In the new year, my job title changed from eLearning Specialist to eLearning Developer.
My boss delivered this news with some hand waving about internal alignments, and my day to day work hasn’t changed. When I applied for my job as an eLearning Specialist, I wasn’t sure that I would make the cut because my eLearning experience was limited to writing for asynchronous platforms (ie- materials people access on the web when they have time).If the title had been eLearning Developer, there is no way I would have applied, because that sounds like someone who writes code.
To be honest, in this field the distinctions aren’t always universal, and they seem to change as the field and technology evolve. The point of this anecdote is that job titles don’t always mean what you might think, although having some familiarity with them can be helpful for aligning your skills and interests.
In the specialized world of curriculum development (or jobs in education for people who do not want a classroom), there are a few major job types that have a lot of overlap in responsibility. If you can start in one, it’s often pretty easy to grow into others as you gain more experience. These folks can work for textbook publishing companies, websites, or anywhere that educational content is developed, like the education department at a biotech or pharmaceutical company.
Many of us scientists can start out easily as writers. This might be called Technical Writer, Curriculum Writer, or even Subject Matter Expert (SME). These roles focus on getting words on paper (or maybe onto the web in eLearning). They focus on writing instructional text, procedures and assessments, depending on the role. I got my start in educational writing by freelancing as a curriculum writer/SME. These people might report to an Editor (with superlatives like supervising, senior or technical thrown around), or an instructional designer. Depending on the stage of a project, you might be asked to write a 45 min lab, or describe the key learning objectives that should be covered in a 1 semester class. This is where these jobs can overlap with instructional design roles.
Instructional Designers (IDs) develop and enforce the vision for a course. They determine who the course is meant for, including prerequisite knowledge. They decide, what students should learn and how it should be taught. Will there be lectures or labs? Exams or essays or capstone projects? IDs spend time crafting learning objectives, determining the scope and sequence of materials, and often have to make difficult decisions about what gets covered and what gets cut. Instructional designers are often looked to as the experts in good materials; they can help coax multiple choice questions into more challenging assessment, or edit instructions into a focused prompt. These responsibilities may fall to someone with Editor or Manager in their title as well.
eLearning Specialists, or Developers, are more specialized roles that develop virtual content, usually web published materials. This can be anything from xml tagging articles written by someone else, to building or animating graphics that meaningfully illustrate key concepts. In my current role, I do everything from defining learning objectives, writing a storyboard (which includes an audio script, and on-screen action), recording and editing audio, doing screen captures, building animations, packaging that into an interactive shell and publishing this to the web. My role also has some overlap with instructional design, but I’ve seen similar roles in other organizations where these developers are specialised graphic artists, responding to content requests from writers rather than developing those ideas themselves.
Other titles in this space that might be of interest to those of us who enjoy educating:
Instructional Technologist– this person is usually something of a consultant who helps people find and use new technologies in the classroom. This person may also be the support person for in-class technology, or someone who is finding ways to take advantage of technology within the current teaching platform.
Curriculum Manager– this person is one step removed from the content development, but they make sure resources like people and materials are available at the right time. They also facilitate the curriculum in getting to it’s final destination, either to print or published online. They are sometimes the voice for the student in curriculum planning meetings, acting as a product manager for courses.
Program Manager– these folks oversee multiple curricula within a broader subject area. At the college level, these people are in charge of enrollment, hiring instructors, and even scheduling courses. At the corporate level, they might be in charge of major education initiatives, and may administer resources and build tools to make sure that learning can happen.
Faculty Development, Train the Trainer– these folks don’t work with students, they work with other people who teach. They try to bring best practices or new content to the classroom. They may serve as a subject matter resource for instructors, or be involved in auditing classrooms to help instructors improve in their delivery methods.
Most of these roles will benefit from some classroom experience, so think about how your role as a TA or adjunct might prepare you for some of these responsibilities.
Sandlin Seguin,PhD is an eLearning Developer with Tableau, where she helps people learn to see and understand their data. Previously, she earned her PhD in molecular virology at the University of Pittsburgh, and worked as a Curriculum and Faculty Development Specialist at Bellevue College.