What Does an E-Learning Developer Do? (Challenge)

E-Learning Meme.001

This e-learning challenge was just posted on the E-Learning Heroes blog on April 11, 2014. Challenge link

The challenge is to create a six-panel meme describing how others perceive the job of an E-Learning Designer, how you perceive this job, and what the job actually entails for you. The six panels are labeled: “What my friends think I do”; “What my mom thinks I do”; “What society thinks I do”; “What my boss thinks I do”; “What I think I do”; “What I actually do”. I substituted ‘wife’ for ‘boss’ in the fourth panel, given that I work quite closely with my boss and she’s more than aware of what the job entails. You could also argue that my wife is my other boss, and you would be correct in doing so.

The challenge seems pretty simple (and in terms of development, it really is), but it took a surprisingly sizable chunk of time for me to finish. The reason? Well, how often did I actually take the time to compare what it is I do with what it is people think I do? Apparently, not very often—if ever. So this was a great opportunity for me to self-reflect on what it is I actually do in this role, and compare it to what it is people think I do in this role. My personal result was a stark (and humorous) juxtaposition of two very different perceptions of what it is an e-learning designer actually does.

What I learned was that, like many new career fields, the job title describes only a portion of what it is e-learning developers really do. That isn’t to say that other more established careers are one-dimensional. Rather, it’s that the field of e-learning hasn’t been around long enough to distill into separate, specialized fields. If you work in this field, you have to be prepared to wear many hats. Some will wear many, many hats. And if you work solo, as many of us do, you will probably wear every hat imaginable at one time or another.

So what is it that I (and others like me) actually do? Depending on your experience with the field, your perception could fall into one of many places:

  • Picture 1
  • If you’re a friend of mine, you probably think that I teach online. And not in a general sense. You’re fairly confident I’m part of the Matrix.
  • Picture 2
  • If you’re my mother, you think that I’m a computer scientist/genius, and that every company I work with is pretty darn lucky to have such a nice and handsome boy like me working for them. I like this version.
  • Picture 3
  • If you’re a part of society at large, you have no idea what I do. When I explain it to you you’ll shake your head knowingly and say things like, “That’s really interesting.” When you’re significant other asks you some follow up questions about my job you’ll say, “I don’t know. Something with computers.”
  • Picture 4
  • If you’re my wife, you think I work every moment that you’re around to watch the kids, including bedtime. The picture shown here is pretty accurate, except I wouldn’t be smiling, and my wife would be wearing her softball t-shirt from high school.
  • Picture 5
  • I think I create virtual magic working alongside my coworkers; bringing gobs of value to our clients and joy to thousands of end-users while generating endless heaps of personal pride for my wife and children. This is my goal.
  • Picture 6
  • In the interim, though, this is the reality. My wife is right.

So where does that leave me? For scenarios 1-3, I’ll leave them as they are. When e-learning becomes more a part of the ‘common-tongue’, I think these perceptions will become more aligned with what it is we really do. Scenario 5 is the goal, and scenarios 4 and 6 are the reality.

It takes a tremendous amount of time behind the scenes to make a project come together. The career description of an e-learning developer, based on my experience, would include: instructional design, graphic design, computer science, computer programming, project management, personnel management, mentorship, accounting, layout and web design, human-interface design, public speaking, headhunting, tons of personality, leadership, salesmanship, swordsmanship, seamanship, puppeteering, etc.—the list is huge. As I stated before, you have to wear a lot of hats.

A career description really isn’t succinct enough to capture what it is that an e-learning developer does. Ultimately, I think we do two things. First of all, we create strong working relationships with people in order to understand their training and education needs in order to generate the greatest benefit and experience possible for the client and the learner. Secondly, we design interactive and engaging training and learning experiences that create positive behavioral changes in the real world. I think that sums it up quite nicely.

What do you think? Feel free to comment in the section below.