What Advice Can Help Manage Stakeholder Expectations in E-Learning Projects?

    Authored By


    What Advice Can Help Manage Stakeholder Expectations in E-Learning Projects?

    Navigating the complexities of e-learning projects requires keen management of stakeholder expectations. We sought advice from Instructional Designers and Teacher Consultants who deeply understand these intricacies. From asking “smart-dumb” questions to understanding the diverse needs of stakeholders, here are four pieces of advice for successfully managing expectations on an e-learning initiative.

    • Ask Smart-Dumb Questions Early
    • Patience is Vital in Gaining Buy-In
    • Set Realistic Quality-First Goals
    • Understand Diverse Stakeholder Needs

    Ask Smart-Dumb Questions Early

    Ask the smart-dumb questions—the earlier, the better.

    Years ago, a salesman brought me in to meet with a prospect he had all excited to spend thousands on a multimedia CD-ROM training project, back when that was the hot new thing.

    I asked, 'How many people do you need to train?' 'Six.' 'Ah. Do you have a lot of turnover, then?' 'Oh, no, they've all been with us for years.' 'So... they're scattered all over the country?' 'No, we all work in the same office.' I gave a hard side-eye to the salesman, who was glaring daggers at me. (I think he'd already spent the commission money in his mind.)

    'Ma'am,' I said to the client, as gently as possible, 'you don't need a multimedia training program. You need a meeting. With some handouts—maybe laminated job aids.'

    An excellent way to ask smart-dumb questions is to build prototypes. Prototypes answer specific questions—will it work at all? How much will it cost/how long will it take? Can users navigate the interface? Prototypes need to be part of the project plan from the start, with timeline, resources, and budget allocated in advance. Depending on the project, you may need several successive rounds of prototypes. It is often the case that you don't really know what questions to ask about B until you get the answers to A.

    Prototypes are internal development tools that are discarded when the question is answered, NOT folded into the source code for the main project. There have been e-learning tools that promise to let you iterate your way to a finished product. This is akin to showing up at a building site for a new home with a pile of lumber and no blueprints.

    One final note: prototypes are NOT sales demos. A sales demo is its own separate project that needs its own budget and timeline, and yes, it may impact the critical path of the main project. Do not show prototypes to clients, and be cautious even about showing them to internal stakeholders.

    Once, as a new hire, I showed an interface mockup to my boss, the CEO. He quickly pointed out all the 'errors'—the greeked text, the placeholder graphics. I explained that this was just placeholder content, that this was a prototype, part of an iterative series of lessons learned. 'An iterative series of MISTAKES, you mean!' he said, and stalked off. I started looking for a new job that night.

    Corrie BergeronInstructional Designer, Learning Systems Administrator, Lakeland Community College

    Patience is Vital in Gaining Buy-In

    As an L&D expert, expect stakeholder reluctance, but continuous exposure to ideas and innovations is key. Patience is vital—it's a waiting game to gain stakeholder buy-in, as it takes time for them to embrace new concepts and technologies.

    Andrew Barry
    Andrew BarryCEO, Curious Lion

    Set Realistic Quality-First Goals

    As an e-learning designer, proactive expectation management begins with the very first scope-of-work discussion with the stakeholder. It's important to establish the tone that an excellent product requires a given amount of time for completion. The inherent value in a high-quality product is worth the extra investment in time and effort and is rarely worth compromising. By reinforcing this perspective, stakeholders are guided toward setting realistic goals that prioritize quality over expediency.

    Angeli Johnson
    Angeli JohnsonInstructional Designer, Center for First-generation Student Success

    Understand Diverse Stakeholder Needs

    Taking the time to deeply understand the diverse needs and expectations of stakeholders is an important part of any project. In education, there is an array of stakeholders: educators, students, parents, and administrators. In order to understand all these varying needs initially, in-depth interviews, surveys, and focus groups could be used to gather insights into their goals, preferences, and constraints. During the project, having representatives from each group consult ensures needs are not overlooked throughout the project. For example, from an educator's standpoint, providing support and training for educators is key to successful adoption. By understanding the needs of various stakeholders and users, a project can tailor its offerings to enhance educational experiences for everyone.

    Lynn ThomasTeacher Consultant of eLearning