eLearning and Instructional Design: A First-Year Testimony

Indeed, my first year in eLearning and instructional design is coming to a close on February 27th. The ups and downs, frustrations and congratulations, the craziness and fulfillments; ah, it’s been quite a journey thus far.

It’s always tough writing a personal testimony. Where do I begin? How much detail is too much? Will it capture the reader? Can the reader relate? The list goes on. Any attempt to remain succinct – I feel – may be a disservice to my target audience. Therefore, I’ve tried to remain somewhere in the middle; not too much, but not too little.

In order not to bore you with all the fine details of my background leading up to my position as an eLearning developer and instructional designer – which I feel is pertinent to the rest of my story – I’ve provided (what I hope to be) a list of the most important details:

·        Having worked for multiple online universities, earning all my higher education degrees online (while working full-time), and becoming fascinated with the online delivery of education, I developed a passion for eLearning and instructional design.

·        After diving into the eLearning and instructional design job market, it became apparent that companies were not looking for junior level work; they wanted at least 2-5 years’ experience, even though I had the education and software experience.

·        Disappointed and dismayed, I cozied up to my financial aid position. I figured it was the only position for me. My effort was then focused on moving up the managerial chain through higher education financial aid and compliance.

·        After being let go from a couple positions due to a poor mutual fit (and losing interest in higher education financial aid), I was trying to find my place in the occupational world. Where did I fit? How could my talents be utilized?

·        After becoming unemployed and 7 months of being a stay and home father with my (then) 2-month old daughter, I received an email that would shatter my occupational lull…

Looking for an HR job at the time, I came across an eLearning and instructional design posting on LinkedIn. As I looked through the description at requirements and skills I could only dream of having, I hit apply (OK, easy apply). “Maybe, just maybe this could still be a reality,” I mumbled hesitantly.

It wasn’t but a couple minutes later that a reply email made its way to my inbox. “No way,” I thought to myself. The gentleman who replied (the owner), wanted to know why I applied for the position, since my heading on LinkedIn stated my goal was a job in HR. After going over my testimony, he was impressed and offered me an interview.

Fast forward to the interview

Pulling into my parking spot, I had no idea what to expect. Especially since the place of business was…out of his house! I knocked, and a polite gentleman answered the door. Letting me in, I walked passed his lovely wife and two children, said “hello,” and made my way up the stairs. Our interview took place in his bedroom-turned-office where he showed me some authoring tools, asked questions regarding my tech-savviness, PowerPoint and Word shortcuts, etc. He explained that he was burdened with too much work and needed someone to pick up the slack. Concluding the interview, he asked how I felt about the work and the position. Overwhelmed, intimidated, a bit awestruck, and still somewhat in disbelief I was even interviewing for this position, I told him I was confident in learning the software and technology, and ready for the new challenges that awaited me. Before we parted, he said a phone call would be coming my way in a few days (for better or worse).

A few days later I received a phone call with an offer, which I gladly accepted! I was my boss’s first employee!

The first month and a half of employment was a mix of getting familiar with eLearning software (Captivate, Articulate Storyline and Studio, and PowerPoint), the self-employed business intricacies, common practices, dos and don’ts, etc., along with resurrecting planning and development models I hadn’t worked with in years; mainly ADDIE.

My boss ended up finding a gorgeous business space (which we still operate out of today), and things were really starting to heat up. Trial-by-fire is the only phrase to explain my first project; an important project from a very fastidious and seasoned eLearning client. The process was gruelingly detail oriented where even being off a single pixel could result in an email from the client. Due to the nature of the project and my lack of experience, we were in very real danger of losing the contract.

Being very mentor-minded and even-keeled, my boss helped me through the difficulties, yet challenged me to find a viable solution to getting back on track. After a few long days, heading into a couple long evenings, the project not only got back on track, the client appreciated the improved quality and timeliness of the deliverables. I ended up finishing the project early, and left on a positive note with the client.

I now have numerous success stories – and yes – a few stories of failure; some on my end, some on the client’s end. The diverse nature, style, requirements, focus, and level of development with projects this last year has been nothing short of challenging, rewarding, and downright amazing. My journey started with a trial-by-fire, and not only did I come out unscathed, I’m more seasoned (pardon the pun) and able to anticipate client needs based on their specifications.

Due to the uniqueness of each client, their content, design principles, and their presentation expectations, I’ve been able to work with a variety of eLearning and complimentary eLearning software tools including Articulate Storyline 360 (my main authoring tool) and Studio 360, Adobe Captivate 9, Camtasia 9, iSpring, Audacity, GoAnimate, VideoScribe, TruScribe, PowToon, Instagantt, Wrike, and many others. You may be asking, “Goodness. All that in one year?” Absolutely! These types of software were not one-offs! All have strengths in their own right and serve a wonderful foundational and/or supporting role in the eLearning and instructional design process and development.

If there is one takeaway – which also happens to be an ongoing area of opportunity – I wish to share, it’s communicating effectively! Communication, communication, communication! I can’t say it enough. Holy smokes – there have been times where communication between clients – just on design and style guidies – could not be further from the mark; I was thinking Jean Claude Van Damme and they were thinking advanced particle physics (not really, but you get the point). Detailed notetaking during meetings (or recording the meeting) is imperative! Having a detailed checklist of things like project duration, number of deliverables, style guides and other design resources, point of contact, other individuals on the project, their roles and responsibilities, etc., must be ironed out early on, and revisited throughout the project to increase the likelihood of success, accuracy, timeliness, and cost/budget considerations (coming in at, or under budget).

My first years’ journey in the eLearning and instructional design realm has truly been a blessing. Given a chance when there was seemingly no chance at all to be given was truly a gift from God. I thank my boss for believing in me and continuing to mentor me along the way. His experience and expertise are always humbly received and appreciated, and I look forward to learning and growing in this job sector for years to come.

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