E-Learning Design - How did you get started?

Hello, I'm Martin, a graduate who feels E-Learning would be a suitable profession for me, but I'm wondering where I can get my foot in the door. My final project for my degree was Flash and Photoshop in an interactive story game, so a few advisors have put me in this direction. The more I get into, the more confident I feel that this could be a good field for me, but I wonder what's next, if there's something I'm missing.

I'm trying out e-learning software (Articulate, Captivate), making basic presentations with quizzes, I'm reading up on the local companies and terminology and anything I make is being recorded on demos for Youtube, but beyond that I'm curious what I can do to get involved and develop.

So yeah I'm just putting this here out of curiosity.

What did you do? What was that step that put you in the right direction? Who was the contact? Any stories, discoveries, tips and advice are welcome.

24 Replies
Phil Mayor

Hi Martin welcome to the community and good luck with your chosen career.

I started off life wanting to be a tennis player, realised that was never going to happen and over 15 years trained as a nurse, worked in research, moved onto be a face 2 face trainer, left to become the education lead for the East Midlands which evolved into an elearning developer, left to go freelance.

I think face 2 face training is a real asset for an instructional designer, but we all bring something to the mixing pot, find out what makes you unique and use that as your sales technique.

Anyway good luck!

Tim Slade

Hi Martin,

Welcome to the community! I suspect you're going to get a lot of responses on this question, and each story will be very different! I started my e-learning career while working in retail loss prevention (catching shoplifters) at Kohl's Department Stores. I always say that retail loss prevention is just one step above being a mall cop (and I've done that before too!).

Anyhow, one day I was given the opportunity to go to the corporate offices and develop training for the entire loss prevention division. That's when I was first introduced to Articulate Studio '09 and discovered that I had a talent for e-learning. The rest is history really.

I agree with Phil about getting some instructional design and F2F training experience. That will help a ton. Otherwise, you can go in a million different directions. In my experience, working for a corporate organization really helped me develop my project management and instructional design skills. I don't think I could have ever made the jump to freelancing without the 5 years I spent in the corporate world.

You have to figure out what works for you and follow your gut feelings. Figure out what your end goal is and take opportunities/make decisions that move you in that direction. And hey, you made you first post here - I'd say that a step in the right direction!

Best of luck!


Lance Treloar

Hi Martin

I think you are going to see a lot of different stories in response to this question - no two roads are the same

For my part, I studied to be a teacher, worked 14 years in the gaming industry (10 of those as a trainer, training coordinator and e-learning coordinator), then moved into L&D consulting. It was at the coporate level that I was introduced to e-learning, and that was where I started to learn.

I would have to say that working direct for an organisation is a great place to start and to learn the basics. A corporate L&D team can also give you the opportunity to gain wider exposure/experience - e-Learning, paper based design and development and face-to-face delivery. I agree with Phil in that f2f experience is a huge asset in ID.

Best of luck

Rachel Barnum

I applied to a course technologist job that I was very surprised to get! Previously, I worked as an Ed Tech intern where I created a little bit of training and I worked in support where I also did some training. Neither of those roles really had to do much with e-learning however. I was applying to more project coordinator and marketing assistant jobs, but somehow managed to get the course technologist position and I loved it!

Simon Perkins

Phil Mayor said:

I started off life wanting to be a tennis player,

Really? I was a tennis coach. Seems a long time ago now.

Martin, putting the tennis stuff aside, I'd always played around with computers and other technology so I ended up working in the field. Then I took a career break as I wanted to do something that made more of a difference to people. Trained as a CTI coach and did some career/personal coaching for a couple of years. Ended up wanting to mix in the technology angle and ended up in an elearning role. That was 7 years ago. And although that role began in sales n marketing, I used my own time to learn about the design aspects by playing with software, talking to people, getting a feel for the challenges / what works / what doesn't work etc.

Depending on what you need to earn right now, I'd recommend playing with as much software as you can (including Storyline) while contacting NGOs etc like William says.

Good luck.

Dan Crowe

Hi Martin, welcome. For networking and keeping current on topics of interest in learning technology, I recommend joining the eLearning Guild (tier one is free), and perhaps also the ATD (formerly ASTD); also to look for eLearning user groups on LinkedIn. You are already a member of this network, which is an excellent means of staying on top of new developments in Articulate. If you haven't done so, subscribe to Tom Kuhlmann's blog, and read his archives. Build up a portfolio by making tutorials on virtually any topic you can think of.

Kathy Hoffa

Hi Martin!

Some tips from me would be to approach a not for profit organization to build some e-learning training for them, so you can add some real experience to your resume. I would also recommend that you create a website to post your portfolio, so that you can add a link to it for any position that you apply for. (Wix.com is a free platform) Another tip would be to gain classroom facilitation experience to be a more versatile trainer/instructional designer. I facilitated Dave Ramsey classes, which helped me to gain experience. You can also look into Graduate Degrees in Instruction Design, like Purdue University's Learning Design and Technology Program. (Available as an online course.)

Nicole Legault

Hi Martin!

Welcome to the community and thanks for posting your question here! I think it's a great topic and I see you've already got some great feedback. I think the one constant when it comes to e-learning is that most people somehow fell into the field by accident, and that would include me.

I like to be really practical, so here is a list of things I would recommend to you to help you get involved and develop your e-learning skills =)

1) Take some courses or certification in Instructional Design. This will help round off your skillset. I took an amazing 3-day workshop called Instructional Design for New Designers by Langevin Learning Services and I can't recommend it highly enough. It changed my life and how I view training. They teach you how to do a training needs analysis, a task analysis, how to choose different presentation methods, etc. It's super practical and great workshop to give you good basic ID skills. Something else you might want to look into are courses on graphic design basics. Knowing how to do some cool graphic stuff (and even just basic things like removing backgrounds, cropping, adjusting brightness, adding filters, etc) will go a long way in helping you design great looking courses.

2) Develop a portfolio and a simple website for yourself. There are tons of great threads going on in the community where people share how and why they are sharing their blogs and e-learning portfolios (here, here and here to name a few). If you have access to Storyline and Captivate, develop a little 5-slide mini course in each tool that you can use in your portfolio. You can even build out a sample in Powerpoint. If you don't have any authoring tools to use in your free time try to download the 30 day free trial and create something within 30 days.

3) Take part in the Articulate weekly challenge. David Anderson hosts the Articulate Weekly Challenge where every week he posts a new topic/theme/idea and people develop their submissions using Powepoint, Studio, Storyline.... whatever they have access to! It's a great way to get inspired by others, and it's a great way to get some practice and develop samples. You can also get some good constructive criticism and feedback from others in the community, if you so choose to ask.

4) Cultivate your social media personality. Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, the Articulate forum. These are places where you can share ideas, tips, tricks and build a following and make a name for yourself in the industry. I would NOT be where I am today in my career without the blog I started (Flirting with E-Learning) and without my strong social media presence on Twitter and LinkedIn. Make sure you're putting your name out there and that will help make sure (that eventually) opportunities come to you.

5) Stay tuned to the Articulate forums and Blogs. I know this is cliche... but as they say, it's often not what you know, it's who you know. So make sure you're connecting with tons of people in your industry! One way to do this is to stick around the forums. You should also check out the blogs section to make sure you're always on top of what's new and happenin' in the world of e-learning

Good luck to you!! Hope to see more of you around the forums and on social media

Dana Kocalis

Hi Martin,

Welcome. My best advice would be to create a website and create a portfolio of work that users (i.e. prospective employers) can view using the various software. Also, participating in the "weekly e-learning challenges" within this site and it would give you some experience, exposure, and courses to then load on your website. And because there is a different challenge every week, it would give you a way to practice a variety of techniques for a wide range of subject matter. The weekly challenge is where you can also see what others have created within the weekly challenges.

Hope this helps and good luck


Ashley Chiasson

Hi Martin!

I stumbled into Instructional Design when a friend of mine pitched me to the organization she was working at. I didn’t realize it was a career option, and it really wasn’t my first choice, but I’ve grown to become quite passionate about the work that I do.

I stayed with that organization for five years, completed a Masters of Education (Post-Secondary Studies) and then took my side hustle (I was freelancing in what little downtime I had) full-time. I LOVE development, but I also really enjoy doing analysis and design (two tasks that don’t get contracted out enough, in my opinion), and I think it’s important that no matter what phase of development you’re most passionate about, that you at least understand and appreciate all phases. If you’re note sure what analysis or evaluation or design entails…dig a bit deeper in your research and at least familiarize yourself with the other phases.

I’m quite passionate about working within Higher Education, and it is a bleep of a role to get into when your local demographic is over-saturated with educators. I don’t necessarily agree that face-to-face instruction is an asset for Instructional Designers, although I will admit that it can provide you with a good context for your development. With that being said, I’m not a face-to-face instructor and never have been. I’ve never aspired to be a teacher, and I truly love the behind the scenes work that I do for organizations and/or faculty members at the institution I work for. Is face-to-face essential? No, I don’t think so. Is it a nice-to-have? Sure.

In the end, it really just depends on where you want to go with your career. You may settle into a few roles before figuring it out, but perhaps you want to be an Instructional Designer, perhaps you want to be a project manager for an e-learning company, perhaps you want to design and deliver your own instructor-led training. It can seem daunting, but give it some time and you’ll quickly figure out what path you’re most passionate about

My best advice is to research, research, research! Try on as many hats as you're provided and see what fits best!


Bruce Graham

I think the whole "face-to-face" trainer thing is important, but once again, for reasons outside "training".

For me, the benefits of F2F experience for an ID is that you get used to dealing with PEOPLE - how they react and your counter-reactions, social confidence, how to challenge (which you have to), how to withdraw gracefully when needed (without being seen as petulant....!), selling skills and a plethora of other social skills.

Yesterday, for example, I had to sit in a room with a Regional Exec. Director of Marketing of a large company. He had requested my help "...with our eLearning". In essence, I had to explain to him that he was in a "sales support" role, and not actually supporting the sales team. He was hindering them. From that point I needed the (social and communication) skills to take the pieces that were left, and rebuild into a successful ID intervention, which ended up with us planning paid consultancy and course-build assistance.

You will not necessarily get those skills from a Masters, or technical courses, or from a home-based "virtual" role. You will only get them from a role that involves "high impact" social interaction, which F2F training provides. Just my 2p.

Sent from my iSofa

Joanna Tracy

I started out as a technical writer. I was hired on for a contract doing instructional design due to my technical writing and tech savvy background.

I learned Articulate Presenter, Engage, and Quizmaker in a matter of days by using e-learning hero's and playing around with the program myself. Only one other person on my team knew Articulate so I didn't have much help.

I then got a contract doing QA and editing courses in Articulate Storyline. I learned this program on the job with a few hours introduction by my co-worker and then I dived in.

Some hints:

do the 30 day trials of the programs

also you can use udemy or Lynda.com

Tim Danner

I came into my current instructional design position after having worked in previous jobs as a web designer/developer, computer teacher (grades 7-12 and adult learning) and technology coordinator, mentor in an online learning lab, and tech support person responsible for creating training videos and helping instructors build their online courses in Moodle. Even though I had never held the position of ID, my past jobs included just about every responsibility within ID. One area in which I didn't have experience, was with using an e-learning authoring tool, like Articulate. However, I easily and quickly picked it up. My biggest obstacle in getting into ID was not having a masters degree. Most of the job postings I saw required an advanced degree in ID or instructional/educational technology.

Currently, I supervise an ID support person, and whenever the position is vacant and I'm trying to fill it (like right now), I look for the following qualifications:

  1. Experience using Articulate Studio/Storyline or a similar program
  2. Experience performing teacher/admin tasks in an LMS
  3. Online or classroom teaching experience
  4. Experience using screencasting and Adobe software
  5. Basic to intermediate web design skills

Nos. 1 and 2 are make-or-break items. If the applicant has Articulate experience but little or no LMS experience, I would be fine with that, as I desperately need hands-on course development help above all else and could manage the LMS work while the support person got acclimated with our three learning management systems. If the applicant has a strong LMS background but no experience using Articulate, I'd be more hesitant hiring that individual. The exception would be if the person has a very strong tech background that's similar to mine, and maybe had some teaching experience. In that case, I might feel a little more confident the applicant could learn Articulate on the job relatively quickly.

Marissa Carterud

Hi Martin,

I started working in the Corporate environment in the training and development area, and was a facilitator teaching face to face classes. As part of each project I worked on, I was able to collaborate with instructional designers and took on pieces of a project until eventually I was leading projects and working them soup to nuts! I would perform the needs analysis, create learning strategies, perform project management tasks, and took on the design/development and deployment. Eventually I started creating eLearning courses and I was hooked! I knew I wanted to concentrate on eLearning so I found a job as an eLearning developer. I will say, because of my experience, I also still perform all those instructional design tasks in my current role because of need.

My advice is to figure out what you want to do...eLearning only? Or instructional design? Or both? The figure out the best place to go for experience in those skills. ASTD has many courses that you can take that look pretty good on your resume.

Good luck!

Andrew Winner

Hey Martin, I came in all ready to give my two cents, but Nicole Legault's response is spot-on on all points.

1) Take some courses or certification in Instructional Design. This will help round off your skillset. I took an amazing 3-day workshop called Instructional Design for New Designers by Langevin Learning Services and I can't recommend it highly enough. It changed my life and how I view training. They teach you how to do a training needs analysis, a task analysis, how to choose different presentation methods, etc. It's super practical and great workshop to give you good basic ID skills. Something else you might want to look into are courses on graphic design basics. Knowing how to do some cool graphic stuff (and even just basic things like removing backgrounds, cropping, adjusting brightness, adding filters, etc) will go a long way in helping you design great looking courses.

The one thing I would add on to this first bullet is that it's worth exploring a graduate-level master's or certificate. Once you get in the door, you'll have access to a lot of professors and colleagues who are already in the industry. Additionally, most programs have pretty active job boards as often organizations will reach out to the college directly to fill open positions. Even if you only take one class per term, I think it's a pretty valuable experience from both a networking and an educational standpoint.

Putting together a portfolio is a great idea too -- there are some really great examples from members of the community on this thread: http://community.articulate.com/blogs/david/archive/2014/08/08/show-your-elearning-portfolio.aspx

It's really nice to know that, when you're looking for a job, you can just fire off that link and it'll include everything: your samples of work, your resume, and your contact info. I think any organization that's serious about hiring will ask for samples and this will put you ahead of the pack.

Good luck and thanks for posting your question! It spurred some great discussion -- I really enjoyed reading how everyone got into the field.

David Glow

By accident: http://businesscriticallearning.com/my-id-story/

But in a nutshell, the two things that will get you in the door:

Show your work (HT to Jane Bozarth), but seriously, have a portfolio that demonstrates your ability- #ELH challenges are wonderful

Network- if you are near a conference and can't afford it, get the EXPO pass, #lrnchat and #chat2lrn, LinkedIn Groups. Engage and share and be helpful.

Everyone in this industry wants to help their peers, so connect and show how you can help. Folks knowing organizations who need your skills will start looking for you.

And, don't be afraid to just jump in and say you can do something, even when you really weren't prepared- worked for me over 19 years.

Brandie Jenkins

Hi Martin, 

 I obtained a job as a Course Developer by volunteering to help with training and documentation projects in my organization, and  taking the initiative to learn everything I could about adult learning principles and e-learning instructional design.  This led to a promotion to the E&D team, where my passion for instructional design grew. A year ago, I ventured out into freelance and obtained my first customers through Elance. I am still working with them on various projects.  

The key has been not just having a good portfolio, but also networking and building  relationships with clients and other instructional designers.  The Articulate Blogs, the Association for Talent Development (ATD), and various Instructional Design blogs on LinkedIn can be a great place to start. I am especially fond of the resources that the ATD offers, including local chapter meetings, webinars, and various eLearning Instructional Design courses. 


Susan Czubiak

Way back in the olden days I used to do stand-up training, then I started designing instructor-led courses, then I began developing eLearning courses. As the Learning industry changed, I was lucky enough to move in that direction. If I really wanted a start in the Learning industry today, I would look for a position as a Learning Coordinator to get my foot in the door somewhere. My advise is this: always keep working on your skills - not only technical, but eLearning writing and course design is hugely important. Almost anyone can work with eLearning tools but not everyone has strong course development and writing skills.