What are some ways to cut corners, save time, and be more efficient at developeing eLearning?

Be sure that you check out Google’s UX designer, Michael Margolis, tips on productive design (see Google Ventures On 8 Shortcuts For Better, Faster Design Research). Do these apply to eLearning or instructional design? Of course they do :-)

Start at the end: What questions do you want to answer?
Before you do any work on a research study, clarify what you want to get out of it. For example, would it be most useful to figure out:

Can new customers understand and figure out how to use the product? What are customers’ existing workflow and pain points? What are pros/cons of competitive products? What are customers’ attitudes? How satisfied are existing customers with the product? How does new customers’ usage change over time? Which design performs better?

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