What does it feel like to work on an eLearning project as part of a team?

Some people have the opportunity to work on a larger training team with many colleagues who may also be involved on the same project, or at least colleagues to bounce ideas around with. Others in our field work on small teams or are even working as a “department of one”.

Unless we’re creating elearning for ourselves, there will always be someone else who can be part of the elearning development team: the client who asked for the elearning.

In today’s podcast, the Endurance Learning team takes some time to reflect on the benefits, challenges and lessons learned when it comes to a work culture that always joins the eLearning designer and the client together as part of a single team.

Introduction 

Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, I’m your host. I’m also the Co-founder and CEO of a company called Endurance Learning. And last week we spoke a little bit about working with subject matter experts. In today’s podcast we’re going to focus a little bit more about how subject matter experts, or even clients, and eLearning developers can work together to create superior learning experiences. 

Before we get into any of that, however, I do need to mention that today’s episode is brought to you by Soapbox, which is an online tool that you can use for about 5 to 10 minutes, and you can take care of about 50 or 60% of the work when it comes to developing live, instructor-led training. Basically, you tell the computer how long your presentation is, how many people will attend, whether it’s in-person or virtual, what your learning objectives are, and then voila! Soapbox instantly generates a training plan for you with clusters of training activities that are designed to help you accomplish your learning outcomes. If you’d like more information about this amazing tool, please visit www.soapboxify.com

Meet the Team at Endurance Learning

All right, today we will be doing something that I haven’t done all year– all calendar year anyway – and that is talking with a variety of people about a certain topic. And so today we have a bunch of special guests – all of my colleagues from Endurance Learning are here, well most of them are here. And so I’m just going to go through and ask each person to introduce themselves with their name and their role, and then we’ll jump into the questions. So why don’t we start with Rachel? 

Rachel Niles: Hi, I’m Rachel Niles. I’m the Quality Assurance Manager at Endurance Learning. 

Brian Washburn: Perfect. How about you, Jess? 

Jess Jagielski: I am Jess and I am the Learning and Development Coordinator here at Endurance Learning.

Brian Washburn: All right, Erin?

Erin Clarke: Hi everybody. I’m Erin Clarke, Learning and Development Manager. 

Brian Washburn: And Lauren? 

Lauren Wescott: I’m Lauren Wescott, and I am also a Learning and Development Manager. 

Brian Washburn: Lindsay? 

Lindsay Garcia: I’m Lindsay Garcia, and I’m also the third Learning and Development Manager at Endurance Learning.

Brian Washburn: Last but not least, we have Tim. 

Tim Waxenfelter: I am Tim Waxenfelter, I am not a Learning and Development Manager. Clearly, Brian did save the best for last. I’m the COO and Co-founder of Endurance Learning. 

Brian Washburn: Alright, so let’s jump into this topic. So we’re talking about how clients and subject matter experts and eLearning developers can come together and create a superior learning experience. Now, a lot of times we organize our projects so that we can work with our clients as one team. We typically don’t walk into a project where a client just says, “This is what I want. Go build it.” And then we go off and build something, and then come back and hand it off to the client and say, “All right, well, hope you like it!” 

We work in a much more integrated fashion where we’ll meet regularly with the client and there’s a lot of back and forth. I don’t know that it really fits neatly into any of the instructional design models that are out there when you’re talking about ADDIE or Agile or things like that. There is a ton of back and forth. So my question– and why don’t we start with Erin with this question and anybody else can feel free to jump in too – what do you like best about being able to work in this more team-like approach? 

The Benefits of Working as a Team in Developing ELearning

My favorite part of working as a team is being able to balance our strengths and weaknesses.

Erin Clarke: Yeah, so my favorite part is being able to balance our strengths and weaknesses. So I get to be good at what I’m good at, and then I bring in others for the places where I’m not as skilled. And with that, I also get to learn in those areas that I’m not as skilled. 

So, really recently actually, we were working on a project for a client that required some visual design expertise, which is not my wheelhouse. And so we brought in someone else, another person on our awesome team. And as I was going through my mock-up, she was like, “What is this?” And so I got an opportunity to say, “Well, this is why you’re here, right? So I have the content, but then you get to make it come to life.” And the end result for the client was just absolutely fantastic.

Brian Washburn: And I think that is a great example, right? So sometimes you have people that have whole teams at their disposal. Other times people are kind of a department of one, but even if you’re a department of one, it doesn’t mean that you need to feel like you need to do everything. You know, you might have colleagues that work in graphic design that do other things, where you can bring in their perspectives. 

Now, one of the things that I remember a bunch of years ago, I had applied for a job at Nintendo, and the job role was something like the Director of Training Development and Quality Assurance. And I was like, “What? Quality assurance? That’s kind of a weird thing to have in there.” I don’t really think about quality assurance when I’m putting together a project and that has come back to bite us a little bit before we actually had people that focus specifically in quality assurance. And so Jess, I want to turn to you and ask you about kind of the same question, but through a different lens. What do you like best about working kind of as a team approach? Not one person has to do everything?

I love to see that we can brainstorm together and then seeing that quality come out at the end.

Jess Jagielski: I think one thing that I really love is that there are so many creative minds around there. I don’t have graphic design experience like Lindsay does, so I do like to see the ideas come to life. I love to see that we can brainstorm together and then seeing that quality come out at the end. And if I come to somebody and I say, “I don’t think this is working,” they’re not shut down about it. They’re like, “Okay, let’s brainstorm, let’s work it out. Let’s make it sound better for the client and really pull in the content that they need and the resources that they need that’s going to make this work.” So I think that that is a really good and strong aspect of this team, and it makes the training that much more creative, engaging, effective for our clients.

Brian Washburn: That’s a great– so, quality assurance oftentimes will kick something back and say, “Ah, what is this?” And I’d love to hear whether it’s from Erin or Lauren or Lindsay, when you get that feedback, how do you not get defensive about it? 

Accepting Feedback During the Process of ELearning Design

Lindsay Garcia: You’re always learning, you know? Everyone has something to give in the team. Everyone has something to give from the client’s point of view. So, I thrive on constructive criticism, personally. I know sometimes that can be difficult for other people, but you’re going to learn from everyone who’s around you. So I feel like when something comes back to me, hey, I may have made a mistake on this project, it could work on another one. So I just kind of look at it from their viewpoint and the client’s viewpoint. And if it needs to be updated or changed, then, you know, the consensus says then, I’m not always going to be right or make the right choices. So I feel like that’s why you have a team. 

When all the voices are in there...it can way more often than not lead to something that we couldn't have done on our own

Lauren Wescott: Yeah. And from the kind of client-facing perspective, a lot of times getting constructive criticism from a client is one of the best things because it helps us realize that we’re off on like our learning objectives or something. You know, a lot of times our team might have option A and the client has option B, and then we come together and we realize that the answer is actually option C. But we wouldn’t have gotten there unless everybody’s voice is heard, and we’re all kind of thinking together and feeding off of each other. That’s how we get the best end result, ultimately. 

Brian Washburn: I literally got chills listening to that because that is– it’s one of those things where, you know, a lot of times we’re hired because we’re the experts in training or instructional design or whatever, and yet when all the voices are in there, it suddenly it can way more often than not lead to something that we couldn’t have done on our own, the client couldn’t have done on their own. It’s option C, like you mentioned. Tim, did you have something else that you wanted to throw in there? 

I think what's exciting about teamwork is that you get an opportunity to build trust.

Tim Waxenfelter: Yeah, that I think what’s exciting about it is that you get an opportunity to build trust. So you heard Lindsay talking about it with getting feedback. You only can get that kind of feedback if you trust that everybody’s in it for the same goal. And then when you engage your clients, when we’re able to get them on the same page and that they’re contributing in the same way, you know, it’s the old, like one plus one equals three – you get so much more value out of it. We can’t come up with everything cause we don’t know the culture inside the organization, all the content. But when you can get them participating on a team and contributing in that way and you build up trust internally and with your clients, you end up with so much better results. 

Brian Washburn: All right. So, we have this rosy picture right now, but it’s not without challenges. And so I’d like to turn the question around just a little bit to the team and ask: what are some of the biggest challenges in a team-like approach like this? 

The Challenges of Teamwork in ELearning Development

Lindsay Garcia: Well, like any team, so our team here at Endurance Learning or the team you build with the client, everyone has a different background. Everyone has different experiences that they’re coming from, and that means that they’re coming with different opinions, they’re coming with different passions. 

So, if you have a client that is passionate about their content, that can sometimes become a bit of a you know– you have to kind of understand where they’re coming from. So we’re coming in with an eye of an instructional designer or an eLearning designer, and we know the goal we want to meet for them. But they could get stuck on the visual design, they could get stuck on just little pieces of the big picture and that can be frustrating. It can kind of lag the project or it can make it feel like you’re not working together as one. 

Teamwork provides you that opportunity to get to know their passion and kind of feed off of it to a degree.

However, it also provides you the ability to be on their side. It provides you that opportunity to get to know their passion and kind of feed off of it to a degree. So while it’s frustrating, while it can be kind of a hindrance to the project, or it seems that way when it first happens, it’s also getting you to understand who you’re working with, what they’re striving for, and it also gives you a chance to teach them that this is our main focus. Are those little things really the big things? Are they going to hinder this project? Or, are you– is that just a preference? So, I find those are sometimes blockers that could happen when working with a client as a team.

Lauren Wescott: Yeah, it’s kind of that idea of too many cooks in the kitchen. But also some of our biggest pitfalls have been if we start on a project, and we realize that we don’t have the correct people involved from the start. And so there’s kind of this intentionality behind identifying who needs to be on the team from the get-go and being very intentional about review cycles and who’s included in those. And clear objectives and roles for each person as we go through that process so that we’re not just spinning our wheels getting stuck because somebody who wasn’t involved from the start comes in late or vice versa. 

Tim Waxenfelter: Yeah. And I think it’s, you know, what I’ve struggled with lately is seeing it from the perspective of the client because we’ve built up our own processes internally and we have a way of doing things. But Brian, you and I have been on calls lately with customers and we realize maybe our proposal doesn’t really make it clear what does this look like to partner with someone? 

Because people are often coming to us because they need help, and they want to toss it over the wall and say, “Go fix this” or “Go do this for us.” And we just don’t work that way. And it works so much better when we engage together. And it’s hard to explain who the stakeholders are and for us to figure that out in an initial proposal and an initial discussion that that learning often has to come over the first couple of months of a project, which can really make the beginning of a project pretty bumpy.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. And going back to this idea of quality, right? We want to make sure that there is a product that we’re proud of that doesn’t have typos or things like that, and in alliance to style guides and things like that. Rachel, in your role, you don’t have the advantage of being in these client meetings or kind of seeing some of these things from the start. What do you see as some of the biggest chall– I mean, after something goes through your hands, it is a gazillion times better than if we were just to kind of hand it over to the client, but that’s not without challenges. What are some of the challenges that you see from kind of the quality assurance perspective?

Rachel Niles: So you’re asked in my role to make a lot of decisions about silly things, particularly in eLearning you know, like: are we using periods? Are we capitalizing this? And when you make those decisions, you have to make the decision and communicate that decision. You just mentioned style guides. You know, this is a great practice that we love is to have a style guide for every project and to make sure to spell all that out ahead of time really helps save time. And as you’re going through, you know, and having to make these decisions, people look to me to make those decisions, and I need to make sure that I communicate that decision once it’s made, or I promise it will come back around. Somebody will be asking that same question a week later. And if you’ve spelled it out somewhere, then you have a place where everybody can look and know what’s been decided. 

Brian Washburn: Yeah. And I just kind of want to start to draw this conversation to a close because well, because we’re running out of time, but one of the reasons why I want to draw this to a close in this way is because I think that we’ve learned a lot by creating this process. And I’d love to just hear from a few different people in terms of what the most important lesson that they’ve learned while working in this kind of team-like approach has been. 

Lessons Learned in ELearning Development

just bringing it back to that idea of: what are we ultimately trying to achieve here?

Lauren Wescott: I think, for me, one of the things that when I started in this field early on Tim and Brian both kept saying to me was, “What are we trying to achieve here?” And a lot of times when we get started on a project, we get focused on the details. And we might start going down the road and then realize, “Wait a second. Let’s pivot. What are we trying to really do here? What’s our goal? What’s our objective? Does this ultimately matter for meeting that goal or objective? If it doesn’t, maybe we need to pivot or think about this differently.” So just bringing it back to that idea of: what are we ultimately trying to achieve here?

The necessity of good communication is a lesson that’s been painful for us to learn at times.

Tim Waxenfelter: So I love that, and I’m glad that you heard us. And maybe we did say that – if we did, congratulations to us. I think a couple of things: one, is following up on what Rachel said is the over-communication. I think it’s a lesson that’s been painful for us to learn at times, is that you put a little extra time into the communication, and it helps clarify things and make sure that everybody’s on the same page. And also just assuming good intent. You know, people that are engaging in a training project, there are a lot of different personalities, different opinions on things, but I think we do best when we assume that everybody’s in it for the right reasons – to solve a problem. 

Brian Washburn: And Jess, did you have one last thought there before we kind of switch up things here in terms of lessons learned?

Jess Jagielski: Well, I came from obviously a completely different background. I had no instructional design or not really as much training as you guys. So I think that it has been a great lesson to have, in general, just the team surrounding us because I needed everybody’s different input to figure things out. I didn’t know how to write the scripts. I didn’t know how to quality check the scripts to your style guides. I didn’t know how to do any of this. So just coming in from a completely blank slate and walking in and having this team go, “This is how I do it.” And learning from Brian. And then this is how Lindsay does it and learning from Lindsay. And just pulling in those different opinions and different backgrounds, it has helped me tremendously to be able to just take off in this career. And it’s been amazing and it’s been an important lesson for me because I didn’t have a team like that before. 

Brian Washburn: Well, it sounds like you have a very cool organization that you’re working with, Jess. Before we end, I’m going to go around and listen to each person with a quick speed round here with a few questions. Ready or not, here they come. So, I’m going to start with Lindsay for each of these, and then we’ll go around. So Lindsay, what is a tool that you cannot go a day without using?

Get to Know the Team at Endurance Learning

What is a Tool That You Cannot Go a Day Without Using?

Lindsay Garcia: Snagit.

Brian Washburn: Snagit. How about you, Erin? 

Erin Clarke: Well, for the job, it would be Slack because of the communication, but for me personally, it would probably be paper and pen. (Chuckles)

Brian Washburn: Paper and pen. (Chuckles) Nice. Rachel? 

Rachel Niles: I love Canva

Brian Washburn: Canva. All right. How about you, Lauren? 

Lauren Wescott: Lately, it’s sticky notes.

Brian Washburn: Jess?

Jess Jagielski: Does Google count? Because I use that a lot. But honestly, as a teacher’s pet, I use the blog religiously to help me with everything. 

Brian Washburn: Two good answers. So the blog to which Jess is referring is www.trainlikeachampion.blog, in case anybody wants to check that out. And Google is element number 10 on our periodic table, which can be found at www.51elementsoflearning.com. Just a heads up. How about you, Tim? What’s the tool that you can’t go a day without using?

Tim Waxenfelter: I don’t have a good suck-up answer, but Notion. I use it for all my note-taking.

Brian Washburn: The last question that I’m going to have is what is the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received? We’ll start again with Lindsay. 

What is the Best Piece of Professional Advice You’ve Ever Receieved?

Lindsay Garcia: I actually think this was Alex Salas who gave me this professional advice, but to stay open-minded. To know that there is always going to be someone who knows more than you and to not take it internally but to learn from that person. Get whatever you can from the people who have those skills that maybe you just don’t have yet because you’re not going to be perfect at everything.

Brian Washburn: Alex Salas, man of wisdom. Erin, how about you? 

Erin Clarke: Okay. So here’s my suck-up answer. I think my piece of advice came from Brian Washburn who said, “Always take the coffee.” And it’s very similar to what Lindsay is saying, which is, you know, just always take the connection because you never know where it’s going to lead down the road.

Brian Washburn: That might be the best answer I’ve ever heard. How about you, Rachel? What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received? 

Rachel Niles: I thought of a tip from the filmmaking world, which is where I come from originally. When you’re working on a set and you have a lens, a very expensive lens to hand over, the handoff has to be communicated. So the person handing the lens says, “Got it,” and the person receiving the lens says, “Got it.” And both of those things have to happen or else the lens is gonna wind up on the ground. And so I just thought that that kind of resonates for communication. When you’re passing off a job, when you’re passing off an ask, a task, whatever, make sure the person knows what you’re asking them to do. And, in addition, that person that’s receiving that needs to say whether or not they understand. And if not, it could be a costly mistake. 

Brian Washburn: Got it. All right. Lauren?

Lauren Wescott: I’ll harken back to my teacher days and say, “Mistakes are how you learn. They’re good.”

Brian Washburn: I like looking at it that way. How about you, Jess? 

Jess Jagielski: I got a piece of advice from a realtor that we worked with buying our home, and it kind of fits a lot of different aspects. It’s that something in your life may not be a hundred percent perfect. Maybe it’s 80%, maybe it’s 75%, but it’s what you bring to it that’s going to make it that 100%. So you need to be that missing puzzle piece. You need to come in, bring your heart, bring your background, and make it a hundred percent.

Brian Washburn: We’ll close the speed round with you Tim. 

Tim Waxenfelter: I would say even if you’re considered to be an expert in a situation, don’t feel like you always have to have an answer. 

Brian Washburn: I love closing on that one because I think that’s a really, really important piece that really can lift the burden from a lot of people who feel like they need to always have the answer. And there’s no shame with saying, “You know what, let me get back about that. I don’t know, but I can find out.” 

Brian Washburn: Well, I’d like to thank the entire Endurance Learning team for giving me some of their time and some of their perspectives, their expertise on this. I’d also like to thank everyone else for listening to today’s podcast. If you know someone else who might find today’s podcast on working in a collaborative environment to produce superior eLearning to be important, please pass this link along. If you want to make sure that you are notified of a new podcast whenever it’s hot off the press, go ahead and subscribe at Apple or Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Even better, if you could take just a moment to give us a review, it really doesn’t take that long for you and it would mean a ton for us. If you’re interested in learning more on a broad range of learning and development strategies, you can pick up a copy of one of the best books ever written: What’s Your Formula? Combine Learning Elements For Impactful Training at http://www.amazon.com. And until next time, happy training everyone.

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