eMedia Development Expert
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an
exclusive interview with Randy Coin, an e-media development expert,
systems analyst, and curriculum development expert. Randy is an
international authority in many areas of electronic media,
instructional design, and course development plus a published poet
and short story writer. When Randy is not actively working on
consulting projects, she can be found volunteering with youth and
working on and gathering stories for her web site,
Q: First of all, thank you Randy for agreeing to this interview.
Your experiences as a respected and widely known instructional
design expert and authority on e-media with systems analysis skills
would be of benefit to many veterans. How would you describe
yourself? What personally prompted you to enter your field?
A: Before I begin, Stephen, I would like to first thank you for
interviewing me and for your kind remarks. I am very flattered to be
featured in CIPS.
As a young person, I was always drawn to all things creative.
However, the course of study I ultimately chose at college was not
what I initially thought I would choose. I took courses in many
different subjects—primarily in the sciences—before discovering my
interest in and desire to write. With some nudging from a professor,
I eventually declared English as my major and graduated quite
happily with a Bachelor of Arts in English. Similar to the early
years of my university education, my first years in the working
world were spent trying different things. My attraction to the Big
Apple led me to a job at an insurance brokerage firm in New York
City, where I worked for two years. But after two years of failing
to get excited about assessing workers compensation and similar
corporate insurance risks, I moved to the Silicon Valley to pursue a
job in which I could apply my writing skills. I landed at SkillSoft
(formerly SmartForce), where I was initially a content writer. It
was very exciting, as I was part of a new and growing e-Media group
that developed rich media educational courses and published them to
the Internet. Creativity and innovation were always encouraged, and
for the first time in my professional life, my skill set was an
excellent match for my occupation. I’d always thought my strengths
lay in my creativity, communication, analytical, and interpersonal
skills, and my various positions at SkillSoft provided the
opportunities in which I could really leverage these strengths. I
also became a big believer in the potential of eLearning, which is
why I continue to work in the industry today.
Q: You graduated with honors from Lafayette College and attended
King’s College in London. What lessons did you learn from your
A: My most treasured memories of college are of the semester I spent
in London because I learned so much about others and myself. Being
alone in a foreign country tested and proved my ability to be
independent and allowed me to meet many wonderful people who were so
different from the students with whom I regularly attended college
and from me as well. The experience taught me a lot about other
cultures, as London is a very international city with many
international students. Therefore, although I always thought there
was a lot more to experience in the world than I had at that point
in my life, the time I spent in London proved it and how valuable
having new experiences is as well.
I also gleaned a lot from participating in college athletics. I was
a member of the basketball team for one year and played tennis for
three. I certainly never worked so hard before juggling such a full
schedule, but similar to my London experience, playing college
sports also taught me a lot about others and myself. Some years, the
competition was much more ferocious than I was used to among my
teammates. And my basketball team went 2 and 25 the year I played.
These were much different experiences than I had in the 1000-student
high school I attended, and both were somewhat challenging and
off-putting. But these types of experiences forced me to focus on
participating for my own reasons and resulted in my being more
driven for my own reasons than for others’ than I once was.
Q: How would your creative writing differ from your technical
writing assignments? What tips can you provide to those thinking
about engaging in either of these areas of writing?
A: Creative writing has been what I would call one of my only new
hobbies since I graduated from college. It is completely different
from any technical writing I’ve done for an employer (which I’ve
only ever done for an employer). Unlike writing for my job, I am
fairly shy when it comes to sharing my creative writing because I
tend to write about my and others’ personal experiences. I think
that creative writing is an excellent way to express thoughts and
emotions and would encourage people to find opportunities to write
about topics in which they are interested. I also very much enjoy
technical or educational writing and think that it is an excellent
way for a naturally skilled writer to earn a living. But again, if
one were pursuing a technical-writing career, I would encourage that
one finds a position in which one can write about topics of
Q: Can you share two stories from your volunteer work?
A: Prior to the recent holidays, I worked with a class of fourth
graders in a San Francisco charter elementary school. My task was to
assist the children who needed the most help during their writer’s
workshop. This assignment lasted six weeks, and each child was to
produce a fictional story by the end of those six weeks.
The first day I arrived, I was asked to help a little boy. When I
introduced myself, he asked me, “Why is your name Randy? Isn’t that
a boy’s name?” It was nothing I hadn’t encountered previously; but
his tone of voice implied that he wasn’t the slightest bit
interested in my offer to help him. Nevertheless, I sat down beside
him and stayed absolutely quiet until he finally needed to know how
to spell “elephant.” Of course, I made him look it up in the
dictionary, but it broke the ice, and he was soon defending my
boyish name when the other students inquired about it. And he had a
really great story by the end of the six weeks.
In the same class, I helped a little girl who wrote a story about a
sheep that went mad and thought she was a human. She named the sheep
Miss Alabama, which I never questioned. One day towards the end of
the six weeks, this little girl volunteered to read her story aloud.
After its conclusion, her classmate asked her why she named the
sheep this way. She responded, “Well, I was watching TV last night,
and there were a bunch of models on this big stage, and they all had
really big name tags, and one model’s name was Miss Alabama.” She
had, perhaps obviously, named her sheep the day after the Miss
Q: Please describe your experiences in working in each of these
areas, lessons you learned, and share some useful tips you used to
maximize your effectiveness:
Modular, interactive text- and graphic-based instructional
Streaming-media instructional content—“events”—for both live
broadcast and archive
Capturing and managing requirements to improve learning
A: I developed modular, interact, text- and
graphic-based instructional content for nearly the last year and
half and develop this type of content currently. The most important
thing I have learned is that educational content producers must keep
the users (audience) in mind at all times. It is very easy to
develop instructional design, writing, and graphic-design styles
that are efficient for the course-building team; however, efficiency
for these people does not always result in effective courses for
users. I would offer this advice—educate yourself about the user
group for which the courses are being designed and study the topic
of usability as much as possible. Many users within an industry such
as healthcare might be less technically savvy than user groups for
which eLearning content has more traditionally been developed such
as for the IT and business industries. Packing excessive amounts of
interactivity that require advanced computer skills might be
discouraging to these types of users. This should always be a
consideration when developing eLearning content. Collecting user
feedback should prevent eLearning companies from having to make
incorrect assumptions about their learners and to learn what
elements of their courses are and are not effective.
I helped create streaming-media instructional content also for about
a year and a half, which was very fun and frequently allowed for
innovative and creative changes. With respect to content broadcast
live or simply put into an archive, my advice would be very similar
to what I said above about interactive text- and graphic- based
courses—know your audience for all of the same reasons I stated
above. Additionally, streaming audio and video are very attractive
ways to convey information over the Internet but require sufficient
bandwidth and a lot of learners’ full attention. On the former
point, eLearning developers should ensure that their learners are
able to receive the full experience regardless of what type of
Internet connection they have. And on the latter point, be careful
that you don’t overload learners with too many educational elements
at one time thus forcing them to divide their attention among too
many things at one time.
Capturing and managing learning requirements for any type of
system—including a Learning Management System—is a position that
requires good listening skills and the ability to restrain oneself
from making assumptions about stakeholders’ needs. It also demands a
lot of patience, as stakeholders often suggest changes they’d like
to see be made to a system before clearly articulating a problem. I
have less experience as a systems analyst than I do as an eLearning
developer, but in the time that I was a systems analyst, I learned
that identifying the real problem and identifying its scope,
although sometimes difficult, saves many headaches down the road.
Also, I learned that there are often many solutions to a problem,
and deciding which solution is right is not a simple task, as each
one may very well cause a chain reaction of additional problems that
also require solutions. And lastly I learned that it is almost
impossible to meet the needs of every single stakeholder, so it’s
important that you address each stakeholder’s major concerns as best
as you can. And always be able to explain the rationale of each
I’ve worked as an instructional designer for about a year and a half
now. I started in the eLearning industry as a writer, which was a
great position and one that allowed for the easy transition into
instructional design. Instructional design is the big picture. I now
decide how content is structured at both the curriculum and course
levels. Organizing a course is always more difficult, as I have to
decide how to best present the content to a learner. This means
determining the amount and type of interactive and graphic elements
besides identifying the content. And it means, once again, knowing
the audience. Throughout my experiences as an instructional
designer, I’ve learned that some content lends itself very easily to
graphic explanations and interesting interactivity, which, when
combined, usually allow for a wonderful experience for learners.
Contrarily, I have designed courses on government regulations, for
example, and have found that it is very challenging to ensure the
same result. This, however, is what keeps an instructional design
Q: Can you share your 20 leading tips for those thinking of getting
into the e-learning area of computing?
A: They are:
If you are thinking of entering content development, keep in
mind that it requires a lot of attention to detail.
If you would like to be a writer or instructional designer, you
should be prepared to digest a lot of information—about topics
that may be foreign to you—in a short amount of time.
Time does not always allow for the perfect course. Write and
design as best as you can in the time allotted, and apply any
shortcuts that you learn to build future courses better and more
As in all jobs, some suggestions that you make may be turned
down. Don’t let that discourage you.
eLearning development is more often than not a team environment.
Be prepared to collaborate with writers, graphic designers, copy
editors, project managers, and instructional designers, among
While the eLearning industry is well established, it has a lot
of potential to change with respect to course development. Your
day-to-day processes might be altered at any moment.
Every eLearning company may approach course design differently.
Be sure that you are on board with a company’s learning
strategies before becoming an employee.
Some eLearning companies do not use or focus on streaming media
educational content. You might look into an eLearning company’s
product offerings before applying to ensure that you will get to
develop the type of content you wish to develop.
Consistency is key. Learners require consistency with respect to
how content is presented. If, for example, a red button, when
clicked for the first time, displays a graphic, then a red
button should always display a graphic when clicked.
Don’t think you are confined by text and graphics. Use the
medium most appropriate for the content and the learner.
Always know for whom you are designing.
Feedback is extremely important. When possible, collect it from
the client and from individual learners to help ensure that the
learning product(s) you have sold are effective.
Don’t always assume that fancier is better. Text and graphics
are sufficient for some content and some users.
Provide learners with a learning experience that is similar to
more traditional learning experiences that they may have
encountered in school or in instructor-led courses. This means
implementing book marking and note taking features.
While collaboration online is more difficult than collaboration
in a classroom, don’t discount it. Mentoring, threaded
discussions, and virtual meeting rooms are all possible.
Reach the broadest audience by meeting disability (ADA) and
industry (SCORM, LRN, AICC) standards.
Be aware of bandwidth. Design a product that provides all
users—even those with the slowest Internet connections—with the
full learning experience.
Many people still prefer to learn from hard copy. This doesn’t
mean that you can’t reach them with eLearning. Provide printable
versions of courses.
You can design the best eLearning courses and the best eLearning
Management System, but no one will ever see them unless clients
promote their usage. Implementing incentive programs might be
the best way to do this.
Learning is the focus; “e” is only the distribution method.
Therefore, make sure your instructional design is always sound
and imparts real knowledge.
Q: You have a reputation for being plugged into the stream of
computing consciousness about where it’s going now and in the long
term. You’ve also done a lot of research. Can you comment on the
studies that you’ve performed, what you have learned, and your
experiences? Where is technology today and where is it going?
A: The first wave of Internet technology seems to have come and
gone. Shopping and banking online, for example, were once only for
the technically savvy but are beginning to become core to more and
more people’s daily lives all the time. Who would have thought even
a few years ago that it would cost more to get paper airline tickets
than to get electronic ones, as is the case today? I suppose I see
this type of eCommerce becoming the norm.
Q: For those relatively new in the computing field and for seasoned
veterans, which 10 areas should they target for future study, what
are the high-growth areas, and can you provide specific advice?
A: I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer this question, Stephen, but
if I had to take a guess, I think that the following areas have the
potential for tremendous growth in the computing field: wireless,
micro and molecular biology, nanotechnology, network and commerce
security to protect against fraud, national security, digital
entertainment, artificial intelligence, and, of course, eLearning
(in healthcare, law, medicine and perhaps many other fields that the
industry has yet to tap into on a mass scale).
Q: What changes do you see for the future of computing, conducting
business, and the use of the Internet?
A: As I said above, the Internet will continue to be used more and
more frequently as a means of conducting business. Thus I think the
demand for speed and security as well as for robustness with respect
to applications and web sites will be extremely high and result in
even better eBusiness and Internet services. And as the gap between
the technology and end users decreases, we might even see voice
recognition replace the keyboard and touch screens replace the
mouse. I also think that the computer could become more personal to
its owner’s needs and wants and that we might see a huge increase in
the amount of technology-specific devices (i.e. mail-only and
Q: What would be your recommended top ten references for the serious
writer, developer, and the serious IT professional?
A: I think I am most qualified to advise the serious writer. For
those in the eLearning industry, I recommend reading the following
two usability books: Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug and Handbook
of Usability Testing by Jeffrey Rubin. Anything you read on
usability will enhance the way you develop eLearning courses.
For the creative writer, there are always a lot of opportunities to
join book clubs, attend author readings, and enroll in writing
workshops. There are also many forums on the Internet to share your
writing and to read others’.
For the systems analyst, I recommend becoming acquainted with the
Unified Modeling Language (UML) and the Rational Unified Process
(RUP). RUP skills seem to be in high demand when it comes to systems
analysis, and many books have been written about it and UML as well.
Q: If you were doing this interview, what three questions would you
ask and what would be your answers?
A: Since I am a resident of the Bay Area, I would ask about the job
market there, particularly in the eLearning space. Just before
Christmas 2002, the market seemed to pick up slightly. There were
more writing and instructional design jobs being offered.
Unfortunately, though, there is not an abundance of eLearning
companies here. If you have your heart set on the industry, you may
have to relocate to the East Coast.
Since I have been in a number of different job roles in the
eLearning industry, I would ask in what role do I see myself laying
roots. Of all of the positions I have held, I prefer instructional
design. It is a position in which you see the product develop from
the very beginning until the very end, which I really enjoy. It also
allows for a lot of creativity and project ownership—two things that
are very important to me in any job.
Before beginning an instructional design contract earlier this
month, I was out of work for a month and a half. Therefore, I would
ask how I found contract work and what I did while I was out of
work. Similar to most people out of work, I combed the Internet job
boards and newspapers daily. I lost track of how many resumes I sent
out a long time ago. But I was very persistent, focused as much as I
could on eLearning companies—where I had the most experience, and
always tailored my resume to every single job for which I applied.
And finally, the hard work paid off. While I wasn’t working, I
volunteered at a children’s writing workshop in San Francisco, set
up my web site, did some creative writing, traveled, and played a
lot of tennis!
Q: It’s a blank slate, what added comments would you like to give to
enterprise corporations and organizations?
A: eLearning is a great investment if you promote it from within.
It’s relatively inexpensive when compared to more traditional forms
of learning and its user drive—users can work at their own pace on
their own time wherever they have access to a computer.