This week I want to cover an important topic for anyone working with eLearning, or really any form of online media, and that is Quality. High quality online training products are no accident. Quality requires diligence at each step of the design and development process.
This post is the first of a 3-part series that shares my approach to establishing a process to ensure quality. It is based on a simple tool commonly used in software development called a "test script" or "QA script." Before I get started, let me share a brief scenario that explains the importance of this topic.
Let’s set the stage. You are responsible for a major eLearning project and your team has poured its time and creativity into making the course a success. You sit down in a conference room with your client and SME’s for the highly anticipated first review. You launch the course and after the first 15 seconds of playback, the client says, “Can you pause for a minute? I think you misspelled the name of our department.” You try to cover with an “Oops, typo… sorry.”
You quickly advance to the next screen with the opening video. The video loads, but then halts on a frame with your on-camera narrator frozen in time with an awkward grimace on her face. You explain, “This worked fine when we previewed the video in our authoring tool.” Less than one minute into your review, you check the score - compliments: zero, embarrassing oversights: two.
Sadly, no matter how clever your instructional design or dazzling your media, from this point forward you will struggle to regain the confidence of your client and get them focused on the important aspects of the review like factual accuracy and learning design.
Here's is the good news: avoiding reputation diminishing mistakes is easily avoidable with planning and a carefully considered test script. A test script, also called a quality assurance or QA script, is a method of testing which originated and is often used in software development. A test script is a thorough checklist which can be conducted manually or by an automated system.
Scripts are a process tool that ensure every screen, field, and calculation functions as designed. Software QA testing methods can be easily adapted to eLearning to ensure each photo, video, text object, button and quiz question functions correctly and according to the design document.
For most eLearning development teams, some form of testing or spot checking is common practice. The problem is that the process is often informal and is performed by the same person who developed the course. Without a specific script to follow, important details can be overlooked and mistakes can surface during client reviews or worse, after deployment. Following a test script ensures nothing is left unchecked, and errors are flagged, documented and resolved before the project is presented to the client or deployed to learners.
Now, let's talk about how you prepare to create a test script. The first step is to make sure you are familiar with the project content and development architecture. In other words, make sure you understand where problems are most likely to occur. For example, media playback, interface controls, page navigation and LMS reporting.
If you have been around the block a few times, and you know the ins and outs of your project and LMS, the next step is to make sure your design documentation is up to date and fully reflects the current state of the project. A good QA script depends on up to date documentation as the benchmark to determine if the course is performing correctly.
If your design documentation is incomplete or out of date, it is impossible to determine what “correct” really means when it comes to course content. It is also impossible to determine if the course is functioning as designed, which is particularly important when the course includes interactions or branching navigation.
Of course, there are many ways to document the design, so I'll avoid diving into that sticky topic in this post. Whichever method used, the document should accurately track and represent every element of a project: video, graphics, images, audio, narration, assessment, interactive quizzes and any other element important to the design.
Above is an example of a simplified design document we use in our process. We use a tabular format that includes the lesson reference, narration, text on screen, graphics/images, asset file name and developer notes.
In this case, we are using a Google document. Virtually every document we create begins in Google documents. We use Google documents to allow us to collaborate within the office and team members in remote locations. It also allows us work more effectively with our clients who are geographically dispersed.
All the information is tracked in one place and updated as items are revised. This is the controlling document for a project and it will be the benchmark for course content and important behaviors and navigation. Okay, we have our updated design document and now we are ready to design the test script for this course.
I think this is a good stopping point for this post, but there's a lot more to cover before we are ready for testing. I hope you will join me next time, where I will walk you through the steps of designing an effective test script. Until then, have a great week and keep stretching your skills!