E-learning: If I’d known then what I know now…

Jul 08, 2011

A blog reader is getting started in e-learning and asked a great question around common mistakes and where she should focus her learning. This was too good to answer offline so here it is

Looking back—one month, one year or ten years—what  are the one or two things you’d do differently knowing what you know today?

  • What would you have spent more time learning about?
  • Would you have changed degrees?
  • Would you have taken the same jobs or contracts?
  • Would you have learned more technical skills? Design? Writing?

And finally, what are you focused on learning to help you remain competitive tomorrow?

32 Replies
Kayla Burtch

I've only been doing this a little while (about a year) but the number 1 thing would be ORGANIZATION.

It's so important I'm going to say it three times ORGANIZATION of assets, ORGANIZATION of files, and ORGANIZATION of ideas.

There are so many awesome tutorials I see here and elsewhere around the web, but I never save them well. Either I don't save them at all... or I add them to a generic list of a million bookmarks. When you find great tutorials or how-tos bookmark them with tags and folders in a way you will be able to find them later.

Same is said with assets you have. There are some great articles here that explain how to make use of clipart organizer in powerpoint, if you don't want to use that use SOMETHING. Who knows how many hours I've "wasted" trying to find that picture of a guy with a red tie.

Lastly, organize all of your project files in the same way all the time, that way you always know where to find the storyboard, narration files, pictures, engage interactions etc. You never know when you might want to repurpose something for later.

And speaking of repurposing, make good use of master-slides and themes. If the colours you choose for everything are your theme colors you can change all the colors in the document with one click. This can be INVALUBLE when your client says "this is awesome...can I have it in a different shade of blue?

Sheila Bulthuis

Great points, Kayla. 

If I had it to do over again, I would have tried to get more "formal" training on the technology side from the beginning.  I started my career as an instructional designer, and that's still where my heart is - I've picked up different programs and skills as I've gone along so that I'd have skills that supported my ID work; it's turned out fine, but I think I could have made things easier on myself by learning more about the technology side of things earlier on.  On the flip side of that, I think anyone new to learning in general should definitely spend some time learning instructional design basics, because the ability to use the technology well definitely isn't enough to create effective learning experiences!

Phil - I've been wanting to index my image assets, but just can't seem to find the time.  Your post gave me a great idea - I don't have any colleagues (one-man shop) but I do have a teenage daughter, I bet I could get her to do it for me! 

Hadiya Nuriddin

Yes, organization gets me everytime, but since I aways find the file, eventually (after literally ransacking every computer and thumb drive in my possession...or secretly remaking it), I wish I knew more about graphic design and audio engineering.

The degree questtion is an interesting one. I cursed my English degree about six months after I received it. I thought, "How dumb was that?" And then my career veered off into technology and I soon realized that my writing ability gave me an edge. And of course, as an ID, strong writing ability is essential. So now, no reqrets. I love my little English degree and wouldn't change a thing.

Phil Mayor

@Sheila, I spent the first two years as a one man band, it was only through my work that we attracted a external contract worth enough to employ another person to work with me, thankfully he is more organised than me.

@ Steve my coworker who by coincidence is also called Steve has organised me so my work is much easier now


Bruce Graham


Learn about business.

Our tool is our skill, and the technology - but our ROLE is to interpret business issues.

Take time to understand sales operations, marketing, basic P&L skills.

NEVER forget that what we do is create "stuff" that solves problems - understand where the problems are, and talk the language.


Gerry Wasiluk

I would have balanced an overabundance or practical experience and "learning on the job" with just a little more theory here and there . . . and done more speaking on various e-learning subjects.

I also would have worked harder on insuring learning has a "seat at the table" in our organization and worked more/advocated a centralized/decentralized model of learning like Bersin often recommends.

Zara Ogden

Things I wish I had done in school

- graphic design - I wish I had taken art and graphic design basics as electives

- computer know-how - I never took computer courses in school other than Office and I wish I had more knowledge about programing and how computers work.

Things I learned on the job

- Don't copy & Paste when publishing - Still have difficulty remembering this one.

- Shading and Graphics in PPT - I am having so much fun learning how to create just about everything and anything

Things I am glad I learned with my education in Business

- Sales skills are needed for everything - Although I am no saleswoman by any means i have learned that internal and external sales are a must

- Understand what is in it for the person you are talking to - kinda like the sales one but also understanding ROI for each person you have to pitch to

- Keep it cheap and cost effective to get what you want -  Show them you can spend less so that you can ask for more.

Biggest Lesson ever

A quality PLN (mine is on Twitter) and frequent activity on a Community like eLearning Heroes is essential to success.

Leah Hemeon

I liked Zara's post so much I thought I'd mirror it because it fits my thought process very well.

Things I wish I had done in school:

  • Taken time to use the career resources available better. Maybe I would have realized what I was better suited for, earlier than three years after my degree!
  • Explored a few courses in the business degrees. Macro & micro economics really haven't helped me much... should have done something different as electives!

Things I learned on the job:

  • Don't do anything else while you publish. I wish I had learned this one A LOT sooner. After too many publishes messing up I think I finally have this one figured out but I still find it hard. I'm with Zara on the copy/paste thing. I didn't realize how much I use CTRL+C & CTRL+V until I started publishing with Articulate!
  • ALWAYS budget more time for publishing and final touches. I find I still underestimate how long the final wrap up on a course will take. This also includes getting it into our LMS though which can be tricky.
  • Don't be afraid to take a few risks with the design; more often than not they pay off and even though the client (or internal customer) didn't like the idea at the outset they like the concept in action. But...
  • Be prepared to do something different - no matter how much you might like your design and think it fits with the content nicely the client may have a different vision (that they weren't able to articulate until they saw what they didn't want).

Things I am glad I learned with my education in English... yes I have an English degree:

University was supposed to be a stepping stone to a teaching degree to teach in the public school system. I learned too late that I didn't want to be a teacher but that doesn't stop me from some useful teachings:

  • English majors are GREAT at teaching grammar & spelling (and sometimes not ... my classes in writing, literature and grammar have helped me immensely as an instructional designer.
  • Research skills are learned, not given. Lots of library time in university has made me really good at tracking down sources of content after others have given up.
  • Electives are fun but can be useful - after realizing I didn't want to teach I filled my course schedule with a bunch of courses I thought were interesting but had no idea how I'd use them. As a result I know little bits about geology, geography, Canadian history, literature, writing, economics, computer science, French, and psychology... this potpourri has allowed me to broaden my interests. While I don't remember most of what was in all of those courses I do know that I can learn about broader subjects as a result.

I think the number one thing I've learned in my career is that we HAVE to be lifelong learners if we want to have a career. Jobs used to consist of a single set of tasks, repeated over and over. This is no longer the case - we have to adapt.

Bob S

Once again I find Bruce reading my mind...

Underneath everything else we do, is the essential truth that we exist solely to solve a business problem.

That is by no means a bad thing. As long as we are the most effective solution to that business problem, we add tremendous value to that business AND to the people we train.

So our ability to "talk the talk and walk the walk" when it comes to business realities, processes, etc is something I think many of us could focus on a bit more. 

Colleen Hamilton

Things I wish I had done in school:

  • I wish I had gone to school! I have learned everything on the job. I was lucky to have had some really great learning opportunities at work over the 21 years I've been here, starting as an Administrative Assistant, and now being a Technical Communicator.
  • If I had gone to school, I would have taken more technology based courses and graphic design.

Things I learned on the job:

  • Everything!
  • I agree with Leah regarding budgeting more time for final touches. Customers do not realize how much time goes into developing and finalizing elearning courses, especially if you use Captivate to create online demos. You don't want to set unrealistic goals or commitments.
  • I also agree with Kayla regarding organization. It's important to know where you files are so that you don't waste time trying to find things.

Have to go. I can't find an image.

Ashley Chiasson

Ou; I love this discussion :)

Looking back—one month, one year or ten years—what  are the one or two things you’d do differently knowing what you know today?

What would you have spent more time learning about? 

  • LMS administration; not because I love working within LMS', but it would make my life a lot easier when it comes to troubleshooting :P
  • Graphic design - This is something I would love to be fabulous at, but is also an area in which I struggle.

Would you have changed degrees? 

  • My undergrad degree is a Bachelor of Arts double major in Psychology and Linguistics. I originally wanted to pursue a gig as a Speech Language Pathologist, so I really wouldn't have changed anything about what I took in order to pursue that.
  • My graduate degree is a Masters of Education (Post-Secondary Studies), and completing it after becoming an Instructional Designer, I wouldn't change a thing (except for maybe the one prof that made me physically mail my end of year assignment).

Would you have taken the same jobs or contracts? 

  • There are certainly some contracts I wouldn't have taken had I known then what I do today, but they were all a learning experience, so I don't have many regrets.

Would you have learned more technical skills? Design? Writing?

  • I think there's always areas for improvement in technical skills and design for myself, so I would have liked to had learned more about those areas, but I'm not finished learning!

And finally, what are you focused on learning to help you remain competitive tomorrow?

  • Right now my focus really is the business side of thing and enhancing my portfolio with interesting pieces that will keep me competitive. I'm also working more on fostering long-term working relationships with my clients, because they truly are my best asset :)
Rachel Barnum

I love it when need discussions like these get rebirthed randomly.

What would you have spent more time learning about?

Everything. I was dumb enough to not pick up a single book on e-learning when I started my first e-learning job by chance. I thought my minimal graphic skills and understanding of the problem would be enough to get me by. I made some really terrible courses for about a year.

I've learned from that though. I've started my first instructor led training design job and I already ordered several books and gathered mentors to help me through it.

Would you have changed degrees?

Honestly, I don't think I would have. I'm happy with how I landed in e-learning and I don't think that I would have landed in it in any other way. I think that bringing in a different perspective has been wonderfully helpful. I essentially did anthropology and learning about how people's backgrounds make their perceptions different, how people respond to others, etc. has been monumental in my general work ethic and how I design courses.

Would you have taken the same jobs or contracts?

I'm really happy at where I've landed, even if there were some bumps in between. I would not have landed at my current company if it weren't for some bad previous jobs and contracts. I've only been working in instructional design for a little over 2 years now though so maybe I'll have a different answer eventually.

Would you have learned more technical skills? Design? Writing?

I am still learning design and writing, though I wish I had taken both of the skills more seriously in college. I had dabbled in both which I feel like has been incredibly helpful, but given my interest in them - I wish I had done more.


I wish I had learned more "business" skills early on. I like to think I'm ahead of the game for my experience, but there are definitely some moments that I look back on and regret. We largely glaze over general business skill training in college and even early in people's career that I think are exceptionally helpful.

Edit: And finally, what are you focused on learning to help you remain competitive tomorrow?

Oops, missed this one. I'm actually starting to create instructor led training. I don't think it will ever go away so having both skill sets will keep me competitive.

David Tait

What would you have spent more time learning about?
I'd have tried harder to learn a programming language.

Would you have changed degrees?
No. I studied Graphic Design for two years followed by Newspaper, Magazine and Infographic Design for a further two years. Both courses were really enjoyable and they taught me a lot. I'm happy that my design and analytical skills are valuable tools for developing eLearning. I'm also happy that I could move away from eLearning if the work dried up.

Would you have taken the same jobs or contracts?
Yes, I've met people throughout my career that I really enjoy working with and learning from. If I hadn't taken the jobs I've had I wouldn't have met them.

Would you have learned more technical skills? Design? Writing?
As above I'd like to have been more able to learn a programming language.

And finally, what are you focused on learning to help you remain competitive tomorrow?
Whatever I need to. I've worked for myself for 6 years now and the most important thing I've learned is that you have to adapt if you are to survive.

Daniel Brigham

If I were in school and wanted to do the elearning thing, this is what I'd focus on and remember:

1. Graphic Design: this is what most people care about. Have a good grasp of Photoshop and Illustrator.

2. Writing: if you write better than the average Joe (and he sets the bar pretty low), you'll be very employable. SO much of ID is writing.

3. Be ok with the fact that most of the training you'll create won't actually address a business need. Are you ok making PowerPoints presentations more engaging? I'm ok with it--perhaps 'cause I dig writing and graphic design. I get paid well for making information pretty. 

4. How do I stay competitive: participate in some type of elearning community, and FORCE yourself a few times a week to investigate what other elearning pros are doing. Biggest piece of advice: Dude, read Tom's blog every week. The cat rocks harder than Thin Lizzy circa 1976. https://youtu.be/oMFYs3gfgis

David Anderson
David Tait

I'd have tried harder to learn a programming language.

Funny you mention that, David. I spent many years trying to learn programming (ActionScript, JavaScript) before surrendering. Today, I'm spending time teaching my 6-yr old to appreciate basic programming. I agree it's a core skill even for people who aren't programmers.

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