New frontiers in online learning

Instructional design - what could it mean for your freelance journey?

My first experience of 'distance learning' was long ago,in another century.

The Open University shipped me boxes full of books and workbooks to my home address, and over about 4 years I accumulated enough boxes and completed assignments to be awarded a diploma in management studies.

On the tech front, I believe I was able to email assignments to my tutors, and I recall we had some kind of an online student bulletin board as well. But needless to say, it was a long way from today's remote learning experiences. Apart from one face-to-face weekend event and one written exam paper per module, it was a completely individual and self-driven process, with zero human interaction. So, not surprisingly, I don't feel as though a lot of my skills as a manager of people were truly honed by that process.

During the pandemic, we saw all learning shift online, with very mixed results.

From primary to postgrad, many teachers had no clue how to adapt a lifetime's classroom experience to the online space, any more than most managers... which was hardly surprising. Some did amazing things to adapt, while others let more tech-savvy kids run rings around them. But the whole world was struggling then.

Around this time our elder daughter was keen to start university studies, however, so naturally I pointed her towards my alma mater, the OU - who have now been delivering distance learning successfully for decades. She is doing brilliantly there, nearly halfway through an open STEM degree, for a fraction of the cost of a campus experience. She is also learning vital self-management skills along the way (and learning how to flip steaks in a food court, because it's flexible.)

Being a nosy as well as proud mother, I can report that the online classroom experience is functional but effective, based on Adobe Connect. There is no more taping late night BBC2 (wow am I showing my age), or unboxing stacks of books. It isn't the latest slickest online learning environment I have seen, but it's designed for global accessibility by all devices under any conditions, and a pretty good solution for that.

Online learning has come a long way since my postgrad days, and so have the opportunities it creates for providers - which is something I learned from this week's podcast guest, Devlin Peck.

Devlin is a specialist in Instructional Design - creating the entire user experience for learning. And because that creative process is frequently project-driven, it's a great fit for freelance expertise.

Devlin himself acquired a master’s degree in the instructional design process, but alongside his own impressive portfolio, he has now distilled the essentials of the skill down to create his own bespoke course offers. This includes loads of free content, but also a lengthy 'bootcamp' service, which takes participants right through the theory and practice - so you end up with a complex and well-documented project under your belt, to market yourself with to future prospects.

For me, this was a really insightful conversation - as someone who reckons they know about freelancing, and a bit about learning, it opened my eyes to opportunities I had never considered. Reflecting on the whole learning journey as a story, a narrative arc, which moves the learners along the journey to where you want them to end up - that was a new way of looking at things. And while the technology that drives it is important, it's far from the only element.

Anyone with the technical chops to master a new range of software (which Devlin assures us is no more difficult than many things we use every day), combined with the imaginative storytelling ability to see the learning journey as a pathway, should have a listen. Because there could be a whole new career/business out there for you. And even if you're not looking for that, this conversation will make you think about how you learn and how learning works, in ways you may never have considered.

We really are in an incredible golden age, and so many people haven't grasped its full potential yet.

Not only can you learn how to create amazing learning experiences through the help of people like Devlin, you can launch your own educational products using low-cost online tools - just like I did with Successfully Securing Your Remote Job.

And you can get hired by businesses all over the world, to help them create their own learning experiences, whether to entice new users or welcome new team members.

So let's celebrate the potential of edtech and instructional design, and the way you can now learn anything - from a new language, to how to fix that error code on the washing machine - for free, and via a pocket-sized device. And never forget how lucky we are to have seen this transformation, in our lifetime.

With best wishes

Maya Middlemiss