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  • Writer's pictureRaya Manova

Lights, Camera, Instructional Design! The 7 Skills You Absolutely Need to Shine

Hey there, future instructional design stars! Considering a career where you're the Spielberg of eLearning or the Beyoncé of professional training modules? You're in the right place.

Let's face it, a career in instructional design is the unsung hero of the learning world—making the complicated simple, the mundane sparkle, and, well, making sure learning actually happens. But how do you become an instructional design superstar? Strap in, because here are the 7 marquee skills you’ll need to see your name in those metaphorical learning and development lights.

Table of contents:

Creativity: The Creative Genius

In the words of the legendary Apple campaign, "Think Different"—or in our world, "Teach Different." If you can't dazzle with brilliance, you shouldn't be in the instructional design game. Whether it's turning an Excel tutorial into a riveting treasure hunt or transforming compliance training into a spy thriller, your creativity knows no bounds.

Embrace the "Yes, And..." Approach

In the world of improv comedy, "Yes, And..." is a golden rule that encourages participants to accept what's offered and then expand on it. Take this same approach to your eLearning design. When you're brainstorming ideas, don't shut anything down initially. Start with a core concept and keep adding layers, details, and nuances. Think of your eLearning modules as a sandbox. Say "Yes" to the boundaries (after all, there will be some), and then ask "And?" to explore how far you can stretch within those borders. The more you practice this mindset, the more natural creative thinking will become.

Step Outside Your Comfort Genre

You don't have to be a die-hard fan of fantasy novels or video games to appreciate how different genres and formats engage audiences. Step outside your comfort zone and explore various storytelling methods and visual styles—even those that you wouldn't naturally gravitate toward. Maybe there's a way to inject some of that epic journey feeling from a fantasy saga into your compliance training. Or perhaps the fast-paced, problem-solving nature of video games can make that data analysis module more interactive. You'll never know until you venture into unfamiliar territory.

Remix, Don't Reinvent

While originality is admirable, there's something to be said for taking existing ideas and giving them a fresh twist. Look at things that are already working, either within your existing eLearning materials or in other types of content that engage you. Then ask yourself how you can remix these elements to create something fresh and applicable to your specific audience. The goal isn't to plagiarize, but to use proven concepts as a jumping-off point for your own creative endeavors. Consider it a type of "creative recycling" that's good for your project and the broader learning ecosystem.

Communication: The Charismatic Communicator

Imagine you're hosting your own talk show, but your audience is stakeholders, subject matter experts, and other team members. You need to speak their language, keep them engaged, and, most importantly, make sure everyone's singing from the same hymn sheet. From writing like Hemingway to presenting like Oprah, communication is your middle name.

The Stakeholder Huddle: Regular Check-ins and Updates

The saying "Out of sight, out of mind" holds weight here. To keep stakeholders engaged and invested in your eLearning project, make sure you regularly update them on progress, setbacks, and any key decisions that need to be made. Whether it's a brief weekly email, a bi-weekly catch-up call, or a monthly in-person meeting, consistency is key. This not only keeps everyone informed but also opens the door for valuable input. But remember, this isn't a monologue; encourage questions and discussion to tap into the stakeholders' expertise and perspective.

Speak Their Language: Tailor Your Messaging

You're a whiz at educational theory and know your way around an authoring tool, but let's face it, not everyone shares your lingo. When communicating with stakeholders, translate your expertise into language they'll understand and appreciate. Are they numbers-driven? Provide data and metrics that prove the efficacy of your approach. Do they have a soft spot for branding? Highlight how the eLearning modules reinforce the company's brand values. The key is to link the project's details and outcomes to the stakeholders' priorities and language.

The Feedback Loop: Implement, Reflect, Refine

Feedback is a two-way street. It’s not just about keeping stakeholders informed but also incorporating their input into your work. After all, these are the people who understand the organizational goals and learner needs best. Once you've taken their feedback, show them how it's been implemented and what the outcomes are. This creates a continuous improvement loop that demonstrates you value their opinions and are committed to delivering the best eLearning content possible.

Analytical Skills: The Data Whisperer

Numbers talk. Can you interpret what they're saying? Whether it's sifting through learner feedback like you're panning for gold or dissecting performance metrics like a CSI agent, your analytical skills turn raw data into actionable insights. Your training materials aren't just good; they're data-tested and approved.

Embrace the Data Dive: Get Friendly with Analytics Tools

If numbers and graphs make you squirm, it's time to face the music—analytics are your best friend in the eLearning world. Get acquainted with analytics tools that can track learner engagement, quiz scores, and even time spent on each module. The more comfortable you are with these tools, the easier it will be to pull insights from them. You don't have to be a data scientist, but you do need to know your way around a spreadsheet and some basic stats. So, go ahead, roll up those sleeves and start loving those pie charts!

A/B Testing: The Art of Experimentation

Remember that crazy hypothesis you had about using gamification to improve user engagement? Well, why not put it to the test? A/B testing allows you to compare two versions of a module or feature to see which one performs better. This is an excellent way to make data-backed decisions, refine your eLearning modules, and improve learner outcomes. You can A/B test anything from the layout and type of content to the assessment methods used. So, put on your lab coat, Dr. eLearning, and let the experiments begin!

Data-Driven Iterations: Learn, Adapt, and Improve

Analytical skills aren't just about gathering and interpreting data; they're also about implementing changes based on that data. Once you've collected data and drawn some insights, make the necessary tweaks to your eLearning modules. Then, rinse and repeat. Regularly revisit your analytics to see how your changes have impacted learner engagement and comprehension. The goal is continuous improvement, and your newfound analytical skills will be the jet fuel for that journey.

Technical Skills: The Techie

Let’s be honest, you’ll be juggling more software than a Silicon Valley start-up. From Learning Management Systems to authoring tools and everything in between, you should be as comfortable navigating these as a teenager is with TikTok trends. It’s not just about staying in the game, it’s about owning it.

Get Hands-On with Authoring Tools: Master the Tech Palette

If you're serious about a career in eLearning, you've got to get down and nerdy with the software that makes it all happen. Authoring tools like Adobe Captivate, Articulate Storyline, or even simple ones like Canva, can be your playground. Dive into tutorials, free courses, or even YouTube videos to get the basics down. Then, push the envelope: experiment with advanced features, design intricate assessments, or create interactive experiences. The more tools you have in your technical toolbox, the richer your eLearning creations will be. So go on, be the Michelangelo of eLearning tools!

Stay Updated: Don’t Let Your Skills Rust

The tech world is a swiftly revolving door of updates, new features, and groundbreaking software. Don't be that person who's stuck in the stone age of 2010 eLearning tech. Follow industry blogs, subscribe to newsletters, and participate in online communities that focus on eLearning technology. When a new software or tool update is released, be one of the first to test it out and incorporate its strengths into your eLearning projects. Remember, knowledge decays if not refreshed—so, make sure you're continuously updating your skill set.

Don’t Just Consume, Create: Build a Portfolio

The best way to learn is by doing. Start building a portfolio of eLearning modules that showcase your growing technical skills. These can range from simple slideshows to complex, interactive courses. Every project is a new opportunity to experiment with different tools, coding languages, or multimedia elements. And hey, your portfolio is not just a fabulous testament to your skills but also your golden ticket in job interviews and client pitches. So get creating and let your technical skills shine!

Project Management: The Maestro of Management

Oh, did we mention you'll be spinning more plates than a circus performer? Project management isn't just a skill; it's an art form. You're the conductor of your own instructional design orchestra, ensuring each musician, ahem, team member and stakeholder, hits the right note at the right time.

Master the Art of Planning: Know Your Milestones and Deadlines

The first rule of good project management is to plan like a pro. Start by breaking down your eLearning project into bite-sized tasks and plot them on a timeline. Whether you're a fan of classic Gantt charts or prefer agile methodologies, having a detailed plan is your roadmap to success. Make sure to identify key milestones, and—this is crucial—stick to your deadlines like they're the last piece of office cake. The more adept you are at planning, the smoother the entire project will run, freeing you up to focus on what you do best: creating dazzling eLearning experiences.

Embrace the Power of Team Collaboration: You're Not a One-Man Band

Even if you're incredibly skilled, the truth is that eLearning projects often involve multiple stakeholders—designers, subject matter experts, clients, and more. Brush up on your collaboration skills by using project management software like Asana, Trello, or Jira to keep everyone in the loop. Schedule regular check-ins and make sure everyone has access to the resources they need. Effective teamwork not only speeds up project completion but also brings in diverse perspectives that can elevate the quality of your eLearning modules.

Keep a Sharp Eye on Budget and Resources: Know Your Limits

Money matters, so does time. Efficient project management means delivering high-quality work without blowing the budget or burning the midnight oil too often. From the get-go, be clear about what resources you have at your disposal—both in terms of manpower and material. Keep a vigilant eye on costs and time expenditures, and don't hesitate to readjust your plans if you find things going off track. Balancing high-quality work with economic and time-efficient practices is the hallmark of a stellar project manager.

Learning Psychology: The Psychologist

You don’t need to be Freud to understand the minds of your learners, but it sure helps to know a thing or two about how adults learn. We're talking about applying the kind of psychological principles that turn an ordinary training program into an 'Oh wow, so that’s how it works!' experience.

Dive into the Theory: Become a Learning Psychology Buff

Don't let the word "theory" scare you off; it's where the magic begins! Take the time to get acquainted with fundamental theories of adult learning like Knowles' Andragogy, Bloom's Taxonomy, and the ARCS Model for motivation. Understanding the psychological principles behind how adults learn can offer valuable insights into course design. And hey, it's not like you're reading a dusty old textbook; many of these theories are explained in snappy articles and engaging webinars. Get to know the why behind the how, and you'll create eLearning experiences that are not just visually stunning but pedagogically sound.

Apply, Test, Revise: The Iterative Approach to Learning Psychology

You've absorbed the theories; now it's time to put them into practice. Use your newfound knowledge to inform your eLearning design. Create activities and assessments that appeal to a range of learning styles and cognitive levels. After the deployment, collect learner feedback and performance metrics to gauge the effectiveness of your psychological approaches. Did learners stay motivated? Was the material too challenging or too easy? Use this data to refine your methods, and don't hesitate to go back to the drawing board. Remember, becoming an expert in learning psychology is a journey, not a destination.

Adaptability: The Chameleon

The only constant in instructional design is change. One minute you're designing for Zoomers and the next for Boomers. Adaptability isn't just a skill; it's your survival instinct. From emerging technologies to differing learning preferences, being able to adapt on the fly is what will set you apart from the rest.

Adopt the "Never Stop Learning" Mantra: Stay Current, Stay Nimble

In the fast-paced world of eLearning, last year's groundbreaking tech could be this year's old news. To be adaptable, you have to be a lifelong learner. Subscribe to eLearning newsletters, follow industry influencers on social media, and never pass up an opportunity to attend webinars or conferences. When you're always learning, you're always ready to adapt to new tools, techniques, or pedagogical approaches. And let's be honest, who doesn't enjoy having their finger on the pulse of the industry?

Wrap it Up!

So, if you’re eyeing a glittering career in instructional design, just remember: you’re not just an educator, you’re an entertainer, a psychologist, a techie, and a bona fide rockstar. Go forth and develop those skills, and soon you'll be the triple threat the learning world didn't know it needed but won't be able to live without.


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