I was asked (and have been a time or two before): “What’s the one most important thing you’d like to tell to be successful Ed Tech industry leader” Of course there wasn‘t just one ;). Still, looking at colleagues who I think fit that characterization, I find some commonalities that are worth sharing. So here‘s one take on how to be an elearning expert.
Let‘s start with that â€˜one thing‘. Which is challenging, since it‘s more than one thing! Still, I boiled it down into two components: know your stuff, and let people know. That really is the core. So let‘s unpack that some more. The first thing is to establish credibility. Which means demonstrating that you track and promote the right stuff.
Some folks have created a model that they tout. Cathy Moore has Action Mapping, Harold Jarche has PKM, Con Gottfredson has the 5 moments of need, and so on. It‘s good having a model, if it‘s a good, useful one (there are people who push models that are hype or ill-conceived at best). Note that it‘s not necessarily the case that these folks are just known for this model, and most of these folks can talk knowledgeably about much more, but â€˜owning‘ a model that is useful is a great place to be. (I occasionally regret that I haven‘t done a good job of branding my models.) They understand their model and its contribution, it‘s a useful one, and therefore they contribute validly that way and are rightly recognized.
Another approach like this is owning a particular domain. Whether gaming (e.g. Karl Kapp), visuals (Connie Malamed), design (Michael Allen), mixed realities (Ann Rollins), AI (Donald Clark), informal (Jane Hart), evaluation (Will Thalheimer), management (Matt Richter), and so on, they have deep experience and a great conceptual grasp in a particular area. Again, they can and do speak outside this area, but when they talk about these topics in particular, what they say is worthy of your attention!
Then there are other folks who don‘t necessarily have a single model, but instead reliably represent good science. Julie Dirksen, Patti Shank, Jane Bozarth, Mirjam Neelen, and others have established a reputation for knowing the learning science and interpreting it in accurate, comprehensible, and useful ways.
The second point is that these folks write and talk about their models and/or approaches. They‘re out there, communicating. It‘s about reliably saying the important things again and again (always with a new twist). A reputation doesn‘t just emerge whole-cloth, it‘s built step by step. They also practice what they preach, and have done the work so they can talk about it. They talk the talk and walk the walk. Further, you can check what they say.
So how to start? There are two clear implications. Obviously, you have to Know. Your. Stuff! Know learning, know design, know engagement, know tech. Further, know what it means in practice! You can focus deeply in one area, or generate one useful and new model, or have a broad background, but it can‘t just be in one thing. It‘s not just all your health content for one provider. What you‘re presenting needs to be representative and transferable. Further, you need to keep up to date, so that means continually learning: reading, watching, listening.
Second, it‘s about sharing. Writing and speaking are the two obvious ways. Sure, you can host a channel: podcast, vlog, blog, but if you‘re hosting other folks, you‘re seen as well connected but not necessarily as the expert. Further, I reckon you have to be able to write and speak (and pretty much all of these folks do both well). So, start by speaking at small events, and get feedback to improve. Study good presentation style. Then start submitting for events like the Learning Guild, ATD, or LDA (caveats on all of these owing to various relationships, but I think they‘re all scrutable). I once wrote about how to read and write proposals, and I think my guidance is still valid.
Similarly, write. Learning Solutions or eLearn Mag are two places to put stuff that‘s sensibly rigorous but written for practitioners. Take feedback to heart, and deliberately improve. Make sure you‘re presenting value, not pitching anything. What conferences and magazines say about not selling, that your clear approach is what sells, is absolutely true.
Also, make sure that you have a unique ‘voice’. No one needs the same things others are saying, at least in the same way. Have a perspective, your own take. Your brand is not only what you say, but how you say it.
A related comment: track some related fields. Most of the folks I think of as experts have some other area they draw inspiration from. UX/UI, anthropology, software engineering, there are many fields and finding useful insight from a related one is useful to the field and keeps you fresh.
Oh, one other thing. You have to have integrity. People have to be able to trust what you say. If you push something for which you have a private benefit, or something that‘s trendy but not real, you will lose whatever careful credibility you‘ve built up. Don‘t squander it!
So that‘s my take on how to be an elearning expert. So, what have I missed?
A comment on LinkedIn mentioned another important criteria: you can’t call yourself an ‘expert’ (or ‘thought leader’, *yuck*). That’s for others to say.
I don’t know if this is related, but I think one aspect to expertise or leadership in this area is to have the capacity to show and not tell. I can’t tell you how many times someone says “you should do X, Y, or Z” with an elearning design but fail to be concrete in their description or to provide an example of what they think a mastery-level elearning looks like. I appreciated your recent post about self-evaluation because you described it in a way that was easy to visualize and put to “paper” to play with. We need more of that, and it’s too rare. There’s a great opportunity to fill a leadership vacuum!
Dave, thanks, yes. I suggest the ability to communicate includes linking research to practice. And I am one who talks in principle too often and forgets to get concrete! Glad if I got it right ;).