What do clients look for in an Elearning portfolio?

Jun 19, 2015

During the Toronto Articulate workshop a couple of days ago, I was able to have a nice chat with Ashley about her freelance gig. I really appreciate the valuable insights she gave me on freelancing.

Now, I'm interested to know what others think on how to populate your elearning portfolio for potential clients to look at.

I know participating in the Elearning challenges is a good way to build up the portfolio but I'm thinking of something more strategic. If I want to create something for the challenge, I want to align it to something that clients would also be impressed with.

The big question is, what do clients look for in a portfolio? 

  • Should your samples be something serious and realistic? Instead of showing pictures of puppies and kittens or goofy characters that may not make it in a real-life corporate or industry training material. Will clients think that your style is too playful for their needs.
  • Should you focus on graphic design or more on instructional design? Are clients blinded by the awesome vector graphics that you made for that simple drag and drop interaction? 
  • Should your interaction topic be something relatable in the industry? Like health, finance, work safety, softskill... instead of toying with how civet coffees are made which may be more interesting to build. 
  • How valuable is having a real start-finish training sample (from title to quizzes to summary, etc.) for them to look at?

Appreciate any input you guys may have in this matter as it will also help people like us who want to take a more strategic approach in building up a portfolio.

17 Replies
Bob S


Here are some things I've looked for in the past when hiring course developers...

  • That you understand how to transfer learning.
    • Eg - A single concept  introduced, made relevant, applied by learner, maybe even tested for understanding.
  • That you have a good "eye" for clean design/UI at least.
    • Eg - 2-3 layouts, at least one with a clear "theme"
  • That you aren't a one-trick pony.
    • Eg - A typical business "soft skill" offering, a whimsical offering, a techy-topic or system/software offering
  • That you respect a learner's (and my) time.
    • Eg -  Who has time today to go through multiple full length courses? Course snippets are a good choice and offer longer/full versions by request

Hope this helps!

Stephanie Jutras

Hi Calvin,

I'm looking at things from the opposite perspective from Bob - I own a small L&D consulting company - but I completely agree. You don't have to inundate, but you do need a few high quality samples that show your capabilities, depth and breadth. When presenting portfolio examples in person or online, we always take the time to explain the instructional purpose of the design, which I think helps clients to understand that we're more than bells and whistles.

I find it's really important to make it easy for potential clients to see how what you've done in the past relates to what they may engage you to do. Your examples don't have to be exactly the same as the potential project, but you can't rely on the client's imagination to connect the dots if the content is wildly different. 

Good luck!


Rachel Barnum

Accidentally deleted this when I was just trying to edit it. Oops.

Should your samples be something serious and realistic? Instead of showing pictures of puppies and kittens or goofy characters that may not make it in a real-life corporate or industry training material. Will clients think that your style is too playful for their needs.

I have one sample in my portfolio that lets them know what video game they'd likely want. It's meant to be a sample in complex variables. The awesome thing is that I've had two gaming companies reach out to me and other fun clients that I have legitimately enjoyed working with. I will never know if it's specifically because of that example, but just food for thought.

Have I had people look over me due to that sample? That's fine - we probably wouldn't have gotten along well anyways.

Should you focus on graphic design or more on instructional design? Are clients blinded by the awesome vector graphics that you made for that simple drag and drop interaction?

Being able to do my own graphics has been a really big boost in the more high profile projects I've landed, and I've been told that twice this month alone.

Should your interaction topic be something relatable in the industry? Like health, finance, work safety, softskill... instead of toying with how civet coffees are made which may be more interesting to build.

I have several different topics in my portfolio, and I intend on adding more. I know I do not have enough valuable variety. I think that if going niche works for you, then you should definitely do that. But as long as your variety has quality then I wouldn't beat yourself over missing a piece of it. 

How valuable is having a real start-finish training sample (from title to quizzes to summary, etc.) for them to look at?

I have never shown anyone a full sample, even during an onsite interview when I had them available for them to look at. It hasn't hindered me. I get to go straight to the juicy parts of the training. 

You can see my portfolio here: http://www.ohthatrachel.com/elearning-portfolio/

Bruce Graham

All my clients tell me that the one thing they get from my portfolio/site is that I understand their BUSINESS requirements, and that I understand how to manage a project. Understand that a portfolio is, IMHO, something they look at when they are at the END of researching you.

Clients are beginning to understand that the variety and options are infinite, but your understanding of their problem is something that is based on the rest of your business knowledge.

All of my examples are just that - I have no full courses shown. The whole "portfolio" thing is only a small part of selling yourself. You will need more.

Mohammad  Hassam

Hi Calvin, 

This question I always have in my mind. At every point of time, I always have this curiosity to know what my client is looking for? Sometimes it's better to take everything along but like you noted something more strategic would help. 

I agree that e-learning challenges would be a great help to add in the portfolio but personally, I will not add all e-learning challenges in my portfolio because that makes me the instructional developer, not a designer. It means that people consider me as a technical person, not a trainer.

I have added some real courses that give my client an idea about my work and how does it look like. They ask me some questions related to it and show their concerns. If they are satisfied then they will go for it. 

Have a look!


Mohammad Hassam 


Ashley Chiasson

Hi Calvin - it was lovely connecting with you last week!

As I mentioned to you last week, I think it's important to include variations within your portfolio. Some professional samples, some silly samples, and ensure they highlight your capabilities. So if you're good at e-learning development AND graphic design, include samples of each in your portfolio. The only thing I would really advise here is to include pieces that you'd love to work on again. For example, I can develop courses in Adobe Captivate, but I hate working in it, so I don't include any of my Captivate samples in my portfolio as I would rather avoid these projects.

Rachel mentioned that graphic design has been a huge asset (as noticed by clients) for her, and I have to agree. It's certainly a complimentary skill to have in tandem with instructional design and e-learning development. Clients like to have a one-stop-shop.

Sharing samples that are across various industries can really help you out; clients either want to now that you have experience with a broad range of subject matter, and most often they want to know that you've worked on something within their industry.

I really don't think clients want to go through multiple complete courses, so in this situation it may be better to include a video screencast of yourself going through the course and discussing different elements. Alternatively, I would include shorter interactions in your portfolio.

Sara Faro

Hi Calvin,

I appreciated your publication, it clarify many issues that i had about it too.

I want to take this opportunity to ask something to all of you.

I have worked for a company for the last two years receiving suplementary materials and converting them into Interactive Exercises.

My goal is to create the design and implement the interactions with Storyline. (I fell in love with this software, guilt!).

This is an image of some of my jobs here.


But I don't know how can I target myself. Am I an e-learning developer? or an Articulate Storyline developer? 
What can I do to increase my knowledge about Instructional designer and e-Learning development?

I hope you understand what each project means.. lol

Thanks for your attention,

Sara Faro

Mark Anderson

Instructional designers use learning principles to structure objectives, content, learning activities and assessments. Developers use authoring tools to create the presentation materials based on the ID's work. You become more valuable as you gain experience and expertise in both areas.

Learn the authoring tools and study about curriculum and learning principles. 


Great graphics and complex interactivity should complement the instructional value of your courses-they cannot substitute for poor content or structure.  

Sara Faro

Thank you for your feedback, Mark.

Could you explain me more about studying curriculum?

I am brasilian and I thought that curriculum was the resume with all the informations about jobs, courses, abilities, capabilities and professional experiences. I didn't know other meaning for this word, i am sorry. 

I appreciate your help!!!


Pierre Sosa

You are thinking of a "Curriculum Vitae" -- A listing of your career; the courses you've taken, the direction you are headed, and the projects you have worked on.

"Curriculum" is the relationship between the objectives and the activities in a course. A teacher creates a curriculum, which includes the objectives, how those will be taught, and how to assess the learner. That design document is the curriculum. When Mark says to study curriculum design, he means to learn how to create objectives, activities and assessments.

Alanda Pettit

I work for a large oil/gas company. I still think it is important to have a portfolio. I created one with Wix which is free. My most recent work has been projects in pipeline control. I have screen shots for three of my projects.

Control Room Management Plan - Pipeline controllers must take this to meet regulatory requirements every three years. I was handed a very dense procedure and was told that was the content.

Salt Cavern Storage Basics - We create salt caverns to store gas at a particular site. The intent for this CBT is to introduce anyone that is a new employee to salt cavern storage. It is foundational. People in the office need to know so when they hear language it will not be foreign and as do new operators. Operators will have on-the-job training afterwards.

Pipeline Gulf Coast Area - We have pipelines that run from a particular location in the Gulf to onshore. New pipeline  supervisory control data acquisition (SCADA) screens to ensure product runs smoothly. This CBT introduces them to the actual screens they will be monitoring and then they will have on-the-job training.

That is the backstory of my projects.