E-Learning for Newbies

October 9, 2008

ASTD‘s Learning Circuits Blog has a monthly ‘Big Question.” This month it’s:

I’m interested in [the field of] eLearning. What should I do first?

I’m responding to this question from the perspective of a person looking to get a job in the field of e-learning vs. a person who knows little about the term.

I think one place to start is to look at the competencies and skills needed for various “e-learning” jobs. E-learning, of course, encompasses many areas – courseware designer, curriculum development, online trainer, blended learning specialist, Flash programmer, game designer, research, etc. Here’s a brief listing of some of the competencies I think newbies to e-learning should focus on:

  • history, trends, and direction (history, evolution, impact of technology, etc.) Here is a presentation on learning and technology (historical) done by my colleague, Gary Woodill, some time ago for Operitel and a presentation on learning technology (LMS/LCMS/Talent Management that we, Brandon Hall Research, deliver in a “101” webinar with Learn.com which should provide an overview. I also wrote  elearning 101 which provides an overview of e-learning
  • adult learning and the foundation of human learning (theory, practice) If you like print books, one good one is Human Learning by Jeanne Ellis Ormrod.
  • knowledge of evaluation
  • Need identification, analysis, recommendation, solution
  • Knowledge of instructional strategies (application of theories)
  • Tools of e-learning – authoring tools, systems (LMS, LCMS, Live Online Learning, social media)
  • Methods, processes, delivery channels for e-learning – synchronous, asynchronous, blended, distributed, performance support tools, etc.
  • Course authoring – knowledge of software (simulation, game, rapid design tools, multimedia, etc.).
  • Web interface design – my favorite books are The Non-Designers Web Book by Williams & Tollett and Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug.
  • Online facilitation skills – Jennifer Hoffman has a great program with certification @ insynctraining
  • Project management skills – there are books, programs, and experts specializing in project management. Here’s one by a colleague

So, here’s what I suggest:

  • Find e-learning experts and follow their work
  • Attend webinars
  • Attend conferences
  • Subscribe to blogs & start your own
  • Read – trade journals, periodicals, books, presentations, white papers, research, etc.
  • Join e-learning associations (local, national, global)
  • Take a course, enroll in a degree program (ID, facilitation of online learning, curriculum development, project management, etc.)
  • Attend conferences (online and face-to-face)
  • Learn to use authoring and other software and platforms; HTML & other coding (w3schools is good)
  • Visit the Learning Circuits blog and find others’ suggestions on this question.

As an aside, here’s my own e-learning journey so far:

  • got a job in e-learning! Said ‘holy shit, what do I do?’
  • joined ASTD, ISPI, e-Learning Guild, went to Masie lab. Said ‘holy shit, how do I do this?’
  • started to read everything I could find on the topic – print, web. Annoyed the heck out of my co-workers and vendors with a sea of questions.
  • tried everything
  • subscribed to periodicals, email lists, listserv, read blogs. Had several aha moments.
  • learned how to use authoring tools, created some asynch courses, developed curriculum, blended learning solutions for tech training. Felt like crying frequently due to some steep learning curves.
  • learned how to train online by using an online learning platform (WebEx) by screwing up multiple times and attending a lot of other peoples training (started a best practice log)
  • became a project manager for an LMS/LCMS/Talent Management implementation; learned about systems through Brandon Hall KnowledgeBase (this big implementation was the point in time where I knew I would stay in this field)
  • joined social networks
  • enrolled in a Master’s program at Capella University (Education – Instructional Design for Online Learning); learned theory, application, some tools, web design, project management, how to “do” research
  • started working part time doing e-learning research for Brandon Hall even though I had zero time. Said, ‘WTF was I thinking? (Did I mention I had zero time)’
  • left training job and joined Brandon Hall Research full-time. A huge step for me – working at home, etc.
  • started a personal e-learning blog, joined the edublog community. Realized I was learning as much as I did in my Master’s program.
  • joined online social networks, started using all the newest tools and technologies. Tweet!
  • enrolled in Ph.D. program at Syracuse University (Education – Instructional Design, Development, and Evaluation) for a still unknown reason…perhaps status, earning right to be an expert, feeling that the future of education is online and that there will be a need for instructors with terminal degrees, unresolved middle child thing.
  • Wrote this blog post and wondered if it contained too much info. Pushed “Publish” anyway.

  • http://newmiddle-earth.blogspot.com/ Ken Allan

    Kia ora Janet!

    Some good tips here!

    I began my journey in eLearning in 2000 when I engaged in almost full time web building, making RLOs for Science learning. I’ve studied in different elearning fields since then – all on-the-job study and a lot on my own at home.

    I did my PhD in Chem research – 38 years ago! It did not give me the badge of ‘the expert’, but it did teach me a thing or two about research.

    You are right about blogging being useful for the apprentice elearning tutor. You may’ve read my post on The Elearning Apprentice.

    Ka kite

    Ken Allans last blog post..Blogging, Learning and Desire to Learn

  • http://newmiddle-earth.blogspot.com/ Ken Allan

    Kia ora Janet!

    Some good tips here!

    I began my journey in eLearning in 2000 when I engaged in almost full time web building, making RLOs for Science learning. I’ve studied in different elearning fields since then – all on-the-job study and a lot on my own at home.

    I did my PhD in Chem research – 38 years ago! It did not give me the badge of ‘the expert’, but it did teach me a thing or two about research.

    You are right about blogging being useful for the apprentice elearning tutor. You may’ve read my post on The Elearning Apprentice.

    Ka kite

    Ken Allans last blog post..Blogging, Learning and Desire to Learn

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Hi Ken-
    You bring up a good point about the PhD. I’m learning as much about research – inquiry in general – as I have about ISD. I think when/if I ever get through it, I’ll be able to say I’m a a helluva game player or prone to make poor life decisions. Thanks for the link and your thoughtful response to my comment on your blog. Hey look we’ve connected just today! A good day. I look forward to reading your blog.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Hi Ken-
    You bring up a good point about the PhD. I’m learning as much about research – inquiry in general – as I have about ISD. I think when/if I ever get through it, I’ll be able to say I’m a a helluva game player or prone to make poor life decisions. Thanks for the link and your thoughtful response to my comment on your blog. Hey look we’ve connected just today! A good day. I look forward to reading your blog.

  • http://elearningtech.blogspot.com/ Tony Karrer

    Great post and ideas! Thanks for contributing.

    Tony Karrers last blog post..Record Video Chat Interviews

  • http://elearningtech.blogspot.com Tony Karrer

    Great post and ideas! Thanks for contributing.

    Tony Karrers last blog post..Record Video Chat Interviews

  • http://sarah-stewart.blogspot.com/ Sarah Stewart

    Thanks for this post which I think is full of great ideas. I ‘think’ I’m coming to a bit of a cross road with regards to my own career and your advice is a good framework by which to assess where I go from here. cheers Sarah

    Sarah Stewarts last blog post..What is reflective practice?

  • http://sarah-stewart.blogspot.com Sarah Stewart

    Thanks for this post which I think is full of great ideas. I ‘think’ I’m coming to a bit of a cross road with regards to my own career and your advice is a good framework by which to assess where I go from here. cheers Sarah

    Sarah Stewarts last blog post..What is reflective practice?

  • http://www.edtechpower.blogspot.com/ Liz Davis

    Janet – I too think about the PhD thing. I think it is too much to add to my plate right now, but it has been at the back of my mind for a while. I’m not sure what it will “get me,” but the legitimacy is appealing (brings it back to the gender thing) and I also love to learn, something else on my list…

    Liz Daviss last blog post..Ten Tips for Growing Your Learning Network

  • http://www.edtechpower.blogspot.com Liz Davis

    Janet – I too think about the PhD thing. I think it is too much to add to my plate right now, but it has been at the back of my mind for a while. I’m not sure what it will “get me,” but the legitimacy is appealing (brings it back to the gender thing) and I also love to learn, something else on my list…

    Liz Daviss last blog post..Ten Tips for Growing Your Learning Network

  • Emma King

    Various path’s I recognize… especially the Oh Sh!t moments and WTF am I doing, starting EscP Consulting and becoming a Brandon Hall Research Associate and a part of Chapman Alliance.

    But in life you have to take your challenges and say “I CAN DO THIS”

    Wanna become my mentor… go on… say yes… please… 🙂

  • Emma King

    Various path’s I recognize… especially the Oh Sh!t moments and WTF am I doing, starting EscP Consulting and becoming a Brandon Hall Research Associate and a part of Chapman Alliance.

    But in life you have to take your challenges and say “I CAN DO THIS”

    Wanna become my mentor… go on… say yes… please… 🙂

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Hi Liz – I think those that love to learn are always looking for that next learning experience. I saw this a lot in some of my classes – those looking to get done and those kind of sad when a class ends…or when they graduate.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Hi Liz – I think those that love to learn are always looking for that next learning experience. I saw this a lot in some of my classes – those looking to get done and those kind of sad when a class ends…or when they graduate.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Emma – That “I can do” attitude is critical. It took me awhile to get to the point where I felt comfortable saying “well, why not me?” (I think we mentor each other in these type of conversations)

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Emma – That “I can do” attitude is critical. It took me awhile to get to the point where I felt comfortable saying “well, why not me?” (I think we mentor each other in these type of conversations)

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Thanks Sarah. Glad you found the list helpful.

    (BTW…just went to your blog via this little ‘comment luv’ wordpress plug in…great blog!)

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Thanks Sarah. Glad you found the list helpful.

    (BTW…just went to your blog via this little ‘comment luv’ wordpress plug in…great blog!)

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  • Ravi Singh

    Invaluable tips, Janet.

  • Ravi Singh

    Invaluable tips, Janet.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Thanks Ravi, so glad you found it helpful.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Thanks Ravi, so glad you found it helpful.

  • Virginia Yonkers

    Janet, I’m not sure the Ph.d. will get you anything extra except a feeling of being part of the club. I am at the end of my Ph.d program (at University at Albany) in Educational Technology and Curriculum and am finding it very frustrating that many of the jobs I have applied for don’t want the “educational or theory stuff” but want me to know things such as Flash or what ever the particular software is that they are using.

    I have lost a number of jobs for silly things such as not being familiar with screen capturing software (I guess I was stupid in admitting I had never done it before, although I could learn anything–then discovered how easy it was and learned it after I was turned down for the job is 15 minutes!). My experience is that companies don’t want the ID, but rather the technical stuff. So I would say, in my experience, the web authoring and tools of e-learning are what companies are looking for. The others just makes your life easier when you are in the job.

    BTW, I have authored or coauthored 6 online courses using 4 different LMS systems (one course using two different systems), along with 5 blended learning courses using Web 2.0 and LMS tools. My experience with each course is similar to yours (OMG how do I do THAT?) I’m always so happy when it turns out great, but many times have had to go back to the drawing board when things really bombed! It is sort of exciting when that happens.

  • Virginia Yonkers

    Janet, I’m not sure the Ph.d. will get you anything extra except a feeling of being part of the club. I am at the end of my Ph.d program (at University at Albany) in Educational Technology and Curriculum and am finding it very frustrating that many of the jobs I have applied for don’t want the “educational or theory stuff” but want me to know things such as Flash or what ever the particular software is that they are using.

    I have lost a number of jobs for silly things such as not being familiar with screen capturing software (I guess I was stupid in admitting I had never done it before, although I could learn anything–then discovered how easy it was and learned it after I was turned down for the job is 15 minutes!). My experience is that companies don’t want the ID, but rather the technical stuff. So I would say, in my experience, the web authoring and tools of e-learning are what companies are looking for. The others just makes your life easier when you are in the job.

    BTW, I have authored or coauthored 6 online courses using 4 different LMS systems (one course using two different systems), along with 5 blended learning courses using Web 2.0 and LMS tools. My experience with each course is similar to yours (OMG how do I do THAT?) I’m always so happy when it turns out great, but many times have had to go back to the drawing board when things really bombed! It is sort of exciting when that happens.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Hi Virginia – Congrats at being at the end of your program and on the successful programs you’ve been developing. How exciting!

    There seems to be a struggle among faculty with what students really need to know as part of an education program. Some think the technology piece is best learned in a tech school or workshop or something.

    And, sometimes I think a PhD can actually hurt your job prospects. You’re seen as all professorial.

    I think companies are looking for a couple of things: rapid content (meaning they want ‘tools’ experience) and business skills (speaking the language of the business. I think the ID is valued more when those two things are present.

    My desire to get my PhD is less about getting a job in a company and more about playing the game I think I need to play to meet future goals. This could be a costly error. I don’t know.

    PS…are you living in Albany? If so we’re only about 1/2 dozen thruway exists away.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Hi Virginia – Congrats at being at the end of your program and on the successful programs you’ve been developing. How exciting!

    There seems to be a struggle among faculty with what students really need to know as part of an education program. Some think the technology piece is best learned in a tech school or workshop or something.

    And, sometimes I think a PhD can actually hurt your job prospects. You’re seen as all professorial.

    I think companies are looking for a couple of things: rapid content (meaning they want ‘tools’ experience) and business skills (speaking the language of the business. I think the ID is valued more when those two things are present.

    My desire to get my PhD is less about getting a job in a company and more about playing the game I think I need to play to meet future goals. This could be a costly error. I don’t know.

    PS…are you living in Albany? If so we’re only about 1/2 dozen thruway exists away.

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  • http://www.kids-lessons.com/ Jane@kids lessons

    E-learning for Kids isn’t only for kids, though;
    * Parents get more engaged in their kids’ education
    * Educators and experts champion e-learning and contribute their knowledge on how kids can learn better.
    * Commercial education and game developers contribute to the next generation.
    * Corporations and associations channel their social responsibility efforts.
    * People with a passion for childhood education make a difference.

    Jane@kids lessonss last blog post..Learn with your kid

  • http://www.kids-lessons.com/ Jane@kids lessons

    E-learning for Kids isn’t only for kids, though;
    * Parents get more engaged in their kids’ education
    * Educators and experts champion e-learning and contribute their knowledge on how kids can learn better.
    * Commercial education and game developers contribute to the next generation.
    * Corporations and associations channel their social responsibility efforts.
    * People with a passion for childhood education make a difference.

    Jane@kids lessonss last blog post..Learn with your kid

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  • Joseph Abraham

    Hi Janet, I came across this today. Love reading this. I moved to Ithaca , NY 2 months ago from Bay Area, CA. My wife goes to Cornell here. I am in the process of switching my career tracks from software development to e-learning, because I believe that is what I want to do in my career. I had some of the same thoughts and action plans on what I need to do to get familiar with e-learning. It was just re-assuring to read that others followed the same steps and also got some new ideas. Since this was written 2 years ago, if I wanted to join local (driving distance to Ithaca) organization would ASTD still be the best group to join? If you have any more current information/links that I could use (I'm still 2 months old) in my interest and hunt for e-learning industry knowledge, please send it to me if you get a chance.

    Thanks
    Joseph (josesbc@gmail.com)

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