11 March

Student Story: Alan O’Flaherty

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your career in digital learning?

I’m Alan O’Flaherty and I’ve been in my current role as Learning, Support and Content Manager for 10 years. I work for EazySAFE, a provider of online Environmental, Health and Safety training, instructor-led training, and consultancy services.

I joined the company to set up and structure the support function for a new period of growth. Developing and delivering courses for clients was a secondary role, and like other people I have fallen into this career and become an “Accidental Instructional Designer”, much like Cammy Bean who wrote a book on the topic.

Technology has changed so much over the past 10 years, and so too has the need of clients. Flash based courses I worked on at the very beginning took a lot of time to create.  The newer development tools available today enable me to better serve our client base who need to onboard large number of people in a short space of time. As an example of this, one particular client in the Construction industry, needed to onboard 8,000 contractors going back to work in May 2020 following COVID lockdown. The use of Rapid Development Tools allowed for a 3-week development and deployment cycle. Those 8,000 inductees brought the user count on our Learning Platform to well over 500,000.

Can you tell us a little bit about some of the challenges and struggles that you’ve had throughout your career?

When you’re thrown into a role, it’s sink or swim. You need learn on-the-fly, as well as optimise your skills. In those very early days, I was working with many hats on. Dealing with onboarding, support and creating useable and functional training material. You need to feel confident in your ability to guide people in the right direction.

I learned a lot in those early months, absorbing best practice informally through reading and mentoring from my manager, but I had a definite case of “Imposter Syndrome”.

In order to overcome that, I completed a certificate course in eLearning Essentials in 2016. When I heard about the Digital Learning Institute Diploma Course, I jumped on board, and it has definitely help me immensely in my journey within digital learning.

THE DLI courses are very practical and hands-on. As you progress through the programme, you are working towards the creation and delivery of a specific project. So, you’re applying best practice to something that is immediately relevant to you either personally or professionally. In my case, I wanted to focus on something personal that I’m passionate about – reducing food waste. This courses me has helped me put a structure on a 4-week programme to help people reduce their food waste.

What results did you achieve working with the Digital Learning Institute?

I’ve had this food waste topic on my mind for some time, and before the Diploma Course I had no proper structure in place to create something that took account of the latest developments in the Digital Learning Design field. I didn’t have the framework to work with.

The structured approach over the 16 weeks of the Diploma Programme helped me to really focus in on what it was that I wanted to deliver. The templates, resources and documents provided by DLI helped immensely. I know I would still be thinking about it and taking no actionI am finally at a point where I feel confident to deliver a valuable course with impact.

So how did that benefit your life and your career?

I gained a lot of satisfaction completing the Diploma during a particular busy period when I was juggling a lot of things personally and professionally. The idea of putting information out into the world (like a course), instead of being a passive consumer really excites me. It’s very important and I want to make an impact in some way, so that when my 2 year old asks me in 20 years’ time what about climate change, I can confidently say I did my best, and that I tried to help others reduce their food waste.

How did this course support your career from a professional perspective?

During the induction day on the course, I shared that one of my particular hopes for the course was to connect with others in the field and see what their challenges were. The breakout session were one of the most valuable aspects of the programme. Getting to talk to others, share ideas and offer support, and receive support back was brilliant. The knock-on effect of that is a re-invigoration of one’s own personal practice in day-to-day work.

As a direct result of this course and the ideas it sparked off, I reached out to a client, The Irish Blood Transfusion Service, with a proposal to develop a microlearning course to encourage blood donations. This is something I am working on right now.

What is an area from this Diploma course that will directly benefit your business?

The templates given by the DLI provides a complete framework for a new project. With those documents to hand, you can say “this is the industry best practice, and it works, as I’ve seen the examples”. Not only is theory covered, but we were given plenty of example material that the DLI had developed for clients themselves. Seeing templates put into real life practice is the very definition of “walking the talk”. Seeing how another company uses the templates, really prompts you to think about how it will benefit your own business and structure projects into the future. Furthermore, when working with clients and subject matter experts I can now reference the Kirkpatrick Model, Blooms Taxonomy (and many other models) which is something I wouldn’t have brought into conversation before now and having that practical application of knowledge the DLI course has given me.

Why did you choose to complete the Professional Diploma in Digital Learning Design with DLI?

Having had the experience of the certificate course, I was on the mailing list and I’m glad that this Diploma “found me”. I knew the people behind the business as the names were familiar at an industry level, so I had the confidence to invest my time and money in the course. Additionally, when looking at the DLI website I could see plenty of activity in terms of articles, blogs, events, and reviews. All of that helped me make a choice. It just looked like a good fit for me.

In what areas did you feel like you received the most value and why do you think that is?

I have to mention (again!) that the templates, materials, structure and other supports and collateral offered are priceless. Coupled with that is the community aspect, breakout sessions and mentoring. It all adds to a holistic approach to learning I’ve not experience on an online course like this before. The socialisation of learning is so important. Having regular webinars and talking with your peers adds so much to the experience. We even set up a WhatsApp group for project work that was great for bouncing ideas off others, and also being able to vent frustrations and challenges as they occurred.

A particular phrase that was heard a lot over the 16 weeks was “we are wearing a lot of hats”.  From making videos, to copywriting, to eLearning development, rollout, support – the list goes on. It’s good to know that you’re not the only one in that situation at work, so there’s a camaraderie there. 

If someone reading this is on the fence thinking they’re too busy, why do you think someone should act now?

There’s no time like the present, and if you’re reading this you must be close to making a decision – so my advice is: GO FOR IT! Tell whoever needs to know (your significant other, friends, family) that you are investing in yourself and throwing your all into elevating your knowledge and career. You will need the support and encouragement to keep going as you juggle all the other things going on in your life, but it is so worth the effort. Commit to it, get the head down and give it your all. The more you put in, the more you’ll get out of it. It’s an old adage, but it’s so very true. Enjoy it!