If you’re looking to get into, or have been in the eLearning and/or instructional design trade for under 3 years, you’ve probably experienced the same frustration I have when looking for steady work at a reasonable rate. Job posts in these trades are normally accompanied by at least 3-5 years’ experience, and usually ask for samples of your work; that means you’ll have to be familiar with at least one authoring tool (Storyline, Captivate, Lectora, iSpring, etc.), have examples of proposed training and development implementation (which will include evidence of process analysis and one or more evidence-based solutions) handy, or ready to present other supporting documentation corroborating your expertise in these areas. Fair enough; this should be expected!
“Show me solid examples and walk me through your process intelligently, and your “experience” becomes secondary.” – Rich Cordrey, M.A.
The problem for those with under 3 years of experience in eLearning, instructional design, or both, is how to adequately show competency in these areas with the resources (sometimes very few) they have available. Rich Cordrey, a Learning Design and Development Manager, makes a very encouraging statement when it comes to a seemingly lack of experience; he says, “Show me solid examples and walk me through your process intelligently, and your “experience” becomes secondary.” If only more companies would follow this example.
Thanks to some wonderful words of wisdom from my connections on LinkedIn, I was able to compile a list of 10 ways on how to build elearning and instructional design experience. This will hopefully give you the tools needed to create a more solid foundation to showcase your talents and competencies. So, without further ado, here we go:
- Take full advantage of your instructors and coursework
If you’re currently enrolled in an eLearning, instructional design, or similar degree/certificate program, don’t be shy about taking advantage of the tools you have available to you, including the expertise of your instructors. They are there to help foster your growth, but they’re not going to babysit you. Initiate some good, substantive, thought provoking conversation and ask if there are any side projects you can help them on. Also, if you have access to an authoring tool or like-software, get as familiar with it as possible. The software is probably at very little or no cost to you, so don’t let it go to waste!
Treat your coursework as if it were a portfolio piece for a job interview. Don’t just create something someone won’t take a second sniff at, rather, create something with a wow factor. Better to do the grunt work now and perfecting it over time than having to do it again later.
- Find a mentor
Ah yes, there’s nothing like stroking the ego of a fellow eLearning and/or instructional design professional than reaching out to them for mentorship. Kidding of course (mostly). If you’ve been around LinkedIn long enough and have a solid list of contacts, you already know who you can approach and who to stay away from.
If you reach out to them, don’t expect a response right away (or at all in some cases). The demand of this job (like many others) is extremely high, many with aggressive deadlines. So, if you don’t receive a response in a reasonable timeframe, don’t be discouraged; keep plugging away until you get a reply.
Mentors can also come in the form of prior instructors, especially if you’ve established a good, professional relationship with them. Just because you’re no longer taking their class or have since graduated, doesn’t mean you can’t reach out for some pointers, quality checks of your portfolio pieces, or other career related advice.
- Revisit your prior experience
If you have an extensive work history, there may be some goodies hiding out in the depths of your mind that you’ve unintentionally left off your LinkedIn profile/resume. You may also not fully grasp the definitions of what it means to be an eLearning developer or instructional designer. Hopefully, the following definitions will elicit further inquiry into possibly including some prior job aspects:
- org defines instructional design (or instructional systems design) as “combining the art of creating engaging learning experiences with science of how the brain works.”
- Kam & Berger define ID “as a systematic development of instructional specifications using learning and instructional theory to ensure the quality of instruction. It is the entire process of analysis of learning needs and goals and the development of a delivery system to meet those needs. It includes development of instructional materials and activities; and tryout and evaluation of all instruction and learner activities.”
- eLearning or educational technology can be defined as “…the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources.”
Do any of these definitions spark some ideas? Did you leave any pertinent information off your LinkedIn profile/resume? If so, happily add it, but be ready to substantiate it when the time comes. Just be honest with yourself!
- Create a personal website
By now, you’ve most certainly seen a commercial for a free website builder such as WordPress, Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, Yola, or Odoo. You don’t need a degree in graphic design or website development to use them, most have some stunning pre-built templates you can make your own by making one or two tweaks.
What you’ll want to include on your website:
- An “About” section, concisely detailing your experience
- A portfolio and outline of what you did and why
- A blog that offers some relevant and unique perspective of the industry
- An online/video resume (optional)
- Become an active member on community sites
LinkedIn and community sites like the Articulate Community, Adobe Connect User Community, Trivantis Community, The eLearning Guild, and eLearning Industry are a must for networking and expanding your knowledge-base in eLearning and instructional design.
Experts in the field often post or link to articles containing rich information, which takes care of the time searching the topics on your own. As you read the articles/posts, feel free to ask questions or give your own insight. This could lead to future mentorship, or at least a positive professional relationship.
- Keep abreast of emerging learning theories and instructional technology
This, in part, is why getting involved on the community sites is so important; it keeps you fresh, keeps you from becoming stagnant, will help erode plateaus, and provides a challenge to continue as a lifelong learner. If you’ve stopped learning, you’ve stopped growing, and nobody wants a stale employee!
Many of the learning technologies today have at least a 14-day trial. If you already have something storyboarded or mapped out, consider downloading a few and familiarizing yourself with them.
- Consider obtaining certification
Certification is another great way to get your foot in the door and compliment your education and experience. Before considering certification for eLearning or instructional design, which can be quite costly and time demanding, map out your strengths and opportunities and figure out which gaps you’d like the certification to fill; or, boost your knowledge in that area.
If you’re wondering which certification is right for you, I suggest poking around the Association for Talent Development website, and pay special attention to the Associate Professional in Talent Development (APTD) and the Certified Professional in Learning and Performance certifications.
- Contract and pro-bono assignments
There are many staffing agencies that will allow you to create a profile and submit your resume for future contract gigs. Companies like TEKsystems, Proficient (formerly Clarity Consulting), Insight Global, Alt Shift Corp, among many others, can help you get your feet wet, should the right contract become available.
If you can swing it, pro-bono gigs are also a good way to showcase your rapidly growing expertise. There’s also a chance of the client brining you on as a paid, contract freelancer if your work meets or exceeds their expectations!
I hope this article was able to give you some good pointers to get started. Now get out here and start building upon your awesomeness!