The days of “assured employment” and “job security” have ended. Today’s world is brand-new —highly competitive and fast paced—where employers and clients constantly look for the best. Even if you have performed well in the past as a creative professional, you can no longer count on just your skills and experience to continue keeping you in one role or at one organization.
Unfortunately, we also live in the age of “compressed timelines”—where prospective clients have little time to engage in multiple rounds of interviews and conversations. Most employers want a contractor or employee “yesterday” and have little patience to sift through piles of resumes and testimonials.
As an e-Learning content developer or instructional designer, you can give yourself an edge over the competition. All you need is a powerful online presence that employers and tentative clients can quickly review—on their own time. You want it to make them say: “I need this person on my team!”
What is that online presence? It’s your e-learning portfolio!
In the not-so-recent past, you would produce reams of paper-based documentation to showcase your academic and professional accomplishments. Those days are long gone. Online portfolios, which can do much more than their paper-based predecessors, have started replacing the traditional resume or CV.
That said, the core principles for designing killer e-Learning portfolios remain largely the same as the resume-building process of the past:
These are the basic ingredients for building a knock-out e-learning portfolio. Here are some tips, suggestions and best practices that should help you get your raw materials organized for success:
Your immediate impulse might be to dive into producing your content. Control that thought! You’ll have lots of time to create content—but first you need to know where you plan on hosting it!
Your choice of hosting platform will have a huge influence on the type of content you develop and how you present it. Even some of your key design and navigation features could be impacted by the platform you choose to host your portfolio. For example, if you intend to build a portfolio that shows visitors thumbnail images of your work, then you need to make sure your platform supports that feature before you start producing your thumbnails.
If this is your first time doing this, you might consider using a platform like WordPress to build your portfolio website. Not only will you be able to host it on any web hosting service, but you can also use its range of free and paid themes. These templates can inspire you with new and creative ways to develop your content.
Some other platforms you might consider include:
Next, choose a good representation of your projects that show the diversity of your skills. At this stage, don’t be overly picky. Go overboard and tag as many projects as you like. The more the merrier!
Ideally, even if you have implemented several similar projects (for example, maybe you’ve designed and developed e-earning courses for several healthcare institutions), you should consider picking them all at this stage of the portfolio planning process.
Write a summary for each of your projects to show off the special skills, unique features, notable challenges and creative resolutions that went into each one. For example, you might highlight:
If you have two similar projects, use them to discuss different skills or give prospective employers and clients a broad appreciation of your talents.
Create a mix of text, videos, slides, and animated content to show your samples evolved, over time, as a result of your efforts. However:
Once again, go overboard and produce lots of content! I’ll explain why this matters soon.
Maintain consistency in your layout across all components. For example, if you start presenting one sample with images of the finished product, describe how you got there, list out challenges, and explain how you resolved them, then you should follow a similar approach for your other samples.
You also might consider organizing your samples as a group. One approach would be categorizing your accomplishments under the components of the ATD Competency Model:
If you take this approach, organize and discuss all your skills and experience in change management under a single section rather than repeating what you did for change management on each project. This organization works best where you have played multiple roles across a broad array of projects, featuring many different skills.
Even though you are creating an online portfolio, having some “old school” functionality will sometimes work well for certain viewers. For instance, if your platform allows, you might consider including a printer-friendly summary of your skills and accomplishments. This tool may help viewers highlight what you have that they’re looking for or let them scribble notes to colleagues involved in the hiring process.
Further, you might provide downloadable PDF versions of your samples. This allows decision-makers to create customized versions of your portfolio with only the content pieces they are most interested in.
Now add your portfolio to the hosting platform of choice and see how it looks. You may want to get some inputs from fellow-colleagues and other instructional design professionals at this point, tweaking your design to incorporate their feedback.
Next, it’s time to do some cutting!
Remember when I told you to create lots of content earlier? Now, you can break it up to address specific audiences. One good practice is to arrange your content under banners that showcase specialized talent: “E-Learning for Manufacturing”; or “My Work for Hospitals and Charitable Organizations,” or “Self-Help Content.” The more banners you have, the better.
Not every prospective client wants to see what you did for charitable organizations—especially if they are looking to hire you to develop e-learning for their manufacturing business. By separating your content, you’ll be able to more effectively direct visitors to the sections of your portfolio that interest them.
So, what do employers and prospective clients look for in an online e-learning portfolio? That depends on who your target audience is, and what they want you to do for them. However, it’s generally good to consider including content that highlights:
Needs analysis: Demonstrate to potential employers and clients that you know how to analyze, research, and document their requirements.
Design and specifications: Show how well you can translate needs into design.
Facilitator and participant guides: If one of your core strengths is designing classroom training materials, use these documents to impress your audience
Evaluations and assessments: Illustrate your training and evaluation skills with a broad sample of tests and assessments. You should also consider including Kirkpatrick Level 1-4 evaluation samples.
Methods and approaches: If you are skilled in the use of specific design approaches or management methodologies, include details about them as part of your portfolio. If you typically follow ADDIE or SAM, for example, explain the steps you take to complete projects using your model of choice.
Testimonials and referrals: Add client testimonials—a component that you must create for most (if not all) projects—to show others promoting your accomplishments. However, tread carefully and seek permission before including their personal information in your portfolio. And if possible, ask your subjects to provide a photo or put their words on video. Doing so will supercharge your bragging rights!
Awards and recognitions: Whether it’s professional certification or awards and recognitions from past clients, employers and future clients love them. So don’t shy away from including these in your portfolio. That said, check that you don’t violate any copyright protection laws if you use any specific icons or logos to represent these designations.
Map to Success
Any good portfolio is only as effective as the interest it can generate in the reader. To keep reader-interest alive, keep these three tips in mind:
1) Don’t design your portfolio around a sequential approach (like a slide presentation or PowerPoint deck). Instead, build navigation features so viewers can just jump to sections they are interested in instead of having to view everything to see anything.
2) Promote your portfolio with social media. Whether it’s through LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or another platform, use these tools to share links of your collection. Many employers search for creative professionals through social networks.
3) Constantly review, revise, and refresh your portfolio. Show that you’re on top of the latest buzzwords and the newest technologies and techniques to ensure that your portfolio is a living, breathing collection of your accomplishments.