Facing an Unanticipated Challenge
Has your e-learning development team ever faced a challenge? Before you answer, you should know that we’re not talking about the everyday challenges inherent to developing training. We’re talking about a challenge that was unexpected, that you’d never encountered before, and that had the potential to derail a large project that was already in progress.
At Illumina Interactive, we’ve been creating state-of-the-art custom e-learning for clients across many industries for 25 years. Until recently, we had assumed that over that time we’d faced almost every possible challenge that could come up. Well, as they say, one should never assume. As it turned out, one of our clients had undertaken a major organizational rebrand that presented us with a unique combination of challenges we’d never actually encountered before.”
At the time, we were midway into a very high-profile project with government funding –development of a major learning management system portal and series of e-learning courses. We’d already built the platform and several courses, and we’d already begun a pilot and soft launch. Our team was working well together internally, and we had gotten to know our client’s goals and preferences. We were at that point that comes in every project when things are moving along as smoothly as possible. We weren’t just “coasting,” of course, but any issues that did arise were being identified quickly, and we were solving them efficiently. We had a hard launch date that was tight and immovable, but we also had every reason to believe we would meet or exceed our deadline.
Enter the “unanticipated challenge.”
Our client informed us that they were going through a major rebranding. They were changing the name of their organization as well as the name of the portal and other aspects of our project. Their logo and color palette were also changing. We would have to apply all these changes to project assets that had been completed and previously approved as well as those that were still in various stages of progress. And that immovable launch date? That was the only thing that would remain the same.
Even more than the many other challenges we’d faced creating custom e-learning, this one had to be tackled with a new level of advance planning. It touched on almost every aspect of development and project oversight and would require highly focused follow-through.
We had two lead instructional designers on the project, working on their own courses and modules concurrently. They were creating the courses in Articulate 360 Rise, and they were also integrating more complex Storyline 360 activities (blocks) within the Rise modules. We’d established a highly detailed style guide at the beginning of the project and the instructional designers were already taking meticulous care to ensure that their current modules and Storyline blocks conformed to all project specifications and that they were maintaining consistency as instructional design collaborators.
Our team of developers was also working on the Storyline blocks for all the modules. They had a version control system in place, and they, too, had to comply with all original project specs. They worked closely with the instructional designers to get the Storyline work completed, reviewed, and approved.
The portal had been developed in Moodle, with complex theming and style sheets, responsive HTML and 508/WCAG accessibility. And most of that work was complete as well.
So, when it arose, the need to pivot and rebrand the entire portal and all the courses in various stages of completion ran the risk of causing confusion, mistakes, or delays for all parties involved, and for the project as a whole.
Spoiler Alert! The project was a success. We rebranded all components accurately and on time, with the least possible disruption to the ongoing work by the instructional designers and developers.
Superheroes of the Rebranding Universe
There were two superheroes primarily responsible for this outcome. The first was our lead graphic designer.
One of our Storyline developers noted that, “Graphic design led the hands-on effort of rebranding, and they did a great job at not only handling the graphical aspect, but of clearly identifying what was to be rebranded and what was not at each phase.” The lead graphic designer’s initial job was to create a new style guide based on the rebranded color palette and logo. He identified key elements of all components of the project – LMS portal layouts, Rise pages, Storyline blocks, graphics, animations, etc. He prepared design mockups for the client to see with the new color scheme down to every level of minutiae, including headers and subheaders, text prompts, banners, and buttons. But it was a more complicated job than usual. The color scheme had to be tweaked due to certain limitations inherent in Rise. Once the client approved the design mockups and he did the hard work of getting the style guide finalized, though, it made everyone else’s job much easier. His style guide became the look-and-feel bible for everyone on the project, including the client.
The other superhero in our “Rebranding Universe” was our project manager. He came up with a comprehensive process and schedule that took every detail of the effort into account.
What if we had to rebrand a module that was already finished and approved? He had a process for that. What if we had to rebrand a module we were in the middle of working on (the most perplexing question for instructional designers and developers)? He had a process for that, too.
At one point, one of our instructional designers told him, “I’m nervous that I’m going to forget to rebrand one of my lessons.” He replied, “You have to trust the process.” That turned out to be good advice: the process could be trusted. It had built-in checks and balances that ensured no elements were left out.
Some notable aspects of the process included:
If a Rise module had to be rebranded when it had already been started, rebranding wasn’t addressed until the module reached either the Alpha or Beta stage. At that point, it was simultaneously sent to two parties: 1) the client, for their typical Alpha/Beta review, and 2) the graphic designer(s), who rebranded the entire Rise Alpha/Beta with its Storyline blocks. Then they sent the module back to the IDs. When the IDs received the client’s Alpha/Beta feedback, they made the changes to the newly rebranded version of the module. Having the graphic designer(s) rebrand a module during a client review period – and thereby not requiring the IDs to rebrand their own modules while making revision – saved a lot of valuable time.
Storyline developers were particularly careful about communication and proper file labeling and version control. They were in regular communication with the instructional designer/Rise developer and graphic designer responsible for a course and its rebranding, so that they knew how to appropriately direct the Storyline block developer at each phase of development. Moreover, they instituted a specific naming convention for each rebranded Storyline file, which led to quick and efficient identification at the time of a phase’s development pass.
Another member of the development team said, “This should come as no surprise, but having a strategic plan in place before starting a job like this was key. Multiple team members handling different elements of the effort at different times had the serious potential to turn into a train wreck. Instead, with a solid plan, the entire effort proceeded smoothly and allowed us to effectively rebrand a significant number of courses, while continuing to move forward with the regular course of development.”
A Happy Ending and a New Beginning
A happy ending to the tale of any project is a successful launch and a satisfied client. And we did get our happy ending. But we also got so much more. Every member of our team got a closer look at each other’s roles, learned more efficient processes, and sharpened their communication and organizational skills. Along with our rebranded courses, you might say we gave a new look-and-feel to our existing procedures and our established ways of thinking.
In e-learning, we encounter a number of situations that require and benefit from the approaches used in this project. Sometimes it’s an acquisition or a spin-off that forces quick rework of a library of e-learning modules and systems. A decision to improve e-learning accessibility can similarly impact an organization’s whole e-learning world. You can probably identify situations from your own experience where a number of courses and systems, both under development and already in use, needed to be updated in a short period of time.
The next time your team faces an unanticipated challenge, remember that no challenge is insurmountable—no matter how unexpected. The keys are to establish a process that your team can trust and to communicate as a team. Most of all, remember to question your assumptions every step of the way—especially if you’re assuming that “it can’t be done.”
After all, as the old saying goes, “One should never assume.”