Four Lessons I Learned as a First-Time E-Learning Project Manager

Last spring, I started taking classical guitar lessons. At first, it was a lot to take in: posture, intonation, technique, plus getting both hands in the right place at the same time. It’s taken time to put it all together. Even though I couldn’t do much musically, I learned many valuable lessons in those early days.

At the same time, I was new to my job as an e-learning project manager at Artisan E-Learning. I was struck by how similar it felt to my guitar lessons. Here are some key lessons I learned as a first-time e-learning project manager…lessons that can hopefully help you out if you are new to e-learning project management.

1. See Complaints as Opportunities.

The first time a client complained to me, I was pretty bummed out. I never want a client to be unhappy for any reason. However, I soon realized this client wasn’t unhappy. She needed me to address something, and she brought it to my attention. It was an opportunity for me to offer her my responsiveness, listening skills, and customer service. Like learning a new song, e-learning courses won’t be perfect on the first draft.

Now, when a client brings an issue to my attention, I remind myself that I want them to bring it up, and I want them to trust me to care and address their concerns. I see it as a chance to remind them why they hired us.

2. Communicate Client Responsibility.

Client responsibility seemed odd to me at first. I mean—it’s my job to make them happy. But clients do take on certain duties when they hire us. For example, we count on our clients to give us the perspective we need to write meaningful content. We interview people on our client’s team to ensure we know what we need to accomplish and to curate enough insights to successfully do that. There’s no way to do this without client participation.

It’s also the client’s job to give actionable feedback and make sure everyone on the team gives feedback on time. Ultimately, the client plays a big role in both making sure they’re happy with our work and that we can deliver on time. It’s my job to explain all of this, so they know what to do and when to do it.

3. Explain the Process as You Go.

As an e-learning project manager, it’s impossible to communicate too much. I don’t just check items off a to-do list. I shepherd clients through the project. I give them a clear, big-picture view of how the project is going to run. I pause and make sure I can answer any questions.

I also know to explain what clients are looking at when I submit a draft to clients. For example, an e-learning storyboard template is very different than a typical word doc. Once I submitted it to a client and focused primarily on reviewing tips. The client had a lot of questions about how to envision the course, based on the storyboard. Now, I make sure I walk through the format with new clients in a meeting, or prepare a short video tutorial. It gives clients a better experience and helps them give us better feedback.

4. Embrace Your Fresh Perspective.

Like my guitar lessons, I wasn’t new forever. Shortly into my lessons, I decided to buy a slightly smaller guitar. I went to the best guitar shop in town. When the salesman handed me a guitar to try out, I could tell it was labelled incorrectly and much too big. I’d learned enough to know simply by picking it up. I’d learned enough to confidently pick out a guitar from Atlanta and have it shipped to me in St. Louis.

So if you’re new at your job, embrace being new while you can. In the beginning, I had very little pre-conceived notions about how to build relationships with clients and how to run my projects. That openness gave me some insights and ideas my colleagues found useful. It also led to some creative problem solving. While I’ve learned a great deal this past year, I’m trying to hang on to that sense of newness as long as possible.

Are you an e-learning project manager? What did you learn when you started your job? Share your stories in the comments below.

Sharon Gutowski

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