The eLearning industry has struggled to find itself over the years. Is it self-paced courses with automated multiple choice testing for K-12? Is it MOOCs? Is it courses for corporate training?
Professionals working in the eLearning field struggle to define their work. Many developers are all-purpose web designers/developers who might happen to get a lot of work producing training content on the internet. And so they, by default, take on the job title eLearning Developer. Others are teachers who become specialists in K-12 simply because they are more “techie” than their peers. There are just too many different scenarios to even describe in one blog post. The term eLearning is a massive circus tent filled with every act imaginable performing simultaneously.
And to confuse things even further, everyone performing in the tent is using the same made-up terms like mLearning, social learning, informal learning, gamification, and so many more, in a completely different context. Understanding the eLearning word jumble can be exceptionally confusing. It’s like telling someone that you are interested in web sites. Oh, that’s nice. Would you like to learn how to view them, or make one of your own? The line of questioning from there can go on for days. You get the point.
Getting Started Means Gaining Clarity
Everyone at some point will take an eLearning course, and many will find themselves needing to create one or have it created for them. Where does one start? One of the most important tips I can offer anyone is to first be clear on what you are trying to do. Duh, right? Well, you try it. It’s actually not all that easy. But its worth it! Do it! Be crystal clear on the following items:
- Who are you?the
- Who do you work for?
- Who are the learners you support?
- What resources do you currently have?
Who are you? Hint: It’s not your title.
Knowing who you are is very cliche. However, life is fluid. Things change. The world changes around us. YOU change. Take a quick inventory of your skills. Know the difference between what you CAN do and what you LIKE to do. Much of what I CAN do, I do not enjoy. And much of what I LIKE to do, I’m not very good at…yet. Knowing the difference can save your job. Your success depends on balancing your time between adding business value with what you CAN do, FAST, and what you LIKE to do and are still learning.
Knowing who you are, and being honest about your skills, will help you choose better eLearning solutions. Just because you listened to a wildly successful case study during a webinar does not mean that you will be as wildly successful by copying their strategy. Understanding that your unique skills and capabilities are different than theirs will help keep you grounded and enable wise choices. And at the very least help you ask better questions.
Who do you work for? Hint: It’s not the name of the company.
This is the politics of corporate life. Its a game. And yes, that’s as cliche as “Know who you are”. But again, having clarity about this helps you make better decisions. There is always someone above you who is benefiting from your efforts. This person is also most likely capable of delivering you a pink slip. THIS person is who you work for. If a company downsizes and you lose your job, there is absolutely nothing you could have done. Yet I know many people who focus a LOT of their energy and stress on the larger company as a whole. Save your energy for the things you can control and those people who have the ultimate control of your job.
Choosing authoring tools, a learning management system, and other resources becomes much easier when you’ve built your relationship with the person you work for. Knowing their tolerance for certain technologies, and solutions will be one of the many factors you should take into consideration. And even your instructional design choices will be greatly influenced by their personal preferences. At times that may seem stifling to your creativity, but it also makes you a team player and that wins over creativity every time. So, know who you work for. Build a relationship. Work hard at making them look good.
Who are the learners you support? Hint: They will suffer through your eLearning courses.
Some idealistic learning professionals will want you to believe your learners are who you work for, and they should be reflected in the section above. It’s a nice thought, but it’s not the reality you most likely live in. From my experiences, these 2 sections are absolutely different. It doesn’t matter if you are a k-12 teacher, or a corporate training manager, or instructional design consultant: There are the learners, and then there’s the system in which you function. Understand the difference between them and you’ll begin to see why learning solutions are not always obvious.
I’m often surprised at how little training professionals seem to know about their learners. Much of what is known is just assumed. Just because you’ve spent time with a subject matter expert does not mean you truly understand the entire audience of learners. This is where your social learning skills should come into play. Get connected with the audience via enterprise social media and engage with the group. We’ve come a long way from the early days of audience analysis. Don’t settle for a survey or one when group event. Get fully engaged and become part of their world. You can learn a lot from the practice of anthropology here but I’ll save that for another post.
What resources do you currently have? Hint: You have more than you think.
Everyone wants the cool, shiny, new technologies. I do too. But when budgets are tight and you still need to get the job done, you can’t fall back on excuses. If you are new to a company, one of your first stops should be with someone from IT. You’ve got to figure out what technology, or lack there of, currently makes the company tick. Perhaps the IT department tells you that the company has standardized on Sharepoint and Microsoft products. Absolutely make note of that, but then get the real story when you are engaging with your learners. You should also find out how comfortable the company is with SaaS products, and if “bring your own device” is an accepted practice. This is basic foundational information that will help you in your search for eLearning solutions as well.
You probably have a smart phone or tablet that records video, so for now you can skip the PO for the $5000 video camera. You’ve got more than enough media creation possibilities packed into that mobile device. The trick is learning how to use it. Don’t be shy. Check out YouTube for excellent production tips from channels like The Frugal Filmmaker. If you’re lucky, and starting with an established company, there may already be digital production resources as well as processes for their use. So make sure you learn all the in and outs of making good use of them.
One reason why you are in this business is because you like to learn, right? So, get on it! Learning how to produce digital media for eLearning is my overall KING OF TIPS. Your skill set and who you are is important in general, but you are also your biggest resource. Sometimes you have no choice but to take matters into your own hands and just get it done. Don’t be afraid to sacrifice a little quality by skipping the professional services and just getting it DONE!