The Rapid Elearning Blog

e-learning hero

Being an e-learning hero is all about perspective. You’d think it was about creating the best e-learning courses, but that’s not always the case. Let me explain.

I used to wake up worried that one day someone would realize that I didn’t know anything and I’d be out of a job. A while back I read a blog post where the writer expressed the same concern. After some discussion with others, he came to the conclusion that no one else knows anything either.

I say this because in your search to figure out how to do this thing we call rapid e-learning, I want you to feel comfortable knowing that what the pros tell you and what you need to do to be successful isn’t always the same. Instead of fretting over it, take what works and discard what doesn’t.

In this industry, there are many who complain about PowerPoint, yet most likely you’re using PowerPoint to build some of your training. In addition, you’re challenged to create engaging and interactive e-learning, yet you find that your organization is focused less on engagement and more on just getting information out. It’s not always easy balancing what the pundits tell you with what you actually have to do at work. The key is to maintain perspective and understand your needs.

Despite what people may say, there is no right or wrong way to build your e-learning courses. Of course, some of them will be more be more effective than others. However, effectiveness can be measured in different ways. For example, you might have one course that is a very engaging and interactive for the learners. Yet the customer could care less, or just wants a click and read course. In this case, the more effective course is the one that meets the customer’s goals and not the one that is a better learning environment. I know! I know! This is sacrilegious to some.

An E-Learning Hero Understands the Level of Effectiveness

If you want to be an e-learning hero, you need to learn what the level of effectiveness is for your projects. Your success depends on who says you’re effective and how they choose to evaluate that.

When you first get started, here are some things to keep in mind.

  1. Please your customer. The main goal is that you please your customer. Pleasing your customer has little to do with whether or not the training is effective. You can create great training but if the customer is not happy, your good job will go unnoticed.
  2. What are some ways to please your customer? Establish clear expectations and then meet or exceed them. Make your customer look good. Control your costs. Finish ahead of schedule. Be proactive and take care of details before they come to the attention of the customer.
  3. Serve the business. It’s important to align your work with the organization’s goals. Do your best to get your customer and courses focused on performance results. Set clear and measurable training objectives. Sometimes this is hard with training projects, especially if their goals are out of your hands. Make sure that your projects are cost effective and save time.
  4. Report the performance results. Believe it or not, many training developers fail to report their results. This is a lost opportunity, especially if you use rapid e-learning tools since they save so much time and money. The best way to get results is to link the training to real performance. Establish clear objectives and measure the results. Track improvements in performance. Report the difference the training makes.
  5. Focus on saving time & money. It’s not always possible to link your training to real performance results. In that case, your best bet is to focus on time and costs. Compare what it costs to outsource the training to what it cost for you to develop it. Then report the value you brought to the organization by not outsourcing. You can also report savings in time. For example, “instead of delivering the project in 3 months, you delivered it in 2 weeks!”

Shhhh….a Secret!

From my experience, customers are more apt to report the value by cost rather than performance improvements. It just looks better and is easier to explain. For example, I get more traction if I say that I delivered 100 e-learning courses that were valued at $1 million, then if I say my training improved performance by 30%. Even if the 100 modules are irrelevant to the performance goals, I have found that people are quick to use those cost numbers. That’s why a lot of your success is less about real numbers and more about perspective.

Ideally, what defines your success is that you are able to create great e-learning courses that are effective and engaging. However, you’re only great if your customer thinks you’re great. If you want to be an e-learning hero you have to manage the relationship you have with your customers. Help them focus on real results and do a good job reporting your success.

If your customer is happy, then you’re an e-learning hero.

In the next post, we’ll look at 5 Ways to Jumpstart Your Next Project. In the meantime, feel free to share how you manage your customer relationships.


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37 responses to “So You Want To Be An E-Learning Hero?”

August 7th, 2007

You hit the nail on the head. Companies are going to cut your department first during lean times if you can’t demonstrate how you contribute to the bottom line. During fat times, many companies talk about how people are their most important resource. But when revenues are down, they look at the pie chart showing labor and material are the two biggest wedges of the pie. They can’t cut material, so they hack away at labor, especially support labor. Suddenly people become the most expendable part of the equation.

I completely agree with your view points on this issue. I have an instructional design degree and have had the opportunity to contract with several companies. Each one wanted something vastly different and measured my success based on what they were looking for; not necessarily good design principles. And I have always thought the same as you, Tom, however, each executive that I worked for thought his/her opinion was the ‘correct’ one.

I have only one question: How do you report performance results when the customer does not want to pay for it? Is there a ‘quick and easy’ method to use?

August 15th, 2007

How do you deal with content owner’s needs that are not the same as the learner’s needs? Who do we satisfy? It’s true we need to have good relationships with our client, but my concern is that even though these relationships could be good, the learners’ needs still are not satisfy.

You should give (real) experts more credit, I think.
(Don’t they say: “A real expert knows when to use the wrong model”)

I think you mean people calling themselves experts and exploiting this in a commercial way? (like the guy who thinks he invented mindmapping?)

Another point:
The first thing I always try when I am on a new website is to enlarge the fonts to see if it fits 508. Your website does not enlarge the fonts, but if I look with Opera and switch the style and pictures off, your website still looks good: Can you spent some time on this subject? (Choosing which tool for 508?)

A good point is selling your idea by saying that it saves money: the author of web accessibility, Jim Thatcher does this in his book.

First of all, I apologize for my bad english (I’m italian, you see 😉
I agree with each one of the four points you listed about “some things to keep in the mind” before starting and I try to do so when I’m involved in a new e-learning project, even if I know that I can’t rely upon my customer’s awareness of what is a good or bad course. What follow is the explanation of why I agree with your tips.
Actually in Italy, also in big companies like that I work for at the moment, an Istructional Designer has to answer two basic questions:
1. How can I explain to the commitment that an e-learning course is not ONLY an IT product? Better, how can I make them knowing the importance of a good design to achieve a good training result?
2. How can I show the experts of subject that the e-learning medium (and most of all “rapid e-learning”) is not a way to trivialize their infinite knowledge, but a way to use CONCRETELY this knowledge to improve people performance?
If you can get little dazed comprehension about the first point, on the second you will find a stonewall – not always but very very very often.
Moreover, the commitment leave you ID to fight against the expert of subject because you too are an expert (of what is not so clear, but…) and often the real goal in e-learning projects is not improving job performance but cut costs of “traditional training” and/or comply with rules.
So, as I read “Shhh…a secret!” I said: “Yes, of course! In fact I use Articulate so I can make courses by myself (I present this as “homemade e-learning” – you see, in Italy we love “homemade pasta” and so on…) and my boss will be happy because he will save money, even if one day we have to update them”.
On the other hand, I receive positive feedback from learners: a lot of them are satisfied by a new and easier way to consider our products because when I develop the course in Articulate I obviously start from a PowerPoint template (it’s a storyboard!) and the content is structured in order to facilitate the learning process.
Finally, the source PowerPoint file – appropriately modified and customized – can be reused also in other settings, like meetings or – why not? – in the classroom.

Carolina, that’s the real struggle in doing this stuff. I always side with the person paying the bills:).

Ger, good point. I have some posts planned on 508 compliance. Is there anything in particular that you’d share? Also, I see that you’re not in the US. How does 508 compliance work outside of the US? Does it go by a different title?

Lisa, great points…and good job with the English.
Linda B, I will be addressing some ideas around reporting results. My Dad recently told me a story about his time in Vietnam. He managed a lot of the shipments coming in and going out. He told me that at that time it was the busiest port in the history of the world, a fact repeated in a number of military reports from his supervisors on up. I asked him how he knew that. He said, because that’s what he reported:) Something to think about.

I’ve got a question about Learning Object duration. How can I determine the length of a LO? For a video or another learning resource like a multimedia course it’s possible to count “to the minute”, but, for example, how can I do for a PDF resource?


Lisa, to make it easy, assume 1-2 minutes per page and then multiply by the number of pages. Hope that helps.

Thank you Tom. And what about if I differentiate between a resource with a clear formative aim (i.e. a resource which is designed in a certain way and presents determined features) and another type of resource, like a legislation, which is only in consultation? In this case, if I have a PDF file, can I assume 3 minutes per page?

That’s what I would do. You could just read it and time how long it takes and then round it up to the closest quarter hour. For example, if it takes 35 minutes to read, round up to 45 min.

I always think about what happens when the course you deliver is text heavy, first you get the information from a subject expert that has loads of text that you cant deliver any other way apart from displaying the text……

Hi Tom,

I stumbled upon your blog today when I was looking for a piece of information on Captivate on some other person’s blog. I must say I am enjoying every bit of it. I am an instructional designer and I really appreciate your efforts for spreading awareness about elearning.


July 2nd, 2008

Perspective is everything in our profession.
I realized it after 3 consecutive meetings that resulted in frustrated parties (Me and the other party).
Since Instructional Designers deals with change and changes are always difficult, a very important thing to do is viewing the problem from the customer’s point of view. If you are able to connect to his view, if you are able to use his terminology, and if you’re able to clearly and respectfully describe his benefits from hiring you, without being percieved as pushy, you are half way to your success.
An Instructional Designer is a lot like an Qualitative researcher who is trying to learn about something without any assumptions.
Leave you ego outside the door, respect your client, and remember, whatever knowledge you may have, is only abstract ideas to your client, use terms he can relate to, and you have a concrete ground to begin.

Tom you are my hero!

You have a very nice point here.We have to get the cost dowun and in these day this has to been in the firth rown.


My father told me a long time ago, “Much of life is always about perspective.” I too believe that training is about perspective. My employer feels better if they believe that learning is taking place.

That said, I feel it my job to make sure that I am applying as many sound learning principles to the project, shortening production times, and keeping my costs honest. Nice post.

Hi Tom: How do you deal with situations when client furnishes you with loads of text and pictures for instructional material?

@Naheed: The challenge is to help the client see that the content they furnish is a means to satisfying a goal. Place the focus on the ultimate goal and then help the client see what content is needed to satisfy the goal. Not all of the content needs to be part of the actual course. You cna pull some out and put in cheat sheets, PDfs, and user notes.

Tom, I just stumbled across your e-Learning 101 course & am so excited to be going thru it. It’s perfect for what I need to know right now. Your writing is succinct & down-to-earth. Your perspective is basic & helpful. I am totally trying to become an e-Learning hero! thank you. 🙂

@Kay: glad that you find the blog helpful. I do try to keep it simple. My focus is on the person who’s just getting started and needs to be pointed in the right directions. Over time, you’ll fill in the gaps.

Hi Tom,

This blog is incredible.

It made me think that our company probably should benefit from some online reputation management courses. Here is the question though. I could probably persuade the owners to develop the course, but someone would need to develop the content.

Do you have any tips on that?

@Andy: If you don’t want to try it you you can hire someone to do that for you. Look at Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping ideas to help you get started. She also has a blueprint product that can walk you through some of the key decisions.

We also have a practice course with free assets in our community.

Love the blog. I recently begun exploring articulate products and am a fan. I developed and teach an online certificate program as well as train other eteachers in our program. I am putting together an eteacher guide for them and would like to include some of your blog posts. Could I have permission to reprint them with the appropriate credit and citation? Let me know and thank you so much. -Eliezer

April 5th, 2011

So Zen Tom. I try telling people 90% of the questions I answer I did not know the answer to before they are asked. You ask, I problem solve quickly, answer and prompty forget. And yet so much time is spend trying to get folks to “know” things…

Finally, after much googling and searching, I’ve found a site with truth, commensense, encouragement – coupled with obvious experience. Thank you. A recent role change has me tasked with converting 2 days of classroom training into elearning. The challenge for me is twofold. I’m out of touch with training techniques, and, in truth was never brilliant. Secondly, the learning program addresses user needs of a national user base across multiple roles and regions. I’m excited by the challenge and am very pleased to have found your site!

@Beth: ‘m glad the site offers some value to you. make sure to take advantage of all of the free downloads and info in Elearning Heroes community, too. Lots of smart people there and they’ll answer your questions.

January 12th, 2012

Hello Tom.

Having viewed many blog sites over the last several days, I was impressed by the content of your site. I really appreciate the information offered and the candor with which you present it. In today’s turbulent economy, companies are seeking effective cost cutting measures and just like other companies, the government is seeking ways to reduce their budget as well.
I work in the training department for a government contracting company where we are in the daunting process of converting all the old paper manuals into IETP’s. When completed, this will facilitate the process in which updates are delivered as well as enhance portability. We do our best to satisfy the customer (the government) and this is challenging at times given the fact that content change notices occur regularly and with little or no advance warning.
In some cases what the customer wants does not fall in line with the standards that we are required to adhere to. These cases require diplomatic handling although adherence to the specified standards is obligatory.
Just wondering what tactics you have employed as an instructional designer when your customers ask you for deliverables that cannot be met.
I have just recently discovered your blog and am enjoying the reading. Keep up the good work.

@Keith: thanks for the feedback. You can only do what you can do. I always defer to the person who pays the bills. 🙂 Many times you can control expectations. For example, I used to start with a generic project plan that had every possible task on it. If I ran them back to back without adjustments, it usually ran for 45 business days. I’d start to map out the project with the client and they’d see calendar expand, or if they wanted a short time frame I’d ask them which task they wanted to overlook or cut out.

Another thing I did was to create treatments to represent the different types of work I can do given different time frames. The key in both was that they could see something tangible and connect it to their decisions.

Hi Tom,

What Blogs do you have on Rapid e-learning with something other than ppt? For example Storyline….

@Nadine: I try to keep the blog somewhat tool neutral. However, we have all sorts of tutorials & practical tips for Articulate Storyline. You can find product tutorials in the community, as well as ongoing FAQs. I also recommend subscribing to the Word of Mouth blog for Articulate-specific content. And finally, if you’re on our mailing list, you’ll get these cool how-to videos every couple of weeks.

With that said, once you learn to use Storyline, most of the tips and tricks I offer about instructional design in this blog still apply. Hope that helps.

Thanks, I am using Storyline and loving it.

Hi, Tom

Just to say thank U, for this blog

I’ve just started a project of e-learning about JD Edwards, and this page helps me so much 🙂

PD. Sorry for my english, I’m from Monterrey, Mexico

Great, that is right, customers are more apt to report the value by cost rather than performance improvements.

June 6th, 2013

Isn’t it too bad that cost means more than performance? It makes no sense. If training doesn’t improve performance it really doesn’t matter what is spent