As I was sitting in the various discussions of the 2011 Learning Solutions conference, it became clear to me that my career path was in a huge state of flux. I was both excited and scared at the same time. At my office, for quite some time, I was the sole Instructional Designer/Media Developer for my team. I handle the eLearning development of content for two enterprise systems that serve the financial industry. We had other people with the same role as I held throughout other areas of the company, but in our group, I was the only one. In my role, I use at least eight different eLearning skills and roles on a regular basis.
IT ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH TO CHANGE JUST ONE THING OR LEARN ONE NEW SKILL/
What had me a little concerned about all this change was that it was so interconnected that it wasn’t like you could really just pick up one thing, change that, and be done.
If I wanted to discuss eventually implementing xAPI, I had to bring the discussion of updating our Learning Management System to the table. I had to be able to understand how xAPI worked and it wasn’t documented clean enough for us non-programmer types.
If I wanted to bring video production into our deliverables, I needed to learn motion graphics, new video editing software, purchase the necessary equipment, and have a reliable way to deliver this content to my audience.
If I wanted to discuss implementing mLearning, we needed tablets to test on, we needed a familiarity with HTML5, we needed tools that could publish in that format, and we needed web servers we had ready access to use for testing.
Of course, the overarching concern in all of this was internet/data security. Being part of a financial services company requires a very high level of security. No direct access to WiFi, levels of control as to how large of a file you can put on a web server, and an LMS that affects multiple training and IT groups within the company.
IS ELEARNING AND INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN DEAD?
One of the things I have been hearing a lot of lately is that the industry has shifted to the point where the role of Instructional Design is no longer what it used to be.
As an industry, we are also starting to have discussions about the quality of the eLearning we are putting out – no more boring page-turners. Our learners want learning experiences and they are becoming more demanding.
Technology has allowed us to deliver more detailed content in the form of videos and our learners enjoy receiving information this way. Massive online help systems no longer help people because they expect to find the information they need as fast as they can with Google.
As an Instructional Designer, part of our role now is not to always create something new. It is really to be like a librarian or curator for our learners. We need to be finding existing resources and bringing them to the forefront so they are useful to our learners.
These changes, along with others I did not recount here, have a large impact on both the actual work you do for your organization and the solutions you provide to your learners.
So, I don’t think I agree that these skills are dead. I do think that if you think of yourself as JUST an eLearning Developer or JUST an Instructional Designer or JUST a Trainer, you will be in an obsolete role in a matter of years. I think the role of the learning professional has changed and we now have many more hats to wear.
THE INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGNER’S 1,000 HATS
Many of us act as a learning professional on a team of one or two people. This picture I just painted can seem a little bit daunting when you realize what you have to learn to remain relevant in this industry.
In this vein, I will lump the roles of eLearning Developer and Instructional Designer into the single role of Learning Professional. The roles a Learning Professional needs to fill today cover a pretty wide spectrum. They can include:
- eLearning Developer
- Graphic Designer
- Instructional Designer
- Content Curator
- Web Developer
- Video Producer
- Project Manager
- Psychologist/Brain Scientist
Here’s the scariest part of all of this discussion. Each of these roles is an entire career all by itself. At any point, you can go back to college and spend two or more years studying any of these topics.
I am going to break down these different roles and the types of things we need to be aware of within each of these.
I’M AN ELEARNING DEVELOPER
If the learning department you are affiliated with is planning to deliver self-paced content in some form, you will probably use a rapid development tool, such as Adobe Captivate or Articulate Storyline. These are complex pieces of software that can build everything from simple screen recordings to personalized role-playing scenarios to scored assessments.
BUT ALSO A GRAPHIC DESIGNER
Almost every eLearning offering, video, presentation, or job aid has graphical elements to them. Most organizations have standard color schemes, image styles, templates, and such. We all have experienced “death by PowerPoint” at some point in our career (some maybe as recent as last week). We all have probably been guilty of creating these types of presentations as well. Graphic design is one of the skills you can acquire with just basic observation and a trained eye.
I am NOT talking about design like magazine layout, animation artist, 3-D model building, or painting.
What I am describing is being familiar with current design trends and learning how to recreate those looks within your products. This includes things like basic interface design, splash screens, popular photography styles, and illustration styles (such as flat design).
NO, I’M AN INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGNER
All of this delivery of learning has to be tied to how adults learn TODAY. Not in 2005! Not in 1990, when you may have gotten your degree in Adult Education. TODAY…2015. You need to be aware of how the adult mind has changed due to the mobile devices we all have in our pockets. You need to be familiar with models such as the Flipped Classroom and 4-Door. You need to understand how the role of a facilitator is different than the role of an instructor. As part of that difference, you may want to include how to create a participatory workshop rather than a lecture-style presentation. Are you familiar with how to chunk your content into micro-learning lessons for personalized and simple consumption?
SOMETIMES EVEN A CONTENT CURATOR
This is a newer role that emerged in our field. As our economy has shifted to an always-connected, knowledge worker economy, we have created more and more data. In just one day, think about how many videos get posted to YouTube, how many posts are put on LinkedIn and Facebook, how many blog articles are created, and how many tweets are on Twitter. That’s all potentially valuable data that just streams past and gets missed.
This data exists as PowerPoint files, PDF files, web sites, Word documents, images and diagrams, flow charts, Excel spreadsheets, videos, audio recordings, and on and on. Corporate America likes to store this content all across their networks, on individual laptops, within SharePoint systems, in online help systems or wikis, and on company intranets. It’s everywhere and nobody can find any of it. So, what do they do to address this challenge? Create more documents that are either more current or attempt to simplify and/or combine several documents. The solution to this challenge is for someone to come along and shout “Stop the madness!” Much like a museum curator, the Content Curator identifies the type of content they need to present to their learner and going out to their Subject Matter Experts and fellow colleagues and digging up the existing content that meets the immediate needs of their learners. This is much faster and more valuable to an organization or a learner than for you to simply just make more content that will eventually get lost in the sea of content that we create on a regular basis.
I MIGHT NEED TO BE A WEB DEVELOPER
This is probably the scariest of all the new skills required for a learning professional. This is coding and can be pretty technical. Many of us in this field are creative-minded, rather than analytically focused.
From my perspective, it would not surprise me if learning professionals started incorporating a web-savvy person on their team that was charged with handling these tasks. But, for now, that is not the case and many of us need to get up to speed on this set of skills pretty quickly.
I ENJOY BEING A VIDEO PRODUCER
With the capability to easily serve video to most any learner we want, and their desire to learn in this manner, don’t be surprised if you find it is easier to simply produce a series of short videos for them, rather than needing to create a whole course.
As we see learners more willing to binge watch television shows, this habit will spill over into a willingness to watch a short series of videos to learn something new.
We all have mobile devices, so we all have video cameras in our pockets – with HD quality as well. Therefore, we can all perform SME interviews or record simple product or skill demonstrations. To take this skill to the rockstar level, you need to be able to edit that video with clean titles, smooth transitions, and probably add a basic soundtrack. If you are doing software demonstrations, you need the capability to record your screen and incorporate that recording with the other footage you may create.
Don’t be surprised when you learn that videos are not only about learning a skill. They can be used to promote training events and upcoming self-paced courses. You may find yourself acting more like a Marketing team for your training programs than you expected in the past.
To create videos that others want to watch, you need things like a tripod, simple lighting gear, and quality audio recording capabilities. Oh, and don’t forget that your subjects need to be comfortable on-camera.
I DON’T ENJOY BEING A PROJECT MANAGER, BUT I NEED TO
As a small department, you will be held to timelines for deliverables and project sign-offs. Without project sponsors and subject matter experts (SMEs), you won’t have a project. When you are assigned a project, you need to be able to do the stuff that isn’t creative – handling meetings, holding others accountable for deliverables, managing milestones, and controlling things such as scope creep. If you are managing the costs for the project, include that into this skill set as well. Are you responsible for scheduling your project resources? If so, that falls under this role as well.
This skill set is essential if you plan to work on multiple courses or materials at the same time and expect them to run smoothly.
AND ON TELEVISION I AM A PSYCHOLOGIST/BRAIN SCIENTIST
In no way is anyone expecting a Learning Professional to be able to read CAT scans or perform scientific studies on the human brain. But, recent advances in the field of brain science have spilled over into our field and absolutely affect how we introduce content to our learners and affect the types of content our learners need from us.
For example, in the past, we understood that there were three types of learners – auditory, kinesthetic, and visual. We were told make sure you create content for each of these learner types (ones that like to listen, ones that like to perform the task, and ones that like to read about it or review images). Recent research has thrown this belief into question. What they have identified is that we do have preferences for one over the other, but that we can and will learn from all these formats. Therefore, you don’t have to actually cater to each if you want to be effective.
Are you familiar with the term cognitive load or cognitive dissonance? These are also brain functions that have now seen more current research.
How many eLearning programs have you seen that put text on the screen and then have audio that repeats that text verbatim? Research has proven that this is actually a poor design methodology. Your brain receives information through your eyes and through your ears. If they are both the same, it spends too much time combining this information and it essentially becomes “white noise” and you don’t hold onto much of it at all. It is much more effective if you show a diagram or representative image along with text that identifies what you are showing. Then, in your audio, flesh out what is on the screen in more detail. Then, your brain can distribute the information intake better and more fully absorb it. This is the concept of cognitive dissonance.
SMEs have a bad habit of wanting you to give learners all the information at one time. Unfortunately, our brains don’t work like that. We can only absorb about 5-7 inputs at a time. This is the same reason we tend to shut down when we are asked different questions in rapid succession. Your brain simply can’t process it. It lands on us, the learning professionals, to sort the content and deliver it in a way that doesn’t overload our learners’ brains. That way they don’t shut down on us.
THE SKILL SET FOR THIS FIELD IS ABOUT TO BECOME OVERWHELMING
Did any of these roles or activities sound familiar? I hope so. If they don’t, be prepared to see them show up in your work life in the near future. We have already seen how much has changed since my first visit to Learning Solutions in March of 2011. Much of this is occurring in my work environment in some way right now.
What of these roles and activities do you see occurring in your work environment? Are there any that I did not list here? We want to hear from you and track how the learning profession is evolving.
To get a better feel for how you can manage this change for yourself and leverage the experience of other professionals dealing with many of the same experiences as you read our third article in this series.
Click here to continue reading Part 3: eLearning Deconstructed Wants to Make You a Rockstar