I find that most rapid elearning developers are working by themselves or with very small teams. In those situations, their organizations don’t offer a lot of support to learn more about elearning. Typically, there’s no access to more experienced developers or others who can help them grow as an elearning developers.
On top of that, because of time constraints, many organizations aren’t always looking for the best elearning courses. They usually just want something done quickly. That was always my frustration. I wanted to do more, but most of my clients didn’t. So I had to build a lot of the same types of courses and didn’t get many opportunities to flex my wings.
If you’re in the same boat, here are some tips to help make 2010 a good year for you.
Become Part of the Rapid E-learning Community?
In a learning community, the newbies need the experts who provide valuable insight and experience. At the same time, the experts need the new people because they bring a different perspective and can challenge the norms. The worst thing for the community is to become an echo chamber where nothing’s challenged and no new ideas are explored.
In fact, some of my best personal learning comes when someone less experienced tries to figure out how to solve a problem. It’s something I might never explore if they didn’t ask (or if all I did was hang out with the other experts).
So if you want 2010 to be the year you really kicked your elearning skills into gear, here are some tips on how to join the rapid elearning community. I’m going to share them from my perspective in the Articulate user community, but the ideas aren’t limited to any specific tool.
Resolution 1: Join the Community
You can’t be part of the community if you don’t join it. Keep in mind, it’s not entirely a formal process. It’s a combination of formal structure and informal networking. You can join your software’s user community which is usually an online forum. And you can also enter the community by connecting with other elearning people and following them via RSS feed or other social media, like Twitter.
- The user community is where you’ll get some of the best tips and tricks because you’re connecting with other users who have similar issues and experiences. They can share best practices and techniques to help you succeed. The software only gives you features. But the users give you ideas on how to use the features.
- Use a RSS feed reader to track blogs, tweets, news, and forum discussions. I like Feedly, but there are a number of good feed readers available. You can also use something like Netvibes to create a home page that pulls in your feeds. This way everything’s always right there in plain sight. If you think feeds have to do with the Food Network, then go here to learn more about RSS feed readers.
Resolution #2: Ask Questions
Think of the elearning community as a big cocktail party with little groups of people involved in a bunch of different conversations. Most of the time, we’re observers walking from one group to the next. We listen, but rarely participate. You won’t meet new people at a cocktail party that way, and it won’t work online either. To really be part of the community, you have to be more involved.
- Ask a question. For many of us, asking questions is a challenge because we fear looking stupid or uninformed. However, if you want to learn, you’ll have to get used to asking questions. So stop lurking and start asking. If you don’t ask, you might be missing out on some really good stuff.
- Ask for help with ideas and not just technical issues. The software you use is just a tool. I find most people ask about technical issues like “how to add audio” but when pressed what they really want to know is “how to use audio to make the course better.” You probably need less help with the technical part of the tool and more with how to use the tool to produce the course you desire. Shift questions away from just technical help and start discussions about how to build better courses.
Resolution #3: Answer Questions
One of the best ways to become accepted in the community is to answer questions. However, the reality is that most people in the community are lurkers who only take information. The next level is the small percentage who will ask questions. And then even fewer will offer answers.
- Someone has to answer questions, why not you? You don’t even need to know the answer right off. If you see a question asked, try to figure it out and then offer a solution. You’ll learn and so will others. Most important, though, is that you’ll build a positive reputation in the community. And with that, people are more apt to help you when needed.
- Become an Expert. Want to be an MVP? Want some freelance gigs? This is the secret: make it a goal to answer five questions a day. You’ll become a frequent poster and develop some authority. Once you’re seen as an expert, the doors open. Trust me. Back when I was an Articulate MVP, I used to get all sorts of offers for freelance projects. And it all started because I made a personal commitment to answer a few questions every day.
Resolution #4: Share your E-learning Assets.
In many cases, we’re all building the same types of courses. Why not share what you’re doing? You don’t need to share any proprietary data, but if you have some good graphics or a PowerPoint template feel free to share it with others. Do you have some Flash skills? Why not share your expertise?
A community of active members shares ideas and assets. Sometimes it produces free assets for the other members. And sometimes it produces opportunities for those who are entrepreneurial.
Here are some recent examples related to the Articulate user community with some freebies to boot:
- MVP James Kingsley regularly shares some neat Flash tips and tricks. He did a pretty cool Flash demo that shows how to add variables to your rapid elearning courses. In fact, his blog has a lot of neat ideas. And he gives some of his stuff away.
- Articulate Engage comes with an SDK that allows community members to create and share community interactions. Here’s an example of the latest built by Dave Burton that you can freely download and use in Engage ‘09.
- A few members of the community have created and shared some custom skins that you can apply to your elearning courses.
- David Anderson shares all sorts of free stuff in the community. Here are a few examples: how to create rollover buttons, a chalkboard elearning template, and how to reduce screen text. Also, be sure to follow his Screenr stream. If you like the ideas in this blog, you’ll really like his tips, too.
- The same can be said for Jeanette Brooks who is active in the community and creates all sorts of helpful tutorials. You can follow her Screenr stream if you want to learn how to get the most out of your Articulate tools.
- Rapid elearning developer, Bryan Jones was frustrated by the lack of good images for elearning courses, so he decided to offer them himself. He’s even giving away a free starter pack.
Those are just a few of the examples of the tangible benefits of the elearning community. Not only do you learn from each other, you also are presented with all sorts of opportunities, and in many cases, free assets for your courses.
Resolution #5: Share Your Ideas
Make the community more than conversation about technical support. Share ideas. Talk about things you’ve learned and what you’d like to do. Here are a few recent examples that I think represent the best of what can happen in an active community:
- Peer review. After the 2009 Articulate Guru awards, a local ASTD group in Texas reviewed the CPR course that won the gold medal. The original course was built as a proof of concept and not a real course, so some of the critique is not relevant. However, I thought the overall review was good on two fronts. First, it’s a great example of how we can learn from each other in the community. I like that they got together to review an elearning course. Second, they do offer a lot of good ideas about how to improve the content. And, it’s good advice for almost any course. Here’s a copy of their review for those interested.
- Share what you learned. Is your first course going to be your best course? Probably not. But you can grow from each experience. I love the way Indu Gopinath did a quick write up on her blog about her experiences building her first rapid elearning course. It would be cool if more people did this. We’d all benefit.
Online communities and social media tools give you access to peers and experts that you didn’t have a few years ago. If you want to develop your skills and build better elearning courses, now’s a good time to get started. Connect with your user community and share what you know. You won’t regret it and you’ll have a great 2010.
What resolutions have you made to help build your skills this year? Share them by clicking on the comments link.
On a side note, I really want to thank all of those who participate in the Articulate user community. I also want to thank our MVPs who do so much to help other users and make our community a great place to learn.