Choice or Chance: Becoming an eLearning Developer
On career day at the typical elementary school, you’re not likely to hear many kids saying they want to grow up to be eLearning gurus someday. But with the accelerating pace of change in education and technology, eLearning development continues to offer exciting career opportunities that require critical thinking, creative, technical, teaching, and communication skills.
Many adults in the field don’t even set out to become eLearning experts. Even some who are considered thought leaders, such as Cammy Bean, fell into instructional design. Bean went on to write a book full of tips for those business professionals like her, who were thrown into instructional design, as well as for the pros looking for new ideas (The Accidental Instructional Designer).
Others grab instructional design degrees and set out to do the work intentionally, and it’s a good field to work in. With the push from several industries and sectors, such as high-tech, academia, and non-profit, more organizations than ever are looking to eLearning designers and developers to solve complex problems. These are complex organizational problems that often require advanced communication skills and a solid working knowledge of other skills.
Not all projects require the same amount of any given skill. For example, some projects require an eLearning designer only, and this person might help design the content, design, and look and feel of a course. If the project requires an eLearning developer, additional skills are required (and the pay rate often increases). Developers typically know more about the rapid development software tools and can use technology to create basic to complex navigation, interactive scenarios, even courses that function as a comic book.
Whether you choose to be an eLearning developer or chance to fall into the field, mastering some major skill sets is essential. This list can help you excel as an eLearning expert, produce the best learning experiences for your audience, and create the best return on investment for your organization.
Apply Learning Theories and Process Models
A number of learning theories and process models have evolved over time that eLearning developers can use as a framework to produce good content. Each eLearning project relies on some form of analysis of the audience and business goals, design of storyboards and prototypes, development to build of the course, implementation with a test group and larger audience, and evaluation and improvement in future iterations.
Tip: Many eLearning designers get dialed into a particular framework and have a hard time seeing the bigger picture. If you develop a working knowledge of how to apply and defend design choices based on audience needs, you will be ahead of the game.
Write Instructional Material
Written communication skills are vital to eLearning efforts. No matter what project you are assigned, you’ll want to keep several guidelines front and center as you write instructional material:
- Write so that the content contains relatable language and is as easy to translate as possible.
- Avoid jargon and company-specific language unless explicitly defined.
- Strive to provide the information that is needed to complete a particular task rather than throwing the whole kitchen sink at learners.
If you like to write, this part is where the fun begins as you can merge creative and analytical skills.
Tip: Put yourself in the audience’s shoes. How would you learn the information best? Ask your audience members what they expect and need. Their input can help frame your instructional material.
Speak and Present Information
Many eLearning developers focus specifically on learning design associated with standalone courses and participant guides. To really excel in the overall field of instructional design, you must know how to create compelling and meaningful presentation points, and deliver them—in person or in webinars.
Tip: Record yourself (audio is good but video is even better) presenting instructional material to get a feel for your presentation style, and then make adjustments to improve.
Design and Manipulate Images and Screen Elements
Fluff design elements have no place in eLearning (or anywhere else, for Pete’s sake!). Design needs to be strategic. Colors need to fit into a relatable palette. Screens need to look nice without clutter or meaningless multimedia elements. All design elements must work together to build a level of commonality and interest and reinforce the message.
Tip: Check out the Rapid E-Learning Blog, written by Tom Kuhlman, for great advice on how to design cool elements using clip art and PowerPoint.
Manage Project Timelines and People
Whether you are officially asked to be a project manager or not, you need to be able to manage your own timelines and the way you communicate with team members. Learn how to assign tasks, plan milestones and due dates, track progress, and evaluate a project’s success.
Tip: If you master the project management skills, you can often earn higher paying gigs as a project manager or team lead.
Record and Import Audio Files
If you don’t know how to use Audacity or GarageBand, and you want to develop eLearning courses, it’s a good time to learn. eLearning courses often include audio narration that supplements the written material.
Tip: Develop audio recording and production skills to make your projects stand out. Many eLearning folks have never done this work and you can instantly boost your value to a project by doing it well.
Record and Produce Videos
Another high-demand skill in short supply among eLearning developers is the ability to record and produce good videos. Formats for and approaches to video vary tremendously You can record yourself delivering a lecture on a webcam or record your screen as you walk someone through a particular step-by-step process. You can even get really fancy and record with standalone video equipment.
Tip: Check out Bernard Aschwanden’s article, Tips and Tricks: Creating Video Recordings to Share Online and this compilation from Videomaker, Inc. on Videography Tips.
As with other business communication disciplines, to succeed in eLearning design and development, you must develop and master skills that focus on the learner’s needs based on written and verbal communication, learning theories, and project management. You can enhance your career as an eLearning developer with formal education programs, by researching online tutorials, and practicing these key skills.