What projects have transformed you as a designer?

One of the things that sometimes gets lost in the noise is the fact that training/e-learning can deliver a potentially life-saving or life-changing experience to our audience. Everyday, people like you are designing courses that explore rich, serious, and important topics such as suicide prevention, weapons safety, or how to address workplace violence.

So many of the conversations we have are focused on the mechanics of how we dissect and transform content, but what about those times when the content is so important or personally significant that we are transformed through our work? What projects have you worked on that had a big impact on your audience and you? What projects have you created that gave you a sense of accomplishment or fulfillment? And what did you learn from that experience that changed the way you approach learning? 

Thanks for sharing your stories!

28 Replies
Joanne Chen

I entered e-learning industry before I knew what it is. I used to work in an e-learning content developing company, so I actually learned how to design elearning by designing elearning courses. And I always learned something from each of project. However, in the early years, I was limited by tools, budgets, timelines, media techniques.....I felt there were always frames i wasn't allow to across. I was eager to design freely to create a better ecourse.

And then I became a freelancer and got a project to design an elearning product - a series of marketing strategies. This was the first time I had no frame around me, no worry about the technique issues - it was developed with flash so there was no technique limitation issue. I proposed a strategy of "learning by playing" which was actually an experiment to validate my theory - people will learn and even eager to do so when there is a need for them to fulfill and they feel fun to do it. Learners learn while they are playing and could fix their strategy from consequences and feedbacks to achieve a better result. I was unlocked the limitation of design since this project.

Another project also for an elearning product- Train the trainers(series e-courses) was another breakthroughs for me. They were my first blended learning design and because it emphasizes that a good training should have good opening, body content and ending and consider learning theories by using multiple techniques and interactions, easy to learn.....and so on. And as you know, elearning is actually a training itself, so this project made me focus on designing a series elearning courses as examples showing  the exactly the content are teaching. I really learned a lot from the raw materials, and had fun for practicing what I learned immediately.


Phil Mayor

I recently did a training course for a group of Powerpoint Developers, the first thing their manager said to me was 

"We want to get into elearning because we have see that most elearning takes a document and chop it into little bits to make it more difficult to read"

After that i have made a more concerted effort not to do this :-)

Bruce Graham

A couple of years ago I worked on a military-related project. I was working with one of the teams and I asked the head of the team to define her daily objective for her staff, so that I could frame the way I would develop the module.

Her answer was "We consider it successful if you they return home with as many limbs as they came in with", and she was deadly serious.

It was that one module that reminded me that EVERY course we develop has, or SHOULD HAVE "real life" implications for the learners. Every word, every interaction and breathe matters, and if it has no purpose, get rid of it.

Mark Shepherd

Completely agree, Bruce (!) :)

With every learning course I've built in my job, I've worked very hard to ensure that everything I include in it has at the very least some redeeming or useful aspect to it, if not a tangible/clearly identifiable purpose.

If the objects or items in my eLPs do not have at least one of these two qualities, it gets left out - simple as that. ;)

Alexander Salas

I developed a course on the social and cultural characteristics of people in poverty.  This was special because there were no SMEs available in my office.  I had to do some research and interview some experts in the field. It was very rewarding and I created case scenarios that were aligned with job tasks and expectations.  I also incorporated the use of stories and emotional draws with illustrations.

Preston Ruddell

I work with a call center which performs customer service for prepaid cards.  Not only am I responsible for the new hire training curriculum (Instructor led and eLearning), but I'm also responsible for the functionality and design of the procedures that they follow out on the floor. 

Since stepping into this position, I've learned to design as if someone's job depends on it.... because it does.  If my procedures are unclear, it can lead to mishandling an account.  This could mean a mother of three young kids waiting an additional 5-7 business days for a replacement payroll card after already waiting 5 business days. 

I want to be impossible to misunderstand.  I want to make it as easy as possible for people to do the right thing in any situation.

Mark Shepherd

It's our primary job and role as eLearning Developers to be option-creators, path-definers, and interest-generators. 

Building creative and path-optimal learning is challenging, and requires time, effort and work in a multitude of roles, which is why I sometimes harp a little that it's just NOT ENOUGH to work graphics and do little or nothing else.

I wish it were otherwise, but it's not, at least, not in my experience.

Don't get me wrong, you CAN build GOOD eLearning with just a Graphics-oriented focus. 

But what happens when you encounter a project scenario that DEMANDS more than just that one thing, and doesn't allow you the option to do a GRAPHICS-ONLY re-work? 

This is when you just have to suck it up and do everything, if not more, to get the job done.

And doing these picky detail things can often be very laborious, repetitive, and time-consuming. 

But SO wonderful when they work well and people have success and enjoyment taking and learning from well-designed content built this way.  It's a necessary evil. :)

I always laugh when people ask me what my role is as an eLearning Developer.

It's essentially Steve Flowers' excellent Storyline Anatomy Diagram, plus...;)

A few of the more recent items in that "plus" list include:

  • eLP Client/Customer Service Management
  • ad-Hoc Graphics and Video Content Creator
  • ad-Hoc Instructional Designer
  • Learning Lab Leader
  • Interaction Designer
  • Prototype Junkie
Rais Omar

We tend to take for granted the people we work with, not realising that different people have different approach to work and life. I work a lot with different nationals, and sometimes get easily frustrated with how things progressed. Well all that changed when I did a project regarding cultural intelligence! I'm happier now.

Daniel Brigham

Hi, Trina: Interesting topic. I think the Difficult and Important topics inspire us on. Let's face it -- some of the topics we develop aren't critical, but if you are dealing with safety, or health issues, well, they deserve more effort. They have a funny way of calling more effort from us.

For example, I recently did a course on proper used of Fall Protection gear (I work for a large residential solar company, and those guys are on the roof ALL DAY.) Because a lot of the material was process-based, video was a good fit. So I planned a three-day video shoot on mock roofs (training roofs in warehouse) and on customer's sites. The shoot came out pretty well, and of course, I learned a ton about planning and executing a largish video shoot.

Suggestion: try to work on those projects (like those related to Safety, or Health, or Sales) that will likely get a lot of support. On those projects, you can offer cool, robust solutions (video, 3-D, etc.). And be able to justify those solutions.

Kevin Thorn

Interesting question and thanks for asking, Trina. This question dives deeper into reflecting more about who we are 'as' designers and not just that we 'are' designers.

One of my favorite clients I've been working with for most of my solo career is part of the U.S. government. Go figure - government client being a favorite!

The first couple of projects were for internal purposes, but the 3rd project was for a serious topic affecting global communities. Human smuggling and Trafficking. Not only did the content reveal striking statistics but also explained the differences between a person being smuggled as opposed to being trafficked.

I felt a deeper connection and desire to put extra effort into the project to ensure the audience would be affected as I was learning about the content. The lessons were about understanding, compassion for those mistreated, identification and awareness, international laws, and much more. Turns out the project was so successful that it is being translated into multiple languages this year.

Follow that with the 4th project with this same client on the topic of Mass Atrocities. If I wasn't affected on the previous project, this one hit a deeper nerve. This subject is more than criminal behavior and much more about human rights, politics, war, and the innocence of those caught in the middle. 

Both of these (5th project on the books now) reminds me that what we do is so much more than compliance training, fancy interactions or adding points for achievement. There is a purpose in what we do as designers. Whether you enjoy the content or not, I always try to keep in perspective that at least one person will access what I designed. And if my design influences that person to react differently in their environment or causes a change in behavior based on the lesson, then I know I'm making a small contribution.

Belen Casado

It's really been a while! I'm happy to read you all again.

I'm starting almost from scratch in this amazing community. I was apart from SL but not from e-learning during maybe 1 year. Now I'm back to SL. I'm getting involved with a start-up e-learning company that only uses SL and Moodle. This attracted me, and I can see they really master SL and are very strong at design.

So still learning, as usual, maybe more about consulting and marketing, important stuff to manage and improve both personal and business brands...

Btw, good advice for developers ;)

Mark Shepherd

Hi Trina!

With all of my replies to other comments, I'm not really sure I answered your own initial question! D'OH! :P  Sorry about that.

I guess having only worked in this job for 6 months, I guess I still feel very new at this, and reluctant to put those things out there. 

So while I feel like I have accomplished quite a lot in my relatively short time working as an eLearning Developer (see below), I also still feel there is much more work to do, mountains to climb, other broader goals to accomplish.

So, 6 months in, here's what I have accomplished to date, project-wise:

1. Small Project, bilingual (English/French), promoting Military Support (Soldier On).

This completed LM is in my portfolio, in both languages. 

This was my first project done completely in Articulate Storyline v2, relatively basic, but one that I used to get my feet wet and get most LM project design elements and Asset Essentials down.

2. Medium-Large Projects (3 LMs) - Fitness-based, the primary focus of my job. 

These are very detailed projects that I did in many areas completely from scratch from a Storyboard document, in other cases, I re-worked some content my group already had and significantly improved upon these visuals and design from a Storyline v2 point of view.

All 3 of these Modules have customized progress tracking using Button/Icon State visuals  (including numbers of Started and Completed Sections), and detailed Quiz elements, designed to be compatible with a new look and feel template I designed for my section, one which we are now re-using in most of our projects.

All three of these are in various (ahem) "states" of progress.  The first is done 100% in English, now adding the translated French to it and doing full Side-by-Siding much as for Soldier On. 

The second is done in English, still fixing minor issues here & there, waiting for translated text. 

The third is the most detailed and has been very challenging, yet fun to build. ;)

This last LM has Name Entry and storage, Speaking Character Selection for the Learner (Male and Female), and has 3 very detailed Interactive Exercises that extensively use/push the Timeline, and a number of Pause/Continue Timeline Trigger tricks that utilize Cue Points.

I need to mention that these Timeline tricks came from Articulate's own Nicole Legault, so I owe her a beer (or 5, LOL) the next time I see her ;)

3. Rebuilt Project (2 LMs) - Took existing fully-built course modules and have adapted it to the style I created for Item #2 (above) to punch up the visuals, re-work charting and other visual elements I had not tried before, and also gave me an excuse to indulge animation paths, and animation in general. 

1 of these LMs is finished, the second is in-progress. 

A third larval LM I am assisting with doing some ID consulting on, and may build some of more completely, rather than refining it.

4. New Work (1 LM) - A modest-sized "101-oriented" learning Project driven by a neighboring section. We will be kicking off this project later this week.

So, it's very busy right now, to say the least!

To answer your question, ALL of these projects have transformed me, not only as a designer, but also as a developer. I tend to identify more strongly as a developer, as I come from a programming and development background. 

But because I also have a background in courseware and webinar development, as well as technical writing, I see myself a little more as a developer vs. being a "pure" Instructional Designer (ID). 

Either way you slice it, I am having the time of my life, and LOVE working with this stuff. :D

I am NEVER bored, and there are always new and interesting ideas I keep picking up from reading articles in the community. :)