What do you do for a living?

I create online courses.

How would you describe what you do?

It’s part instructional design, part learning theory and cognitive science, part graphic design, part game design, part screenwriting, part movie making. I have a background in special education and graphic design, plus I’m an artist in traditional media, so all of those things come together. Also, I LOVE computers and technology of all kinds.

What does your work entail?

You have to know how to write learning objectives and assess for them. It’s not enough to give out information. Teaching is about knowing how to prove your learner learned what you came to teach. Then you have to work with subject matter experts. I work in industry teaching highly technical topics so I need to rely on these engineer types who have all sorts of complicated, arcane knowledge inside their heads. It’s my job to extract that and translate it into something a newbie can understand and learn from. You have to really know learning theory, especially adult learning theory. Interpersonal skills are pretty important. After you have your content, it’s time to design the course.

You ALWAYS make the assessment first. You write the test, create the final assignment, design the final project. Whatever that last big thing you’re going to test the learner on is, you have to create that first. Then, you build a series of learning activities that will help the student learn and practice what they need to be able to succeed at that final assessment. Your learning activities should build up to what the student has to produce.

That can be everything from audio/video presentations, games, interactive exercises, short quizzes, assignments, all kinds of things. I have to know a wide range of production media. If you work in an educational setting, like I used to, you also to have make all your materials ADA compliant, so you need to know how to caption and use the accessibility programming for web design. I work from a script so I have to write that once I have the assessment figured out. I also do my own voice overs so I narrate everything myself.

What does a typical workweek look like?

I usually have a few projects going all the time. One big major course I’m working on and then usually a few side things, like an instructor for an in-person class wants a video or someone in marketing needs to repurpose a flash thing you made. A lot of times, because of my art and graphics background, I do little quickie projects for people on the side. Finally, there’s a whole steering and planning thing. I document my work process very carefully because the technology I use to create learning materials is always expanding and changing. I’m always trying to get things done faster and with less effort. That means improving every production cycle and tracking things like the hours you spend creating animations or a game or just custom graphics.

How did you get started?

I was working in special education training adults with disabilities for jobs. I bought a computer and immediately became obsessed. I went on to get a job in graphic design, teaching myself most of the programs out there in the early 90’s. I missed teaching and went back to that but a friend told me to sit in on his instructional technology class at the state college in our town. I went and I realized that here was something I could go to graduate school to learn.

So I enrolled and took 2-4 classes and worked full time. In 2006 I got my MA and then a job at the community college teaching faculty how to do their online classes, from the technology to the delivery. There were a bunch of budget cuts and I knew I was going to be bumped by people in more senior positions so I looked for work. I found a position in industry creating online classes for a company that sells highly complex technical testing equipment that the customers have to be trained to use. That’s where I work now. We are building a state-of-the-art customer training portal.

What do you like about what you do?

I get to learn about almost anything. I have unlimited job potential. The world of eLearning is EXPLODING. I plan to go into business for myself eventually, once I’ve built what I want to at my current company. So it’s just all excitement and newness. I get to use my artistic talents, my writing ability and I get to use really fun software all the time. My last two fun classes I took were video editing and sound design. Our online materials have upgraded a whole level in production values and it doesn’t even feel like work to me.

What do you dislike?

Subject matter experts are often not very savvy about how people learn. They really believe that everything they know is self-evident and they often say people are stupid because most others don’t have the depth of knowledge that they do. It’s a kind of blind, not really mean, arrogance that I have to overcome in order to get them to explain things to me in a way that new learners can use.

How do you make money/how are you compensated?


How much money do you make as an eLearning developer?

6 figures

How much money do you make starting out?

$60,000 in community college, but industry pays a lot more, although they expect a lot more and they give you much better tools to work with.

What education or skills are needed to become an eLearning devoloper?

I wouldn’t try this job without a lot of technical savvy for authoring software and a strong background in instructional design and educational theory. For that I would say a Master’s Degree is important. There are a lot of people who are experts at a topic, become trainers and then are asked to develop online materials. I find it’s like graphic design. You may have the machine, but if you’re not an artist, it won’t be that great. Same with teaching. You may have the ability to create a powerpoint presentation but that doesn’t mean you can teach.

What is most rewarding about this job?

Knowing that I can help people 24-7 to do their jobs better. Also knowing that when someone opens MY elearning course they will be pleasantly surprised. It’s going to be nice to look at, have a variety of learning experiences, and give them something to do. At the end they will know they have learned something. I have great confidence about that.

What is most challenging?

Getting the timelines shorter and shorter. Sometimes I have to give up doing an animation or having a great character walk around in the training and tell you stuff because there isn’t time. Also, being all on my own is sometimes really hard. There’s no one to bounce ideas off of. Most elearning developers are a one-person show so when I go to conference we kibitz about that a little.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

Take online trainings, figure out what’s broken about them and how you would make it better. If you know that, then you have the start. Go get a master’s degree in instructional technology or instructional systems design. Join professional organizations. Make elearning even if you’re not working in a job yet. Everyone has something they can teach others. How much time off do you get/take? 2-3 weeks a year plus holidays

What’s a common misconception people have about what you do?

That it’s boring and that all I do is create graphics for people to put into powerpoint and drone over.

What are your goals and dreams for the future?

I am going to establish myself as a thought leader in this industry. After 17 years in special education I have some very definite ideas about online instruction can heal and repair the education gaps and problems in our world. I’m going to build a really tall soapbox and stand up on it and tell everyone what I think.

What else would you like people to know about what you do?

There is no competition between online learning and face to face learning. They are different ways of teaching and learning and they do different things. Both systems are here to stay and all learners benefit from both.