10 Most Common Mistakes Rookie L&D Professionals Make…And How To Avoid Them

10 Most Common Mistakes Rookie L&D Professionals Make…And How To Avoid Them
Summary: Newcomers to any field often have the world in front of them, and newbies to the Learning & Development (L&D) and Instructional Design (ID) profession are no different. The tendency is to put everything they’ve learned to practice, in the hope that they’ll produce more effective eLearning solutions. In the process, they often make some rookie mistakes.

How To Avoid Common Errors That Rookie L&D Professionals Make

Here are 10 common rookie errors to avoid.

1. Assuming That When The Client Asks For A Learning Solution, It's The Right Solution For Whatever Problem The Client Is Trying To Solve Or Objective They're Trying To Achieve

Training won’t always solve an issue. And one of the most important questions novice L&D professionals must learn to ask is: Is training the solution to a problem?

An established factory (in business for 30 years) owner might be concerned about falling quality and productivity and increasing safety incidents. Their answer: Train the entire workforce on productivity-enhancing measures and workplace safety protocols. Problem solved, right? Wrong!

Before you start designing an eLearning solution to address the issues, stop and ask: Could old and outdated technology (with no innovation in over three decades) be at the root of these issues? Is inferior raw material causing the problems? Is it possible that the recent lengthening of shifts—from 8 hours to 12 hours—might be causing worker fatigue leading to the safety lapses? If these, indeed, are the root causes of the issues that management is trying to resolve, then no amount of training will help!

2. Doing What The Client Wants Even If It Doesn't Make Sense From An Instructional Design Point Of View

The client is always right, correct? Wrong! This mistake is another twist to Mistake#1, except it relates to relegating ID expertise to the client. When it comes to designing instructional content, you (the L&D professional or ID) are the expert. Many rookies in the industry tend to forget that. They believe that, because the client is the one footing the bill, anything they (the client) want is fair game—it is not!

That does not mean L&D/ID professionals shouldn’t consult or discuss matters related to the course with the client. However, when it comes to professional course design, the buck stops at the designer (you—the L&D/ID pro). Clearly, that message requires tact and finesse to deliver—and that’s yet another skill a rookie must acquire!

3. Adding Interactivity Where It's Not Needed (Just For The Sake Of Making The Course More Interactive!)

To produce dazzling content, rookie L&D pros often gravitate toward an overabundance of interactive elements. After all, the more interactive a course is, the better, right? Wrong!

Studies [1] prove that interactivity is highly conducive to learning. However, interactivity in eLearning content must have an objective: To create engagement, to assess knowledge transference, to capture feedback, or to facilitate practice learning. But more interactivity doesn’t necessarily accomplish those objectives. In some instances, redundant interactivity may cause interaction fatigue leading to learner distraction.

4. Getting Confused About Creating A Course With Interactivities Vs. Creating An Engaging Experience

It is essential to take time to understand that"Adding interactivities" is not equal to engaging learners. Novice eLearning designers and developers fail to understand that “adding interactivities” isn’t the same as “interacting and engaging” with learners. As a result, they tend to focus a lot of attention on building interactive elements—videos, popups, drag-and-drop, 3D simulations—that may dazzle learners, but do not serve to engage them.

Studies by Carnegie Mellon University [2] have confirmed that interactivity simply for the sake of it does not advance learning in any meaningful way. The study compared two forms of interactivity:

  • The interactive learning approach of video-based lectures—“watch, understand and learn”— practiced by Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) platforms
  • An interactive approach used to “…mimic intelligent tutors in order to provide adaptive feedback and hints during learning by doing”

The result: Students learn six times more using the adaptive feedback approach to interactivity than with the MOOC-favored approach to interactivity. The takeaway here is: All interactivity must have an objective, which is to further a learning objective. Failing to achieve that objective, through your interactivity, may lead to learner disengagement.

5. Not Asking Enough Questions/Not Communicating Enough With The SME

L&D professionals typically are not Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). Rookies in the profession often fail to acknowledge that. As a result, most novice eLearning course developers tend to discount what SMEs have to say or ignore them completely.

To produce definitive eLearning content, it is essential to talk to, question, and work collaboratively with those deeply involved in the environment related to your course, including SMEs, frontline staff, and veterans in the field.

6. Assuming That Just Because You Created Cool-Looking eLearning The End-User Will Be Able To Make Any True Behavior Changes, Including Being Able To Successfully Perform Whatever It Is You Are Trying To Teach

Rookies often forget that the success of any eLearning course lies in successful skills transference and behavior modification, not in the completion of the project on time and within budget. A well-managed project may not necessarily deliver the desired behavioral change. It is essential, therefore, to focus on course objectives too, in addition to time and budget.

7. Not Getting Close To The Learner To Understand Their Context And Concerns

The three most important words any rookie eLearning developer must learn are: Know your audience!

Many newcomers to the profession assume the best way to design a course is through exhaustive SME collaboration and consultation. That’s just one aspect of the process. The more important aspect is to understand the needs, concerns, and expectations of your learners. Once you’ve mastered the art of “getting into the learners’ mindset,” you’ll design and develop highly engaging and successful eLearning.

8. Not Clearly Establishing The Outcomes (What Do You Want Your Learners To Know And Be Able To Do As A Result Of The Course) Before Commencing Course Design

Most rookie L&D professionals jump right into course design without putting too much thought into establishing the outcomes expected from that design.

The root of this mistake, one that even veteran IDs sometimes make, lies in understanding the nuance between course “outcomes” (setting out the skills and knowledge learners should acquire by the end of the course) and course “objectives” (for example, the scope that the curriculum will cover, or the critical questions, topics or areas of interest the course intends to address).

Without establishing clear outcomes (i.e., the result of completing the course: “By the end of this course, learners will…”), how can you design the means (course content) to achieve those ends?

9. Not Addressing Behaviors, Just Knowledge And Skills

This rookie mistake stems from a lack of understanding of why most eLearners enroll in a course. It’s not because they simply want to learn something (new knowledge and skills), but because they wish to transfer that knowledge into concrete and helpful action on the job.

And that transference only happens when the course succeeds in changing a learner's (old) behavior. Once novice L&D professionals address behavioral change through course-imparted knowledge and skills, they’ll start creating more impactful eLearning courses.

10. Having The Courage To Say No To A Training Request Or Suggest Different Options In Lieu Of eLearning

Newcomers (and those less experienced) to the field of Instructional Design and development often convince themselves that their only purpose in life is to propose, design, develop and deliver eLearning solutions. They’re wrong!

Sometimes, eLearning might not be the optimal solution to a training need. For instance, proposing an Instructor-Led Training (ILT) solution to retrain boomers to embrace a second career, might result in better learning outcomes than having a non-tech-savvy 70+-year-old log on remotely and learn through Virtual Reality (VR) or Augmented Reality (AR) learning content.

As a professional, you must summon the courage to suggest the most practical learning option in lieu of eLearning.

In my new guide, titled How to Solve 10 major challenges that eLearning professionals encounter, I get into problems and solutions that both new and seasoned eLearning professionals experience and offer actionable tips to solve these problems.


[1] Analysis of Evaluations of Interactive Video (James Bosco, Professor Emeritus Western Michigan University Leningrad State University)

[2] Learning Is Not a Spectator Sport; Simon Initiative "toolkit" released to try and address educational effectiveness; and, What is the Simon Initiative?