by Sam Baynham (LINE Communications)
Looking back now, I knew very little about e-learning when I walked through the doors. I still don’t know how to capitalise it.
I was offered the job here at LINE about nine months ago, and I walked into LINE as an employee for the first time eight months ago. I had a worryingly blank desk that has since been strewn with about a thousand post-it notes and papers, a blank and uninviting e-mail account, and absolutely no clue what I was really getting into.
I learned quickly that the writing skills I thought I’d ’d been hired for were not the be-all-and-end-all of the job. In fact, they were only one part of the long, involved complex process that I was going to learn to be a part of.
Job one, of course, was finding the kettle. Job two was sitting down with my fellow trainees and my new line manager, Paul, to discuss the training schedule.
“Well,” said Paul, “Here’s what you’re going to learn in the next few months.”
Two hours later, he’d finished the list.
“And then of course, we can start your stage two training.”
“Sure. There’s a few stages.”
I don’t know quite what I’d expected, walking into a new field as a graduate trainee. I suppose I thought I’d get a few months of on-the-job training, then get on with it. As it was, I was writing course material very quickly, under the watchful eye of a senior designer, but the formal training process is still ongoing and will be for quite some time. Training sessions take place every Friday, with one of the senior designers bringing up a discussion point and the rest talking about it, arguing about it, drawing diagrams about it and generally getting stuck in.
In my first few months I learned a number of things. I learned that phrases like ‘a number of things’ are the enemy of good learning, and should be taken out the metaphorical back, stood up against the wall and shot. ‘There are a variety of…’, and ‘There are many reasons…’ are also enemies of the people, and deserve the same ruthless treatment.
These old friends of the waffling student writer have no place in learning because they don’t communicate anything, I discovered.
In fact, if I had to pinpoint the largest single thing I’ve learned in this job, it’s that writing and communicating can be decidedly different things. A learning designer must be an efficient communicator, able to file down complex information to a sharp point and present it to the learner in the leanest, most efficient form possible.
As well as all that, an LD must also be an explorer, searching the dark continents of content for the rare hooks that will engage and draw in the learner. Of course, that’s not all of what an LD is. An LD is also a scientist, and sometimes something of a detective, especially when it comes to background detail.
At this point, I know I sound a lot like I’ve drunk the corporate kool-aid, and I suppose I have to a certain extent. I’ve never had a job where people were so passionately involved in their work, and it’s infectious.
The passion doesn’t just end with the work that we’re doing at any one time, but extends to the field in general, with long discussions of the newest learning techniques.
In fact, the sheer volume of information and knowledge can be dizzying at times, but the involvement is incredible, and you can find yourself coming home at night with your head still fizzing from what you’ve learned in the day.
The things you learn are of course not limited to learning design technique.
I’ve tried a dozen times to explain to my Dad what a learning designer does, but he can’t quite believe I can write learning content about a subject of which I knew nothing a week before.
In truth, I sometimes don’t quite believe it. The absorption process for new information is one that no amount of training can really prepare you for, so you have to find something that works for you.
One week, you can be learning about correct oil rig construction, the next military weapon repair technique, or how to break into the retail banking sector. The information is diverse, and it needs to be absorbed fast, but it’s not the information that is the most essential part of the process. The subject matter experts (or SMEs) will provide you with the raw knowledge, so engaging with them is the real skill, and it’s not one that someone who’s used to writing in solitude gets used to quickly. (Obviously, the office is a lot nicer than a lonely garret. We have a coffee machine, for one thing, an entirely new addiction I’ve developed since I became a learning designer.)
SMEs, of course, want the best, but they also want to know that what you’ll produce for them will be the best representation of their work and effort. We build our courses together, pick them apart together, and often tug at loose threads from different ends. A successful project, I’ve learned, is as much about people skills as it is about learning and writing.
So I’m sitting at my desk, now looking a lot smarter and less unkempt than when I joined as a fey young student. I have the now ubiquitous cup of coffee and apple and I’m sitting at a computer that’s straining at its little virtual seams with things I’ve done or need to do. I’ve been part of the development of a new online tool for Learning Designers that has unified our knowledge, and now the Graphic Design team want one as well. One of my bosses has documents for me to proof, another has a new editing technology he needs testing. And I’m still a trainee, still a learner.
Even when I’m a full designer or even, heaven-forefend, a senior designer, I’m going to be learning for the rest of my career. This is, after all, a digital technology; It’s never going to stand still, there are going to be new technologies, new challenges and new projects, all of which I’m going to have to adapt to. Above all, there’s going to be new knowledge, new things to learn and to teach.
To be honest, even only eight months in, I don’t think I’d wouldn’t have it any other way.