5 Benefits of Learning to Code for an eLearning Developer

batt_jeff_2pxThis guest post comes to us from Jeff Batt, CEO & Head Trainer at Learning Dojo.

In March I will have the chance to teach a pre-conference workshop at the Learning Solution Conference and Expo. This conference allows learning professionals to connect, share and see what works within the learning industry. I love it not only because it is right next to Walt Disney World but because it focuses on solutions and not just theory.

The session I will be speaking on is titled Programming 101 – Learn HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript Basics to Create Learning. You may be thinking that this session might be misplaced since LSCon is not really a programming conference but more of a learning solution conference, and part of you will be right. You may also be thinking, why would I learn programming when I already have so many great tools that can do a lot of the heavy-lifting for me when it comes to programming courses? Or why wouldn’t I just hire a programmer to do custom HTML?

All these questions are good questions and valid points to consider. Why would you learn how to program? Why not just learn Articulate Storyline, Captivate or Lectora? (All great tools)

I think you should learn standard eLearning tools but I also think you should learn to program. There are many benefits of learning to program but I want to focus on 5 that will help you be a better digital learning developer.

1. Better understanding of triggers and variables in standard eLearning tools.

Whether you think you can learn programming or not you may not realize that if you are already using standard eLearning tool like Storyline, Captivate or Lectora then you are already using elements of programming and a greater understanding of those principles will help you create better learning interactions within those standard eLearning tools.

Variables and triggers are standard within every programming language and understanding how to use them within a programming language will help you come up with better and more complex interactions within rapid eLearning tools like Storyline, Captivate or Lectora.

2. Cleaner interactions – Better problem solving.

I have heard many people say that programming is essentially problem solving. Sometimes it takes forever to find one simple character that was throwing errors in your code. When you learn how to program, you learn ways that will help you debug issues within your course and solve them quicker and these debugging skills transfer to standard eLearning tools.

When you code you usually need to break apart the pieces of a design that need to go into the interaction so you can program each part more efficiently to avoid duplication of code or assets.

I have seen many people who don’t know code try to do something in standard eLearning tools that could have been done so much more efficiently if they knew some basic coding principles or have at least had experience building HTML code.

3. Better communication with developers

Even if you need to bring in custom HTML developers, you need to speak their language. You need to know what can and cannot be done. I do a lot of managing of developers not because I am a good manager but it is because I know how to code and I can direct them to follow best practices, to think of different ways they could code if they come are faced with a problem. I am also able to communicate clearly what I envision for my learning. This helps speed up production and avoid conflicts between two people not speaking the same language.

4. Extend your eLearning tools capabilities

One of the nice things about learning to program is you can extend your current eLearning tools capabilities. I have been able to prompt the user to print a custom certificate, create a custom Storyline Skin, add GreekSock animations to Lectora, all of which are examples of taking the tools well beyond their out of the box capability and I have been able to do this because I know code. Granted I did not need to know a lot of code to extend the tools but because I knew some I made myself more valuable compared to other eLearning developers that did not know how to code so you increase your market value and make your bosses look good which is always a good thing.

5. Break free from standard eLearning tools

While it is true, you can extend your standard eLearning tools, you may at times break free from eLearning tools. Don’t get me wrong – eLearning tools have their place and are great for rapid development but I have also found that they have restrictions in certain areas.

For example, one recent project we had needed to have more than one text box on the screen submit to two different questions at the same time. The eLearning tool we tried to use only allowed you to submit one interaction at a time. We came up with a  work around to save the data in a variable and go through two different pages behind the scenes and submit them separately but by doing that it was causing the course to be slower than we wanted.

With some simple custom programing we were able to create 2 standard text entry boxes on 1 HTML page and submit both of those interactions at the same time with very little lag. Of course the course was soooo much better and it became responsive to the users’ device. This solution would not have been possible without knowing some code.

Bonus: One more bonus benefit of learning to code is taking advantage of thousands of JavaScript libraries out there at little to no cost. You can tie into xAPI and send more custom reporting from anywhere on the web. You could tie into GreenSock animations and create better animations and draggable experiences, You could use FullPage.js to create parallax effects to liven up static pages. You could also tie into Skeleton CSS and create a responsive course without having to know a lot of CSS.

There are a lot of different options when you break free from the standard eLearning tools. I think of it as a world of possibilities for the type of eLearning I can create and that gets me excited. Learning to code is not easy, but it does pay off and it would be a good investment on your time.

My session at LSCon will be starting point to help you get going with HTML, CSS and JavaScript. My goal is to have you walk away from that course with the beginning of your very own custom player so join us in sunny Florida in March.

Click HERE to get the full details about my workshop.

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