instructional design for a web/interactive firm?

Long time lurker, first time poster.

My firm has been in web and interactive design for the last 10 years. I've been in the interactive industry for nearly 15. Microsites, e-commerce, full blown websites and with a big focus on video production for much of it.

Very talented designers and developers, UX pros, programmers, etc always pushing the edge of technology.

For a long time, we developed interactive CD's for some of North America's largest brands. Automotive clients, selling tools, training tools, etc. We've also built our own LMS solutions that are video based and interactive with Flash.

I have a question for the community though. Much like many firms with longevity in the industry, we're trying to re-align with what the industry is looking for... Find a new niche. I'm telling our account managers that we can do e-learning differently. We're not "instructional designers" and we don't have degrees in learning. We're content producers and video editors. We're visual storytellers. Some of us have worked on large feature films in Special FX, editing, and others are offline editors for documentaries. The account managers are pushing back saying "companies are looking for e-learning specialists."

We've done a fair amount of e-learning work in the past. High production value, video, etc. It's never been something we've hunted, it's always come to us.

I guess my question is this. Is there room in the e-learning space moving forward for "non instructional designers?" Most of the stuff I see in e-learning is pretty rough around the edges. Very little polish. But if that's what e-learning is, then I guess that's where it is. Everything we've ever produced has been very well polished and we've been successful, but has it been a fluke that the opportunities came our way?

Looking forward to people's feedback.

10 Replies
Kristian Chartier

Hi @C Simpson, 

I think that largely depends on who the client is. In many cases, contractors are hired by Learning and Development managers and given their background, they tend to value strong ID over graphic design. In other cases where a contract is tendered by a different department, it may be easier to win clients with "razzle dazzle" than solid learning theory.

Julie Stelter

Great question!

I come from the education world so that is definitely my bias. I have recently worked with several "visual storytellers" and "UX pros" that have broadened my view of instructional design. Your ability to present information in an engaging and intuitive manner is educational if the user learns from it. So if the content is delivered electronically and someone learns from it...well you are "e-learning specialists".

The push is on to develop eLearning rapidly. So there is a lot of junk out there both instructionally and visually. At the same time, the market is crowded with instructional designers, some willing to work for free. So clients who want the eLearning course yesterday and want it for cheap find lots of instructional designers. In industries that are heavily regulated, investing in an expensive eLearning course which may change within the year doesn't make financial sense. So look for clients that want high quality media that'll have a shelf-life worth their investment.

You could also contract with an "e-learning specialist" to help you navigate through this transition.

Jedidiah Esposito

I think there's an increasing degree of overlap being recognized between marketing and instruction in general these days. 

At a certain level we're all salespeople attempting to convey accurate information through the most attractive and/or meaningful means possible. As interfaces and development tools evolve the gap you refer to is closing. I personally think Storyline was a major bridge to that effect. 

I think, moving forward, it would be wise for organizations to recognize the different spheres of competence in our field and to begin breaking them out a bit in terms of scope and title. On the same token it's always a good idea for those with skillsets firmly planted on one end of the spectrum to make inroads into others where they feel comfortable doing so. 

This is all coming from a generalist, mind you. My experience as an ID is rooted firmly in teaching and has grown to fully embrace user experience, illustration and storytelling. 

Bob S

C Simpson said:

I have a question for the community though. Much like many firms with longevity in the industry, we're trying to re-align with what the industry is looking for... Find a new niche. I'm telling our account managers that we can do e-learning differently. We're not "instructional designers" and we don't have degrees in learning. We're content producers and video editors.  We're visual storytellers. Some of us have worked on large feature films in Special FX, editing, and others are offline editors for documentaries. The account managers are pushing back saying "companies are looking for e-learning specialists."

We've done a fair amount of e-learning work in the past.  High production value, video, etc.  It's never been something we've hunted, it's always come to us.

I've rarely encountered businesses that ask for IDs per se.... they ask for learnining or business solutions. So if I can be so bold... maybe what your salespeople are saying is that they want something else to offer in addition to high production value, high cost, learning products. We all know that businesses always want things cheaper and faster... as they should. So maybe THIS is the request you are really getting?

Nancy Woinoski

There are a lot of people who design and develop eLearning who are not instructional designers. I agree with Bob S in that clients very rarely ask for IDs - a lot of them have no idea what an ID is or does for that matter. So to answer your question, there is a market for what you do if clients are willing to pay the price that comes with the higher production value. That being said, you still have to ensure that anything you produce meets the learning/business objectives and the technical requirements (both stated and unstated) of the client.

I just produced a mandatory course that had fairly high production values  - It met all of the client's stated objectives but as soon as we rolled it out we got feedback from some of the intended learners saying they could not access it because they are on dial-up.

C Simpson

Wow, I was expecting to hear comments like "to be in the e-learning space you need to be IDs" or have a degree in blah blah blah. I wasn't expecting to hear the opposite.

While Bob's insightful comment of "maybe what your salespeople are saying is that they want something else to offer in addition to high production value, high cost, learning products" may be valid I don't think that's the case. My team is able to "suck it up" and do what needs to get done for a project without becoming too emotionally attached to the creative or delivery. We can pump out low end stuff too when the need arises. But our heart is with high end. It's what we're really good at.

So another question. We've leveraged some open source solutions, built several LMS's (some pretty basic, some really powerful that are actually mobile first) but for larger organizations looking for a solution, how often is the LMS separate from the content delivery?

For example, if we were to stray from LMS integration, setup, management and want to focus solely on "content" would we be shooting ourselves in the foot, or do many organization separate them out? We've seen it both ways with our clients, but other than those clients, we don't have much to base it on.

Really appreciate the insight!

Bruce Graham

There are all of these, and all combinations of these. Many of the larger LMS companies offer production, many production houses partner with LMSs, many Instructional Designers work alone, but many work in co-operatives, (as I do).

All you need to do is come up with a business plan that works for you, and execute - there is no one model.

I believe that the "top end" eLearning is a gradually reducing market. People are beginning to realise that the only difference between a compelling message and a fully top-end compelling message is a chequebook. So - make your message compelling, make it appropriate, and get it out there to you people, in a way that makes them change behaviour in a way that the corporation needs.

Not sure of that helps at all

C Simpson

It's a good bit of insight Bruce - thank-you.

Interesting comment about the "top end" gradually reducing. I've seen the same thing with video production but it's really because of the cost of equipment and shrinking budgets... Corporations aren't spending $100k+ on 20 minute training videos anymore. At my previous company we had a Quantel IQ that we rented out at $1000/hour. We did a piece for a fortune 500 that checked in at $500k.

These days, AfterEffects can do much the same work, it's just slower.

That said, part of our struggle is that so much of the training content we see is really poor and slapped together. And feedback from employees is that the content is not engaging or they just do the training because they need to do it. The difference between a compelling message and a "top-end" compelling message is delivery. I would completely agree that not ALL content needs to be top end, but at the same time, a high-end initial delivery introducing a topic can make the difference with how the rest of the course is perceived.

That's what we would do really, really well.

For example, let's take a health and safety video and the necessity of eye protection. How much more effective would an emotional, well thought out introduction video with uplifting music be to a course outline as opposed to "Where your glasses, they will protect your eyes." Same compelling message, much different delivery.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8bm2llxxjU

So that said, I know it's the clients "out there" that need to see the value in the production to pay for it, but that's a different conversation! This conversation is about not having degrees in learning, but being awesome storytellers in the e-learning space!