3 Reasons Online Course Development Can Fail

3 Reasons Online Course Development Can Fail

There are many reasons why online course development can fail. As examples there are technical reasons, skill-set reasons, content reasons, lack-of-engagement reasons, etc., but the primary three reasons why online course development and delivery projects fail are as follows:

  1. Inadequate participation from management.
  2. Incomplete or inadequately constituted development team.
  3. Failure to employ the right tools to get the job done.

In short, management has to be intimately involved, management has to select the right employees to make it happen, and management needs to provide those employees with the right tools for the task at hand.

How to get it right the first time

  1. Management needs to energetically participate and set direction from the outset and throughout the effort.

    There are many examples of where management has bought into the conceptual promise of online course development and delivery, with skill improvement at lower cost being number one. The primary reason such efforts have failed is that management’s involvement stopped shortly after signing off on the project. In those situations they told staff to make it happen and then more or less forgot about it. Typically this results in the organization getting far less for its money that what it had envisioned and, of course, management has no one to blame but themselves. In a perfect world–and in the best managed companies– management has obvious ownership of the online course development effort.

    A big part of management participation should be clear communication from management. On a large scale online course development and delivery is not a line item expense but rather a corporate investment. Management needs to communicate its importance, emphatically, throughout the organization. It may seem trite, but management endorsement and oversight are beyond critical. Delegation is necessary but management needs to remain an obvious participant.

    Management also has to motivate.

    We are all motivated differently but one common denominator for employee motivation is management encouragement and involvement. As part of the plan management needs to be perceived as interested and engaged in the entire online course development effort.

    It is true that these comments reflect nothing more than common sense for clearly if management feels passionate about any project that project is more likely to succeed. However, for as much as any reason online course development programs fail because management makes the mistake of assuming it will all fall into place, that it is more or less like flipping a light switch. Indeed in 2013 the world has become far more facile with online course development and therefore management rightfully can have more confidence in delegating responsibility for the task. However, it remains true that the companies that are most successful with online course development are those where management is most “sold” on the promise and involved with the deployment of their online training program.

  2. A poorly constituted development team will likely turn the project into an unwarranted expense instead of a long term investment.

    Done right an online course development project is not cheap. Done wrong online course development can be extremely expensive. The plan for all aspects of the project, i.e., creation, delivery, training and learner management must be thought through in great detail. Even the best online course development projects do not result in “plug and play” solutions that then stand on their own. This means the budget item is not simply “online course development” but rather the various line items that make up that project, i.e., staff, creative, systems, training, support, administration, etc.

    A strong project manager should be identified to lead the team. This individual must enjoy open communication to senior management and have a vested interest in developing and delivering superb online courses. Line managers, especially those that will reap the greatest benefit from the online courses, then need to be willing to have their best employees be members of the team, knowing full well this activity will take time away from their day-to-day tasks. Rotating team members can add both perspective and energy but for continuity purposes we recommend no more than one alternate per team member, with individual team members expected to keep their alternates informed of the issues and progress.

  3. Management needs to provide the right tools to get the job done.

    With regard to the tools required to execute, probably the first decision revolves around whether your Learning Management System (LMS) will be on in-house servers or whether you will use Software-as-a-Service, maybe more commonly known now as SaaS, also known as cloud technology. The simple fact is that far more often than not online course development’s benefits outweigh that of trying to develop using locally install software; online solutions are typically less expensive, always current and encourage collaboration.

    Due to the incredible growth of SaaS this blog will not bother with in-house systems as they are rapidly being displaced by cloud-based LMSs.


    Of course a great benefit to using SaaS is the ease of collaboration and management. Project team members can work “together” without being physically together. Learner management can check progress and results from any web-accessible place on the planet. Moreover, a cloud based authoring tool allows course building collaboration whether the team members are spread out in a building, working from home or dispersed internationally.

    With regard to the authoring tool, there are many to chose from and the features and benefits both vary and change. Ease-of-use appears to be a primary driver in the selection process and we agree that it is a high-value consideration. However, and relatively speaking, a Toyota Corolla is easier to use than a Ferrari; then again, the Toyota will not deliver against many of the promises of the Ferrari, and the Ferrari will overwhelm a driver not ready for it. Somewhere in between is probably more right for you.

Image by Caro Wallis

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