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Purchasing eLearning: How Scope Decisions Can Impact Quality

Constraints, while difficult, can lead to innovations that create even better products than what was initially expected. Photo by Sebastian S.

This is the fifth article in the series, ‘Purchasing eLearning’. The series is for organizations and individuals who are engaging third party organizations to develop eLearning courses.

In the previous article, we looked at the ‘Project Management Triangle’ or ‘Triple Constraint Model’. This model, developed in the 1970’s, illustrates how the constraints of budget, time and scope can influence the quality of a project. We focussed on the constraints of budget and time, however in this article we will look at the constraint of scope and how it can influence quality.

When you are purchasing eLearning services from a vendor you, as the client organization, will have to make many decisions about scope. Some of these you will have already made before you go to tender or approach vendors. Some of these you may not even have considered to be decisions about scope.

Constraints on Learning Management System or Development Tool

If you have a learning management system, or a preferred development tool such as Articulate, Captivate, Flash or HTML5 you will already have a scope constraint, even if you don’t think of it that way. Putting aside any personal preferences, all learning management systems and all development tools have limitations. However because they also all have strengths, the relationship between these scope decisions and the cost, timeframe and quality is anything but simple.

Decisions about the learning management system or preferred development tool will influence what is possible. For example, Articulate is well suited to linear courses and branching scenarios, but is not easily suited to serious games. It pays to know how your choices will impact the kinds of eLearning solutions that can be developed.

Constraints due to accessibility

Decisions about accessibility can also either influence the budget or the quality of what is delivered. If you want your course to be experienced in a comparable way by all learners, you will need to decide whether you are going to spend more money or lose a certain amount of interaction. For example, it is possible to develop interactive pieces in HTML5 and even in Flash that can be keyboard accessible. However at this time it does require specialist skills, testing time, and of course more budget. You may decide to use only activities that can easily be made keyboard accessible (multiple choice questions, multiple answer questions) instead.

Constraints due to development approach

Decisions about your learning management system or development tool can also influence the timeframe and budget of your project. There is a growing divide between people using rapid development tools (e.g. Articulate, Captivate) and those using tools more suited to  custom development (e.g. Flash, HTML). Its better to think of these approaches as very distinct and to know the advantages and disadvantages. Custom development lends itself to more unique and interesting solutions, but will be more intensive and potentially expensive not just because of the graphic design and programming but because of the amount of time spent with a learning designer developing a unique solution for you.

Constraints into opportunities

As discussed in our earlier article, it is important to remember a constraint on quality does not mean that the quality will be ‘bad’. Instead it often means that options that would be available to you if you had more time or money are off the cards. Your eLearning course may be less exciting, less beautiful, have less impact for learners, or have less technical features and functionality.

All of this being said, constraints can push eLearning vendors to come up with creative solutions that push the bounds of your LMS or development tool, or to come up with a new, fully accessible eLearning approach. They may even have a great way of making games using Articulate. And, yes, suggestions in the comments section are very welcome.

In the final article in this series we will look at the characteristics of eLearning vendors and how to search out what suits you.

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