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Digital Learning Career Path – Ian’s story

Welcome back to our series of blogs focused on understanding the routes into eLearning gained through interviews with our talented network. From varied beginnings to an even greater mix of roles, employment types and ultimate positions – we can definitely say - no two career paths are the same. 

In this instalment we focus on becoming an eLearning Developer through the eyes of a highly talented contractor. This will be of particular interest to those considering entering the contractor market for the first time. 

Ian’s Story

Ian is part of Instinct’s contractor network and someone we have worked closely with to secure interim assignments within digital learning. As you will read Ian has vast experience within the contracting world and is a great person to learn the ropes from.   

What’s instore

The digital learning industry provides many opportunities for contracting and therefore it is likely that it will be an option during your career.  The potential of greater flexibility, more money and exposure to a multitude of different projects mean that it can be an attractive path to take.  If you are self-managing and comfortable with the slightly uncertain nature of project work then the expose to diverse, challenging environments has substantial professional benefits.

If you are considering contracting have a look through our series of blogs describing the fast-paced contracting environment. We provide helpful advice about the factors you should consider before taking the plunge.    

In the beginning

Back onto Ian, whose career began away from digital learning, he actually started out working within electronic engineering and the music industry. After unexpected circumstances, Ian made the decision to go back into education and undertake a master’s in digital media. His master’s really opened the door into digital learning, with many projects encapsulating eLearning design.


His exposure to eLearning was further enhanced by joining the Educational Development Unit at Napier University. This accelerated Ian’s experience as he supported the team’s move to interactive technologies. Steady progression followed as Ian gained managerial experience while always remaining hands on with a variety of development technologies. 

After a successful permanent career Ian has spent the last 5 years working within digital learning through his company Starshaped Media.  He now provides digital learning content design, development consultancy to a range of clients across industry.

Time to make the move

Having asked Ian for some advice on how to become an eLearning Developer, he proposed that gaining an understanding of learning technologies and instructional design was highly beneficial. Ian suggests this broad grounding will “inform decisions you make when building courses and help you stand out from the crowd”. Through his experience Ian was able to offer some brilliant tips to becoming a successful contractor:

  • To know your tools and methods inside out, including best practice to new and existing clients.
  • To create and build your network through your work and attending events such as the Learning Technologies.
  • Getting to know people at a recruitment agency such as Instinct who know the sector inside out and have long term clients.
  •  To understand functions such as finance, marketing etc. - as you are running a business yourself, they become very important to ensure quieter periods are short and covered.

The Advice

As discussed in our previous blog there isn’t a clearly defined path into eLearning. A recurring theme is that experience is fundamental and therefore a degree of patience allowing career progression is advisable. Specifically, for eLearning development positions a grounding in authoring tools and front-end technologies is highly advantageous.  This coupled with a broader understanding of learning technologies and instructional design will be attractive to prospective employers.

From a contracting perspective consideration should be made between your skills and circumstances. You need to assess your availability to travel, manage your finances and whether you would want to set up as a limited company, as Ian himself has done. Contracting has proven to be a successful and fulfilling career choice for Ian, could it possibly do the same for you?


We’d like to thank Ian for giving us an interesting insight into his career path that explored both the digital learning, and contracting worlds.

Finally, if you are considering a career in eLearning or thinking about taking a step into contracting, get in touch with our team who can provide advice on the options available to you.