Company wakes up from an e-learning nightmare

A Toronto-based software vendor has switched over to a more flexible e-learning system in order to gain better control over content and improve the user-training experience.

Changepoint Corp. (acquired in May 2004 by Compuware Corp.), a professional services automation software maker, had used e-learning for about three-and-a-half years to train customers on its products before deciding to look for another solution in December 2003.

Jane Manikas, education and documentation manager for Compuware’s IT Governance by Changepoint suite of products, called the previous system a maintenance nightmare, though she declined to name the service provider.

The prior vendor had too much control over the development of the application, Manikas said. The vendor wrote the content outline and dictated how it should flow, which was a mistake, she said. “They also created our lesson plans and they did a very poor job with it.”

Another problem was how the supplier developed the system. For example, the lessons had no conventions when it came to file names, she explained. That made it difficult for Changepoint to customize e-learning for customers, using particular modules of the software. In order to replace a lesson with another lesson within a module, it required opening each to find the appropriate one to change. The poor behind-the-scenes structure meant Changepoint could not update portions of the system without paying the vendor to make the changes.

Changepoint researched various e-learning offerings on the Internet and invited several companies to show examples of what had been produced for other customers. Manikas said her firm also relied heavily on referrals.

Buying a packaged solution was never an option, Manikas said. “We spent a lot of money producing the last [e-learning system] and we wanted to leverage what we already had. We wanted to use the same lessons and the same structure, only improve on it.”

Changepoint wanted a system flexible enough to customize learning modules for users of both the IT governance and professional services automation versions of its software. The previous system was geared towards the professional services market. “We wanted to be able to use some of same text and screen captures, and change [only what was needed] to accommodate a different market.”

Since the new solution was designed to train customers to use Changepoint’s software, it needed a realistic simulation of its own products. “We wanted users to feel like they were actually using our application.” The ability to translate the lessons into different languages was also a key consideration, she said.

In the end, King City, Ont.-based Click Media, a custom new-media solutions provider, was recommended. “They were well-known for clean code and documenting, which was a breath of fresh air after the first nightmare,” Manikas said.

Click Media began developing the system in January 2004. The development team didn’t want the lesson outlines coming in at the same time so staggered storyboard deadlines were set. This also gave Changepoint a chance to give feedback throughout the whole project.

“When a module was produced, feedback was given right away. I didn’t want 18 modules coming to me all at once and then finding out that there was a design problem that had to be fixed. We would look at them one by one and they would ask, ‘Is that what you want?’”

Click Media also made recommendations that Changepoint overlooked. “We hadn’t made any decisions about where the text box would sit and what portion of the screen would be covered,” she said. Click Media also helped Manikas understand how the simulations worked and what the limitations were, which saved her time, she said.

One portion of the e-learning system went live in May 2004, with a second version in June.

According to Robert Brunet, Click Media’s president, the final product included a cleaner design, as well as intuitive navigation, scenario-based simulations and quizzes. “Anything that can be done to make (the lesson) engaging helps,” Brunet said. “Quizzes or simple game-like devices might appear hokey on the surface but they will be relevant to the learner and help them retain the information.”

The application’s XML-driven Flash platform enables Changepoint to update information without having to turn to Click Media, Brunet explained. The underlying content is stored separately on XML, which enables Changepoint to make quick changes for a client that requests customization. Meanwhile, the modular structure allows the application to be customized for individual clients, based on the specific areas of the IT governance software they are using, he said.

For other companies looking for a custom e-learning solution, Manikas recommended ensuring that the vendor has project management processes. “That makes sure the product is tested, it comes in on time and is (of) the best quality possible.”

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