4 Ways to Gain Experience and Break Into Digital Learning
How can you get experience in digital learning if you don’t already work in the industry? These 4 strategies help you build experience to get the job.
Digital learning is a growing industry that attracts people from all different backgrounds. Some teachers dream of leaving the classroom for a career in curriculum development or corporate training and development. Professionals in other industries may see it as an opportunity to do meaningful work or achieve a more comfortable work-life balance. But breaking into eLearning, online learning or instructional design can be daunting.
So many job postings ask for years of experience and specialized degrees. You might feel like there’s an unbridgeable gap between where you are and the role you want. In reality, that gap is probably narrower than you think.
Put these four strategies to work for you, and start working toward your dream job in the learning industry.
Online Learning vs. Digital learning vs. eLearning
Before we get into the strategies, it can be helpful to recognize that while online learning, digital learning, and eLearning are not just different names for the same thing.
Digital learning is the broad category that encompasses any way that the use of technology supports learning. This could include anything from remote learning in a fully online course to digital tools used to increase student engagement during face-to-face instruction. Digital learning can happen anywhere learners spend time, from the classroom to social media.
Online Learning covers types of learning resources or experiences delivered at least partly over the internet. This includes online teaching but also blended learning, where instruction is delivered both online and in-person. Video conferencing, mobile devices, laptops and apps can all be used to deliver online learning.
eLearning is an even more specific term sometimes used interchangeably with virtual learning. This type of learning uses digital technology to deliver lessons with no in-person component. On-demand courses and learning apps are examples of e-learning.
All of these types of learning rely on high-quality content and learning technologies. Instructional designers and other digital learning professionals use these tools to deliver valuable learning experiences.
1. Find your Transferable Skills
You probably have more experience than you think. The digital learning industry needs professionals in roles like content or curriculum creation, video and multimedia production, editing, and project coordination and management. If you’ve worked in roles like these, a switch to eLearning might be fairly straightforward. Even if you’re not coming from that kind of background, many of your skills will still transfer.
Take a look at some job postings for the kinds of roles you’d like to qualify for. Note the skills and experiences they’re seeking, then think about what you’ve done in your work up to now that proves your ability in these areas.
Soft skills are especially transferable and many employers realize they are much more difficult to teach. You can be trained on a new computer system or QA process. Training someone in innovation or creativity is a lot harder.
According to McKinsey, the most in-demand soft skills for 2023 include:
- Critical thinking
If you’re having trouble identifying your soft and transferable skills, talk to a trusted friend or talent coach. You can find experienced talent coaches through organizations like IDOL. They might be able to help you see your experience with fresh eyes.
2. Earn a Credential in Digital Learning
After assessing your skills, you might decide that you need some training in a specific set of skills. That doesn’t mean you have to go back to school unless you really want to. If you already have a degree, you’re probably better off pursuing a certificate or other quicker-to-complete credential.
To figure out which credentials you need, go back to the job postings. Many job postings will mention if they’d like candidates to have a particular certification or credential. This can help you identify which ones are well-respected or seen as industry standards.
In general, look for accredited programs or credentials granted by a trusted organization. You might reach out to credential holders to ask whether gaining the credential was worthwhile or ask professional associations which ones they recommend. Most importantly, make sure the curriculum includes the specific skills you need to build.
Some knowledge and skill areas that are likely to help you become a competitive candidate are:
- learning management systems (LMS)
- Learning strategies
- Pedagogy and adult learning theory
- Educational technology
- Universal design for learning (UDL) guidelines
- CSS, PHP and HTML
As you compare different credentialing options, look for the learning environment that will best meet your needs. You can choose a distance learning option, enroll in school, or seek out whatever learning environment is likely to work best for you.
3. Start With Freelance or Contract Work
One of the best ways to learn is by doing. Of course, that brings us back to the problem of needing a job to get experience and needing experience to get a job. One way to stop this spin is by starting with freelance or contract work first.
Committing to a new hire is a big investment for employers. They may be more willing to take a chance on a less-experienced applicant if it’s for a short-term contract or a one-off project.Sometimes you can leverage the learning experience of a contract role into a full-time job offer. You might even decide you prefer contract work and want to continue to build your career that way. IDLance provides resources and a community to support you in growing a freelance career. Either way, freelance and contract work can still help you build your experience and portfolio while also giving you a first-hand look at the day-to-day realities of the job.
4. Volunteer to Build Experience
This last tip might not be for everyone. You may not have the time or financial stability to volunteer. But it can be a great way to improve your professional development. This could be a traditional volunteer arrangement for a cause you care about. Or you could volunteer to help out with something in the job you have now that is related to the role you want.
If you’re a teacher, volunteer to help with curriculum development, formative assessment writing, accessibility, or instructional technology. Start implementing new technologies or using the ones you already have. Offer to help other teachers or your administration with their projects.
If you work in a corporate environment, find out if there are ways you can support employee learning and development in your organization. Get involved with any community outreach, partnership or education projects your organization has in the works. Stay alert for opportunities to expand your skills in the direction you want to go.
Employers Don’t Expect a Perfect Fit
Don’t forget that your mission, vision, and values are important too. As you work to gain experience in instructional design, remember that most job postings represent a wish list.
Employers know that it’s unlikely, and maybe even impossible, to find someone with the exact mix of skills they’d like. A candidate who is confident, shares the organization’s philosophy of education, and is willing to learn is more likely to get hired, even if they have less experience. So don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.
Teamed can help. We specialize in connecting instructional design professionals with the organizations that need their skills. Visit our job board.