The Lonely E-Learning Instructional Designer

Thursday, February 2, 2017

From time to time, all instructional designers experience the feeling of working in an “austere and lonely office,” to borrow the words of poet Robert Hayden. Even those of us who are fortunate enough to be part of an instructional design and development team must face the fear of the blank screen at some point as we try to do our best for our learners.

So, what keeps us going? How do we stay motivated? What gets us through the dark night of content-driven courses that we know are tortuous to learners?

Everyone must answer that question for himself or herself. I can tell you, though, what motivates me when all else fails: ATD E-Learning Instructional Design Certificate. I have the privilege of teaching this course every few months, and I always leave the workshop energized, hopeful for our industry, and recommitted to my job as an instructional designer.

For starters, it’s wonderful to be in a room full of instructional designers! It’s especially wonderful when those instructional designers are talented, committed, and seeking to do great work for their learners. Close your eyes for a minute and imagine it: picture yourself at a table with three other people who do exactly what you do. And there are actually five other tables in the room with more people who do exactly what you do. Imagine what it would be like to discuss common issues and challenges and problem solve with all of them. Sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it?

Well, that’s exactly what you get to do. Under the guidance of an experienced facilitator from Allen Interactions, you have the opportunity to learn the principles of good instructional design for e-learning. What’s more, you get to work together to use those principles to solve real-life instructional problems, so those principles become applicable and actionable for you personally.

Indeed, the classes are a safe place to raise issues and get new ideas from the facilitator, educational materials, and each other. In every class, there is someone who is struggling with:

  • making compliance training more than check-off-the-box 
  • creating engaging interfaces and media 
  • finding key motivators to get your audience’s attention 
  • moving from the dreaded “text/next/test” construction of e-learning courses 
  • designing courses that are learner-centered rather than content-centered 
  • starting the Instructional design process with a sketch and iterating from there 
  • following better processes for instructional design like SAM.

In the spirit of full disclosure, this post is an “advertisement” for a course I feel personally passionate about. I don’t make any more money if the course is a success, though. But I do get recharged and reinvigorated every time I teach it. And for a time, my role is neither lonely nor austere, but full of learning, laughter, and the comradery that comes from shared experiences.
I am not the only one who feels this way. I want to offer some testimonials from past class participants. 


“During this course, we discussed (and tried out) many real examples from different contexts, and implemented some of the concepts ourselves in a challenging but non-threatening way. I feel so much more confident about my design choices now.” —Miriam K 

“Taking this course was like having a new door that you didn't even know existed, opened for you... I learned that designing learning for the learner is the key.” —Joe G 

“This program provided applicable examples and strong foundation principles to create more interactive, quality e-learning courses. The high quality instructor, quantity of material that was covered, and manageable class size all allowed for open discussion and networking.” —Rachel C

“This program is great for attendees who may be new to the training realm, or for users like me who have been developing content for a while but have never established processes. With practical advice like the reminder that learning should be created with the learner in mind, I will be sure to use wording like 'you' and 'we' when developing future learning.” —Tylan M


“I learned how to make e-learning "memorable and meaningful" for the participants, the importance of motivation in the learning process, the difference between education and training, the five components of e-learning design and realizing that I am responsible for the whole learning experience.” —Stella Z 

“This program really helped me understand what successful e-learning looks like. I am able to take what I learned and implement it today, knowing that what I am creating now is light years ahead of what I had been doing. The program was highly interactive, allowed for valuable exchanges among participants, and our instructor used the perfect amount of humor to keep us engaged and interested.” —Susan W

I’d love to see you in one of my classes, or in the classes taught by any of my wonderful colleagues. All of them have their own particular experiences and perspectives on e-learning, but all of them are gifted and inspiring teachers. Please take a moment to check out the E-Learning Instructional Design Certificate and Advanced E-learning Instructional Design Certificate courses on the ATD website, and encourage your colleagues to do the same!

If you have any questions about these courses, I would be happy to answer them, or to find someone who can answer them for you. Even if you’re the only instructional designer in your organization, you’re not alone. Supportive colleagues are as close to you as the next ATD course.

About the Author

Linda Rening is the Studio Executive for Studio K at Allen Interactions. She has more than 25 years of experience in learning and education, both in the public and private sectors. As part of her work she has designed e-learning courses, conducted training seminars, developed multiple curricula, facilitated meetings and conferences, and consulted to a variety of national and international clients..... Linda has been providing learning solutions to customers, across multiple industries, since 1995.  Before coming to Allen Interactions, Linda was Learning Strategy Director at BI where she created high-level learning strategies and helped design learning solutions.  Prior to that, Linda was the Senior Learning Designer for BI’s Learning Group and worked closely with clients to design and deliver training solutions. Her previous work was with Carlson Learning Company as the Manager of New Product Development. She also has experience in publishing and was Editorial Director of CompCare Publishers. Linda holds a Bachelors degree in English Education, a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction, and a PhD in Educational Administration from the University of Minnesota. She has wide experience designing both e-learning and Instructor-led training.

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