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3D Tips for the Part-Time eLearning Freelancer July 26, 2011

Posted by kevinthorn in eLearning, eLearning Careers.
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eLW Moved to elwmag.comOne of the best pieces of advice my father gave me was, “Discover what you’re good at and then learn how to make money at it.” Just like most obedient young boys, I totally ignored my father’s advice.

Even though I’ve been drawing and cartooning my whole life and developing elearning for the past ten years, I never put the two together. I’m a decent artist but most artists are their own worst critics, and even though I was passionate about it, I never once considered earning a living doing it. That is until I got serious and decided to officially freelance while working a day job.

Some of you may know me through Twitter as @learnnuggets and some of you may know my work through NuggetHead Studioz. I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t have years of experience freelancing let alone freelancing full time to share success strategies. I do have some ‘getting started’ experience and things I’ve learned in the past year that I’ll share what I call my “3D Experience.”

Okay, so you have this thing you’re really good at. You’re really passionate about it and you want a piece of that industry’s pie. What’s next?

Decide

Deliberately deciding is crucial to your success. Think of it like a New Year’s exercise plan. You’re all excited about starting to exercise every day and lose the holiday weight. Off you go and usually within a month the ‘every day’ turns into ‘a couple times a week’ until eventually you don’t have the staying power to continue.
Success-guy-photo

  1. Commit to a maximum amount of time. You might be willing to put in a lot of hours, but make your maximum a rational and reasonable amount of time that will still keep your family in balance. If you’re like me, it’s also keeping my chores up to par. I decided I could commit to 20 hours a week max. That’s four hours a night with weekends off or three hours a night with some work on the weekend.  This plan works for me because I am my family’s night owl. I get quality, evening  family time, and then, when my family goes to bed by 9:00pm, I get to work for a few hours.
  2. Treat it like a job. I treat it like a second job. Many part-time evening jobs are retail or restaurants. They typically close late, and if you’re on the closing shift, you’ll be there another hour or so shutting down. Time is time, and if you’re going to work hard, you might as well work hard for yourself.

Think in terms of cost when deciding the amount of time you’re willing to commit. Go easy on yourself if you’re unsure; say ten hours a week. Remember, you still need to change hats when you go to your day job the next morning, so you want to ensure you’re still getting proper rest – and getting the work done.

Describe

Next, know what is it that you are going to do. Think of your skills and your talents. Describe what you will be doing to yourself before you start telling others. If you don’t know, what makes you think they will know? Definitely, differentiate between practical work and consultation.

  1. Are you going to be doing the practical application of the work? If so, to what degree? If you’re a designer/developer like me, you have to be honest with yourself about how long it takes to put something together. Whether it’s an illustrated graphic or developing an elearning course, describe the boundaries. I started off with offering the full bucket load from cradle to grave. Everything from instructional design to publishing and LMS support. That’s a lot for a shop of one to handle. I’ve scaled back and focused more on what I do best – design/develop.
  2. Are you going to be a consultant? If so, to what degree? A consultant brings years of practical application experience to a market where others hire you to help them down a path you once traveled. It’s still time invested but a different kind of time. Lots of phone calls, emails, managing calendars and perhaps even some traveling involved.

Describing what it is you are going to do – and what you’re not going to do – sets boundaries. Not just for your prospective clients, but for yourself. The boundaries will keep you safe from bidding on a project that may be more than you can chew starting out. They’ll also keep the stress at manageable levels.

Deliver

The phrase, “Under promise and over deliver” comes to mind. When you bid on projects, be honest with yourself about what you can deliver. Not so much in terms of the project itself, but how many current projects you have and how many you can balance at one time. I manage anywhere from 4-6 at any given time. Usually I have 3-4 illustration/graphics projects (which take less time), and/or 2-3 elearning projects (which are spaced out in terms of their production). I do this simply because I’m creative, and creative people (me at least) get bored easily. I need multiple projects at one time so I can switch between them often. And often, one project helps solve problems in another.

  1. Add a minimum of 20% time to every bid. Even if you know without a shadow of a doubt you can make a peanut butter & jelly sandwich in five minutes, bid six minutes. Why? Part time freelance is still life, and the dog is going to run away, your kids will want to play a game, you and your spouse may need to consume an evening talking about something more important. If not the normal stuff, then—even worse—the really crazy will happen. Multiple things will interrupt you. Plan for it.
  2. Don’t overcharge. It’s very attractive to get all caught up in the world of being your own boss and wanting to make your first million dollars in the first year. Stay humble. Do the work. The rewards will come in due time.

NuggetHead Studioz has only been an official business for less than a year. I have much to learn and only share these thoughts from what I’ve experienced already in that short time. Your situation will be different so just think through it carefully to ensure success. Oh, and of course…just do it!

See the new site! eLWmag.com

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How to Stand Out to Get eLearning Jobs January 26, 2011

Posted by Eric Matas in Editor Comment.
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Photo of Business Lady with LaptopOne of eLearningWeekly.com’s most popular posts is eLearning Jobs. It is even far more popular than the follow-up that B.J. posted called More eLearning Job Resources. Both posts offer links to sites that show elearning job listings galore.

But what do you do once you’ve found a job you want?

We’re here to help with that. In addition to continuing to find the best sites for job searches in our field, we thought we’d forge ahead and write more articles about landing those jobs, preparing for the interviews, and developing a portfolio.

In the meantime, I want to use this editor’s note to solicit contributors. (It’s related!)

I learned from conducting interviews and from sitting in meetings trying to reduce the candidate pools that it’s the little extras that make people stand out. In particular, the people who stand out most are those who have participated in professional groups, done research, or written articles about industry topics.

Contributors can be writers who post once, post more than once, or post regularly. Perhaps you’d like to start a recurring column? Don’t worry about ideas…we’ve got more than we can write about! Let us know your interest by emailing editor@ericmatas.com.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Best,

Eric Matas
Managing Editor

eLearning User Groups September 29, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Last week I went to the Metrics That Matter user group in Chicago. During my trip, I started thinking about user groups related to learning and technology. Other than conferences, where do learning and technology professionals get together to discuss ideas with each other? Conferences are great; I attend them and present at them on a fairly regular basis. But too often these events are more focused on presentations than collaboration and idea sharing. We can learn a ton from each other simply by trading stories and experiences, and we should do this more often. What other ways do we have to interact directly with each other? I came up with a list of ideas below. Please chime in with your thoughts. (Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the Metrics That Matter user group meeting was excellent.)

Ideas for connecting with eLearning peers

#lrnchat

I’ve written about #lrnchat before. It’s an online discussion that happens each Thursday on Twitter. Dozens of learning and technology gurus join in to have open discussions and share ideas. This is a great way to interact with some of the top thought leaders in our field.

LMS user groups / conferences

Several LMS companies offer user groups and conferences, and I would highly recommend that you check one out if you work closely with an LMS. Most of the well-known LMS vendors have user group meetings and/or conferences, including:

  • Blackboard
  • Cornerstone
  • GeoLearning
  • Inquisiq
  • Learn.com
  • Mzinga
  • Plateau
  • Saba
  • SumTotal

Technology / Development-focused user groups

Adobe has an active user group community, with over 700 groups that meet regularly to discuss products such as Captivate, Dreamweaver, Flash, and much more. Visit the Adobe Groups page for more info. (In fact, a few Captivate-specific user groups have popped up.)

Separate from the Adobe Groups is a user community for Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro.

Many of the “social learning” tools (ex. blogs, wikis, etc.) have user groups or strong online development communities. A few quick examples:

Twitter

Tools like TweetGrid allow you to track keywords related to your niche of learning and technology. This can help you find others who are working on similar topics or projects, and then you can reach out to them directly.

What else?

What am I missing? Are there other ways you directly connect with peers to exchange ideas and discuss your work? Blogging, definitely. What else…?

Micro-blogging at Work May 30, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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11 comments

I’ve been on Twitter for over a year, and I find great value in the ability to ask questions to a large group of people (ex. friends, peers, etc.) when I need to find information. I often get excellent answers and suggestions that have much more value than a Google search would have yielded. I also enjoy the ability to share helpful resources that I find, and I do my best to answer questions that other people have. It only makes sense that organizations are starting to bring the same concept of Twitter (micro-blogging) in-house to improve communication between employees.

What is micro-blogging?

Micro-blogging is the process of sending short text updates that describe what you’re doing and/or thinking to a web site or web application. The messages are available to whomever has subscribed to view your messages. There are many micro-blogging platforms (see below) that allow you to easily track messages from your friends and peers, and they also make it easy to search for messages that were previously posted. All of the information is saved and it can be searched. Read a more detailed definition of micro-blogging.

How can micro-blogging be beneficial at work?

Here are a few examples of how micro-blogging can be beneficial at work. Micro-blogging can be used to:

  • Ask questions
  • Share project updates
  • Make organization-wide announcements (for non-critical information)
  • Build a community (ex. have new employees communicate with each other and share their experiences)
  • Promote a culture of information sharing

We’re in the early stages of a micro-blogging trial at work. I can’t say much about it, but I am very pleased with what I’ve seen so far. I’m seeing employees making connections with co-workers in different divisions, and I’m seeing employees provide each other with assistance on a regular basis. While I can’t articulate a rock-solid business case for micro-blogging, this behavior screams success to me.

Selecting a micro-blogging platform

If you are concerned about your employees sharing confidential or proprietary information, you will probably want to be very careful when selecting a micro-blogging platform. You can use an internally-hosted micro-blogging platform, or you can consider using a solution hosted by a vendor. Some of the most popular platforms are:

Involve the right people

When considering micro-blogging at your organization, you’ll need to make sure to involve the right people. I highly recommend you bring in people from the following departments. Help them understand micro-blogging and why you’re interested in using it:

  • Corporate Communications
  • HR
  • IT
  • Legal

Run a pilot program

Consider running a pilot program, where you use micro-blogging for a small group of users (perhaps the training department?). This will let you get a feel for how the concept works, and you should be able to figure out its potential pretty quickly. (I would also recommend that you jump on Twitter, just to get a quick understanding of how micro-blogging works.)

Good luck, and please leave a comment below if you have experience using micro-blogging at work. I’d love to hear how it is going.

Heading to the Corporate University Summit May 16, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I will be heading to Chicago on Tuesday for the Corporate University Summit, a corporate learning and development conference. I will be presenting a session on mobile learning on Wednesday, and I plan on spending the rest of the time making connections with peers and absorbing as much I can from the other presenters.

Here are some of the sessions/presentations that sound most interesting to me:

If you will be attending the conference, please say hello! If you will not be in attendance, let me know if you have questions about the conference or any of the presentations. I will be happy to get answers and report back.

Read more about the Corporate University Summit

How to Get the Most Out of a Conference May 7, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Conferences have been on my mind quite a bit lately. I will be presenting a session on mobile learning at the Corporate University Summit in a couple weeks in Chicago, and I’m getting ready to submit a proposal or two for DevLearn. So you can see why I was pleasantly surprised today when I ran across an excellent blog post on how to get the most out of a conference. The post is by Dan McCarthy, and he wrote it over on his Great Leadership blog. Here’s a summary of his suggestions:

  1. Choose your conference wisely.
  2. Take time to to explore and experience the surrounding area.
  3. Try to suspend your judgement, be open minded, curious, and open to possibilities.
  4. Watch your diet and stay fit.
  5. Force yourself to network.
  6. Don’t be one of those attendees that race up and down the trade show isles with a shopping bag, avoiding eye contact with the vendors, and grabbing handfuls of useless junk.
  7. Keep a running list of ideas, insights, and action items; your key take-a-ways from each day.
  8. Have fun, but be on your best behavior.
  9. Ship your stuff back to your office.
  10. Don’t forget to thank your manager for allowing you to attend.
  11. Share something with your team or coworkers.
  12. If you can, offer to be a presenter, break-out facilitator, discussion moderator, or any opportunity to get involved.

Read Dan’s full post, How to Get the Most Out of a Conference, for more information on each of his suggestions. And if you see me at a conference, please stop and introduce yourself!

Additional resources:

Are You a Learning Guru? April 18, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I recently had the pleasure of meeting Karen Boyle, the founder of LearningGurus.com. Learning Gurus is essentially a staffing agency for professionals in the learning and technology field. Karen has over 15 years experience in corporate, government, and education settings, and she specializes in the learning and development/training industry. She started Learning Gurus to help place people in jobs, and at a time like this her services are even more critical.

I heard about Learning Gurus a few weeks ago, and I was surprised to learn that Karen was based just a few miles away from my office in San Diego. Karen and I met for lunch, and she filled me in on her philosophy and reasoning for starting Learning Gurus a few years ago. I was very impressed; Karen is in this to help match great people with great jobs, not to get rich. And Karen’s background in training and development plays a huge role: She’s able to match the right people with the right jobs. That’s a key difference when comparing Learning Gurus to other staffing agencies.

I would highly recommend that you submit your information to Learning Gurus to be considered for jobs (it’s free). I’m very happily employed right now, but in this economy, it’s always smart to be aware of great services like this. And if you have a need for learning/technology talent at your organization, you should also get in touch with Karen.

Here’s a more thorough description of the services offered by Learning Gurus, from their web site:

Learning Gurus provides top-notch Workplace Learning Professionals for your learning and development initiatives. Our staffing and employment agency provides contract, contract-to-hire, and direct hire services. Our nationwide network of Learning Gurus design and develop training and performance solutions for corporate, government, and educational institutions. Whether you need a instructional designer for a 1-month project or you’re searching for a new Chief Learning Officer, we’ve got the guru for you! Our gurus specialize in the following areas:

  • Instructional Design & Development
  • Facilitation & Instructor Led Training (ILT)
  • Performance Analysis & Needs Assessment
  • Project Management
  • eLearning, Web-Based Training (WBT)
  • Multimedia/CBT Development
  • Technical Writing & Documentation
  • Quality Assurance & Evaluation

Visit LearningGurus.com for more information.

Attending AG09 Remotely February 27, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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7 comments

As I’ve mentioned before, I won’t be able to make it to the upcoming eLearning Guild Annual Gathering conference, but I’m already starting to figure out my plan of attack for keeping up with the conference from 2,400 miles away. If this conference is anything like past eLearning Guild conferences, many social media and social networking sites will be buzzing with updates on a regular basis. I plan on using the following sites/tools to keep up with everything:

What else? What am I missing?

And please let me know if you’ll be there – and if you’ll be blogging from the conference. I’ll be sure to publish a list of AG09 bloggers. Thanks!

The gLearning Challenge January 31, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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4 comments

The eLearning Guild has announced an interesting challenge for their upcoming Annual Gathering conference in Orlando. It’s called The gLearning Challenge and the concept is to create a learning solution using ONLY Google products. Here’s a more thorough description, from their web site:

The gLearning Challenge is your chance to use the slew of free and easy-to-use Google tools to showcase your e-Learning design chops. Your entry must use any, or many, of these free Google tools to create a course, a module, or even some informal learning. Get Creative! Win Prizes! Be crowned the Master of gLearning!

The suggested list of tools includes:

Submissions will be accepted until Friday, March 6, 2009.

Read more about The gLearning Challenge.

Building a Learning Portal January 17, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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22 comments

We implemented a learning portal at work several months back, and it has turned out to be one of the best things I could recommend to an organization for improving access to learning materials. In the past, I’ve worked at organizations where we would tell learners, “Look in the LMS” to find materials and information. I’ve realized that a learning portal creates a self-service environment for users that can’t be beat. They can go, search, find what they need, and move on. It’s a Google-like experience, for what has generally become an information-on-demand culture. Let’s take a closer look at learning portals…

What is a learning portal?

A learning portal is a web site that contains links to all different types of learning and training materials for employees at an organization. It may display upcoming classes, online courses, job aids, programs, links to web sites, etc. It may also include search functionality, a rating system, bookmarking ability, and more. The content displayed on the portal may be general to all employees at an organization, or it may be customized for that individual and the role they play. In a perfect world, the learning portal would be able to analyze the person’s department, role, and previous training history. It would then automagically determine learning resources that may be most valuable to that person. It may take a little while, but we’ll get there.

How to build a learning portal (in a nutshell)

First, analyze your users. Interview power-users and find out what resources they access on a regular basis for learning and looking up information. Find out what information is most important to them and find out how you can aggregate it in a way that is simple, clean, and useful. Look at your HR/training systems (ex. your LMS). Find out what key information should be displayed in the portal. You may want to show the learner information on their upcoming classes (if they have already signed up). You may also want to show them all upcoming classes that could be relevant to them based on their job role or specialty. Contact vendors or systems specialists at your organization to find out if this information can be extracted and displayed on a web site, such as a learning portal. (Beware that vendors may charge you for this extra work.)

Build it. Test it. Improve it.

Start small with the first version of your learning portal. Aggregate some useful resources and slowly add features and functionality based on users’ feedback. Interview users and put a poll on the portal. Get as much feedback as you can. It will improve naturally over time if you listen and respond.

More portals are coming

Some LMS vendors are introducing portals of their own, so keep an eye out. Your LMS vendor may have one coming out soon. These may be rigid at first, but I’m sure they’ll get better with time. I’d recommend you analyze the needs of your users, and then determine if it’s best to build your own or use a vendor solution. Either way, it will probably be an extremely helpful resource for your learners.