them
- Production (4th phase): Bring together your analysis, design and specs to map out and build your elearning
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