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Co-ordinating E-Learning with IT Development


Which comes first the training or the new IT system? Adval Creative Director Richard Bunning argues both. Here he demonstrates how to overcome the hurdles of developing a training package for a new IT system while that system is still in development.

Companies planning to introduce or upgrade their IT systems face a challenge: how to train staff in the new system to be ready for its introduction, when the system itself is still being developed? It’s a classic chicken and egg conundrum.

E-learning offers a solution for systems training, it can explain the way that the system relates to business processes and provide an emulation of the system itself for users to gain experience within a safe environment.

It can also be used when, for example, a new customer relationship management system (CRM) requires both understanding the IT system and how to interact with customers whilst using the system.

Until the IT system is complete, it is not possible to produce 100% accurate screens, interactions and other representations of how the final system will work.

But as the development of the system progresses, it will get closer and closer to the final version – the challenge is to ensure that the e-learning content is developed in parallel with the real system, whilst avoiding the danger of producing e-learning content which then has to be reworked because late changes are required to the real application.

Risk management

Risk management is the key to success – managing the risk of doing work that ends up in the bin, missing deadlines and errors in the training content because changes in the real system are not taken on board.

Without effective documentation and quality management the project is at significant risk.

The IT system provider must already have total quality management (TQM) in place, but your e-learning provider must operate under the ISO9000-2000 quality standard as well.

Another requirement is to understand and have a fully documented flowchart of the underlying business processes that the IT system fulfils.

This provides a conceptual framework for the e-learning solution to use to explain the purpose and functions of the IT system to the learner.

From this a significant element of the course content can be developed to provide the system overview element of the course, without the need for any specific system screens or interactions to be identified.

Depending on whether the e-learning course uses audio or onscreen text, scripts can then be developed that can then be populated with screenshots of the finished application in the final phase of the system’s development.

Once the overview is complete, risks become apparent and need to be managed.

What can be progressed at low risk, whilst awaiting the final system?

IT applications are about entering, managing, processing or outputting data – and this data usually relates to some real-world activity – be it customers, transactions or the movement of goods, etc.

These real world events are often used to provide scenario-based learning: eg a customer has a complaint about their bill, wants to hire a car or has a query.

Identifying and developing the case studies for the e-learning content can go on in parallel to the systems development, so that they are ready and waiting for the finished system to be available.

Usually the 80:20 rule holds for most IT systems, typically 80% of transactions use 20% of the systems facilities, so the learning objectives and course emphasis can be profiled to meet this usage pattern.

This means that for the function on the 20% list, only a description and how to access them is required and these can be written in outline prior to the final screens being ready.

Minimising risk

Imagine that the systems provider has built and is piloting some elements of the new system, but there are doubts about the user interface and parts of the system are not yet implemented. How can the e-learning solution be moved on?

The best strategy to minimise the risk is based on an interactive design approach that is entirely modular, ie that each section of the e-learning course is developed so that it is not (or is as little as possible) interdependent on other sections.

Using this approach, even if there are significant changes in the application, the impact is limited to those parts of the learning course that specifically deal with that part of the application.

Clearly the prototype IT application can be used as a starting point for the e-learning scripting, providing that the structure and script of the courseware is written to avoid risks.

By keeping specific references out of the script, but showing them visually on screen grabs of the final system, progress can be made without too much risk.

There is also the issue of the software development environment being used for the course.

Clearly if a simple, pure HTML authoring approach is used, then if something changes in the underlying system, every single HTML page will have to be altered.

This approach points towards a database approach as being the most effective method, because if something changes in the underlying application, then it is relatively quick and easy to change the database, then regenerate the course from it.

In this way substantial elements of the course can be developed using the prototype system, which are then edited to faithfully reflect the final released application.


Unless you fully test the e-learning courseware against the live system itself, using a test plan that goes down every permutation of use, you cannot be confident that the training does accurately represent the real system.

So, which should come first, the chicken or the egg ie the IT application or the training course? The answer is neither, they can only develop together.

Just as an egg contains all the genetic material to “make” a chicken, then the shell and nutrients that make up the majority of the training “egg” can be developed ready for the final genetic blueprint of the finished application, which can be added at the last moment.


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