What skills does a learning designer need?

If you read job descriptions, learning designers are expected to do everything. From learning needs analysis to evaluation and everything in between. Learning designers are expected to be able to:

  • Analyse needs of learners
  • Engage with and manage subject matter experts (SMEs)
  • Research topics they have little or no experience in
  • Curate resources
  • Write, shoot and produce videos
  • Create animations
  • Design visuals and infographics. Experience with tools like Photoshop, inDesign and Illustrator are high in demand
  • Use authoring tools. Storyline or Captivate are the big two, though there are smaller ones as well
  • Use Learning Management Systems
  • Employ user experience (UX) principles/techniques
  • Implement and use learning analytics
  • Run communications and marketing campaigns
  • Facilitate workshops
  • Evaluate the impact of learning

If you’re looking at this list in fear and/or incredulity, don’t. It’s unlikely that one person will ever have all of these skills. Good companies hire teams of learning designers, so your skills complement one another.

In that case, how do you decide which skills to focus on?

The skills that I think are the most important are the ability to:

  • Structure learning
  • Tell a story
  • Empathise, with learners and with other stakeholders
  • Create engaging visuals
  • Reflect and iterate

Being able to structure good learning is the most important. For me, you need to be familiar with some of the key learning and have an intuitive understanding of how people learn. Creating good stuff is more important than being able to list theories.

Storytelling is another key element of learning design. There has to be a logical flow, which is aided through good storytelling. Storytelling engages your audience. It captures their attention and sometimes their hearts and minds. (As a side note, this Ted Talk is my favourite ever resource on storytelling.)

Good learning designers need to be able to put themselves in the shoes of their learners. They need to understand what learners’ needs are, and what they can do to fix it. A learning designer without empathy is like cake without tea. It’s just doesn’t work.

Visuals. I hesitated about including this one. Possibly, you could get away without strong visual design skills as long as you worked with someone who did. Having said that, creating engaging visuals is an essential part of our work. Slides and handouts in a traditional face-to-face setting. Marketing and social media campaigns. Digital learning resources and mobile apps. Visual skills are in everything that learning designers do.

And finally, reflection and iteration. You need to look back at what you’ve done. Celebrate what went well, learn from what didn’t work and always strive to improve.

What do you think the most important skills of a learning designer are? Have I missed any? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me @emvacher

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