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A Q&A on QA


Quality Assurance (QA) in elearning is about much more than picking up a few typos and spelling errors. It’s a complex process that can raise standards and ensure quality.

Adam Read is involved in the QA process at Sponge. He’s agreed to take part in a question and answer session on quality assurance - a Q&A on QA! 

What is quality assurance?

It’s a way of maintaining standards and making sure customers get a consistently high standard of service or product. This happens through a system of checks at every stage of the process. It not only helps to iron out problems and pick up errors, but can play a big part in continuous improvement and innovation. All sorts of sectors and industries, from clothing manufacturing through to software development, use some form of quality assurance.   

I've got a computing background and QA was drilled into me from the very start – test, test and test again. It’s a matter of pride that you want to iron out any bugs before something goes ‘live’. It’s also about accepting that no matter how talented or experienced you are, mistakes are inevitable; to err is human, after all.

Broadly speaking, I like to think of QA in terms of negative and positive testing. Negative testing is where you are looking for things that have gone wrong or mistakes, while positive testing is where you are making sure things work as they should and that the desired experience is achieved.

quality assurance (noun) : the maintenance of a desired level of quality in a service or product, especially by means of attention to every stage of the process of delivery or production.

What are the QA issues facing the elearning industry?

I think quality assurance can be a particular challenge within elearning for a number of reasons. First of all, there are a lot separate aspects involved in creating elearning which cut across a variety of disciplines; words, images, videos, interactions, technology. Who is responsible for QA at each stage? For example, the final stage of the process is normally elearning development, but software specialists won’t necessarily be looking out for misspelt words or visual design issues. With such a complex product reliant on such a wide skill set, it can be a challenge to set up an effective QA process.

Secondly, some elearning teams are small, multi-disciplined units so it can be hard to manage QA, particularly where you might benefit from a ‘fresh pair of eyes’.  Effective QA can take time and smaller teams may find it particularly hard to build this time into their schedules.

I also wonder whether QA is a contributing factor to the varying standards in the elearning industry and the problems of consistency which are sometimes levelled at the sector.

What do you think is the best approach to QA in elearning?

I think collective responsibility is the best way to maintain standards, pick up mistakes and generally improve the whole process.  It’s this approach we use at Sponge – everyone has a role to play. In practice, this means a rigorous QA system, where instructional designers, visual designers and developers all carry out their own screen by screen checks. It’s an important stage and happens before anything goes to the client.

One of the strengths of this approach is that it makes the process more efficient for both client and provider. Reviews and amendments take time, so ironing out as many issues as possible on the first version benefits everyone. A multi-disciplined approach to QA also means you get an insight from people with different skills; an illustrator may pick up something more easily than a developer because they come at the content from a slightly different perspective.

This way of tackling QA really pays dividends when it comes to elearning games and game elements. More and more clients are asking for gamified elearning and these elements require extra attention to make sure they work both from a learning perspective and from a game perspective. Testing the logic and the flow of a game can be quite an involved task so taking a collective approach to QA really pays off.

What are your top three tips for QA in elearning?

There are a few things I always try to bear in mind when I'm doing any quality assurance work.

  • Be specific – If you find an error or bug, make sure you have a clear process for identifying or reporting the problem. Otherwise, you could waste time clarifying the issue.
  • Consider all angles – Try to second guess all the possible ways that learners will use and access your elearning module; don’t assume they will follow the path you have set.
  • Look for opportunities – Obviously, you want to spot mistakes, bugs and errors, but be mindful of how the module could be made better. By suggesting improvements during the QA process you can help support continuous innovation.

10 common elearning errors

Mismatched fonts - Often overlooked and guaranteed to undermine the look and professionalism of your module.

Typing errors – Spellchecker won’t always save you if fail to spot a missing or misplaced letter. My favourite is public and pubic – oops! 

Spacing – If a piece of text or an image is in the wrong place it will undermine the visual look of the module. 

US spellings – Americanisms, such as organization, are easy to miss and can jar with learners who use UK Standard English.   

It’s or its – A really common mistake. Make sure you know the difference between the contracted form and the possessive form.  

Dead branches – Flawed logic in a branching scenario can lead a learner down a dead end, literally!

Missing names or facts – How many times have you seen xxx left in a piece of text?

Flawed scoring – Sloppy scoring systems can demotivate learners rather than boost engagement.

Vague instructions – Make sure learners know what to do next – it must be obvious to everyone, not just you.

Consistency – Whether it is in colour, images or language, consistency is king.

Author: Adam Read, Senior Elearning Developer, Sponge