Project Management “Mantra” for e-Learning Professionals

Moving out of state and away from my colleagues has been one of the hardest things I have done, especially as our move (by choice) was from a huge metropolitan area to a small, rural mountain city. The Orange County chapter of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) is one of the best, most friendly and active chapters in my experience. I miss my ASTD OC colleagues immensely. I try to stay in touch via email, and last week, I attended a free webinar through the University of California at Irvine’s Extension program. The invitation came from my colleague Janet DiVincenzo, the Assistant Director of Online Learning at UCI’s Distance Learning Center.

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TGIF: Ah, We’re Changing the Course’s Title…

While Storyboarding in PowerPoint, I Got the Call

When I’m developing an e-learning course in a PowerPoint-based tool, like Articulate Presenter, I obviously create the storyboards in PowerPoint (PPT) most of the time. Most of my SMEs use PPT at work anyway, so they’re comfortable with it. In Notes View, the upper section of the page shows my mock-up or rough sketch of the screens, and the Notes Pane below contains my notes about the OSDs (on-screen directions), programing notes, course content, and audio/visual ideas.

My gratitude for the Master Slide feature in PowerPoint knows no bounds! This post is about a 127-slide storyboard for an e-learning course on a 401(k) plan, for a non-linear course where learners can choose the topics they want to review. And, once viewing the selected topic, the learners go through branching scenarios in a non-linear fashion.

The PPT storyboard successfully completed two review cycles! Then, one day, about a week or so before launch on the enterprise LMS, I got the SME phone call:

“Ah, we’re changing the title of the course…. ”

From: [ ACME’s Retirement Plans ]

To: [ ACME’s ACRONYM 401(k) Plan ]

Because I had built the storyboard/course on PPT’s Master Slides, I could keep my cool and calmly tell the SME

“No problem! That’s an easy fix.”

With the course background and main title on the storyboard’s Master Slide, I only needed to change the title one time, and that change was applied to all 127 slides.

Okay, I can hear you now:

“That’s a no brainer!”, you cry out. “We all know about that. It’s old news.”

I’m a Mentor, You’re a Mentor….Wouldn’t You Like to Be a Mentor, Too?

True, the above is a no brainer perhaps, but not everyone thinks about using the Master Slides, especially SMEs. I often mentor SMEs in rapid e-learning course design and development. I tell them that it really pays to think through, plan, and try to capture everything needed (requirements) at the very beginning of a project.

During the A-Analysis phase of ADDIE, the SMEs need to thoroughly brainstorm not only the course content and outcomes, but how they will use their design and development tools such as PPT. And, that’s where you and I, as Learning Consultants, come in as mentors.

As a mentor, that Analysis phase includes sharing with my SMEs the PPT storyboard tips-and-tricks that keep the project on time and within budget. This is important because many times SMEs will throw a PPT slide deck at e-learning designers and developers and say,

“Make this an online course. I need it in a month.”

When we all mentor our SMEs on how to effectively and efficiently use PPT as a tool, we can all relax a little bit more during Alpha and Beta review cycles.

If you have your favorite PPT tips-and-tricks, please share them in your Comment on this post! Or, tweet them to me on

@jenisecook  on

The mentor role ensures that I’m “Always Learning”, and that I pass on lessons learned to my SMEs.


TGIF: Occam’s Razor

It was a long and stormy night….

Actually, it was a bright, sun-filled Saturday morning, but it began to feel like a stormy day. After I had showered, with no issues, my husband took his turn while I cleaned up the breakfast dishes downstairs.

I heard him shout. From downstairs. From the kitchen, away from the stairway.

“The pipes are going to burst!”, cried out my damp (and clothed, again) husband. Running back up the stairs to the bathroom, I stood in shock as he turned on the water. The vibration rattled the shower.

Being the Internet and social media type that I am, I immediately went to my Web browser and searched on “plumbing+vibrating+pipes”. I thought about tweeting in a panic to my Twitter peeps, but the Web search kept me busy enough.

My husband reviewed the research and resolved that it was air in the pipes. He shut off the main and cleared all water out of our pipes. That didn’t work. Then, we suspected it was from our local water company’s system. Nope. No evidence there.

We even called the president of our homeowner’s association, a very handy man. He couldn’t figure it out, either, and in despair we began to anticipate a potentially high plumbing bill which would have been a financial storm at the time.

In a short moment of desperate calm, my “fix it” husband stared at the shower and at the hanger that hung from the shower head, holding various wash cloths and soaps.

And…his razor.

His battery-operated, fancy-schmancy razor.

As far-fetched as this may sound, the way the razor rested in the hanger apparatus caused it to power on and buzz against the shower wall when my husband turned on the water. And boy, did it make a racket!!

The razor must have shifted its position in the hanger after I showered and hung up a wash cloth. To this day, we still can’t figure out how the water running up through the pipes turned on the razor.

This is a true story, and we both learned a huge lesson that sunny and potentially stormy Saturday.

Occa's Razor image

Occam’s Razor: A simple solution to what was perceived to be a much greater problem.

We made assumptions about the “exploding shower pipes” but they were the wrong ones. Our assumptions were too complex. We failed to stop, look around, take a step back (and a breath) and consider the simplest, most obvious causes.

We failed to apply Occam’s Razor to our little razor situation.

After we laughed and calmed down, we sat in the kitchen and reflected on how this happens in businesses. We discussed different projects at our respective employers, and the “craziness” that could occur among team members and cross-functional colleagues when faced with a problem (an “opportunity”).

How do you and your colleagues handle business “opportunities”, especially those that seem to present a crisis? Do you review them calmly and apply Occam’s Razor?

Occam’s razor is a principle that generally recommends that, from among competing hypotheses, selecting the one that makes the fewest new assumptions usually provides the correct one, and that the simplest explanation will be the most plausible until evidence is presented to prove it false.

Most of us do, and that’s good for business. I wanted to share our true story as a fun reminder to all of us. When there’s a situation to solve, remember to KISS, first, until proven otherwise!

(KISS = Keep It Simple, Silly!)


How to Organize Your e-Learning Project Files

Do you need help organizing and managing your e-learning project or course files? The e-learning community often talks about files and project management. In fact, Tom Kuhlmann of Articulate has a new blog post today that can spark new ideas. Click the image below to learn more from Tom.

Click to view The Rapid e-Learning Blog, by Tom Kuhlmann. August 31, 2010, post.

Or, Do It My Way…

With apologies to Frank Sinatra, then there’s my way of organizing and managing e-learning project files. The “system” I use I borrowed from my early Web site design days. Our Adobe Dreamweaver and Flash instructor showed us a system that works well for both individual designers and those who work on multiple projects shared by several designers. See my screen shot below:

Image of my e-learning project folders, the management system, or how I organize my files.

On my local drive (my C: or hard drive), I have a directory, or folder, named “Articulate Presenter”. Inside that folder I file all of my Articulate e-learning project files. In the image to the right, “00ProjectFolders” I keep as a template for future projects. I simply copy that folder and paste it with a new name, such as, “ACME New Hire Orientation”. That folder is the main project folder, and it contains lots of subdirectories (subfolders) inside. Those subfolders contain the precious assets for my projects. They are:

ACME New Hire Orientation (example project name)

  • Assets
  • Engage
  • PPT
  • Published Output
  • Quizzes

The “Assets” folder really helps me keep things straight, and is organized this way:

Assets (folder)

  • audio
    • music
    • vo (for voice overs/narration)
  • docs (for PDFs and Word files)
  • img
  • swf (for Flash *.SWF files)
  • video (FLVs, MP4s)

I know I’ve described this structure quickly. So, if you have questions about how I organize and manage my e-learning project files, please send me an e-mail message.

And, help us all to learn more as well. Please share your ideas in the Comments below, and be sure to visit Tom’s blog and add your 2 cents there.


How to Estimate Training Time and Costs

estimate training

Estimate Training Time and Costs: Your Dilemma

Thank you for visiting this blog post on how to estimate training time and costs. I know you want a positive (profitable) return on your investment in training. Just know that estimating the time and bottom-line Invoice figures to design and develop training is an art and not a science. Plus, financial and economic forces since autumn of 2008 have radically changed the learning and development world.

Daily visitors to this post demonstrate that hundreds of you each year want to estimate training time and costs. Why? Clients want to know if what you (the vendor) are charging them is reasonable. Freelance consultants want to know how much they can charge clients reasonably and still earn a living wage. And, since 2008, it’s been a difficult journey for my American (USA) colleagues.

NOTE: I wrote this blog for an American (USA) audience only, as that is my only business perspective and frame of reference. If you are an outsourcer in Southeast Asia (per responses to the SurveyMonkey survey – see link below) seeking how to estimate training time and costs for your area, I apologize that I cannot help you. I have not lived and worked in Southeast Asia, so I can’t address those financial and business considerations. Thanks for understanding.

You May Also Like: Calculate Voice Over Narration Scripts

The following post may help you estimate training development time for asynchronous elearning projects:

How to Calculate a Voice Over Narration Script

NOTE! June 2016, I have received a few SurveyMonkey results, and the feedback does help! Please contribute and help me to improve this article by taking this anonymous survey:

Select to go to SurveyMonkey

June/July 2016: Comments Welcome!

This blog post continues to get 15+ hits per day. I would like to hear from you in the Comments section of this blog post. Please write a comment or a question below. Why did you come to read this post? What is the business problem that you hope to solve? Thank you!

Another wonderful blog post, by Connie Malamed, the eLearning Coach, can help you, and make sure you read the Comments under her post for additional resources:

Five Resources for Estimating Development Time

May 2016:
This blog post continues to get many hits on a daily basis. This surprises me. I also know that, due to the global economy, hourly rates or project rates to consultants continue to drop while the cost of living increases. Take a moment to watch this YouTube video on my blog post:

March 2015:

estimate training





Guy W. Wallace is my “online Mentor”, and he has shared with us all an article he wrote on this topic. Please select to view Are Development Ratios for ISD Efforts Meaningful? (shared 24 March 2015).

View Bryan Chapman’s SlideShare presentation – great information on this topic.  

And, select Bryan’s blog post on the same topic as well. Thank you, Bryan!

February 2015:

This blog post is the most popular one on my site, based on the number of daily site visitors. I will be updating what you read below this year with more current information after we finish the “remodel” of our web site.

Please know that there are many variables involved when you try to estimate training time and costs. It’s more of an Art rather than a Science. And, there’s also the People Factor. All project team members must agree to the project schedule to make sure you complete the learning project on time (and within budget). If just one team member causes delays, well, then your estimate no longer applies, and you’ll need to create a Change Manage document to update your project’s Scope with new delivery dates. This will increase your project’s time and cost.

That said, you can “guesstimate” your potential project time and costs based on the following, long-existing metric:

60 minutes of learner seat time = minimum 120 work effort hours = $6,000 to $12,000 project cost, depending on how much back-and-forth occurs between client and service provider. Emails, phone calls, QA effort all included. Instructional design and development.

150 written words of content = approx. 1 minute of onscreen audio narration.

PowerPoint (PPT) Content – 2 to 4 hours of work effort for every PPT slide of content you have. For example, 24 PPT slides * 4 hours = 96 hours, approximately.

If you’d like assistance with estimating your project, I encourage you to reach out and chat with me. I may have some fun or funny stories to share with you as well as wisdom born from years of experience! ~Jenise Cook

Why this Post?

Yesterday (May 17, 2010), I was asked how I estimate the number of hours it could take to design and develop learning activities for a training (workplace performance improvement) project.

My answer? “It depends.”

That said, my colleagues and I do have to provide clients with an estimated delivery date for projects, and so I fall back on a few helpful resources.

A Few Resources for You

Dr. Karl Kapp (on Twitter, @kkapp) wrote an article for ASTD in 2003, then revised it in 2009, along with co-author Robyn A. Defelice. This article is worth your study and application when you estimate time for your projects. For me, it is an invaluable resource, so I hope it helps you:

Time to Develop One Hour of Training – Dr. Karl Kapp and Robyn A. Defelice

David Gaw also refers to this ASTD resource and adds a few thoughts of his own at his blog:

“Time to Create Course” Thread on the Articulate Forums

Earlier this year, we had a lively discussion on the estimating topic in the Articulate Forums. From the link below, you’ll find three forum pages of posts, including a long one from me. The nice thing is several forum members contributed their thoughts from real-world experience. I know you’ll find helpful advice from this source:

Keep Track of Your Project Hours

One e-learning consultant in another state told me his “secret”. When he gets a brand new client, he does not work on a fixed, project fee basis, he always works on an hourly basis. When a new client is new to e-learning, he finds he’s also a coach as well as an ID and a developer, and the coaching takes up more of his time. He reports his time to the client weekly (or twice a month), and he said the reports help “reign in” the client when needed due to the client always changing things after a design was approved.

I open up a simple Excel file and track hours that way. I include meetings, conference calls, and time spent communicating through e-mail messages. I know not everyone likes ADDIE, but each element is a good header for me to use to track time on a project for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation.

How do you estimate? Please share with us by writing a Comment below.

Please help me to improve this article by taking this anonymous survey:

Select to go to SurveyMonkey

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