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The Rock Stars of eLearning: An interview with Connie Malamed

By Rick Raymer / September 2013

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This is the final interview of "The Rock Stars of eLearning" series, and I'm proud to end with a real superstar, Connie Malamed. While learning occurs with all of our senses, when it comes to eLearning, the primary sensory input that we rely upon is visual. And, it's in this realm—the field of visual communication—that Connie really shines. While impactful visual and graphic design seems to be challenging for a lot of instructional designers, there are some fairly straightforward rules, resources, and science behind visual design. If you'd like to learn more about the visual design of instructional material, I'd recommend Connie's book, Visual Language For Designers: Principles For Creating Graphics That People Understand. And, if you find yourself at one of the many learning conferences where Connie is presenting, make sure her sessions are on your schedule. She does a wonderful job demonstrating the effectiveness of sound graphic-design principles, and will provide you with free and low-cost design resources.

In addition to being an expert in visual design, Connie is also one of the leading thought leaders in the instructional design field. For some truly amazing insight, you should really visit her site,

It's been a real honor to do this series of interviews and to get to know all of the interviewees a little better. I've really enjoyed it, and I hope you've enjoyed it as well. With that, I'm proud to present my final eLearning Rock Star, Connie Malamed.

When people ask you, "what do you do?" What is your response?

I like to see how many seconds it takes for the person's eyes to glaze over. That's the signal I use as to whether I should keep talking or change the subject. And that's why I have no single response.

If I can tell someone has a background to understand, I might say, "I create online learning" or that "I'm a learning specialist." In extreme duress, I might actually mention that I'm an "instructional designer." Sometimes I say I help organizations solve training problems, or that I design websites or do graphic design. I never know what's going to come out of my mouth.

If you were going to classify the industry you are currently a part of, what would you identify this industry as?

Although I definitely identify with the eLearning and training industries, I also identify with the design and technology industries.

What motivated you to get into this industry?

When I discovered instructional design, I nearly fell off my seat. It was exactly what I was seeking. It's both creative and analytical. Best of all, it's a convergence of so many fields and skills: visual design, multimedia, technology, cognitive science, communication, user experience, interaction design, information design, marketing, and writing to name a few.

Why are you passionate about what you do? What makes you enthusiastic about what you do?

Contrary to what cynics believe, I know this is a "helping" field. That's motivating. It's fulfilling to build engaging learning experiences for people, to make their work easier by providing performance support, and to empower them with the tools they need to be self-directed learners.

What are some of your "big ideas" for improving yourself, your learners, the industry, society, etc.?

Study other fields. Break down the silos and talk to people. Listen. Think of yourself as a creative problem solver—a solution finder. Think big, read widely, and be compassionate.

What needs to change in our industry? How will it evolve?

As an industry, I think we need to have a broader definition of how people learn. We should let design start with the challenges people face. Get their input and empathize. Make it user centric. Allow for a "pull" learning model rather than a "push" model. Since most people own some type of Internet-connected device, this is happening anyway. So let's get in front of the curve.

We need to stop locking important content up in LMSs that prevent people from having easy access to important information. Working people need more performance support.

We need to think more broadly about the types of problems instructional designers are capable of solving. With a background in learning theory and cognitive psychology, we can do much more than create courses.

We need more flexible and powerful tools that can meet the demands of our creativity and imaginations. On the other hand, we need to continue to expand our competencies, into visual design, multimedia development, and programming.

Who are some of the people that you consider to be the "rock stars" of our industry, and why?

To me, the rock stars of the industry are definitely the people who are doing the work. The instructional designers and learning architects who care about learners and who care about quality products. These are the rock stars who must deal with content that's organized like spaghetti, SMEs who insist that everything is important, managers who don't like a particular color palette, and unreasonable deadlines. The intelligent and hard-working people in my industry are my rock stars.

About the Author

Rick Raymer is an eLearning consultant specializing in gameful design. Previously, he was a primary solution architect at Serco Inc., working with integrated product teams to design, develop, and deliver state-of-the-art learning games, interactive courseware, and simulations. In addition, he designed and managed production of eLearning, games, and simulations for the North Carolina Community College System's BioNetwork organization, and was the VP of Product Development for Oasys Mobile, a top 10 mobile games publisher. Raymer has been designing videogames professionally since 1996. He has produced more than 40 games, with titles on every major gaming platform including consoles, PCs, handheld devices, and mobile phones.

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