Given various constraints experienced by both learners and training providers, online learning appears to be a growth opportunity. I have lost count of how many ‘online course developer’ (OCD) positions have been advertised over the years within the University and similar vacancies regularly appear elsewhere. Each vacancy is hotly contested, so what does it take to get into online learning as a developer? How can you give yourself the best chance of being offered the position? And is it really the dream job that many applicants claim it to be?
Firstly, I should say the various ‘online course developer’ positions are not all the same. Tasks and responsibilities can be very varied, depending on the team/department/faculty/institution you are in as well as the types of courses you support. So it is worth finding out more about this beforehand. Strictly speaking, the role is to create courses which are studied (either wholly online, or partially as blended learning delivery) via the internet. You are not expected to be a subject expert writing the materials, although an enthusiasm or understanding for a particular subject will make your role a lot easier and more enjoyable. Your expertise should lie within learning technologies – beyond that you will need to read the job specification…
Factually, that’s about all I can say. However, this post would be a little on the short side if I were to stop there – so I’d like to offer some insight drawn from my own work experience. Note: I make no promises and bear no responsibility for your application (especially if I am on the interview panel)! Still, what have you got to lose?
Firstly, why do I feel I can offer advice on this topic and why should you listen? After all, throughout my working life I have written fewer application forms and attended fewer job interviews than statistics suggest that I should have (reference ‘dream job’ from paragraph 1). What this does mean is that I have experience in the role, as I have worked for the University of Portsmouth for over a decade starting in an administrative position that gave me a great basic understanding of University operations. This is something that is reflected in how often I refer OCDs back to their course administration teams to follow procedure, rather than agreeing to apply what might appear to be a quick fix – if a shortcut was the way a task was supposed to be done then it would already be the way to do it.
In July 2008 I became the University’s first ‘eLearning System Support Officer’ taking responsibility for the day-to-day operations of our first virtual learning environment (VLE) – WebCT. Since then our VLE’s have changed (from WebCT, to Blackboard, and then to Moodle) and so have my job titles (eLearning System Support Officer, Online Course Developer, Educational Technologist and Senior Educational Technologist). I have witnessed first-hand the growth of online learning and the increased requirement for the online course developer role. When the University switched from Blackboard (which we branded Victory) to Moodle for the 2012 academic year, we recruited 20 online course developers and the number of posts has continued to grow since then.
Candidates for those original positions had to endure an Excel numeracy/spreadsheet test, a paper-based proofreading task and an online assessment before their formal interview. The selection process has changed since then and usually now requires candidates to give a presentation before a formal interview. That said, do not underestimate the importance of proofreading and attention to detail as mistakes in your application form and/or presentation will be noted – so be warned! The spreadsheet test has also been removed, although interviewers will be expecting to see evidence of digital literacy and organisational skills, so if these are not evident in your presentation make sure you bring examples of each into your interview answers. Another topic that often comes up at interview is ‘communication’ – chances are you already have some answers prepared for this, do they involve communicating online via forums and web conferencing tools such as Webex, Skype or Google Hangouts?
Moving away from ‘transferable’ skills, what specific knowledge or skills do you require for online course development? I would be very surprised indeed if you had never encountered issues with access to online material. This statement from Tim Berners-Lee, W3C (look this up!) Director and inventor of the World Wide Web, describes the ambition of accessibility “The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”. For a ‘development’ role you should familiarise yourself with ways to negate visual, hearing or other sensory impairments, limitations of mobile devices e.g. screen sizes (if these are your intended audiences), bandwidth limitations and requirements for internet connectivity. There may also be other geographic or political limitations placed upon accessibility. If you are required to give a presentation at your interview make sure it is accessible to you, or you will have to give a very good interview to get the job!
Another consideration that should always be at the forefront of your mind is copyright. This is a large subject, and one in which I don’t pretend to be an expert, so if in doubt – look it up. There are various helpful sources online, and the University Library also has some friendly staff who can advise on copyright. You would not be silly enough to include anything in your presentation without copyright clearance, would you?
Creativity is an attractive quality in a developer – however don’t lose sight of functionality. A lack of creativity and design flair may leave materials dry and unengaging, whilst a lack of functionality will not just lead to a lack of engagement but complaints and demands for refunds! Why not check out H5P and let your creativity run wild on HTML5-compliant browsers.
Many appointable candidates show an independent drive for self-enhancement and as a result many skills are ‘self-taught’ – the University’s site-wide licence for Lynda.com may help with this! However, if you cannot evidence particular skills or experience in answer to an interview question the panel will not know that you possess such a skill. Utilise your application form to display evidence of skills by attending training sessions. The Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) team offer a diverse range of training to staff on all of the technologies we use at the University – much of it aimed at development of materials that would be particularly useful if you do not already work in that area. Evidence of undertaking ‘online learning’ via a massive open online course (MOOC) could also differentiate you from other candidates. Check out Coursera or Futurelearn for a list of courses from a range of providers.
For some OCD posts you will be required to give training sessions. Presentation skills are a transferable skill and are receiving great emphasis within many of the courses offered at the University these days. Based on requests over the last couple of years, I have had a need to develop a system and workflow to facilitate the recording and assessment of student presentations in a simple and timely manner, so that lecturers may provide written feedback to students enabling them to review their own performance. Check out Assessed Video.
Many years ago I was a participant on a course to develop skills in training others. What I took away from that training was that the key to presenting is confidence. You acquire confidence by having faith in yourself and what you are saying – so do your homework. Preparation is everything. If you work through the job specification and can answer ‘yes’ or ‘I have that’ to everything, then you have a right to not only be in that room but to be confident that you deserve to be there auditioning for the role. Run through your presentation beforehand at home, you may find it helpful to record yourself – phones make wonderful video cameras these days (you might even try the TechSmith Fuse app). The first time you watch it back you will probably be horrified by the number of times you ‘um’ and ‘er’, so try the presentation again and speak more slowly. Do not be afraid of silence, as natural pauses help your audience follow what you are saying. If you need a little help why not try one of the ‘presentation speaking’ workshops run by the Academic Skills Unit.
You must be aware of delivery methods for the materials you produce. This may be via a SCORM package, but will most likely be delivered via the University’s VLE. We use Moodle, which is an open-source package so there is no excuse for not being familiar with it. You can download a copy (https://download.moodle.org/) and play with it yourself on your personal computer or play around with a demo site from Moodle.org.
Finally – technology moves fast! I hope you have found what I have written to be a good starting point, but that you are already thinking about what the latest developments are. After all, you want to be a developer, don’t you? Good Luck.
Tim Berners-Lee. Retrieved from https://www.w3.org/standards/webdesign/accessibility 25th July 2017