The Rapid Elearning Blog

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog -  3 things every new instructional designer needs to know

Many of you are transitioning from traditional classroom training to developing online training. That means you need to learn new software and production techniques, as well as new ways to design your courses.

This transition can be a bit confusing and a source of stress. So today I’ll share a few of the tips I share at my workshops for new elearning developers.

It Takes Time to Be a Pro If You’re a New Instructional Designer

It would be great if we could just start building online training courses and know everything the first time we build a course. But that’s just not going to happen. It takes time. And that’s OK. You have to start somewhere.

There are things you can do make sure you’re moving in the right direction, but the first course you build is not going to be the best course you ever build. To tell you the truth, I cringe at some of my early stuff. At the time I thought it was great, but I look at it today and I can see that I was a bit limited in my understanding of how to build online training.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog -  the essential of elearning course design

There are three essential elements to course design:

  • What content needs to be in the course to meet its objectives?
  • What will the course look like?
  • What is the user supposed to do with the content learned?

If you focus on those three, you’ll invest your time in the right areas.

Practice, Practice, Practice Helps the New Instructional Designer

I’ve mentioned this before on the blog, if you want to be good at your craft it takes practice. There’s no way around it. The challenge is getting enough practice so that when you design an elearning course you’re ready.

My son just started soccer. I told him that if he waits to be with his team, he’ll get limited touches on the ball. In a game or scrimmage he may only get the ball in 3-6 second chunks. At that rate, he’ll improve slowly. However, if he practices ball handling skills in the backyard, he’ll get hundreds of touches.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog -  practice will make you a better course designer

Think of elearning practice the same way. On a real course, you get limited chances. So you have to break down the elements of course design into small chunks and then take the time practice those.

I like the elearning challenges that happen in the community each week. They’re designed to be small activities that are easy enough to do without a big time commitment. If you do them you’ll get more “touches” and when it comes time to build a real course you’ll have fleshed out some ideas and learned new production techniques.

There are Twenty Ways to Do Things If You’re a New Instructional Designer

One point of frustration I see with people who are just learning is that we want to know how to do everything right and we want to be really efficient doing it. Guess what? It won’t happen if you’re just getting started. If that stresses you out, “here’s a little song I wrote, you might want to sing it note for note…”

A point I make in the workshop is to not worry about what everything looks like under the hood. If the course works the way you intend it to and the end user is fine, then don’t worry about what it looks like in the source file?

Who cares if you aren’t the most efficient developer? The efficiency comes with experience, especially when you have to edit that mess of a file. But that’s OK because that’s how we learn. Often the expert shortcuts and efficient tips don’t make sense until we have some context anyway. So why stress it?

A great way to learn faster is to jump into the community and ask for help. When you show someone what you’re doing, you’ll get others with more experienced who will offer the tips and tricks that will make you more efficient. If you’re just getting started then being part of the community is a must.

Here’s the deal, we all have to start somewhere. Sometimes the process of getting started can be a bit frustrating. Understand that it’ll take time, create opportunities to practice, and don’t worry about being perfect. The more you do this stuff, the better you’ll become.

What tips do you have for the person just getting started?


Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.

14 responses to “3 Things Every New Instructional Designer Needs to Know”

All great advice. As your intro states you will need to learn “…new ways to to design your courses.” I think that is very, very important. So many times I see classroom trainers acquire dev tools and then approach elearn design like it is a face to face class. My advice is focus on learning ‘elearning’ design before diving too far into development. Here is my take from a not too recent post.

Thanks again for the great post, which will be added to my resource list for people when they ask, “How to get started in elearning?”

Great tips, Tom. My tip is to be patient with yourself as you’re getting started, as you’re saying, but to also set a goal and take regular, focused, specific action.

This is one reason why the challenges are so great. If you only make one decision – to contribute to those each week – you’ll automatically be building your skills, your portfolio of work, your confidence, and your network.

And if you start a simple blog and write a few lines about what you’ve created, you’re suddenly on your way to being a professional in the field who gets noticed. We’re all at different levels and we all learn from each other, so your contribution – even as a newbie! – is valuable.

May 27th, 2014

Keep it simple at first — don’t try to implement every ‘bright shiny object’ you see in the vendor’s training videos or the product of advanced designers.

Remember that you can always go back and enhance later if you feel that comprehension would really be improved by complexity, (but that is not usually the case).

May 27th, 2014

Hello Tom, Thanks for the timely post. I’m very new to designing online courses and I think my greatest challenge now is getting content for design practice. I did something a few weeks ago but not really a course but just practicing tabs with PowerPoint.
Anyway, thanks for the post, I hope to be better as I practice.

Great post, Tom! I like the soccer analogy; it really does hold true when you compare soccer and the weekly challenges. Often times, it may be difficult to come up with ideas to push yourself out of your limits, and these challenges do just that…while allowing folks to practice and hone their abilities!

I think it’s also important for instructional designers to understand that not everything comes right away; learning any subject matter takes time, and it’s no different with instructional design. I agree with Jackie – be patient with yourself, and just take time to practice.

It’s also important to fall flat every now and again; I learned some of my best lessons from failing 🙂

Interesting three points – though my top three would have to include ‘start at the end’ – develop your evaluation plan first, and agree it with the boss. Then you will know two things: you’ll know what your course needs to do, and, sometimes, you will also reveal what else needs to happen if the required performance is to be achieved. Training can only fix learning gaps, and performance is often related to other gaps. Starting with course development is really putting the cart before the horse – especially bad if in fact the problem was something to do with ploughing. Then it really doesn’t matter whether the horse or the cart comes first, it won’t fix a ploughing problem. (A second piece of advice would be to keep your metaphors simple).

May 29th, 2014

We’re a gaggle of volunteers and opening a brand new scheme in our community.

Your web site offered us with useful information to work on. You have done a formidable process and our entire group
will likely be grateful to you.

Great article. I agree with your points. I too cringe at some of my first course designs! Getting feedback from someone more seasoned is key.

One tip I like to give newer IDs is to pay attention to commercials. A message is delivered very succinctly within 30 seconds. Every word and visual is carefully selected and timed. The audio script attempts to elicit some sort of emotional response from the audience while reinforcing key phrases display onscreen.

An exercise for new IDs is to analyze a 30 second commercial and create a storyboard for it. Write out the script and align the audio with the visual and text changes onscreen. After you dissect the various parts, you see the level of thought and detail that went into creating it. This is the same level of detail and choreography that needs to go into your page designs within an elearning course.

June 1st, 2014

My advice for someone getting started at ID is to regularly read industry books. Regardless if you have earned a master’s degree in ID, there are a number of excellent books to study and implement in your practice.

June 2nd, 2014

Great advice for us first timers. I think these key points offer me the beginning stages of being an instructional designer for my company. My confidence I am sure will improve with practice and having these 3 key elements are valuable to me.

Great ideas thankyou

I wish I had read this when I first started. While I have improved vastly over the past year, I still stress over my designs. I highly recommed that new ID’s start simple and work from there. As you become more comfortable, then you can expand your skills.

Thanks for your inspirational advice about practice! I agree!

Lately I motivate myself to practice by structuring the work into small volunteer projects to solve a popular problem (like budgeting) or support a worthy cause (like helping women in technology keep their careers moving). When I’m done, I publish the final work and seek feedback, then plan the next project. Sometimes one idea can be reused in different formats to create a series that meets different learner needs. Helping others through my practices is very satisfying.

My practice work also serves as portfolio pieces, since most of my paid work is hidden behind corporate walls.

Thank you so much for the post! I’m inspired to start my next project!

Great article and advice Tom. The key advice I would give is that if you are going to practice, complete the entire project and give yourself a due date or finish by date…this way you will understand the entire process from beginning to end. This is also why the weekly challenges are great (for me) because my goal each week is to meet the deadline so that I show up in David’s recap within the weekly challenges blog.