April 2011

I’ve had several discussions lately about online “training.”  This is a highly specialized form of delivery that requires unique skills, planning, and management.  These discussions got me thinking about the responsibilities and personnel required to create online courses.  Much of the information below is from of my good friend Rich Dunn.

Please note the responsibilities listed appear to imply a specific person is required.  In some cases that is the case but for the most part, the responsibilities can be contracted out.  If it is decided to sub-contract some of the work a strong and experienced project manager is key to the success of the project.

–          Project management

–          Instructional design

–          Writing and editing

–          Graphic arts

–          Technical (includes programming)

–          Media

–          Quality Assurance

Some of these are often combined into single roles (e.g., PM is often combined with instructional design and writing) and many are contracted out in small environments (e.g., editing and media).  I’ve seen some job listings advertise for a PM/ID/GA/Programmer all wrapped in one…usually under the title of “Instructional Technologist w/ experience in creating X.”  My guess is these companies are getting started with multimedia in-house and don’t have the benefit of experience and are shy about allocating resources.   High level tools, like Captivate, make it tempting to leave everything up to one person but my opinion is it is rare, if not impossible, to find a single person who can do everything and produce a quality course.  These domains need to be understood and separated to encourage more than mediocre training development, increase acceptance, and above all to avoid costly mistakes.  I would also be very concerned about an all-in-one employee experiencing burn out.

Here’s how I’d break these down further to include your responsibilities and some others I’ve added.

Project Management

  • Manage timeline, budget, communication with stakeholders
  • Manage sub contractors
  • Gather and manage content

Instructional Design

  • Identify learning outcome(s), goals and objectives
  • Design interactivity/Create interactions
  • Write scripts or storyboards for development team
  • Oversee editing of scripts

Note: I’ve gone ahead and combined the writing and editing tasks under ID assuming you’d do the same.  Someone would need to establish styles and conventions in this area, of course, especially when working with multiple people and projects.

Graphic arts

  • Create a user interface design appropriate to the project
  • Create a look and feel for the project
  • Create media assets (Given assumptions mainly graphics to start)

Note: There are different types of artists.  Ideally, you want someone who can handle all three responsibilities listed above and handle them well.  However, this is often difficult to find and as companies grow the roles tend to split into art director and production artist.


  • Analysis identifying technical infrastructure requirements and solutions.  This would include LMS or LCMS selection, use of standards like SCORM, technologies and tools used for development, etc..
  • Software system design for the first task but also for setting up a core skeleton used and reused on course projects.
  • Programming
  • Testing
  • Maintenance tasks such as documentation, backing up assets, and revision control
  • LMS administration

Note: this is a tough one to address because it depends on the outcome of the initial analysis.  One possible solution would be to look for a company that would lease space on an existing LMS and as a result potentially relieve your team from taking on the associated administration task, which can easily become a role by itself.  Another possibility, is to integrate everything into existing HR systems or make the LMS into the main HR system.  The administration task would then fall to an HR person, hopefully.  Programming will vary depending on the tasks that need to be done.  If an LMS needs to be altered, you’re looking for one of many different programming language and platform skills.  Programming skills will be different for developing in tools like FLASH.

 Media composition and editing

  • Plan media production efforts  (shot lists, scripts, prop lists, location selection and setup, etc.)
  • Produce video and audio media assets
  • Post-production editing and composition

Note:  You said to assume graphics only but I couldn’t resist putting in just a few things here.  As you know, this is an area that can get expensive quickly depending on expectations.  Stock media and low production quality can still be effective in some cases.  Does your company have a unit that does video already for marketing and training?  What about producing and publishing of movie products for your stores or is all of that done by other companies/producers?


  • Establish a QA procedure
  • Content testing and verification
  • Functionality testing
  • User acceptance

For every person involved in a training intervention there are opinions about its success. Unfortunately by the time a development team begins considering whether the training was a success it is too late to do anything about it.  For that reason Donald Kirkpatrick, considered to be the foremost authority on training evaluation, has proposed an alternative approach that reverses the thinking on training development.

In his revised approach, he advises starting the discussion on the business expectations (results).  This is a fundamental change in thinking from the way most organizations view training.  In fact, this approach does not assume training will achieve those expectations.  Training may play a role but it may require something else as well.  The key to this approach is to include a member of the training team early in discussions about achieving business expectations.  Note that the diagram above shows training joining the discussion after the business need is identified.

How is this a departure from a traditional approach?  The typical ISD approach would be to develop a list of goals and objectives for training.  Notice, however, that this is the third step in the model.  Kirkpatrick recognizes that the typical ISD approach may result in instructionally sound training but completely miss the mark when it comes to organizational expectations.

By focusing on expectations and the behavior that will achieve those expectations the eventual intervention is more focused and has a much better chance at success.