In this episode of Become an IDOL, I’ll be chatting with Brian Harris, Chief of Design and Development at Brilliant Educational Services, about his journey since enrolling in the eLearning Freelancer Bootcamp. Brian talks about how he leads conversations with his clients, manages pushback, and always keeps the needs of the learners first.
Brian Harris is the Chief of Design and Development at Brilliant Educational Services. He develops E-learning and designs learning experiences that engage minds, motivate hearts, and get real, measurable results. He's someone that's been in the IDOL courses Academy. He's an alumni, but he's more than that...He's a business owner. He's an e-learning designer and developer extraordinaire, and he just has so much wisdom and a great radio voice.
Enjoy the Episode Transcript below:
Oh, thank you so much. Yeah. Brilliant Educational Services is the name of my business I started doing learning experiences in the form of video. I did a lot of video learning experiences, a lot of content development in that regard. And when you do that, there's so many different talents, jobs, and so much different work associated with creating a video. So I just wound up doing a lot of that kind of thing, and I was working.
You know, I had gotten laid off from a job and I went ahead and kind of started a new career. Instructional design came up to me and it just made a lot of sense in terms of the skillset that I already had and some of the passions that I had, as well personally in terms of teaching, because I had taught before…learning, focusing a focus on education.
So those kinds of things really appealed to me. And then I could also utilize some of the design background that I had. I started doing instructional design freelancing, maybe about four years, almost three years ago now, a bit more full time. And before that, maybe about five years, doing some bits and pieces for some other professionals that I was just connected with personally, and gradually have turned it into my own kind of thing that I'm doing, my own company, my own one man operation, with admittedly a great deal of thanks to the IDOL courses Academy where I signed up. What year was that? That was 2020, I believe it was. I think it was 2020.
So yeah. Signed up there and it's been a really, really good experience for me in terms of not just learning and acquiring greater skillset, broadening my thought process and knowledge when it comes to learning itself, the study of learning, but then also how to design effective learning experiences and then being incorporated into the L&D (Learning & Development) community via IDOL courses Academy is really fantastic.
Oh, great. I'm glad you enjoy it. Yeah, it was one of those things, counterfeit caper, that it just kind of grew and grew and grew. And I kept working on it. It was almost a reflection of my own personality where I got taken advantage of in Peru financially by somebody.
And my reaction to it is, you know, don't get angry. Arm yourself with knowledge. So that kind of motivation really led to a project idea and a concept and it just kept going. I was really glad to be a affiliated at that time with the IDOL courses Academy, to really have that motivation to not only design it, but then also, understand this is how you're going to make these types of things effective, engaging, and efficient.
So I think that was really beneficial and it's kind of grown into something that I didn't anticipate, but I'm glad. It's been a joy.
Yeah. It's been about three years now.
Again, I don't wanna sound like a broken record, but I really do give a lot of credit to IDOL courses Academy. As you know, I signed up for the Freelancer Bootcamp first. That was the first one I did. And going through that was super duper eye opening when it came to operating a business on your own. It's funny because I went through that and I was like, “Okay, I got it.” But as you know, running your own business, you never really have it.
You're always kind of learning, doing new things, getting new ideas, seeing how other people do things. And then I go back to the Freelancer Bootcamp and I was like, “Oh man, Dr. Robin, Christie, and Dr. Nicole said that.” You know, three years ago, two years ago when I was taking this thing and I didn't listen to it then.
And so now it makes sense to me, but I think it's been one of those things where the suggestions in there, as well as some of my own personal experiences have just led me to keep working on it, keep making an effort, keep being consistent with the business that I'm trying to operate.
And it's the IDOL courses Academy, as well has led to other experiences and opportunities that I've had. My business right now is, I hope, growing and continuing to grow. When, in regards to some of the customers that I work with, an idea of some of the types of work that I do. I do a lot of eLearning–Storyline based eLearning, and I'm doing a lot of training for teachers. I've got a couple of clients that I do training for teachers for more compliance based style of training.
But I've had an opportunity to do some really cool stuff and work with some really, really talented and fun people in that space, and it's something that I never would've heard of, but it’s really, really intriguing.
And then in addition to that, I've recently been working with making job aids, handouts, and marketing materials. I do voice overs as well at times. So, we've done animations. I did a whiteboard style explainer style animation. So again, kind of back to my roots in video, doing music, sound effects, sound design, animation, all those kinds of things in addition to narration.
So it winds up being a lot. But one thing I find myself doing a lot and I didn't realize this when I got started, is writing. You know, I just never really understood or appreciated how much writing is involved in generating these ideas that go into design or go into eLearning development.
So I do quite a bit of that for myself on my blog and just trying to continue to improve my craft as an instructional designer, as an e-learning developer, but also as a graphic designer…You know, to a certain degree, a sound artist, a vocal artist, and then simultaneously try to continue to make better learning experiences for the learner, whatever those may be, and get myself out of the mode of saying, “Hey, it has to be video or it has to be eLearning.”
But really get into the mode of What is the real issue at heart? What are the learners struggling with? Why is it that they're not doing this or complying with this? What do we know about the learners that we can leverage to then make the experience more meaningful, more memorable, more engaging, and have better outcomes for them?
So I'm always working on that at the same time, trying to to build the business and get out there a little bit more as well.
Yeah, that's a great question because, for me, naturally, I'm a bit more of a doer. Like I am very action oriented. So if someone says, “Do this.” My inclination is, “All right. Let me figure out how to do it. Like what, what do I need to do to be able to do that?” And I get sometimes a bit myopic in doing something, but I think what's happened for me is a bit more of the why. You know, why are we doing this?
What are we trying to accomplish? Who are we doing it for? Right? And then what can we do? And not in an effort to avoid work, but what can we do to make the solution the simplest and most effective that it can be? And I think the thing that's changed for me to a great degree is less of an assumption that the person who's telling me what to do actually knows what needs to be done and really understands the thing fully, because I think in conversations that I've had with people, they're coming into it maybe with some, just some direction that they've got. And I think it's really good to try to understand, and that's one thing that I've done even with my business, is when I talk, I make every effort to understand kind of what is at the core of what they want to do.
And that involves, at least from my perspective, it involves patience. It involves trying to have multiple conversations. It and it does involve, to a degree, a bit of disagreement. And by disagreement I don't mean, you know, angst, but I do mean, you know, asking why. Why do you feel that this is the best solution?
Why do you feel that this is what they need? You know? And with, it's a balance, isn't it? Because you can. You can ask a question in a way that makes someone appear that you're doubting them or that you don't trust them or don't believe them. And I've certainly done that, you know, not intentionally, but that's just kind of how I come across sometimes.
But also really trying to ask a question in a way that helps give them the impression that you really wanna understand more. You know, And I think that's what I'm trying to get better at, is really understand more and then explain to people why I'm asking this question? And, hey, sometimes it goes well and sometimes it doesn't.
Admittedly, I've had conversations with clients, it's like Hey, you know, we, we don't need to ask that. And you'll say, Okay. That's, fine, but that doesn't necessarily mean I'm not going to ask any more questions or I'm going to stop trying. I do think where I've changed is I've really become more oriented on asking questions, but also a little bit more crafty on when to push, when to give, when to take, you know, when to pull it.
I think it's a negotiation and those negotiations are kind of delicate dances where we're both kind of moving together with a similar goal in mind, right? They want something. I, of course, in many cases want to work with them, so it's kind of a balance to strike and I'm just continuing to work on that balance, and as I understand learning, as I understand learners, as I hear different perspectives on learners, it helps me to kind of craft in my mind what I want, those kind of conversations with clients and stakeholders to look like. What kind of things do I need to ask for? And it helps me to prepare in advance in a way that I can ask and hopefully have a good conversation and build trust and build a good relationship.
I had a client who spoke to me about doing some e-learning. They had an ILT (Instructor Led Training) and wanted to convert it to e-learning. And you know, I think sometimes online and on the internet, a lot of these people who I genuinely respect and whose viewpoint I really feel is legitimate in many areas sometimes people will say, Well, hey, you know what? You know, that's not something you want to do. You know, push back immediately. But for me, I said to myself, Well, if I'm the other person, I also think empathy is really important. If I'm the other person and I'm coming to a client or coming to a subcontractor, someone who I want to hire and I say, "Hey, I wanna do this thing."
And the first words out of their mouth is, No, absolutely not. We shouldn't do this. If that's the first thing I get to say to myself, You know, how does this person know? Now I start to become suspect of their suggestion because they don't really understand me. So with that kind of empathetic approach in mind, I spoke to the client and my first thing was, that sounds great.
We wanna do “X” e-learning, we wanna put all this, this training we had into e-learning. That sounds great. You know, let's do that. Tell me about the training. What is it that the training was on? What did you talk about? I was asking some questions about the actual training, just to kind of get the person talking about something that they're interested in, because this was not a C level person.
This was an L&D person. So from my perspective with the client that I had, we are on the same level, we have the same goals, right? To make good quality learning experiences for the people that we serve. And so for me, I tried to, then once I understood kind of the project, what happened, the training, I tried to shift it a little bit to aspects of the training.
Okay, who are the learners, right? Tell me who the learners are. Maybe you can help me to understand why this training you felt was necessary for them. And that opened up a big, a big conversation, a great conversation with the person. And they started talking about, Well, it's this level kind of leadership and we have these motivations with this group, and we have that motivation with the other group.
These people want to do it. So now we're getting into learner motivation, which is great, right? Because that's the kind of thing that we want to talk about. That was the first conversation I had with the client. It was just a 20 minute conversation. Just touch on a few topics.
Let's move on to a follow up. So the follow up was scheduled. We did it for an hour and I repeated what he, the client, had said the first time just to make sure, Hey, I'm trying to understand this. DoI understand this correctly? Yes. This is it. This is the thing. So I tried a question.
How are you looking for learners to change after they do this training? Like when you look at learners, how can you tell that someone has taken this training and another person has not?
So I'm trying to ask him why would they wanna do this training? Like what's, what's motivating them to do it? Where are they at? Where are the learners at right now? Those kinds of things. I think for me, laying a groundwork. Understanding what the problem is that they're hoping to fix. Right. I think you've just gradually worked your way into those deeper conversations.
And it's my opinion that people, clients, the persons you're talking to, they'll either give you that information or they won't, you know, so they'll, they'll give you an in to say so you can expand on something that they've already said rather than necessarily trying to bring up something new.
So I think it's, it's almost one of those things like building blocks, right? And you at first lay a foundation for what they want, and then you start to show greater curiosity for some of the things that they've said and try to understand those better. That leads to other things, and that leads to other things.
Of course. I don't just have a conversation where we're kind of bouncing around with people. I definitely have an outline in front of me on my computer screen with things that I've thought of prior to the conversation. I have questions that I send to those who inquire about the services, so then I get some information about their project before we even meet.
So based on that, I kind of give myself an outline of what kinds of things I might ask about, and then I let the conversation kind of go and and see what happens.
Yeah, I would say my first scoping kind of call with the person, I set that up on my website. If you click on my, “Let's talk, let's get started.” It's a 20 minute conversation and I feel that in 20 minutes you can get a feel for what to ask.
That's my opinion. And it obviously is going to vary based on the size of the project. Right. So, you know, sometimes in 20 minutes that works, sometimes it doesn't. But I think, I can get a feel for how much we can talk about how far we can go in that first conversation, depending on who I'm talking to.
And, you know it's a matter of when you're freelancing, in many cases, it's a matter of, Hey, do I wanna do this with this client or not? In some cases, you're desperate, and if you are, then that's, that's fine too. You know, there's I feel like there's no sin in taking a not so ideal client if that's what you need, and that's fine, but, I think that sometimes we just have to try and we have to continue to make the effort to go kind of push things into what, what might be considered the more ideal direction.
But it doesn't always end up that way. Like even with this client, I told him at the end of our conversation, at the end of our second conversation, Hey, what we're gonna do is we're gonna take what you have and convert it. That's the base. We're gonna take what you have and convert it. However, aas you go through the process, there may be opportunities where I can make a suggestion and see what you think about adjusting the learning experience to help you to accomplish the change that you wanna see, to help you to bring the motivation of certain learners up, right?
To make sure that based on the environment that they're in. They're gonna have a better experience because I think an important aspect of learning experience design, especially in dealing with clients, is making the effort to add value to the experience for the learner as well as for the client, and accomplishing real measurable goals and.
Sometimes people want that and sometimes they don't. But that is what it is. It doesn't negate the value of the effort. So I think, yes, to your question, I would say yes. I can get a lot out of that first conversation and a lot out of a second conversation, and I would, I always inclined to talk more if we can, depending on what the time frame of the project is, to get better understanding, to see if I can continue to position myself as more of a advocate for the project rather than the project executor, you know?
And it's a balance to strike and we just keep trying to go in the right direction. It's not gonna be perfect every time, but keep working with the clients. Make sure it's heading towards where you would hope it would.
Exactly. I think it would be a similar thing if you hired someone to do your landscaping and you say, “Hey, can you mow this lawn?” And, you're like, “I don’t mow lawns. That's ridiculous. I'm a landscaper. You know, I'm gonna talk about changing your lawn.” You're like, “Well, that's not really what I wanted”.
But we can get to that point where you can have landscaping suggestions. But first, let's talk about mowing the lawn. So I think sometimes it is valuable in having a basic conversation with someone about what they want first and allow the relationship to develop to the point where, maybe you don't have time for that fine too.
Move on. But, you know, if you can do it, I think there's, there's value in that. Rather than creating a client that bounces from one person to the next and says, “Well, this person pushed back on me, and that person pushed back on me, and that person pushed back on me.” I think you can kind of paint people into a corner a little bit where they're going to be less inclined to listen to the next person.
Or you can be someone who does what they want, but also advocates for things that are better. And then maybe the next time, even if it's not with you, maybe the next time I mean obviously ideally it is with you, right? They continue to come back. But next time, maybe they may be more open from the beginning to hear what a learning professional has to say about the topic, you know, about the e-learning, about the learning experience, and it gets a better learning experience next time.
And I think that's an aspect of what we all wanna try and do is continue to move the industry in the right direction. And it can't necessarily be from only being in working, fighting ourselves into the stakeholder position. You have to work your way up there and, and it takes time and effort and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But I think it's an effort well worth it in my opinion.
Again, I hate to, at the expense of sounding like a broken record, it is a bit of a balance. You know, I've made so many videos in the past and I've worked with so many different individuals as stakeholders, and I tell you, I've been shut down on ideas six ways to Sunday. I really have been, I've had ideas about all sorts of things, and I've just been burned down on several occasions.
But I think when it comes to making the suggestion, one aspect of it is making a good prototype. I can't remember who said this, it might have been Kathy Moore or in one of her books, but I really like making a good prototype that shows them exactly the thing that they want. Right? Because I think where I've made mistakes in the past is not even doing the thing that the client wants.
This is a bad idea, so I'm not even gonna do it. I'm gonna do this other thing and then kind of present this other thing as, Hey, this is a superior idea. But, empathy has helped me to really kind of understand the thing from their perspective. And that is, “Hey, you know, we had this idea and you might not know what went into it right to getting it to that point, but we wanted to see this thing brought to fruition first.”
And then maybe from there it becomes obvious that something needs to change. So, my thought on it is, you know, depending on, of course, what the situation is, you can come up with a new idea or a new, a new proposition. A new concept to present. But to a certain degree, there does need to be a presentation of what was agreed upon first.
And then have a conversation about it depending on how well it's working. And to me, if you, if you have the bandwidth or the ability to also present an alternative, so that way at least the person can, the stakeholder, the client, whoever can AB the option, then that's good. That's, I think that's better.
You know, you don't necessarily have to make a career out of the alternate. Right? But it should be something that is viable such that someone can look at it and say, make a legitimate comparison between the two where the alternate or the original is not distracting. Right? Sometimes people, I've seen this done before, right?
In design you'll have, “Hey, this is what you wanted and this is what I think it should be,” and the one that you think it should be is like, so much nicer. And the one that they want is kind of ratty. And you say, “Oh, okay.” Come on. That's manipulative. I think we definitely want to have the conversation based on two things that are like, we wanna compare apples with apples.
So making something, that's what they want to say, “Hey, I made the effort on what you wanted. I made the effort on this, and as I was doing it, this idea came to my mind that it might be more effective.” So, one, it's not necessarily presenting a new idea based on what you had, but based on what you wanted…here's an idea that might expand that or might improve this for learners or might improve the learning experience.
And then the other aspect of it is you know, “This is why based on the context of where this fits in based on what you've said about the learners. Based on what we know about what change we're trying to effectuate. Here's why this might be a better solution, and see how the person feels. Sometimes they're obviously gonna say “No, we're in love with this thing that we got.”
That's fine. It really is what it is. If they're paying the bills, then that's what it is. But at the same time, I do think those things can gradually work and be beneficial. You know, the proposition of changes can be beneficial without necessarily having to be acrimonious, and something that I've learned too is.
And especially in dealing with some of the training that I've done with teachers, at other times there are other things at play that you're just not aware of. And so your idea might, in and of itself for a change, it might be valid. But in the context of other things that you don't know about, those other things might be invalidated.
And so you have to try to find those out. And sometimes there's no way you can know those things without making a suggestion. And then the person says, “Well, because of this, this, this, and this, we're not gonna do that.” You say, Okay. That's fine. It might also be that they just don't like it and they won't wanna do it.
I've had that, I've had that happen to me too. So it's like, I think, you know, we do to a degree as learning professionals and it's a challenge. There is a degree of cultivating this kind of indefatigable spirit where you're always doing your best to advocate for the learner, to advocate for making the experience as effective, engaging as possible to advocate for making real change.
And sometimes people don't wanna do that, and that's okay, but that practice is still viable, still valuable for you as a professional.
That's a good question. I think from the very beginning, especially in freelancing and I think this is probably true of any freelance business or anything shoot, probably any business. If we can't have a conversation from the beginning about money, then it's not really going to be workable or viable. I feel like there has to be, even before we kind of get into the solution part of things, there has to be an understanding of where the person is coming from with their budget.
I've heard Christie Tucker in the E-Learning Freelancer Bootcamp, she said that. She asks from the beginning, what kind of budget do you have in mind for this? Because, you know, these kinds of e-Learnings, they cost X thousand dollars. Right? And so if you want a $5,000 e-Learning for $500, then there really isn't much that we're gonna be talking about in terms of solutions because the foundation is not enough to build on to get to where I think this thing should go. And so that would negate that kind of conversation anyway. I feel like there is the balance of learning professional and business person is the one to strike, right? Because you do need to. You do need to talk about how much they've allocated or what in their minds they're thinking this thing should be budgeted or should cost but also I think there's a need to try to understand where they are from the perspective of what they want to do with the thing.
Right. What they want the thing to do. Do they really want this to be something special? For example, they say, Man, I really want this thing to shine. It's really an important project to us, the company, what have you. We think it should be this. So you say, “Okay, so now you've kind of got an idea of, well, if this thing is special and you really want it to be something special, then here's where we can go to make it that special thing.”
However, the dichotomy between where we should go and your budget needs to be addressed. And is that something from your perspective as a client, do you feel like that's a place where you want to go and are willing to go? Or do you say to yourself, “Nah, we really gotta cap it at this thing?” I think it's not just one conversation in terms of the solution.
It’s two conversations in trying to get an understanding of where they are with their budget and their feel on the piece and then are we going to go to another level with it? I had that a couple years ago where we did an animation, an eLearning animation, and the client was like, “Hey, I'm thinking that it's gonna be this X thousand.”
But as we got into the weeds of it and said, “This is what you really want, it's actually going to be like double that. So now, how far of that double are you willing to go? Because that gives us an idea of the client really wanted the thing to be special, really wanted to be impactful and really, really thought it had a product.
It had a real viability in the future for making a big impact. So they were willing to go the extra mile on the budget. Not everyone's like that. Right? So, how do you figure that out? I think you have to have those conversations and have them openly and candidly. I look at a lot of the Futur Podcast with Chris Do and on his podcast they talk a lot about just being candid.
The money and having those conversations up front and knowing your worth… that kind of prep is important to yourself to be there to be able to then make a decision. It's like, okay, if this person is not going to go that far with this, then here's what we can do with what you got.
And you being the decision maker as to whether or not that's going to be something that you want to do or not, You know?
Right. It's time consuming, right? To sit down and think about, okay, what's the solution? What am I going to come up with?
What are we gonna do? That's time and that’s your money, right? That's, you working. So if you know, someone's not going to really, go there with you, then. That's okay. In my opinion, obviously, you know, if they're about to foreclose on your house and take your car away, you might have different circumstances in which you make that decision, but it's fine.
The one thing I would say, and this is something that was told to me and I say it to everyone, you know, don't give up. I think that's where we tend to lose out a little bit is, “Hey, I think this and someone shut you down.” Then it's like, well, I'm not gonna say anything like that anymore to this person or anything like that, anymore to anyone else. And we kind of over police ourselves in advocating for the project, advocating for the learner.
And again, it doesn't mean you need to be this kind of brash devil-may-person who is always going to push back on everything. It's not necessary, but you know, you can definitely continue to look for opportunities and chances to try and make the thing better to try and have those conversations, to try and ask questions, to try and introduce ideas that may lead to something better, some improvement.
And that's, that's the one thing that I would probably say is I think we all need to not give up. We all need to keep trying. We all need to keep refining our efforts and using different strategies and getting better with empathy to try and understand that other person. Kim said this Belvista Studios.
She was like, “Hey, I really lead with love.” And I say, “Wow, that's really great, because an aspect of love is empathy, you know, understanding that other person.” And I think when we really try to do that and just shut ourselves down. Then we make the space for having the conversations that need to be had and making the positive changes that need to be made.
Yeah, like I said, the Futur Podcast with Chris Do. I bounced back to him and his stuff on YouTube and things like that. It's super duper helpful. I found your eLearning Freelancer Bootcamp Wednesday sessions to just be really great with you and Christie and Dr. Nicole to again, hear it. I don't think you're necessarily saying a new thing in a new way, but to just hear the same thing over again, it's like, Yeah, that's right.
It kind of reassures me and helps me to firm up a bit of a thought that I had already. Obviously, Christy Tucker's blog is great, and so is Dr. Nicole's and so is the IDOL courses Academy’s. Those blogs are really, really great and I also really like the three Star Learning Experiences blog for me, getting better with understanding the science, the background, the theory of learning and balancing that theory with pragmatism and the practical aspect of creating something, those that has really helped me to say, “Hey, I want to advocate for this thing.”
I like Learning Science Weekly. I read Learning Science Weekly all the time. I think it's great. Obviously the eLearning Coach, Connie Mallon's website is fantastic. I don't have like a go-to. I read Ant Pugh’s emails. I really appreciate his take and approach on things.
It's a variety of sources that I use to kind of gain a bit of a balanced input. Or a balanced mentality for myself and I mean I don't have all the answers for goodness sake and I don't think anybody does. But I think we can all continue to keep growing and learning from one another and from our own experiences to try and get a little bit more confident to next time, every time we go, take a step in the, in the right direction next time and just get better and ultimately make better learning experiences that really impact learners and effectuate real change.
Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
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