5 Skills You Need to Create Better E-Learning

One thing I hear from many new e-learning developers—especially those who’ve wandered into the e-learning profession unintentionally—is the concern that they’re not creating “good” e-learning. Setting aside the problems with defining what constitutes “good,” I’ve found that their worries actually stem from the belief that their work might betray a lack of formal instructional design education.

If this sounds like you, you may wonder what skills you need to create highly effective and great-looking e-learning. And, once you know what you don’t know, how do you build those skills to improve the quality of your work … and hopefully define “good” for yourself?

There are lots of e-learning and instructional design skills inventories floating around the web, many of them with lengthy, overlapping lists that feel intimidating. I like to keep things simple, so I’ve homed in on five of the biggest, broadest, and most critical skills you need for creating better e-learning. From there, I’ll point you to some free resources to help you build those skills and more. Let’s dive in!

You Need Consultative Skills

Once you’ve got some practical e-learning experience under your belt, it’s time to think about how to position yourself with the project team and business leaders. Are you a trusted partner and collaborator, or do these folks see you as more of an e-learning order-taker? Developers with consultative skills are usually seen as the former. Some of the skills that help earn the trust of others include: 

  • Strong business acumen. Good consultants are results-oriented and take the initiative. They own their expertise, constantly improving their knowledge and skills. They’re also good at objectively balancing the needs of the business, the learners, and the project timeline and budget to get the best results.
  • Good communication skills. Consultants often lead trade-off conversations to help decision-makers prioritize needs, and sometimes these conversations include exploring ideas or solutions that people don’t want to hear. Even in the face of tough conversations, consultants know to how to present risks and rewards and reframe ideas to focus on achieving the best outcomes.

Build the Skills

  • Study the habits other successful instructional designers have cultivated and try fostering some of them for yourself.
  • Build a support network of peers you can turn to for outside perspective and advice. The Building Better Courses forum on E-Learning Heroes is a great resource for virtual networking with fellow peers. You may also find inspiration and support from folks in creative writing, usability or experience design, graphic design, and other related industries.

You Need Organizational Skills

Projects come and go, each with their own demands on your skills and creativity. But developing organizational skills can improve nearly every aspect of your professional life. Here are a few skills to master in this area: 

  • Task prioritization. Whether you’re a one-person training shop or part of a large team, having the ability to manage your time and prioritize tasks is crucial to staying on top of your workload.
  • Basic project management skills. Having an understanding of project management tools and processes can help you stay focused and organized, manage stakeholder expectations, and generally keep your projects on track.

Build the Skills

You Need Instructional Design Knowledge

Some of today’s e-learning authoring tools make it easy for nearly anyone to assemble a simple course. But good e-learning is more than just an assembly job. Instructional designers must continuously develop their understanding of how people learn. That’s because instructional design for e-learning is all about transforming raw content into compelling experiences that speak to and motivate learners to perform.

Some additional skills in this area include:

  • Creative problem-solving. Strong instructional designers are empathetic. They can imagine themselves in the learner’s shoes and identify innovative strategies for reaching them.
  • Concise, precise writing. Instructional designers know how to write compelling and effective copy. Their writing is well-organized, focusing on need-to-know information.
  • Accurate and effective idea communication. Project stakeholders like business leaders and Subject Matter Experts aren’t always able to envision a creative interpretation of their content. The successful e-learning pro overcomes this challenge with prototyping, outlining, and storyboarding their ideas to build understanding and secure their approval before investing a lot of time into building a course.

Build the Skills

You Need an Eye for Visual Design

While you don’t need to be an art major to design great-looking e-learning, it certainly helps.  That’s because e-learning is a visual medium. And a key part of an e-learning developer’s role is the ability to visualize the course’s user interface, graphics, and interactions.

A few key skills to develop in this area include:

  • Balanced layout composition. Understanding how to work with course assets and content to create harmonious and balanced layouts is important for enhancing usability for all learners. It’s also helpful to have a sense of concepts like scale and proportion, as well as C.R.A.P.—contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity.
  • Image sourcing and manipulation. E-learning developers should be able to identify and source appropriate images. It’s also helpful for developers to understand the basics of how to work with and even create their own images using image-editing tools.

Build the Skills

You Need Some Technical Know-How

Beyond the features and functions of e-learning authoring tools, many different technologies impact course creation. Things like audio, video, web browsers, SCORM, and Learning Management Systems (LMSs) are just a few examples. And while you don’t need to be a tech guru, you do need to have a good grasp of a few basics, including:

  • How to publish courses. Skilled e-learning developers understand the publishing settings of their authoring tools and how those settings will impact tracking and reporting.
  • How to test courses. E-learning isn’t effective if it doesn’t work properly. Testing courses before they’re rolled out to learners is typically part of a more formal quality assurance (QA) process that can help catch everything from typos to broken links or malfunctioning media.

Build the Skills

More Resources

If you’re feeling a tad overwhelmed by all the skills you need to build, don’t fret. Keep in mind that learning is a journey made much more exciting with a few twists and turns in the road. And wouldn’t you rather be in the driver’s seat of your own professional development?

In this article, I’ve rattled off just a few skill-building pointers and resources, but there’s so much more to learn. Keep expanding your knowledge with some of these related articles:

What other skills have you found to be important in your role as an e-learning developer? What tips or advice would you give to others who are following in your footsteps? Share your ideas in a comment below or kickstart a conversation in our Building Better Courses forum.

You can always sign up for a fully functional, free trial of Articulate software. And don’t forget to post your questions and comments in the forums! We’re here to help. For more e-learning tips, examples, and downloads, follow us on Twitter.