"What do you doing for a living?"
"I am an Instructional Designer."
"What is that?"
eLearning is the application, by an Instructional Designer, of learning and design theory and principals onto source material to create educational and multimedia content in a virtual environment, which serves a purpose.
If you are not familiar with eLearning, that statement may seem complex so let's break it down piece by piece.
“the application of…….learning and design theories and principals”
This statement is heavy; laden with theorists, psychologists, behaviorists and nut jobs guidelines, which help shape learning. Each one can create something formal, informal, ongoing, classical, active, sustainable, transferable or evolutionary. You will determine which theory or principal should be applied and to what degree. There are common workflows, which help to guide people through this process like ADDIE or SAM.
“onto source material”
Source material is content which shows the current and future state of the issue. It usually comes in the form of operating disciplines, best practices, company guidelines, objectives and safety concerns. The format for which it is delivered to you may vary such as PowerPoint, Word, word of mouth and Excel. You will need to weed through this material with an expert (usually called a Subject Matter Expert) to determine it's relevance with the project.
The physical, mental and emotional process of prototyping what you received and theorized into a physical example. Prototypes may be written, typed or programmed. Common eLearning authoring tools include Articulate, Lectora and Capitvate.
“educational and multimedia content”
Your content must serve a purpose (discussed later). Depending on the purpose selected, it will be your job to figure out the method and delivery where content will be absorbs and retained. Delivery methods include audio, video and/or scenarios.
“in an virtual environment”
Content is distributed in varying forms but by definition should be done electronically. A common set up will include placing a course into a Learning Management System (LMS). You must understand the requirements and limitations that may be set and a constant understanding of the evolving technology is necessary. Some other examples of virtual environments include desktop, mobile and Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).
“which serves a purpose”
By far THE most important part of the sentence. A purpose for your material which brings light to it’s need, application and improvement. Will your training solve problems? Help a company reach a better bottom line? Teach a new skill? Save lives? Your purpose should always be kept in mind and trump any other decisions that could be made.