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Getting Started as an eLearning Developer

How did you get into training and development? Did you study for this job in school? Or, like many of us, did you find your way here unexpectedly? No matter how you wound up in your role, you started the same way we all did, green and looking for resources and a community to help you along this path.

This week, we take a deep dive into getting started as an eLearning developer on the Train Like You Listen podcast. Anne Gerken, Communications Specialist at State of Montana’s Gambling Control Division, talks to us about her journey to eLearning development. During this podcast, we talk about resources, inspiration, and Anne gives us some advice she has taken to make her projects successful.

Listen using the player below. Please leave us your thoughts in the comment section or on twitter @train_champion.

Transcript of the Conversation with Anne Gerken

Heather Snyder:  Hello. And welcome to the Train Like You Listen podcast, a weekly bite-sized podcast for learning and development professionals. Today, we are sitting down with Anne Gerken, who found her way into e-learning development and is here to share a little bit of her story with us.

6-Word Introduction

Heather Snyder: Anne, we like to keep introductions short on this podcast and kick things off with a six-word summary of ourselves today. My six words today are “proficient developer learning something new daily.” How about you?

Anne Gerken: My six words are “people connect through simple ideas.”

Finding Your Way Into E-Learning Development

Heather Snyder: Well, our topic today is finding our way into e-learning development. So I took a circuitous path finding my way to e-learning in general. I’ve been an e-learning professional for about six years and, honestly, started on a help desk, worked my way through fixing computers and eventually as a subject matter expert– what brought you to e-learning?

Anne Gerken: So my journey into the world of creating e-learning modules might look more like a Venn diagram. So I’m pretty similar. I have an English degree, a minor in journalism, and a master’s to teach. So of course, I started out in sales.

I wrote for a few different newspapers and magazines, ended up teaching as an adjunct college writing instructor and then an online writing instructor, taught high school English, and then I started developing e-learning modules as a part of my job, which I do as a communication specialist.

What Inspires You When Creating E-Learning?

Heather Snyder: It’s so interesting how many of us found our way not knowing we would wind up here. I feel like I talk to people at conferences all the time. And that is so many of our stories. What inspires you when you’re creating the e-learning?

 Anne Gerken: I always think of myself as that kid sitting in church who is staring at the ceiling and wants nothing more than to just zone out and look at every detail in the ceiling or stained glass. So I am always inspired by something easy to look at.

Whenever I started this, I wanted to create something that was really familiar for the user. So I wanted to have a photograph-based design and just give the user an experience that they don’t realize that they’re having fun or they don’t realize that they’re learning.

Heather Snyder: Right. So much of this work is layout and having something familiar and having something that’s easy to look at and almost not knowing you’re in an e-learning when you’re in an e-learning, I think.

Anne Gerken: Yeah, exactly. You’ve got to have that spoonful of sugar or whatever it is, just to be tricked into learning. 

Heather Snyder: Absolutely.

Anne Gerken: [CHUCKLING]

What Is One Thing No One Told You About E-Learning Development?

Heather Snyder: So what is one thing that no one told you about e-learning development?

Anne Gerken: A big thing nobody told me about was it was going to be kind of hard to create a solid plan and stick with it. I ended up changing my mind over and over and over and over again.

So it was just really hard. After I saw something I liked more, I would continuously recreate my projects until I started out with something completely– or I ended up with something completely different than how I started. And it probably took me way more time if I had just known from the get-go.

Heather Snyder: I think that’s part of the creative and artistic process. I do that a lot not only in writing, but developing. Sometimes, I’ll start with one idea that’s, like, a tree. And then it’ll end up being a road. And then it’ll end up being a landscape. And–

Anne Gerken: Yes.

Heather Snyder: –it can go all over the place.

Anne Gerken: Right.

Heather Snyder: Some of that fun is the journey, right?

Anne Gerken: Yeah. And it’s totally necessary. And it would never look as good as in the end if you hadn’t started it the way that you did, or the process– it’s all about the process.

Advice for Those Getting Started in E-Learning Development 

Heather Snyder: If someone wants to get started into e-learning development or they are just starting and need more to really get into it, what are two or three pieces of advice that you would give to someone like that?

Anne Gerken: I am pretty green. So I would say the only advice I can give is what I have been given. Somebody told me not to be afraid to insist on getting as much support as you possibly can, however that looks. So if you realize you need to go to a week-long training and if somebody has told you about this– the software that you should try, like you should try it, you should make sure that you’ve got exactly what you need– or from what you understand, give yourself as much support as possible.

And then the second thing would probably be don’t take on a new project, which is kind of related– don’t take on a new project without guaranteeing you’ll have the tools to succeed and just to anticipate challenges and enjoy the results of being open to change.

Heather Snyder: When those tools can be so varied, those tools and those resources– they can be anything from having the right software. Maybe you’re developing in Camtasia, but you need to be developing in Articulate, or maybe those are having the right images from the customer or whoever you’re working for. There’s so many things that you need the right resources for– the right access to voice talent, maybe. And insisting on that is going to make it– not only yourself successful, but everyone successful, right?

Anne Gerken: Yeah, absolutely.

Heather Snyder: Well, that’s great. 

Get To Know Anne Gerken

Heather Snyder: We wrap things up on our podcast every week with a speed round. Are you ready?

Anne Gerken: I am.

Heather Snyder: What is your go-to food before you dig into development?

Anne Gerken:  I pretty much throw caution to the wind when I really want to focus. And salt is both my savior and nemesis. So for me, sitting in front of the computer for hours, I’ll probably eat some Adobe Heat snack mix, spicy snack mix.

Heather Snyder: I love that. What resources do you rely on for your own development?

Anne Gerken: My favorite– this is more like a personal favorite. It’s more of a writing development piece. But I think it really applies to anything you want to use it with. The book is called Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

Heather Snyder: I haven’t heard of it. I’ll have to check it out.

Anne Gerken: It’s amazing. It’s not as much about technology as it is about learning how to– really, it’s really about writing.

Heather Snyder: What is one piece of technology that you can’t live without?

Anne Gerken: I would say Illustrator. I’ve really– I’m learning more and more about it. And I think without knowing anything about Illustrator– or once I touched into that one, I couldn’t turn back.

Heather Snyder: It is such a powerful tool. And honestly, I am so intimidated by Illustrator.

Anne Gerken: Yeah. Me, too. But it’s the one that I want more than any of them because it is so powerful.

Heather Snyder: Yeah, absolutely. Keep heading down that path.

Anne Gerken: [CHUCKLING]

Heather Snyder: So what are you working on right now?

Anne Gerken: Right now, I am working on a set of interactive modules meant for people who have a specific license and they need to understand complicated legislative code. It’s kind of an awesome project. It’s my first project and the reason that I have turned into an e-learning professional.

I just love it because it has so many challenges. And it’s given me– it’s made me raise up to a much higher bar than I realized I would have to. So I can safely claim that I have become an e-learning shield maiden.

So there’s no tracking our– there’s no requirement or direct motivation for any of my users to take my courses. So I have to make them fun and easy, short and simple, just so that anybody can get through it while somebody has a bit of downtime while possibly, like, bartending.

I have to condense the size of the projects because I have no learning platform to contain them. We’re skipping the LMS. So there’s no way for anybody to– you can’t– they have to be really small.

We don’t want anyone to have to sign in or jump through any hoops whatsoever to get into these projects. I publish and upload them to a server and offer a course that can be accessed from anyone– from anywhere by anyone.

So it’s kind of like they’ve got to be responsive. They’ve got to be on a phone. They’ve got to– which I think a lot of these modules have to be that way.

But it just– it’s– the course is for the public or for these people who have a license that they need to avoid getting in trouble. But it’s up to them to take it. They’re not required to do it. It’ll just help them in the end– or have their employees take these courses. So it’s nice.

And I started out building them in Captivate. And right now, I’m using Storyline in Articulate 360 and Rise 360 and doing a comparison. And so I’m getting– like, I have made these projects so many times.

Now I’m switching into a different tool set. It’s been really cool to see– on both sides of it and learn from zero how to do this. So it’s been great.

Heather Snyder: I love that. It sounds so exciting. But what I also love in any project is constraints. For some reason, that brings out in any development team such beauty because they know where their limitations are. And they will bump up against them as hard as they can without going over them.

And it– for some reason– I don’t know why– I see our best work come out when there’s really strict constraints, like mobile first or we don’t have any way of tracking this. I absolutely love a good constraint project. Maybe I’m weird. But I love it.

Anne Gerken: Oh, it’s– yeah, it’s– it is. It’s really nice. The only way I’m ever going to know if this works is if people get in less trouble.

[CHUCKLING] So it’s nice.

Heather Snyder: Well, I’d love to hear how it goes. I’d love to follow up.

Anne Gerken: Yeah, absolutely.

Heather Snyder: And thank you so much for being on the podcast with us this week.

Anne Gerken: Yeah. Thanks for having me.

Heather Snyder: That’s it for the Train Like You Listen podcast. Never miss an episode of our short podcast by subscribing to Train Like You Listen at iTunes, Spotify, or any major podcasting service.

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox.  Sign up today for a free demo.


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