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DCE Magazine

Training a Homebound Workforce

Fall 2020

The E-Learning Instructional Design certificate program addresses a growing demand for online employee training.

“While the demand for online corporate training had been growing even before the pandemic, the worldwide shutdown put the movement into overdrive out of necessity and highlighted the need for a new generation of skilled e-learning instructional designers.” Danielle Watkins

When the world abruptly shut down in March, there was a rush to keep it turning as much as possible from home — a small miracle of 21st century technology. With a global workforce migrating to their computers in makeshift home offices, organizations had to scramble to find ways to connect with employees and train them online. It was an awkward adjustment, at least at first.

The good news is that people began settling into new routines, getting acclimated to the New Normal and even discovering that the transition offered some real advantages, said Danielle Watkins, advisory board member for DCE’s E-Learning Instructional Design certificate program and founder and owner of Zenith Performance Solutions, an award-winning instructional design firm.

“Transitioning to doing everything from home turned Zoom into a household word,” she said. “It became a verb, like Google. And after, say, 12 or 18 weeks of working from home, Zoom fatigue aside, a lot of people started to realize they could be just as productive, or more so, than before the pandemic. They started to think, ‘Why do I even need to go back into the office?’”

The same could be said of the classroom. Zenith Performance Solutions took on a number of new corporate clients that needed to train workers during the shutdown, and that meant converting in-person Instructor-Led Training (ILT) to Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT). They quickly found there was more to it than just throwing some videos and slides online. Designing effective e-learning content is a process that requires a distinct skillset.

“Some people think that it’s all about the technology, just putting up a webinar or a series of PowerPoint presentations,” Watkins said. “There’s so much more to it than that. Designing eLearning is a two-part process — know what your technology platform can do, followed by interactive design for the technology program. Understanding your technology is about 15% of the process. Designing interactive training content is 85%.”

Homebound training

DCE’s fully online E-Learning Instructional Design program provides the background needed to master the basic principles of designing and presenting curriculum through the latest platforms. Expert instructors teach the methodology, skills and techniques required to directly align e-learning strategies with business objectives.

Well-trained instructional designers are instrumental in improving employee performance, and the program teaches all elements of effectively delivering engaging online content. It’s designed for anyone from current professionals to those looking to change careers. In fact, most instructional designers made the jump after working in other industries.

Danielle Watkins“Few people go to school to become instructional designers,” Watkins said. “Most come from the corporate world. A lot of sales professionals and other subject matter experts end up transitioning to e-learning instructional design. The UCI program is addressed to anyone looking to switch careers, or even those just starting out.”

Watkins is a good example. She left her teaching career to become an instructional designer in the early days of online education. “I realized my husband and I couldn’t afford a house in Colorado on a teacher’s salary,” she said. “I’ve been doing this since 2000, so I’ve seen the best and worst of e-learning.”

To get a better understanding of the job, Watkins recommends “The Accidental Instructional Designer: Learning Design for the Digital Age,” a book by Cammy Bean that covers every aspect of designing e-learning content, from creating scenarios and building interactivity to designing visuals and working with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) — a key part of the process.

“We’re in the business of asking questions,” she said. “At Zenith we work with a lot of different clients in tech industries, real estate, governments. We aren’t SMEs in any of the subjects that need to be addressed, and that’s okay because they are. We need to learn just enough to be able to design the course content. After that, the material is entirely proprietary. They keep it and we move on.”

The future of e-learning

Delivering eLearning is becoming faster and more effective with the help of evolving technology. Platforms such as Adobe Captivate and Articulate 360 allow designers to create stunning, mobile-ready courses that enhance e-learning storytelling with overlap videos and slides, even 3-D visuals in some instances.

And that’s just the beginning. Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Artificial Intelligence are poised to create immersive instructional experiences that wouldn’t be remotely possible in a traditional classroom setting. “We’re just figuring out how to use this technology,” Watkins said. “But I’d say that AR, VR, and AI will be widespread within the next five years.”

It’s all creating a new world of opportunities for instructional designers, offering a blend of innovative tech tools to compliment the all-important human element — the creativity and imagination needed to deliver the most engaging and effective content possible.

While the demand for online corporate training had been growing even before the pandemic, the worldwide shutdown put the movement into overdrive out of necessity and highlighted the need for a new generation of skilled e-learning instructional designers.

“Corporations were discovering the advantages to remote training well before the pandemic,” Watkins said. “It saves on travel expenses, flying instructors to workplaces, and paying for facilities and supplies. It’s the most efficient way to reach employees working in international offices and different time zones.”

In a post-pandemic world, the demand will be greater than ever, offering a lucrative career path and an attractive option for those affected by economic disruption and widespread unemployment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics had listed it as one of the fastest growing fields in the U.S. even before the shutdown.

“It used to be that when I’d tell people I was an instructional designer they’d just stare and cock their heads like a chocolate lab,” Watkins said. “They had no idea what that was, but that’s starting to change. With so many new tech tools to work with, e-learning instructional design keeps getting better and better — and more fun.”

Learn more about the E-Learning Instructional Design program.