Show Your Work!

One of the things I enjoyed most about DevLearn last month was getting to see other instructional designers’ work, and just judging by the size of audiences that turn out for DemoFest and the ID Challenge, I know I’m not alone. It’s a common complaint among e-learning designers that they don’t get to see each other’s work often enough, because their companies (or their clients) won’t allow their courses to be posted online or included in portfolios. And it’s understandable why. Either the company is concerned about sharing proprietary content, about sharing training methods that are considered a competitive advantage, or, in the case of courses being sold to the public, giving away too much of the product.

But I’m writing today to convince those of you in the position to make such decisions that you should let instructional designers — whether vendors or internal employees — show as much of their work as possible. Not just because we want you to — and of course we do — but because there are benefits to the industry as a whole and your company specifically.

It promotes better work in the industry. Our industry has a lot of accidental instructional designers, and they love to learn by looking at stuff that has already been done. When we teach our e-learning development courses, our students ALWAYS ask where they can go to see additional samples of a certain technique or authoring tool. The more instructional designers are able to share ideas, high-quality examples, and innovations, the more we can push ourselves and each other forward. And that’s good for you.

It helps you figure out what you want. When instructional designers pitch ideas to clients, we often do prototypes to communicate our ideas, because e-learning is just hard to describe. But having a wide variety of online samples from a number of sources can be another — sometimes easier — way to get on the same page about what you want. And it makes you a more informed consumer, as well, of what’s available in the marketplace. If no one is willing to share samples, it is difficult to gain this perspective. But if everyone shared just a little bit, we would all benefit.

It showcases the quality of work your company does. Even though different instructional designers or firms can produce wildly different work, you and the other stakeholders in your company play a key role in the finished product. Showing quality work is a good bit of PR for you — even if a vendor did most of the heavy lifting.

How can you showcase your work?

There are a number of ways you can showcase your work in a way that you and your company can get positive exposure while others in the industry can learn from your example. You can either do these things yourself or grant permission for the designers/contractors/vendors to do so.

  • Submit your course for industry awards and showcases, such as E-Learning Guild’s DemoFest, the Articulate Guru awards, ASTD’s BEST, and Brandon Hall’s Excellence in E-Learning Awards.
  • Put a link to some of your less-proprietary courses on a public-facing website.
  • Post links to content in various e-learning communities, such as the Articulate Community Showcase.
  • Present your courses as a case study at local and national conferences.

If the thought of allowing whole courses to be posted online still doesn’t work for you, you can use one of these partial solutions:

  • Publish only part of the course; shut down any navigation to other sections.
  • Create a screencast showing only part of the course. This can be even more beneficial to both the person highlighting the skills and the person looking for skills, because the screencast can be a guided tour showcasing features of the course that the audience might not otherwise notice as well as the design rationale behind those features.
  • Share only screenshots of the course. While this is my least preferred method because it doesn’t give as good of a feel for the overall experience, it can at least do a good job of showcasing good graphic design.
  • Publish the course with identifying company information and any confidential information removed or replaced.
  • If the course is retail, use any of the above methods and see how you can combine it with marketing efforts. For example, if you grant your vendor permission to create a screencast highlighting your course, include an agreement that the screencast will have a link to where the course can be purchased.

We are fortunate that many of our clients have granted us permission to showcase work we’ve done for them using several of these options; you can see the results on our portfolio.

Can you think of other benefits — and ways — of showing your work?

Judy Unrein

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