Almost daily I get emails asking how to get started with developing elearning. There’s no substitution for experience. Here are five tips that will help you gain experience and develop the skills to build elearning courses that you can be proud of.
Don’t Go Crazy Trying to Create an Award Winning Course
Start simple. The main goal is to communicate information that will help someone do something better. Microsoft has some really nice starter templates to help you organize your learning project. They even have a generic needs assessment and roll out plan.
After you do a few projects, you’ll feel more comfortable branching out from the templates and applying your own unique approach.
Learn from the Experts
To be a successful elearning designer means you have to know something about multimedia, graphic design, instructional psychology, and perhaps a little about Web and Flash technologies.
There are a lot of great experts with books to get you pointed in the right direction. Here are the ones I recommend for those just getting started. They give you a broad overview of what you need to know and all have good visual examples of what to do.
E-Learning by Design: I like to recommend this one because it covers all of the basics well.
Performance Consulting: This is a great resource to help you learn how to work with your clients and build a training course that will focus on real results.
The Non-Designer’s Design Book: I like books that explain ideas and then give me good examples. You’ll learn basic design principles and how to organize the content on your screen to create more visual impact.
Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability: I love this book because you don’t need to read it. The author has good before and after examples. While the book focuses on web usability, most of what he says about web pages applies to elearning, as well.
- E-Learning and the Science of Instruction: A terrific book that explains the research behind why you should and shouldn’t design your course a certain way.
This isn’t an exhaustive list. There are a lot of other good books I could recommend, but this is a good start and covers a lot of the basics.
Feel free to recommend other good books in the comments section.
Play Around with the Software
Compared to building courses in Flash or Authorware, the rapid elearning tools are easy to use. It’s just a matter of getting in there and using them. You really can’t break anything. If you’re not sure where to start, just start with the first drop down item or feature.
For example, I get a lot of questions about the best way to get started with Articulate Presenter. Here’s my answer. Create a simple 10 slide PowerPoint file. Then go to each feature in the drop down menu and use it. The menus are easy to understand and for the most part are self-explanatory. The key is to play around and see what happens.
In addition, try to connect with expert users of the software and show them what you’ve done and ask for opinions. One of the most popular threads in the Articulate Community Forum is one where people share their projects. It’s a great way get feedback and learn to use the software from expert users.
Don’t be Afraid to Experiment
As adults, we tend to inhibit our learning experience because we’re worried that what we do won’t be right. Well, today’s your day of liberation. You have permission to start an elearning project and play around with ideas. Don’t worry about getting it right.
I’ve done enough of these to know that there’s no right or wrong way and you have a lot of latitude in how you design your course. The secret is to practice experimenting with new things.
One of the ways I like to learn is by deconstructing what others have done. I’ll review courses I like and try to replicate them. Replicating good elearning courses helps me think through the project design, which in turn develops the skills I need.
For example, Michael Allen has some great books on building interactive elearning. His book, Guide to E-Learning, comes with a demo CD that has some really good examples in it.
In the image below, you see a screen capture from an Allen course on brake parts. The learner moves the mouse over the label to get information about a specific brake part. This was developed by a Flash programmer.
The good news for you just getting started is that you can get this level of quality with no programming skills and you can build something very similar to the course above in just minutes. In fact, the example below was built in less than 15 minutes using Articulate Engage.
To be engaged in your own learning, look for the types of elearning you’d like to do. Deconstruct the projects and see if you can replicate them. You might not always succeed, but you’ll learn a lot and you’ll really expand your skills.
Take Advantage of the Free Stuff
There are lots of good free resources available that will help you grow in your skills. The key is to use them.
- Stay on top of the industry. In an earlier post, I shared how to leverage web 2.0 technology to increase your skills. By reading blogs and connecting with experts, you will be continually reminded of what’s going on. If you want a good place to start, Gabe, our Director of Customer Support, had a recent post on his favorite learning blogs.
- Become part of the user community. In addition to staying on top of the industry, tap into the community resources for the software you use. As I mentioned earlier, the Articulate Community Forums are very valuable. If you use other software, they probably have their own forums. It’s other users who have figured out best practices to get the software to work for them. Tap into that resource and you can save hours of production time and potential frustration.
- Collect free resources. There are a lot of free resources to help you. In fact, we offer a free ebook that is good for beginners. You can also visit sites like Don Clark’s Performance, Learning, Leadership, & Knowledge. His site is like having an instructional design library at your finger tips.
Another site that I like is Making Change. Cathy does a great job showing examples. It’s a good balance to the text heavy, academic information from some of the other sites that are focused on instructional design theory.
These tips are just the beginning. The key for you is to take that first step. Don’t worry about whether what you do is right or wrong. You’ll figure it out as you go.
Take advantage of all of the tips and tricks you get from your peers. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.