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Top 5 eLearning Skills for 2011 – A Follow-Up March 7, 2011

Posted by kevinthorn in eLearning, Theory.
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eLearning Weekly welcomes our newest contributor, Kevin Thorn.

Following up on last week’s post titled, “Top 5 Skills for eLearning in 2011,” I’d like to explore this at a different angle. We could go two ways with this: Brand new to the eLearning industry, or a seasoned veteran honing their skills. The comments generated from the original post focused a lot on why Instructional Design was not included in the top 5, so let’s start there with three key points:

  1. Instructional Design is not eLearning Design. Whether you are formally trained in Instructional Design or you have spent a number of years in the industry practicing the craft, ID is not a specific skill rather a conglomerate of methods, models, practices, theories, and techniques.
  2. Instructional Design is the “design” of “instruction.” This profession has been around long before eLearning arrived and Instructional Design encompasses everything from classroom instruction to a job aide, while eLearning falls somewhere in the middle.
  3. Instructional Design is not a single skill but a varying degree of many perishable skills. The eLearning skills you need for 2011 may be directly influenced by the industry in which you work, and therefore some are more prevalent than others.

Let’s begin by suggesting you are either formally trained in ID or you have extensive experience applying the methods surrounding it. From there, what eLearning skills do you need for 2011 – the remaining ten months?

While I don’t necessarily disagree with this first list as each have their merit, but I’m not quite sure these fit as the top 5 skills needed for 2011 as opposed to the next 5-10 years. Let’s look at these 5 again from broader approach and discuss a few more I’ve thrown in.

  • Video Production – As Eric pointed out, the cost of producing your own video and the editing software available today is very accessible. However, unless your company is doing an entire video series there really is no reason to spend time learning video production specific skills – this year. Additionally, there are many organizations today that don’t have the proper infrastructure to support video in eLearning. Although any video editing does require patience, it’s not anything a novice can pick up fairly quickly. An affordable HD video cam, Movie Maker (Windows) or iMovie (Mac) can produce quality videos without much effort.
  • Social Media – As we all know social media is no longer a trend and is becoming the main stream of communicating. I don’t think SoMe is a skill so much as it is a practice. You gain knowledge of how SoMe works by the mere fact of being embedded in it. Similar to video production where many organizations are not set up to handle that type of media, even more organizations have not incorporated SoMe into their business. Just because there are several really great case studies using SoMe in training, doesn’t mean your organization has a business value to implement it. In preparation for the years to come though, I would encourage everyone to get a Twitter account, join LinkedIn groups, and engage in Facebook Groups, etc. to stay plugged in.
  • Mobile Development – I will echo the same thing here…many organizations are not set up to deliver anything mobile let alone mobile learning. Several predictions and forecasting models show mobile (smart phones, tablets, etc.) will be mainstream by 2020 and the keyboard and mouse that we so affectionately love today will be archaic devices. As for gaining skills for mobile development, many eLearning designers & developers do not “code” their courses anymore and use one of the popular authoring tools today. I’ve not hand-coded a course in over 5 years and my guess is we will see tools in the near future that will output mobile designs similar to how authoring tools do today with eLearning.
  • Graphic Design – Eric points out here that it’s not so much the skill of becoming a graphic designer, but rather where to find them when you need them as well as making your own. Researching images can be a daunting task, but having relevant research skills along with actually knowing where to go to find them should be foundational. Coming from a graphic design background, I’ve often made the decision to buy (or through CC usage) rather than create myself. In the end, the time it finally took me to search the appropriate images I could have built my own library!
  • Rapid Development – First, Rapid Development is NOT a replacement for Rapid Design. The design process must still occur instructionally and visually before any development begins. Every project dictates, but by entering each project with that plan, rapid development is VERY efficient and shaves off hours of work. Two very important considerations need to be addressed here as well: 1) Rapid development is not the cause of poor design, and 2) Rapid Development is authoring tool independent.

More skills:

  • Project Management – Consider the entire process from start to finish. You begin with an initial meeting to determine the overall performance outcome. From there you begin your analysis and agree eLearning is the best solution. In the end you have a course/module published on your web or LMS. That entire process is a project. I’ve seen more times than I care to admit where an Instructional Designer is in the middle of an eLearning project and has hit a snag with no clear idea how they got there or how to get out of it. I’m not suggesting run out and earn your PMI certificate, but having fundamental skills in project management methodology is essential.
  • Writing – This industry did not exist as a career path when I started. Many people today who work as Instructional Designers earned their ISD or IDT degree. Others came to this industry through circumstance with an English, Journalism, or Technical Writing degree, while others may or may not have any ID or writing background at all. Yet, I suggested that ID is assumed for purposes of this post, one cannot effectively develop eLearning if they do not know how to write content, scripts, or storyboards.
  • Storyboarding – Think of the storyboard as the project plan. There is no standard around the exact way to storyboard an eLearning project as each situation dictates. Most I see are sparse and not very useful if someone had to pick up the project on a whim. Think of storyboarding as a project workbook with all documentation supporting the eLearning project.
  • Rapid Prototyping – Not to be confused with Rapid Development, this widely unused phase is invaluable. Rapid Prototyping can occur early on in the process and be reviewed for instructional flow and usability. Other aspects such as writing scripts, asset collection, etc. are happening simultaneously.

The days of the workforce training departments with Instructional Designers, Graphic Artists, Developers, etc. is of the past. Today, teams and even individual contributors are the one-all-be-all Training Project Coordinators. This is not an official role, but the title fits more of what the real world is experiencing. One person is responsible for the entire eLearning project from cradle to grave. To be competitive, and more importantly create meaningful and memorable eLearning, one must learn multiple skills.

Top 6 Skills for eLearning 2011 - Pie ChartThere are a multitude of industries deploying eLearning. However, the corporate workforce seems to be where the most attention is needed in getting the right skills in place. With eLearning Weekly’s permission, let’s shake the list up a bit. From the perspective I shared above, two of the original and four additional skills make a new list of the Top 6 eLearning Skills for 2011:

  1. Project Management
  2. Writing
  3. Storyboarding
  4. Rapid Prototyping
  5. Graphics (design or researching skills)
  6. Rapid Development

What do you think? Are there more/less specific skills for eLearning that we can impress on people to learn or hone this year? Are there timeless skills needed no matter which direction the industry moves this year?



1. Top 5 E-Learning Skills for 2011 | Cybersmart E-Guide for Teachers - March 7, 2011

[…] eLearning Weekly welcomes our newest contributor, Kevin Thorn. Following up on last week’s post titled, “Top 5 Skills for eLearning in 2011,” I’d like to explore this at a different angle. We could go two ways with this: Brand new to the eLearning industry, or a seasoned veteran honing their skills. The comments generated from the original post focused a lot on why Instructional Design was not included in the top 5, so let’s start there with thre … Read More […]

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4. David Glow - March 8, 2011

Surprised in both articles, there is nothing about assessment/evaluation. And I am not just talking about the design or writing here. The mechanics to deploy something and get back items that provide meaningful, actionable data is a critical piece in the puzzle.

Let’s take the hot topic right now: SoMe. Setting up the space to facilitate the connections is great, but we will be asked at some point about the value of the solution. What data will your C-level accept as value? Will your system report this data? What can be done to capture it?

Same goes to any tool, not just SoMe. Simple testing- does your c-level just need scores? Attempt breakdown? Question level analysis (some incorrect answers are acceptable mistakes, others will have critical adverse impacts- is it important for your system to weight the scores/actions between the two)…

In an environment of increased demand for results and accountability, and accelerating regulatory pressure, I think “the proof in the pudding” elements of training is perhaps the key skill to bring to the table.

Mike S. - March 8, 2011

Assessment and evaluation will never be valued. Most projects die before any post training phase. Consultants still raise the issues, but inside companies, everyone knows that once the elearning is deployed, it’s on to the next projects.

Kevin Thorn - March 10, 2011


I’m afraid I have to agree with you. Over 15 years in the corporate workplace, the only evaluation is whether or not employees completed an eLearning module in the form of compliance reporting. The measurement for the most part is simply to check the box that all employees are up to speed on policies. Not all the time of course, but a very large majority of eLearning I build has a shelf-life of about six months.

Kevin Thorn - March 10, 2011


You make some very valid points and I agree that assessment/evaluation are important. But let’s put this in perspective in terms of skills vs. methods, culture, policies, and mechanics.

The first post and this follow-up are talking about the top 6 skills needed this year…2011. I can think of another 6 (and more), including assessment/evaluation, but in my experience I see these and the most critical that need attention now.

I honestly don’t think we’ll all agree at any point what any ‘top’ skills will be with so many variables and layers in this industry. But if we peel back all the layers from analysis to evaluation and look at just eLearning and just the skills needed to produce eLearning, evaluation falls in the bigger picture of a training strategy.

5. Ami Caster - March 8, 2011

It is crazy how versatile elearning people must be and how variously skilled. eLearning specialists must be communicators, techies, designers and developers — oh and trainers too. All that and a bag of chips!

Hats off to elearning professionals! Thanks Kevin.

Kevin Thorn - March 10, 2011

It is CRAZY, Ami! In the Training & Development world, eLearning is just one layer. That layer in itself has many sub-layers. Each sub-layer may have specific skills and many of those cross over to other layers.

All the more reason I don’t think we will all agree on what the ‘top’ skills are…or even should be. But it is fun to debate them 🙂

6. Melissa Peterson - March 9, 2011

“Are there timeless skills needed no matter which direction the industry moves this year?” Absolutely. I think your Top 6 are all timeless skills that have been and always will be used in elearning. I think SoMe and Mobile development are trendy frills that add to the immediate wow factor, but if you focus only on frills and don’t have those Top 6–the core, timeless skills–the effectiveness of your training is going to go the way of shoulder pads and rolled pants.

A great follow-up to the original post!

7. Kevin Thorn - March 10, 2011

Well said, Melissa! I should have asked you before I wrote that post. 🙂 The SoMe trend and certainly the ramping up of mLearning are skills that will be adopted eventually. Some people will become specialists in just those areas, while others will fold fundamental skills into their toolbox.

My argument why those aren’t top skills is mainly due to what I referred to regarding an organization’s overall training strategy. If there is no mobile strategy, spending time learning mobile technology skills shouldn’t be a priority. Same with SoMe and an organization’s policy around its usage in training. Many today including my org have no immediate plan in place to even test let alone implement into a strategy.

Shoulder pads and rolled pants – that made me laugh!

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9. jessica - March 13, 2011

While I don’t disagree with the skills you say are crucial, I will disagree and say the knowledge of how to craft instructional design for eLearning is vital if you want your consumers to actually learn anything. You say that “ID is not a specific skill rather a conglomerate of methods, models, practices, theories, and techniques,” but it is exactly this that makes an ID practitioner capable of designing effective learning experiences. Graphic design, social media, video, etc. are all beneficial, but if, and only if, they are made to effectively assist the transfer of information into an individual’s long term memory. Otherwise, they are mere distractions that are actually detrimental to the learning process. It takes training in pedagogy, learning theories, and instructional design methods (which are not “perishable” skills), combined with all of the other skill areas you say are important, to craft an eLearning experience that is effective in actually helping an individual learn. Only with the proper training in all of these areas can an eLearning practitioner craft an experience which assists a learner in creating transference and recall.

Kevin Thorn - March 15, 2011

I do agree with you Jessica. I tried to lead the post by suggesting you are either formally trained in ID or have extensive experience to know ID very well.

In my experience, I’ve not developed many eLearning courses/modules without the extensive ID process prior to building. It’s ‘after’ that phase of the process is complete and you move to putting it all together. This is where I see large skill gaps.

10. Stacy Friedman - March 14, 2011

Thanks for the good post, Kevin. It’s always worth remembering that ID is more than eLearning and has been around for many decades before keyboards and mice. I have a two-part question:
1. In my organization, we’re exploring methods of mLearning but haven’t found much outside of using mobile devices to store/display job aids (especially in health care). The only industry I’ve found that does actual training on mobile devices is sales. Do you know of any industries or organizations that have successfully implemented mobile learning, i.e., actual training? (not that there’s anything wrong with just posting job aids and other reference material)
2. Similar question regarding social media. Everyone’s talking about it, but what are some specific examples of how people are using it in training? I’ve used collaboration tools in the past like Blackboard that seem to fall under that category, but what else (and what are the more current tools) are people using? Are people using Facebook/Twitter/Youtube in this way?


Mike S. - March 14, 2011

Hi Stacy –

I have a friend in Medical Device who delivers training to surgeons on iPads. She got me in touch with the guys who developed their elearning app, and I got to beta-test the coolest app-building tool ever: AppAuthor Pro. (See http://appauthorpro.com to sign up for updates.)

Now I make elearning for my technology company. The elearning is sales training, software training, project management training, and compliance training. The app authoring tool allows us to make any sort of module: reading job-aids and other info, as you mentioned, video, quiz, evaluation, and any combination of all of these. It’s only for the iPad, but it looks amazing and takes advantage of all the iPad’s touch interactions.

You can integrate Twitter and those tools, but we havne’t gone there yet. Nice to know it’s built in though.

Kevin Thorn - March 15, 2011

Hi Stacy,
Like you (and I’m sure others may agree), I don’t see a whole lot of mLearning in my industry – Retail, or corporate workplace. We are exploring its usage for field sales reps, but other than that mLearning is beginning to find a home as performance support rather than the main vehicle. I would suggest reading Clark Quinn’s new book – “Designing mLearning: Tapping into the Mobile Revolution for Organizational Performance” – http://www.amazon.com/Designing-mLearning-Revolution-Organizational-Performance/dp/0470604484/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1300241911&sr=8-1

Same with SoMe. I see a lot of great usage for learning in Education and various classroom environments in corporate workforce. I’m sort of sheltered in my industry so I’m afraid I can’t offer anymore. However, I would strongly suggest Jane Bozarth’s book. She has a LOT of great examples. – “Social Media for Trainers” – http://www.amazon.com/Social-Media-Trainers-Techniques-Enhancing/dp/0470631066/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1300242091&sr=1-1

David Glow - March 16, 2011

Also wanted to second the books (I am partway through Clark’s book currently, and it’s great).

Also, I know Ignatia is starting a MOOC for Mobile Learning in the next few weeks: http://ignatiawebs.blogspot.com/2011/02/part2-facilitators-of-free-mobile.html

I know one of the speakers, David Metcalf, has done quite a bit of research, and written a book in the area of m-learning. Also, he was on a team that wrote a mobile routing systems to help with the relief in Haiti (m-performance support). I can tell you from my family’s experience in Katrina, the support for routing medical resources in Haiti alone is probably a great example of success in the area of m-learning/support (yes, the lines are blurring).

11. David Glow - March 14, 2011

Some interesting comments on evaluation. I think any business process, including L&D, needs to show value to the business decision makers or it will most likely be discontinued.

And, no, check in box does not equal value proposition.

I can agree to a degree that the skill of assessment and evaluation to demonstrate skills that drive business objectives (value) is not specific to elearning, but here’s my point of confusion:
Graphic Design CAN be outsourced
Video Production CAN be outsourced
PM CAN be outsourced
Writing CAN be outsourced
Mobile Development CAN be (and often is) outsourced

A elearning designer/developer may not need to do these tasks specifically. I think many of us have used graphics pros or resources, video development, copywriters, and coders (for mobile). Some have even brought in PMs from the business (non-L&D folks) to manage a larger project for which L&D was one support component.

Where I can’t see a true L&D designer/developer being replaced, is directing the development of assets into a learning experience (or ecosystem in the case of SoMe) toward some goal, and being able to articulate the outcomes to the business. Who can that be outsourced to?

It can’t, it’s central to the role.

Again, I don’t disagree that this is something that may be considered more high-level or strategic, but if this skill is absent at the practitioner/developer level, is that why we end up with page-turners and check in box trainings that deliver no discernible value to organizations?

I can’t remember who first said it, but I think we are the members of the team who ensure we don’t “mistake clickity bling bling with learny learny”.

Kevin Thorn - March 15, 2011

Hey David,

You bring up very valid points. And I don’t disagree with you about L&D teams proving their worth to the business. I will however ask that we take your viewpoint and approach it at this angle:
Your suggesting to outsource the various skills. In a good solid training strategy, the “buy vs. build” question should be part of the initial analysis. Outsourcing is somewhere in the middle as its still a in-house build, yet you’re buying the development work. I’ll argue here that these skills must be learned in-house as a way to prove that worth you mentioned. If I can outsource everything, why do I need an L&D team in the first place? Additionally, the average L&D teams are small 2-3 people with zero budgets. Even if they wanted to, they couldn’t afford outsourcing. Hence, they learn the skills. But…to your point, if the skills are absent, they become page-turners.

Oh, and Cammy Bean (@cammybean) first came up with the Clicky Clicky Bling Bling phrase back in Dec 2010. Here’s her initial post 🙂 http://cammybean.kineo.com/2010/12/and-clicky-clicky-bling-bling-to-you.html

David Glow - March 16, 2011

Thanks for tying the quote to its rightful owner.

I think we are of like minds for the most part on outsourcing. I just find too often that folks are focusing on the clicky bling bling and not the learny learny.

I can give up a lot of nice looking stuff if the learning is stellar. Heck, I can usually find a college graphics student to give time to spruce up the graphics if they can get some references. I want my learning team FIRST focused on learning and it’s outcomes, not taking time away from that core task to pixelpush or pencilwhip things where other resources can be utilized for that task.

And yes, if the skills are absent, they become page turners, but worse is when “learning designers/developers” are great production folks but not good learning developers. This is where you get a lot of sizzle and no steak.

Nobody actually gets their fill on the sizzle alone. 😉

Great post- good discussion. It’s great to be able to have some real discussions with some real sharp folks, no?

12. peggywalden - March 14, 2011

Thanks guys for the follow-up on top 5 skills for eLearning in 2011.

I am currently an instructional technology support specialist with B.S. in Computer Information Science. I started working on an M.S. in Instructional Design and Technology this year. I’ve been given the task of creating a faculty professional development course in the use of the LMS that is completed on the LMS. I can attest that this project has required project management, writing, storyboarding, and graphics skills. As I continue through my graduate degree I expect to utilize rapid prototyping and rapid development as well.

Kevin Thorn - March 15, 2011

Hi Peggy,

Wow! That sounds like a huge project! What a great project to “stretch your muscles” on all those skills. Good luck and hope it proves successful!

13. Pam - March 19, 2011

I’m new to e-learning, so I read both articles to see what skills I need to be successful in this industry. Both articles provided me with new perspectives, however part II provided more clarity. I think Kevin did a great job differentiating between skills, practices and techniques. I think the first article (part I) made a good attempt of creating a top five skills list, but it seems the real focus should be on understanding what skills you need for the environment in which you work. Acquiring skills that are not going to be utilized by your organization seems be a waste unless you’re planning on making a move to another organization! Ultimately, I like the new skills list Kevin listed. It looks like a good skills foundation list. With a good foundation, you can go anywhere.

Kevin, you stated that everyone should have basic project management skills. What course(s) would you suggest?

Pam T. Harris
Candidate for MA TD/Roosevelt University

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