Collaborating on an eLearning Parallel Development

Our university delivers courses in multiple modalities: traditional face-to-face classrooms, online, and also in blended (sometimes called hybrid) learning environments. Some students prefer the structure of meeting in class each week, while others need the flexibility online courses provide. Each modality provides students a way to achieve learning outcomes while addressing different learning needs.

Depending on the course or program, the same course materials might need to be simultaneously developed for multiple modalities. Since our team works in all three modalities, we’ll often help subject matter experts (SME) develop courses that best fit the modality and the learning needs of their students. We named it “parallel development” after a similar process in software development.

Due to how our duties overlap, Ann and I sometimes work with the same SME for different modalities. As with any new process, we had some hiccups in the beginning. We used it as an opportunity to find ways to improve the collaboration process.

We shared the following tips at Oakland University’s e-Cornucopia.2018: Teaching with Technology Conference. Hopefully you’ll find them useful as well—even if you don’t do parallel development, they’ll help with any collaborative endeavor.

Tips For Collaborating on a Parallel Development

Understand the needs of the students in different modalities.

Students choose the modalities with different expectations for the experience—don’t try to force the modality to fit something it doesn’t deliver. Remember, some differences will always exist. Face-to-face students might do work in class where online students might do a combination of discussion and independent work. As long as students reach the learning outcomes, the courses just need to be similar in spirit.

The SME needs to become familiar with the different learning modalities.

If the SME is not familiar with a modality, he or she should be flexible and willing to learn and listen to feedback. As the designer, you probably don’t speak into SME selection, but you can make suggestions to guide them through the process. Consider creating a handy chart or handout to help the SME identify what works well in the different modalities.

Set timelines and milestones with both modalities in mind

Our courses run on different schedules. Know who needs what materials and when they need them—you want to ensure everyone meets sometimes competing deadlines. So, while it’s always good advice to watch your deadlines, it’s particularly helpful when you’re juggling multiple developments in different modalities.

Work together to streamline the work.

If you’re using the same materials—like tests—you might not need to create it twice. Work together to coordinate what can be used in both courses. Just make sure you use clear naming conventions, so you don’t get materials mixed up if there are slight differences between modalities.

Keep clear lines of communication & collaboration

One of our developments succumbed to too many people CCed on every email. Your lines of communication should reflect the need for information (for the sanity of all). You can send a highlight the important information if needed.

Celebrate your successes

Collaboration can take a lot of work. Sometimes you need a pat on the back. Or, in the case of one unnamed course, a piece of apple pie.

Collaboration Smooths the Process

When you work with the designer of another modality, you can lean on each other to make it work. Ann and I learned to adapt and accommodate our development processes across (or between) our modalities—which allowed us to improve our workflow and communication with each other and our team.

Are you the sole developer of a course delivered in multiple modalities? Have you ever collaborated with another instructional designer on a parallel development? Tell us about your experience in the comments or on Twitter.

Author: Jessica Bishop, Instructional Designer

Jessica is a designer and writer focused on learnability, storytelling, sensemaking, wayfinding, and removing barriers to learning. A Michigan native, she likes crafting, reading, walking, and spending way too much time in the distant corners of the internet. You can also find her at

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