Instructional Design

Never Fear! Quality Assurance Is Here!

Have you ever sat down to read a really good book and noticed a typo, or read an article that left you scratching your head and saying, What?

Have you watched a movie and spied an airplane in the background of a western? Or extras in a winter scene dressed in shorts and t-shirts?

These mistakes can cause an audience to fixate on finding more mistakes rather than the content. At that point, they are gone. Lost forever.

But, wait! All is not lost. Never fear! Quality Assurance is here!

What the Heck Is Quality Assurance?

Sometimes the QA process is painful, and other times it is an absolute breeze. Either way, it’s necessary in order to provide your learners or readers a positive experience. - Beth Epperson QA Lead at ELM

Quality Assurance (QA) means that someone, somewhere, will pay a little more attention to the details. QA people can be copy editors, film editors, software QA engineers, or project reviewers. The goal for QA is to ensure that the world (or at least the end product) is free from the tyranny of errors. And it’s a tough job. Nobody likes to be told they’re wrong…even when they are.

We’d like to share our process with you, to give you an idea of who we are and what we do.

But Wait! Before QA Even Gets Warmed Up...

Before we even look at the course, we have to do a lot of pre-work.  We review the client’s documented direction and goals, the stated course intent, and the expected results. Then we go over the client style guides and any info about the company culture. Should the tone be conservative or fun? That makes a huge difference.

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! No! It’s QA!

In the eLearning industry, our goal is to keep learners engaged so they can absorb the most information. If something is poorly written or not engaging, compelling, and/or challenging, we’ll lose the learner.

That’s when the QA team swoops in. At ELM, our sales team and consultants work with the client to gain insight into the culture, vocabulary, learner needs, and core requirements. Our designers do an incredible job of putting those client requests into amazing experiences. But nobody is perfect. With that in mind, the ELM QA team steps in to ensure that:

  • We meet the client’s requirements
  • We use intent to convey their content
  • We use appeal backed by intent—the learning has to look good and grab their attention
  • The interactions are accurate
  • The functionality/navigation works

QA Isn’t Phased by the Phases

The QA team must follow and verify the various phases of the project and ensure it is complete:

  1. The very early phases involve a lot of back-and-forth with the client. We communicate through “working documents,” which are rough drafts.
  2. When the client is happy with the text, narration, flow, and interactions, the working documents become a formal deliverable requirement.
  3. Now the QA team actively follows the changes and reviews the pre-work materials.
  4. While the QA team is actively engaged in reviewing the more formal deliverables, we look for things such as grammar, punctuation, navigation, interaction, flow, knowledge checks, narration, videos, course completion requirements, and a few other items.
  5. The project is thoroughly reviewed on every expected platform—whether it is electronic or hardcopy. From an eLearning perspective, we verify that all of the required platforms and browsers have been tested with the project.
  6. All reported issues are reviewed to ensure they have been resolved and verified.
  7. We ensure that all parties are updated with the testing results and outcomes.
  8. We tell everyone, It is certified!

QA Stays the Course By Testing the Course

At phase five, listed above, we dive into testing the course. If it’s an hour-long training program, it will take us at least two hours to make an initial review.

Think about it—if the client tells you they want an hour-long module to function on a Windows laptop, a Mac, and an iPad, where the learner may use Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Safari—that’s a lot of testing! Here’s the math:

  • Windows desktop:
    • Chrome: 2 hours
    • Internet Explorer: 1.5 hours
    • Firefox: 1.5 hours
  • Mac:
    • Chrome: 2 hours
    • Safari: 1.5 hours
    • Firefox: 1.5 hours
  • iPad:
    • Chrome: 2 hours
    • Safari: 1.5 hours

That adds up to about 13 hours of test time for a single testing session for a one-hour module. And that is for a single phase of the design project. Every phase has to be checked so the learner has the best experience.

We record all of that information so the designer can review the issues, make changes and tweaks, and then hand the course back to our team to verify the changes.

Verification Makes QA Stronger, Better, More Attuned

The biggest surprise to me is that people have little to no understanding that a QA process is never executed only once; that we will always review something at least twice, often more. -Beth Epperson, QA Lead at ELM

Not only does QA point out things that need to be fixed, but we also have to check the fixes! We review the corrections and make sure they line up with the original fixes we suggested. If they check out, they are marked as complete. These things usually come up:

  • Sometimes, the reported issue wasn’t fully resolved.
  • Or, resolving one issue exposes another.
  • Worse, we find that in fixing one mistake, someone inadvertently introduced another. This is called a regression. A regression is just like in those zany time travel movies where the hero ruins history and tries to go back and correct it but just makes it worse.

Once everything has been verified and marked as complete, the QA team reviews the project again from beginning to end. We usually find more regressions and, to the dismay of the designer, new issues. It’s kind of like when we go looking for our lost keys in every spot we can think of, can’t find them, repeat the process and find not only the keys but our missing sunglasses, too.

We always find something new because each time we go over the project, we gain a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of the content. In other words, we get better, stronger, and more attuned.

The QA Stamp of Approval, or Certification

Then something marvelous happens! Between the visual talents of the designers, the scriptwriter’s way with words, the intuitiveness of the conceptual creators, the reviews and feedback from the client, and the tenacity of the QA team—it’s done!

We all know the expression “It takes a village….” Getting the end deliverable takes an enormous amount of collaborative work from a village of internal teams. It takes a lot of communication, patience, teamwork, and trust. We have a single shared focus: making the client happy by giving them what they want.

This is a basic outline of how the review process works, regardless if the reviewer is called QA, editing, or copywriting. It can be a tedious process, and in a perfect world, nobody would ever make mistakes. But the worst thing that can happen is after all this reviewing, a learner finds an issue and we lose them. The best QA teams are diligent and tenacious. They take pride in fixing things. QA shares the same goal with design: we want every learner to be focused on learning.

Beth Epperson is the QA lead at ELM Learning.