Saturday, February 27, 2010

Elearning on a Shoestring - Produce content in 10 hours, and a budget of $ 0.0

First things first. I could really get into trouble with my wife if she reads this post. Let me explain. I was having a conversation with one of my friends about elearning and the associated costs and I almost laid a wager to say that you could produce quality elearning in a relatively short time on a pretty low budget. Now this is something all of us (at least in internal teams) have had to go through haven't we? Someone comes to us with an urgent request for creating elearning and gives us all of $100.00 to work with! I've felt like 'old mother hubbard's bare cupboard' in such instances.

So, let's come back to my wife. I decided to take on the challenge and give myself 10 hours on a Saturday and a budget of $0.0 to build an elearning module. Obviously it's a bit of stretch to call my work top-class, but given the time-constraint I placed on myself, I'm happy to have a first-cut which I guess I can easily show to an internal client if necessary. Now if my wife was to know that I was doing elearning work in all the (long) breaks that I took yesterday, from helping her around in the house, from watching movies and from following the India-South Africa cricket match; she is going to be livid. So, you and I have a secret to keep. If we're agreed on that, then let's start breaking down what I did and how you can do some similar things.

Course Specifications

Creative Commons License

Sharing Effective Feedback by Sumeet Madhukar Moghe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.
Based on a work at
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

I decided to build a course on Effective Feedback because this is something I continue to need at work and is in line not just with some conference submissions I've been making, but also with a webinar I'm doing in April (more on this later). I don't consider myself to be a subject matter expert, but I guess it's a topic I'm fairly passionate about, so I played the role of the SME as well. A few more details:

Course Duration: Approximately 25-30 minutes
Tools Used: Articulate Studio '09
Course Location: You can access the course here and you can download the zipped, offline version here.
Development Time: 10 hours

How I Aggregated Content

Given my time constraint, I decided that I was going to have to trim down my research in a big way. So I decided to repurpose some of the content I'd used in the past, to deliver face-to-face presentations and workshops. One of them is what you see above and the other is here. I also used a lot of Patrick Kua's writings, since I found his blogposts to be a very astute assessment of the skills behind effective feedback. That gave me a fair amount of existing content to repurpose and helped me move forward very quickly.

How I Designed the Course

I decided that I was going to keep my course navigation mostly linear. I also decided I wasn't going to do anything hugely fancy with the course. I took the approach of sketching out a few mockups (like the one above) using Balsamiq, to give me an idea of where I wanted to go with the course. I also did a few quick sketches on paper to draw out the flow of topics in the course. I must say, I could do some more work on the design and language, but I'm postponing that to another iteration. The key for me was that I didn't want to detail out every screen. The fact that I was using a rapid tool meant that if I had the general flow and navigation thought through, I could move through the development in a fairly quick, iterative fashion.

How I obtained Media Assets

Media assets for your course are always likely to put a drain on your budget and I had none! I decided to go cheap and use free media assets. Here's what I did.

Myths about Rapid Elearning

So, with all that in place, I was able to put together this elearning module on feedback, which you're free to download and use for non-commercial purposes. My aim with this experiment was to bust some of the myths associated with rapid elearning in particular. I'm not going to say much more than what's on the link, but I do want to reiterate that Rapid elearning doesn't have to be CRapid elearning. Rapid elearning doesn't mean that the speed will kill your quality.
  • It means that if you spend a reasonable amount of time designing and planning the right approach, you now have the tools to reach an implementation quickly.
  • It means that you can go through several iterations of the course with your clients.
  • It means that the cost of change for your courses remains low.
  • It means that your dependence on programmers and costly tools remains low and you can empower your teams and SMEs through a familiar tool and familiar interfaces.
  • It means that you can respond to your organisation's learning needs faster and effectively, as long as you have the willingness to put some thought into your design and learning strategy.
If your approach towards design remains sound, then coming up with something really creative isn't tough! Sometimes a little inspiration can help.
What did you think of today's blogpost? Hopefully, you'll never have to build a course with no budget and with 10 hours to finish it, but my hope is that you can respond to similar situations with increased confidence in the future. My course is still a work in progress (and I can share the source files if you'd like), but I'd love to hear some feedback about that as well and maybe get some free QA! As always, your comments will help me in a big way, so please comment liberally on this post and drop me a line if you'd like. Till next time, ciao!


John said...

Thanks Sumeet. When you said "budget of $0.0", I started to think that you had found a nice free e-learning studio. But after reading and re-reading, I realise that you were using Articulate Studio 09, which isn't free. I felt like I'd wasted time, and that your blog title was misleading.

Sumeet Moghe said...

Hi John,
I'm sorry you found my post misleading. When I mentioned a budget of $0.0, I was considering the incremental cost of developing an individual course. Given that the industry averages tend to be in the range of a few thousand dollars per course, the development tools are more an investment than a recurring cost.

Also, I'd like to point out that you can achieve most of what I've done using Powerpoint and any PPT to Flash converter. That can reduce your elearning investment in a big way. In fact in my team, we just have 1 license of Articulate on a system. Everyone develops on Powerpoint and we just do finishing touches on the shared desktop.

That said, I take your feedback. I have plans to do a similar post with free tools such as Udutu. So hopefully I won't disappoint you at that time. Keep reading!

Sahana said...

Sumeet, a great post! I especailly found the step by step approach and the links you have provided to other resources extremely useful.

Andy Palmer said...

Hi Sumeet,
Some more costs that may be worth factoring are the cost of your time, and the cost of your experience... these intangibles are quite possibly the greatest expense, and the most easily forgotten.

Consider the story of the engineer who retired after 50 years at the same company. A few short weeks after he left, one of the machines broke down, and nobody from the company or the manufacturer was able to fix it. In desperation, they called the retired engineer. He listened to the machine for a short while, made a chalk mark on the machine, took out his hammer and made one tap on the mark. The machine immediately burst into life.
A short while later, the company received an invoice from the engineer for $10,000. Outraged, they demanded that he itemise the costs.
He returned it like this:
Cost of chalk $1
Knowing where to tap the machine $9,999

The company paid in full.

Anonymous said...

Yes, you do have to already own Articulate but Sumeet's post was a detailed breakdown on how to make Minimum Viable Product (MVP) eLearning modules.

Super post! I bookmarked it! Thanks.

Sumeet Moghe said...

Thanks for your comments everyone. Just to clarify - my aim was not to undermine the cost of infrastructure, personnel, experience etc -- these as Andy pointed out are perhaps indispensable.

My aim was to target the ever-high recurring costs of production. I have always been keen to lower these while keeping the other parameters constant. This post was just a step in illustrating that.

Tom Kuhlmann said...

Great job. It's cool that you gave away the files so people can learn to do this themselves. I also like that you demonstrate effective ways to build out the course content on a limited budget.

There are so many critics of elearning, but few who actually produce more than greenhouse gases.

I'm glad you're not in that group. :)

Mark said...

One of the best posts on finding free content. Thanks for sharing!

Larry said...

nice work. how much time did you spend planning and thinking about the course before you started working on Saturday.

Shal S said...

Great post... I have learnt a lot from this Sumeet. Also, as people understand the medium more, they will spend less on bells and whistles (fancy graphics) and more on content and design experience... It makes us all developers but with blogs like yours and tools like Articulate, work will only be more fun.

Sumeet Moghe said...

Larry, I've included the comments on planning and thinking through the course in the sections titled, "How I aggregated content" and "How I designed the course". My key approach towards design in this particular course, was to mimic the logical flow of topics from an Instructor Led Training (ILT).
I must point out that though I was operating under a time-constraint for this course, I don't recommend the 'mimic the ILT' much. Given the context of elearning, I prefer the action mapping approach for most of my projects. It's lightweight, yet comprehensive.

Joe Deegan said...

Who cares about the cost. Great example of "Rapid" eLearning on a shoestring. Thanks for including links to where you got the images. I've never come across a couple of your very useful resources.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sumeet, a very clever and engaging module. Thought the horse graphics were really effective and the videos complimented your topic.

I took away a piece of learning from the content (when your critics go silent - that's when something is really wrong. Great quote!)

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Great post... I have learnt a lot from this one. Also, as people understand the medium more, they will spend less on bells and more on content and design experience... It makes us all elearner module but with blogs like yours and tools like Articulate, work services will only be more fun.

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