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 or training.

If this sounds like you, you might wonder what skills you need to create 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 zeroed in on five of the biggest, broadest, 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 someone who just puts their slides online? Some of the skills that help earn the trust of others include:

  • Strong business acumen. Good designers 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. A good designer also knows how to think like a savvy business consultant. For instance, when last-minute design changes roll in, they hold trade-off conversations to help decision-makers prioritize needs. Even in the face of tough conversations, a good designer knows that their role is to present risks and rewards and keep everyone focused 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 might 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 digital experiences that speak to learners and motivate them to perform.

Some additional skills in this area include:

  • Creative problem-solving. All skilled designers are empathetic, and the same is true of instructional designers. Instructional designers can imagine themselves in the learner’s shoes and find ways to connect with them.
  • Concise, precise writing. Skilled instructional designers know how to write compelling and effective copy. Their writing is warm and professional as well as well-structured, focusing on need-to-know information.
  • Effective communication skills. Stakeholders and Subject Matter Experts aren’t always able to envision creative ways of presenting training content. Skilled instructional designers recognize this challenge and overcome it by showing their clients what they can do, instead of just telling them. They can do this by using techniques like prototyping or storyboarding to help build understanding before they invest a lot of time and energy 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:

  • 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. Skilled course creators understand how to use keyword search terms to find the images they need. They also know the basics of manipulating and even creating their own images.

Build the Skills

You Need a Little Technical Know-How

Beyond the features and functions of e-learning authoring apps, there are many different technical aspects to e-learning. Things like the creation and use of audio and video, how different web browsers behave, how to troubleshoot a course that’s not behaving as you expected on your Learning Management Systems (LMSs)—all of these are just a few examples. And while you don’t need to be a tech guru to create good e-learning, you should strive to know a few basics, including:

  • Your learner’s technical needs. There’s no point in designing a fabulous e-learning course full of rich multimedia if your learners have technology or bandwidth limitations that would prevent them from using it.
  • How to publish courses. Skilled e-learning developers understand the publishing settings of their authoring apps and how those settings impact the tracking and reporting of the course.
  • 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.
  • How to troubleshoot your courses. E-learning pros know that being prepared and following a routine troubleshooting checklist can be a huge timesaver—especially when you’re trying to track down the source of a mysterious technical glitch in the eleventh hour!

Build the Skills

More Resources

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

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 kick-start a conversation in our Building Better Courses forum.

New to e-learning? Sign up for our E-Learning 101 email course, a series of expertly-curated articles that'll get you up to speed with course development.

12 Comments