January 12, 2016

Managing an eLearning Project: Tools we Love

We get questions from clients all the time about how to make sure communication happens efficiently during a project – especially when team members are distributed. Since we usually work remotely on projects, this is an aspect of eLearning development that we had to figure out early on. Technology is a huge help for getting organized and communicating during a project. We’ve been trying out a few apps recently that have been working well for us. So, today, we’ll tell you a little about them.

1. Slack

This is the big one! The app has changed the way we communicate with other members of an eLearning project team. Buried under a deluge of long emails, we found ourselves looking for an alternative, and this is it. Slack is a team communication tool that works kind of like Twitter, but just for your team. You can quickly post a message for everyone to see (or to a specific person using the @ symbol). You can also have private messages between team members.

The format encourages people to write short, actionable messages rather than long emails, so that everyone knows what they need to do. It’s also a super-easy way to share links, check in with your team and get up-to-speed with what everyone is working on.

It has helped us to cut down on meetings in a big way (yay!) and has made our inboxes much more manageable. It’s easy to use, even if you’re not very tech-savvy. It even integrates with lots of the other apps you probably already use (like Google Drive, the next app on our list). Give it a try – we promise, you’ll love it!

The basic version is free and setup is quick and painless.

2. Google Drive

An alternative to the traditional office suite (word processor, spreadsheets and slide decks), Google Drive will help you out in a few ways. First, it means you can store your documents in the cloud, making it easier to collaborate on files. Multiple people can work on the same file at once without any trouble. It also has version control built in. Second, it removes the old problem of exchanging files from Mac to PC and vice-versa — no layout weirdness here!

The other handy thing about Google Drive is that you can make your files public if you want to (but private if you prefer). For open education material like OERs and MOOCs, this is ideal, as it means that anyone can have access to your documents. You can set up so that other users can edit your document (if you’re doing something collaborative), or that they need to copy the document to their own Drive, keeping the original intact.

All you need to try it is a Google account (if you have Gmail, you’re all set). It’s free and syncs with Slack so that you can link to files in the Slack stream.

3. Google Hangouts

On a project we’re currently working on, the team is distributed so all of our meetings are held using Google Hangouts — a video chat platform.

There are a few different tools like this (GoToMeeting, FaceTime, Skype etc.) but the premise is the same. The Google tool is one of the easiest to get started with (assuming you have a Google Account).

Hangouts makes it possible to chat with others using video and/or audio. People across timezones and in different locations can meet to discuss a project without needing to commute.

With this tool, you can hop on Hangouts with a colleague or a few, and quickly resolve a query or have a brainstorming session. It means that you don’t have to wait for a meeting that might be a few weeks away to resolve your issue, and makes it possible to collaborate with people all over the world.

4. Wunderlist

John and I share a to-do list using Apple’s Reminders app, but when there are additional people involved on a project, we need something a little more robust. We’ve used Wunderlist in these cases. Essentially, it’s a shared to-do list, but tasks can be assigned to certain team members. Due dates can be added, as can sub-tasks and multiple lists. It’s quick and easy to use – and who doesn’t love that satisfying ding! when you complete an item?

The basic version is free, and it syncs with Slack so everyone can see when you complete a task — insta-fame!

5. Evernote

This is my favourite app — ever. It has done wonders for my productivity. You can keep notes, links, files — anything you want, really — in ‘notebooks’ in the Evernote app. I have a Notebook for each active project. It functions like a searchable filing cabinet for all your ‘stuff’ and stops your Desktop from becoming a dumping ground. You can share Notebooks with others if you’re working on a project, making a home for all the paper scraps and post-it notes you’d usually be hanging onto.

If you get the browser extension, you can save a website (or a segment of it) straight to Evernote so that you’re never scratching your head going where did I see that again?” It takes a little bit of work to set it up in a way that works for you, but you’ll be glad you did.

The basic version is free, with Plus and Premium versions coming in at £19.99 and £34.99 respectively. I’m using the Premium version, because I like to be able to send emails to my Evernote inbox, see related content and quickly annotate PDFs, but I used the basic version for a while quite happily.

If you struggle to keep your digital life organised, this is the app for you.

6. Do

This handy app has only recently come onto my radar but so far, I like it. Have you ever left a long meeting wondering exactly what the point of the whole thing was? Yep, us too! If we must have meetings (we’re not convinced that they’re a great use of time, to be honest), then we’d like them to be actionable and useful. This app helps to make that happen.

It gives you an easy way to set an agenda and assign outcomes to specific people. Notes are generated with one-click and emailed to everyone. Rather than emailing various files around, you can see all the documents you need in one place. We’ve found that meetings finish more quickly and are more productive using Do.

It integrates with Slack, reinforcing your Slack stream as the centre of team communication, and avoiding the usual deluge of post-meeting emails. The personal version is free and gives us all of the facilities we need.

So, there yo have it – our favourite apps to make eLearning projects run more smoothly. What are your favourite apps for project communication? Let us know in the comments.