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New Research Highlights Top Skills for E-Learning Designers

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Organizations report their instructional designers have increased the amount of time they work on self-paced e-learning and decreased the amount of time they spend on instructor-led training in the last three years, according to a study from LinkedIn. This underscores an important trend—likely accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic—of organizations turning to self-paced e-learning for more of their talent development needs. If this trend applies to your organization, it raises an important question: Does your organization’s instructional designers have the skills they need to thrive in a world of online-first learning?

A new research report from the Association for Talent Development, E-Learning: The Evolving Landscape, can help answer this question. The report’s survey of 244 talent development professionals asked participants to select the skills they believed most important for designing effective e-learning from a list consisting of 16 different skills, with respondents able to select up to five. The skills most frequently selected by respondents were:

  • Deciding whether e-learning is a good choice for the content (70 percent)
  • Designing, writing, and building scenarios (59 percent)
  • Designing an effective storyboard process (42 percent)
  • Testing courses for usability, functionality, and browser compatibility (40 percent)
  • Writing effective narration scripts (34 percent)

These numbers point to the idea that talent development professionals view the importance of the top two skills as far greater than that of the other skills identified for this research. In fact, the 17 percent gap between the second-ranked skill (designing, writing, and building scenarios) and the third-ranked skill (designing an effective storyboard process) was larger than the gap between the third-ranked skill and the 10th-ranked skill (designing, writing, and building for microlearning). Therefore, both skills merit special attention from talent development professionals trying to develop themselves or leaders trying to build out their teams’ capabilities.

The top skill, determining whether e-learning is a good choice for the content, is so critical because doing it well requires accounting for many factors that can affect your decisions, according to Heidi Hess Bynum, a sales training manager at Bluegrass Cellular who served as an expert for the report. In an interview, she highlighted three main challenges. First was bias from personal experience. For talent development professionals who come into the field from another background as classroom trainers before moving into instructional design, creating their learning programs as instructor-led training is often a “natural choice,” whether or not it’s the right choice, she said. Second was organizational context. “If the right people aren’t bought in, you won’t get the budget and support you need to move forward” with the solution that’s the best fit for your situation. Third is the influence of culture. “Some organizations have a culture that lends itself to certain training delivery methods,” she said, and ignoring these preferences can lead to poor decisions.


Designing, writing, and building scenarios, meanwhile, are important skills for creating e-learning because doing it well for e-learning is more difficult than doing it well for instructor-led training, according to Eliza Auckerman, a senior project manager for ATD Education. Also interviewed for the report, she said that one of the biggest differences is that an e-learning designer must make scenarios “really relevant to different learners” without the ability to adjust for specific audiences without time to think. “You don’t have anyone up at the front of the room who can observe the group and meet them where they are,” she explained. “You have to do it all up front, which can lead to scenarios that feel vanilla and less realistic.”

To learn more, check out the ATD Research report, E-Learning: The Evolving Landscape.

About the Author

Alex Moore is a junior research analyst for the Association for Talent Development. Alex returned to ATD in 2019 after spending a year living and working in Chile. Prior to moving abroad, Alex was a writer/editor for ATD working on TD magazine, a research coordinator at ATD, and a customer care advocate at ATD. He graduated from Virginia Tech in 2015 with a B.A. in English.

1 Comment
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This was an interesting article. I have certainly seen an increase in management wanting more self-paced ecourses, but it is not always by recommendation of the the instructional designer. We as instructional designers have to be ready with questions to ask our training managers or stakeholders as to why they came to the conclusion that eLearning is the way to go on a topic and to ask the tough questions. It is easy to say, "oh that can easily be made into eLearning " without getting to "is it"?
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