Here’s a stat for you:  85% of every euro spent on your PLM classroom training is spent delivering it. 

This means that when you invest in classroom training, you’ll probably spend more on the PLM trainer time and travel costs than you will on actual training materials.

Creating a PLM online course is a flexible, cost-effective way to deliver your PLM training. An online course is easy to access from anywhere and allows your learners to pace themselves according to their needs.  The best part is that you standardize your procedures, provide better training and reduce costs!

Creating an online course involves a whole lot of moving pieces, some more exciting than others. Brainstorming course ideas? Fun! Uploading your course to your corporate LMS? Not so fun. The trick to successfully getting your online course off the ground is to meticulously plan and organize your materials, prioritize properly, and stay on top of the progress of each and every one of these moving parts.

Although every PLM environment is a bit different, a systematic process will help you plan and structure your course and reach your desired goals. This article will walk you through all the steps you need to take to build your first PLM online course.

1.    Pick the Perfect PLM online Course Topic

The key to creating a successful online course is identifying exactly what your organization is looking for. Does sales need to better understand your organization’s products? Do you want to train your PLM support team to troubleshoot common issues? Have you recently launched a new product development process and need to explain the changes to your organization researchers? Does service need a blueprint to maintain your company’s products?

People are drawn to the topics that matter to them. Before selecting a course topic, ask yourself: How much effort will it take to create the content and what will the immediate impact be? The magic behind success is prioritization. Focus on the high impact, low effort topics first that can drive quick success.

2.    Assemble the right team

You’ve finally come up with a course topic and got buy-in from your boss to start working on it. Great! Next up? Assemble the right team to help you build the course!

Assign clear roles and responsibilities for each team member and define areas of joint responsibility. Below are the typical roles needed to develop your course. You may not need all these people. Just make sure these responsibilities are covered within your team!

PLM team

  • Project Manager: Oversees the full project, interfaces between subject matter experts and the eLearning team, sets deadlines and makes sure the job gets done.
  • Concept Developer: This is the person who works with the content and presents it in a way that facilitates learning. Often, the concept developer handles the course project management as well. Working on a PLM online course is demanding work – it’s not something every instructional designer can do. Understanding the technical content is not enough. You need the right blend of technical and communication skills to understand complex concepts and present them so that people actually “get” what you’re trying to teach them.
  • Graphic Designer: Creates graphics and animations, and produces video and audio. The graphic designer’s work is key to achieving an appealing look and feel for the course.
  • eLearning developer: Assembles all the elements into an engaging course, adds interactivity and works on the course didactic. Sometimes the eLearning developer takes care of the graphic design as well.

Beyond your core team, you’ll also be interacting with other people across your organization who will be part of your extended team:

  • Subject Matter Experts are experts in his or her field. Imagine you’re working on a product training for your sales team. The product managers would be the subject experts in that case. Or think of a very technical course documenting the PLM architecture. In this case, the information architect would be the subject matter expert.In practice, the concept developer works with subject matter experts to develop the content.
  • Reviewers / Tester: Testers and reviewers execute the course review process – both from the  technical and conceptual perspective. It’s key to appoint the course reviewers well ahead of time and clarify who will make the final decisions. The review process is one of the most demanding parts of the course development process, so I recommend that you tie up loose ends with your reviewers before you get started.

If some roles are only needed part-time, consider working with freelancers. For example, your team might need graphic design and project management work on a part-time basis, so these roles could be outsourced. At Share PLM, we specialize in training and eLearning and can help you create your PLM online trainings!

3.    Get clear on your learning outcomes

Learning outcomes are the compass that guides your course development. They explain in simple terms what the student will learn by the end of your course.

Think carefully about what your key learners’ takeaways will be. What is the course all about? Who are the students? Why should they take the course? How will it help them?

Getting clear on these big questions is the best way to take a step back, look at your course holistically, and define the targets before you start getting into the weeds.

Here’s an example of the learning outcomes for our PLM Basics eCourse:

PLM Training example

4.    Organize a kick-off meeting

One of the best ways to avoid getting stuck during the project is to organize a project kick-off meeting where all the roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. Who will collect the feedback? Who is responsible for reconciling conflicting feedback? Who gets to make the final decision? Are you going to collaborate with freelancers to design or develop the course yourself?

PLM Kickoff meeting

Get your team together and identify expectations, including:

  • High-level objectives
  • Budget
  • Suppliers
  • Tools
  • Deadlines
  • Style Guidelines
  • Review process
  • Escalation path for decision-making.

By taking some time up front to set the ground rules, you’ll be in a much better position to create a successful course, on time and on budget!

5.    Prepare an Online Syllabus

A syllabus ensures that only the right students will enrol in your course. The syllabus is like the course’s cover letter – an introduction to the course’s content and goals. It’s a guide for students to the kind of teaching and learning they can expect in your course.

A good online syllabus should at least include:

  • Course description: What is the basic content of the course and what makes it important or interesting?  How does the course fit into the context of the discipline?
  • Learning objectives: What will students be able to do by the end of the course? Formulate objectives in simple terms and keep it easy for your learners to understand what they will get from your course.
  • Prerequisites: Do your students need any previous skills to take the course? Do they need to understand any previous concepts before they start? Do they need to install something, or grab a new license? Make sure to list everything they need to take the course!
  • Course duration: How long does it take to complete the course? Don’t forget to include the exercises and thinking time when calculating the course duration.
  • Support: Explain to your learners how they can solve questions through the course. Do they need to write an email to someone? Do they have a support forum available? Are you organizing Q&A online meetings?

Later, you might also want to incorporate the course outline into the syllabus. This ties into our next task: “Preparing a course outline”.

6.      Prepare a course outline to structure the content

Before you jump into the content, it’s worth spending time on structuring your course. It’s best to start with the end in mind and work backwards: think about the key takeaways you want for your students and brainstorm to come up with the content you need.

Now look at your ideas and start classifying them. Break down your content into a hierarchy of chapters and lessons. Group similar themes, tips, and ideas into small lessons that are easy for learners to digest. Then work on the sequence: structure the chapters and lessons in the order that makes the most sense. This is sort of like a puzzle. Just move your lessons around until the story flows!

7.    Select and Gather your PLM Course Content

It’s time to prepare a detailed inventory of what you have: past training materials, PowerPoint presentations, user manuals, workbooks, audio and video files, and worksheets. Only include content that directly relates to your learning outcomes.

Once you have all the “raw materials,” your next step is to review them and check if the information is accurate. Flag those parts that require an update or flag the content you need to create from scratch.

At this stage, many PLM teams start procrastinating. They realize that some parts of the process aren’t well documented, some information is missing, and some concepts aren’t yet in place.

My advice is to focus on the content you have ready first. Put the missing parts in the “to-do list”, and work on them later!

8.    Create engaging lessons

Now that you have a thorough course plan and know the content you need to create, it’s time to get to the meat of your course. This is where all the learning happens. Your goal is to fit your content and ideas into a storyboard and figure out how you’ll present the content to learners.

Creating content for your course is a really creative process in which you’ll organize information, brainstorm the interactions and decide on the best way to deliver the content.

What type of visuals will you use? Will you have videos, reading content, interactive activities, audio content? Mix up different formats to bring your content into action and keep your learners engaged!

The good news is that the tools to put all the pieces together, including ones that record your original content, have become easier to use and a whole lot less expensive.

If this is the first time you’ve worked on an online course, it’s hard to imagine all the potential ways to present your content! To help, we’ve put together a blueprint that guides you through the course-building process, step by step. Click here to get inspired!

9. Prepare exercises

It’s time to prepare some exercises related to the course content. Exercises are great for helping learners follow along and strengthen their skills and knowledge. Keep your exercises relevant and try to use real-world situations as often as you can! This is a cool exercise example from John Stark’s PLM Paradigm course.

interactive PLM example

10. Review your course

At this stage, you should collect feedback from all the stakeholders. Ask your reviewers to formulate their feedback in a way that’s specific and actionable. What do I mean by specific feedback? Let’s look at one example:

  • Unspecific Feedback: “I can’t read the text. Please change.”
  • Specific Feedback: “The header text is too bright. Could you please change the colour to black?”

The review process is one of the most challenging parts of the online course creation process. The more people involved, the more complex it gets!

When Share PLM develops PLM courses for our clients, we sometimes find ourselves stuck in the middle. We have to make sense of confusing and contradictory feedback from reviewers who confuse and contradict, and those who are too busy to work on the content until the very last minute. Managing the feedback process can be a big challenge!

The review process can often feel like it’s never-ending. To avoid these challenges, set a due date for the feedback and agree on the ground rules at the start of the project. And if things get stuck, avoid the back and forth and bring everyone together for a face-to-face online review.

11. Host your PLM online course

After all that hard work, you’re ready to share your awesome PLM online training with your learners! There are two major ways to deliver your online courses:

PLM hosting

·       Option 1: Self-hosting

As the name suggests, with this option you host your online course on your own server or website. If you use WordPress, you can install plugins such as “LearnDash” or “Scorm Cloud” and upload the courses to your website. Things start to get trickier if you need to track results or deliver certificates. At the end of the day, setting it up requires technical knowledge. It’s also time-consuming.

·       Option 2: Learning Management Systems (LMS)

An LMS is a platform used to deliver, track, and report eLearning courses. They give you full control over everything and are very easy to set up. LMSs come in all shapes, sizes, and price levels. At Share PLM, we use a free open-source LMS called Moodle to host our own online courses. If you work for a big company, the odds are that they already have an LMS.

12.   Measure Your Success

Measuring the success of your course is an important final step. Ask for feedback from your students and analyse the statistics from your LMS. How many students took the course? How many finished it? What did they like most about it? What would they improve?

Gathering feedback is great for iterating and improving future versions of your course, creating better courses in the future, and shaping your PLM training program so that it brings the people in your organization closer to your products!

PLM online course

And that’s it! Ready to dive in? We’ve compiled a quick guide to walk you through the building blocks of modern PLM online courses. Check it out and share it with the world!

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