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Stephanie Dedhar, Learning & Performance Consultant, BP
How did you get into a career in elearning?
I’ve loved writing for as long as I can remember – as a child I had Lois Lane-inspired ambitions of being a journalist, and then at university I started considering slightly broader career paths including publishing. I did a few work experience placements and internships in those fields, but when it came to having to find a real, permanent job, I struggled - those industries are notoriously difficult to get into. I signed up with a graduate recruitment company and they suggested instructional design at Saffron Interactive (http://www.saffroninteractive.com/) . I didn’t know anything about elearning and never heard of instructional design, but it sounded interesting so I went along to the interview and haven’t looked back!
What I loved about working at Saffron was the fact that the role combined writing, project management and relationship-building. It was also a perfectly-sized company to allow me to learn quickly about the industry and develop new skills, in the visual design and more technical areas. It prepared me for my moves to larger companies and ultimately to the internal client-side role I have now. I came to realise that what I was really doing was business communications. I was not only designing elearning, but also writing website copy, blogs and articles, as well as designing and delivering presentations and working on other marketing collateral and events. When I graduated from university and entered the world of elearning, I thought I was taking a different path from the one I’d imagined for myself. In fact, had I been aware as an undergraduate of this world that combines communications and learning, it’s probably exactly what I would have chosen for myself.
Do you feel there are good opportunities for women working in elearning?
One of the things I really love about this industry is its diversity. People have come to the field of elearning from a number of different routes. My background is in languages and literature – I’m a wordy person, and the actual online side of things isn’t my area of expertise. Others have come from more technical backgrounds, or from the world of classroom training, or from various HR roles – I’m sure there are dozens of other backgrounds and routes into what we do. I found the results of Cammy Bean’s 2010 survey into what elearning people wanted to be as kids really interesting: http://cammybean.kineo.com/2010/11/elearning-pros-what-did-we-want-to-be.html.
This variety and diversity makes it a really exciting, interesting industry to work in and I think the opportunities for women are just the same as they are for men. My gut feeling is that my personal network is pretty balanced, and I think that as an industry we’re largely without preconceptions and prejudices. If you look at the eLearning Network team, the awards judging panels and the speakers at conferences, by and large there’s no shortage of female faces, and we have some great role models in women like Julie Wedgwood, Laura Overton, Cathy Moore, Cammy, Connie Malamed and so on. It’s not about who you are and what categories you fall into, it’s much more about what you do – the questions you ask, the relationships you build, the ideas you have and the value you share.
How are you working to make elearning more effective?
I hope my contribution to the industry takes a few different forms. At work, I’m lucky to work with a team of people who are all keen to challenge the conventions of elearning and continually push for more effective online solutions. A big part of my role is building relationships, establishing the credibility of elearning throughout the business and delivering solutions that meet and exceed people’s expectations. As a team, we’re pretty diverse with a range of backgrounds, and I try to share the valuable insights I think I have from having worked on both the client side and the internal side.
Outside my day-to-day work, I blog at www.stephaniededhar.wordpress.com and on the whole I aim to keep that as focused as possible on making elearning more effective. There are some brilliant blogs out there that take a higher-level view or have a more strategic or theoretical focus. I love reading those blogs, and I know I wouldn’t be able to match them. Instead, wherever possible I write blog posts that offer practical tips and suggestions for people who are hands-on in the elearning design and development process, or that share things that have inspired me in relation to elearning. Little or none of what I write about is ground-breaking, but I hope it adds value to even a small group of people. I often think back to my early days as an instructional designer and try to write blog posts that will help or inspire people in a similar situation as they learn about and contribute to the development of effective elearning.
Do you have any elearning tips or advice for our members?
It’s important to be open-minded. There’s more to elearning than the traditional linear course and, although I prefer to avoid the debate about whether the term ‘elearning’ itself is a help or a hindrance, I would encourage everyone in this field to take a broad view of what constitutes online (or mobile, or virtual, or live online!) learning. Linked to that, I would also recommend looking for inspiration everywhere. TV and print advertising, newspaper and magazine headlines, websites, games (of all kinds, from board to TV to console) can all provide inspiration for your next project.
Finally, and I think this was a message that was really conveyed strongly at this year’s Learning Technologies event, we need to constantly keep learning ourselves and challenging the status quo. This is a fast-moving industry and if you’re determined to stick solely to the tried-and-tested you’ll quickly find that was market-leading two years ago is now lagging behind the curve. It’s not enough to just let the technology change and develop. We also need to develop our thinking, ideas and approaches to make sure we’re constantly raising the bar and delivering top-quality, effective solutions.
You can tweet Stephanie via @stephaniededhar (https://twitter.com/#!/StephanieDedhar)