Updated: Oct 30, 2022
Stefan Eger is a Senior Learning Experience Architect at Learning Pool with 10 years in the industry.
His experience resonated with me, with his love of tech and entering the industry from classroom training. A motivated self-learner Stefan has also started an instructional design podcast called; "The Death of eLearning" with the Host Luke Smith and new guests every episode to explore the depths of the industry.
1) You’ve been in the learning sector with a wide range of companies and now work for Learning Pool, can you tell us about your learning journey and the work you do now?
Yes, absolutely! I started as a classroom trainer for a UK utility company and got into e-learning for two reasons: I thought the technology was starting to get good, and I’d seen a lot of e-learning I didn’t like and (naively) thought “I can do better than that!”
So at first, I was a generalist, doing training needs analysis and then creating the courses by myself. Eventually, I made the jump to working for an online-learning supplier and became a Learning Designer, leaving the graphics to the professionals. In 2017, I applied for a role as a Senior LD at Learning Pool and got it, which was probably the best thing that’s happened to me professionally.
There was a lot to learn, especially as I hadn’t worked with clients up to that point. Turns out, that’s now one of my favourite things about the job. I’m lucky to be working with unbelievably talented people, so right from the start, I had great mentors and was able to keep growing. It sounds trite but I do genuinely love to learn and am always trying new things. I want to keep incorporating new things into what I do and to make our learning offering better.
This brings us to the now: As a Senior LD, I always tried to integrate custom content with the other products we offer. I tried to find better ways to design the overall learning environment our clients' experience, rather than just thinking of courses in isolation. So that’s led to my current position as a Senior Learning Experience Architect where it’s my day job to do that - and I love it.
2) Learning design/architecture can involve a lot of subprocesses, how do you approach designing new learning?
Ooooooh, that’s a broad question! Well, the simplest answer is “Start at the end and work out what’s needed” – I’m a big fan of action mapping and making sure what I’m creating is useful. Get your stakeholders and, where possible, some learners in a room and really listen to them – they’ll have differing opinions on where the focus should lie but hearing them will give you a good sense of what’s to be covered. That way you end up with the critical elements. Another important step for me is to map out the whole solution on a flow chart. It shows how the key elements hang together, what the structure could be, where critical points for social learning may lie, and what content formats might be best to use.
That allows you to progress to the more granular, ‘traditional’ LD tasks on the one hand and start to design the solution on the platform on the other. An awful lot of learning interventions aren’t as good as they could be because the context they sit in wasn’t considered, so they just end up in an area of the platform without much thought given to how learners will find them, or how learners will navigate through them!
3) Working with subject matter experts (SMEs) can be a rewarding experience but it requires a lot of communication skills from the designer. How do you support SMEs to get involved in the process and guide them to delivering the best content?
I think open, frank communication is the solution, even when that’s hard. Right at the start of the project, it’s key to set their expectation, i.e. “This is going to be a collaboration, and I’m gonna need this much of your time for the next x number of weeks.” Be very clear about each step of the process, what they need to focus on when reviewing, and crucially, what you need from them. Review comments like “This isn’t quite right” don’t help anyone, they’ll just slow things down. If you can be open and frank from the start, you’ll quickly build trust and that’ll give you the ability to challenge SMEs where necessary because they’ll believe you’ve got the chops to make the right calls.
4) Your podcast, The Death of eLearning, is extremely successful and approached a lot of learning challenges with humour and facts. Why did you choose a podcast as your medium? Are there advantages to podcasts over say YouTube/video channels and articles, etc?
Finally, I get to talk about the podcast! Well, let’s say it’s reasonably successful.
You’re hitting a very key point about the podcast with your question. ‘Humour and facts’ - that’s it!
I find that a lot of e-learning still comes from a place of “I know more than you” and I think it’s a mistake to seek glory through the e-learning you build. Professional solemnity has always put me off. The Death of E-learning is done by a group of really quite nerdy people who are passionate about what they do. We really, genuinely care, but we never *ever* want to take ourselves too seriously. We want to make things better by shouting about what we love and popping the odd balloon of hot e-learning air, if that makes sense. The fact that DoE is an audio podcast gives us the freedom to spend longer on certain topics and to discuss them from different angles. I think the best bit about our podcast is that discussion. And I don’t think you watch videos in the same way as you listen to audio. A video you have to focus on, whereas a podcast you can stick on while you’re making dinner!
5) As your podcast deep-dives into the biggest issues in the industry, what would be your top 3 for new designers to avoid?
The top three things for designers to avoid? Let me think,… what do I hate…
1) Waffle: Never use two words where one would do. Keep it concise.
2) Clicks for no reason: Don’t put an interaction in if it doesn’t suit a purpose. It might look cool, but if it’s superfluous, then leave it out. This applies to e-learning modules and program solution design alike – help your learners! Make their lives as easy as possible.
3) Don’t be a glory seeker. The best advice I’ve ever received is “It’s not about you. It’s about the learners”, so if something doesn’t have to be complex, don’t make it so. Keep it simple and think about the person at the other end who’s going to have to go through the course. If a checklist is what’s needed, don’t make them do an interactive video!
6) You’ve had the opportunity to discuss the industry with some great professionals. Are there any specific people in the industry you follow or would like to work with?
I’ve long been a fan of Nick Shackelton-Jones, so working with him would be amazing. The same goes for Cath Ellis. I had the opportunity to speak at a conference she runs, and it was an absolute joy.
7) Your time in the industry must have seen lots of change in practice and approach, where do you think we are headed as the next big leap?
Really there hasn’t been as much change as you’d think. It’s been incremental improvements, I think. For me, the key areas where we can make an impact are the integration of platform and content, and crucially, data analytics. I think a lot of organisations shy away from analytics because of the fear factor. It used to be difficult to get solid data on your learning and then, what if the data showed that your solutions missed the mark? Now we’re at a point where we can intentionally build analytics into our learning solutions, get robust data outputs, and use them to measure success and improve our solutions. The data enables us to provide individual learners with targeted content and extend the lifespan of our solutions through campaigns. And bringing all this together is exactly where I want to be working.
8) Likewise, you’ve probably seen your share of bandwagons and debunked theories. What trends would you recommend designers avoid?
Oh there are loads. I think we can generally group the worst ones under the heading ‘oversimplifiers' - those approaches of old that group us, our behaviour, or personalities into a handful of pigeonholes without applying much (or any) scientific or intellectual rigour.
Examples would be:
Myers Briggs personality types
There’s a lot of snake oil around, folks, and whether Jupiter is rising in your house or not, stay away from the above.
9) Final question, Learning can happen anywhere, school, work, entertainment, or everyday experience. What’s the best piece of learning you’ve experienced? What made it so great?
I’m going to give you two:
1) My most formative learning experience: Doing English A-level at school. My English Teacher Ms Auffret was a passionate educator and her genuine love for the language and its literature transferred onto me. She always encouraged us to find our own ways to love literature (rather than forcing a certain type on us), and that’s what lit a fire.
2) Duolingo: I’ve been learning Spanish every day for almost two years now and I love the different techniques and approaches they use to keep you learning. To learn another language from your phone, bit by bit, feels like magic to me. I bow to the owl!
Thank you, Stefan, for the talk and your perspective.
Please check out Stefan's podcast; "The Death of eLearning" for more insight into the industry.
In our next session, I'll be speaking with industry veteran Julie Dirksen, be sure to check it out!
(Note: I do not gain any financial benefit from this link, it is solely provided for your ease of access).