While some instructional designers are fortunate to work for companies with robust budgets, many are not so blessed. Industry expert Jane Bozarth recently interviewed several L&D practitioners about the challenges they face when working within tight budgetary constraints.
“Working on a small budget, at least initially, isn’t always a bad thing,” Bozarth writes in a Guild Research report titled eLearning on a Shoestring. “Those who choose to see it as an opportunity will likely find that the challenge helps them become more resourceful, supports development of business acumen, and leads them to better focus on strategizing and negotiating desired outcomes.”
Here, from the report, are six useful tips for designing on a budget.
1. Don’t let anything go to waste
Tracy Parish works as an instructional designer, developer, and LMS administrator at a large hospital near Toronto. She must deliver a stream of training materials for a large and diverse audience. She requires a wide assortment of health-related images in order to do her job, but lacks access to licensed audio or photos, and does not have a graphic designer to create visual assets for her. When she finds a free or inexpensive image that she can use, she recommends making the most of it.
“When I’m looking at an image I’m not just thinking, ‘OK, here’s a nurse beside a patient in a bed,’ but seeing what else is in that image. What’s on the wall? What’s in the room? Maybe I can crop this down to get just the image of that IV pole. Maybe there are five things in that photo that I can use,” she says.
2. Embrace your inner photographer
If you need graphic images but cannot afford to buy them, take matters into your own hands. Today’s cellphones, tablets, and even laptops tend to have excellent built-in cameras. Even if you are not an expert photographer, you can probably get shots that will be decent enough for many eLearning projects. To avoid any potential legal snafus, don’t include peoples’ faces and use a photo editing tool to blur identifying logos or signage.
3: Mix and match programs
Many smaller organizations cannot justify the cost of a fancy authoring package. If you are an eLearning designer stuck in this predicament, mix and match low-cost products to get the results you desire.
For example: One can successfully create an instructional course in a program such as PowerPoint, which isn’t free but is often a standard installation on many workplace systems. Bianca Woods, an instructional technologist who is now a senior programming manager with The eLearning Guild, applauds the versatility of the program. She notes that she often leveraged the tool in a previous position as an L&D team member at a global bank. PowerPoint boasts many features that allow designers to create videos, animations, and other visual effects that can make their courses more engaging. Woods points out that work can be saved as a PDF file and uploaded, without anyone even knowing about its PowerPoint origins.
4: Take advantage of introductory offers
Many authoring programs and graphic tools offer introductory subscriptions that allow users to sample their products for a month, or sometimes more. Parish knows some designers working on shoestring budgets that will save up all their audio or visual work, and then sign up for introductory trials that allow them to make the modifications they need on certain projects, without shelling out big money for subscription licenses.
One caveat: You can lose access to your files when the term of the trial subscription ends. If you have no intention of purchasing a license for the program, make sure to convert or save your project while you still have the opportunity to do so.
5: Leverage tutorials
Keeping one’s skills up to date in today’s fast-moving economy is crucial, yet continuing education can be costly. Some organizations will pay for their L&D team to pursue supplementary training, while others do not offer support for such expenditures. Instructional designers working for firms in the latter category must find alternative solutions.
Tutorials and podcasts are a low-cost way to acquire knowledge and brush up on skills. Search YouTube for useful or relevant videos. Find podcasts on iTunes or through apps such as Overcast, PodcastOne or Podcastrepublic. Many will suggest podcasts based upon your interests and listening history.
6: Join a community
Those designing on a budget can gain valuable tips networking with colleagues. In this regard, The eLearning Guild can be a vital partner. Guild membership provides designers with many opportunities to expand their knowledge and network with like-minded professionals. The Guild sponsors several conferences per year where members can attend workshops and meet face-to-face with colleagues from around the world. The organization hosts informative online summits, spotlights, and webinars, presented by subject matter experts, on relevant industry topics. Finally, designers can pick up many useful tips by downloading research papers and blog posts from the Guild site, reading content on the Learning Solutions site, and participating in weekly Guild Twitter chats.