Now that we’ve survived the Mayan apocalypse and a new year is upon us, maybe it’s time for a new career. How about eLearning?

Perhaps you’re a seasoned classroom instructor or a more traditional instructional designer ready to make a change. Maybe you were great at what you did in the factory, in the field, or the office, and now they want you to be a trainer—not just any trainer, but an eLearning specialist. Or, you’re a manager, even an executive, and you just learned you are now in charge of eLearning. Intrigued? Great; here are nine things to know on your first day.

 1. The “e” in eLearning does not stand for “easy.”

If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. Wait—everyone is doing it! But that doesn’t mean everyone is doing it well. Great eLearning takes skill, experience, and leaders that have your back. Building eLearning is certainly a challenge, but it’s getting organizational buy-in and support that makes eLearning effective and sustainable over the long term.

2. This is not part-time work.

If your boss says to you, “Hey, if you’re not doing anything this afternoon, I’d like you to build an eLearning course,” run for the hills. It’s not that you have to spend all your time on eLearning, but to do it well you must set aside a considerable amount of dedicated time. And once you decide how much time you’ll need for your first project, triple it.

3. Not everything works as eLearning.

Now that you are a big-shot eLearning professional, the worst decision you can make is to kill all your classroom training. Some organizations have tried that, and, for the most part, it didn’t work out so well. Anyone who believes the classroom is going away probably also believes the Internet is a passing fad. There are many things the classroom can do that eLearning can’t do as well (okay, can’t yet do as well). While not going away, classroom training will surely change, from lecturing facts to facilitating discovery; from individual learning to team collaboration; from listening and remembering to application and problem solving; and from the teacher as a “sage on the stage” to one that is more a “guide on the side.” Are you ready?

4. There is no single way to do it.

Forget reliance on a single instructional or delivery model, or a cast-in-stone strategy. Don’t get caught up in any particular tool or methodology. eLearning is constantly undergoing redefinition, and is as diverse and robust as the learners and organizations that use it. Find what works for you and go ahead, but be flexible and open to new solutions and new ways of working. In eLearning, change is the only constant.

5. The “good-cheap-fast” conundrum.

Have you heard the expression “You can have it good, fast, or cheap—pick two”? Not a good philosophy for eLearning; do your best to fight it. Too much focus on perfection (yes, you can overdo it here) will lengthen the project and cost a fortune. Toning down the interactions or the design just a tad may shorten development time and lower costs without hurting effectiveness. And cutting cost, while noble, can go too far. If you want to build the cheapest eLearning possible, well, you get what you pay for. And while “rapid” eLearning has merit in costs and time, there are some compromises in the instructional approaches you can use. The key to satisfying all three criteria is balance. Look at quality, speed, and cost equally, as three empty glasses. Now take your pitcher of water (your total resources) and pour. How much will you fill each glass?

6. Focus too much on technology—you will fail. Focus too little on technology—you will fail.

For some eLearning organizations, it’s the always next big thing—a new learning management system, a new authoring tool, new hardware and software, or even a new facility. Others couldn’t care less, sometimes so much so that their ancient technology starts to crash, along with their reputation. Remember—when technology fails, the initiative fails, but when technology works, there’s no guarantee that the initiative will succeed; you’ve just laid a foundation. Think of technology as a good, well-maintained roadway. Now focus on building the best, most interesting, reliable, and efficient cars you can.

7. A new world. Really?

You’re still addressing learning and performance. You’re still serving a diverse group of employees who have different learning needs, time frames, capabilities, and expectations. You’re still dealing with ever-changing content and a management philosophy that naturally seeks to allocate just enough time and resources to training (or maybe not enough, but never too much). Nevertheless, the playing field has changed. You have new platforms, tools, and instructional capabilities, new cost and time structures, and you’ll need some new skills. Worry about this next week; for your first day, just embrace the paradigm shift that, with eLearning, everything is the same, only different.

8. Caveat emptor.

“Buyer beware,” if Latin isn’t part of your skill set. Vendors and consultants are part of a vibrant eLearning industry. They can help you get started and can do some of the heavy lifting. Be a smart consumer, do your homework, and manage them so they don’t manage you! Get to know the industry through The eLearning Guild and other resources.

9. You likely don’t know what you don’t know.

The most important point! As you enter the eLearning biz, recognize that it’s evolving all the time, and so will your experiences in the field. None of us knows it all; we are all learners on this journey. Ask questions and keep an open mind.

Now, I could have talked about SCORM, learning objects, Flash, authoring tools, content management, EPSS, or a dozen other techie topics. They’re important, but not on day one. They are the trees, and you need to see the forest first. Often, the best way to learn to swim is to jump right in. But without the big picture, without a firm understanding of the depth of the pond you’re diving into, you could hit your head and drown.