The eLearning Guild’s recent research report, eLearning on a Shoestring, got me thinking about something else. In profiling three practitioners in very different settings, the commonalities in personality and approach were inescapable. While Tracy Parish is in healthcare, Bianca Woods was in banking, and Cadence Consulting’s Leonie Black works with a number of organizations, these successful eLearning practitioners share a number of characteristics that support their success.

My earliest interest in eLearning, which I can track back to about 1999, was accompanied by an interest in low-cost solutions. I was a one-person training department in a government agency back in the day when images involved an actual camera, you had to have FTP software and server access to put anything online, and Photoshop was complicated $600 software. I had a lot of success with creating our early online courses at minimal cost, and as authoring capabilities got easier and cheaper and more staff got interested in design and development I moved on to other online endeavors. Although my new focus was primarily the use of social tools and digital technologies, I still oversaw our eLearning efforts and offered occasional updates to information about evolving products and approaches.

Update: After I submitted this article for publication, Tracy Parish won the DevLearn 2018 DemoFest Award for the Best Mobile Solution category (Figure 1). Her entry: Creating a Conference App Using Storyline.

Figure 1: Tracy Parish receiving her DevLearn 2018 DemoFest Award from Mark Britz  

Technical competence

Having a deep-level understanding of tools—what they are at their root, a basic grasp of coding and how products are built, and being skilled with a number of tools and programs—all enable the pursuit of low-cost solutions. It can help as you compare products and features and better understand the details of purchasing or testing tools. Bonus: Many free and low-cost tools come with little or no support. So the more you know, the better you can troubleshoot, participate in user forums, and, should you contact support, the more clearly you can articulate what you need. Sometimes products are low-cost because they are new, and companies wanting to communicate with smart early users will offer help in the form of extended trials, access to additional features, and input on product improvements.  

Willingness to explore

Interviewees all spoke to doing things just to see if they could be done: Tracy Parish, for instance, built her “MasterMind” game, complete with 160 variables and more than 2,100 triggers, mostly just to see if she could. They were willing to try, and hack, and just click the link to see what would happen. This interest in exploring is supported by a tolerance for ambiguity and willingness to make mistakes. Among other things, exploration helps you maximize what you have: Woods, for instance, hacked PowerPoint for creating everything from consolidated instructor/participant materials to video output to eBooks. Like the others who spoke of relishing the intellectual pursuit of finding solutions, Woods says she enjoys the challenge of asking, “How do I poke at this thing and get it to do stuff that the tool designers had no intention of anyone ever doing?”

Investing in self-development

The respondents, curious and sharing a thirst for learning more, fit the definition of “self-directed learner.” They identify their learning needs and seek out workshops, websites, user forums, and other opportunities for development. Parish spoke of her habit of checking in to the Articulate help forum and looking for unanswered questions: she says helping others always teaches her something as well.

“Just do it.”

A striking feature of the interviews was the utter lack of complaining about having a small budget or letting that cause delays or serve as a way of making excuses. Proving oneself as credible and building a good relationship with management went a long way toward getting things done even with little money. The desire to find a way seems to have overridden what might have been, for others, a discouraging lack of resources.

As with my own experience way back when, those working on a shoestring today found that having little money isn’t necessarily a bad thing. On the contrary, they report that it helped them become tightly focused on desired end results, be more resourceful, develop their tech skills, and make better purchasing decisions.