melpic.pngAn Interview with Melissa Milloway

Learning Imagineer at Amazon 

The eLearning industry as a whole has a skills problem. That’s not to say that professionals in this field lack skills, but that it’s still unclear what the most important skills are, or even which roles should make up the typical eLearning professional.

There’s no argument that there are many technical skills instructional designers need to learn to engage with, but deciding where to invest precious time in a worthwhile way is far from easy.


Programmed for Excellence

We were drawn to the work of Melissa Milloway, a self-described crafter of digital learning experiences at Amazon. The global tech-giant only seems to go from strength-to-strength, largely thanks to hiring vibrant, skilled people like Melissa. 

Before Amazon, she’s had more than a few stints as an instructional designer and technologist, but it’s her passion for the field that goes beyond the confines of her day job that really stands out.

A well-known blogger and learning evangelist, she enjoys supporting the community of practice by sharing her knowledge and experience. She’s a notable mold-breaker thanks to her broad set of technical skills. Many instructional designers are comfortable with professional design tools, but Melissa has engaged with coding languages such as Javascript so that she can craft bespoke solutions when needed.

It seems that a person who possesses such a wide variety of competencies would be perfect to have a conversation about the state of skills in the industry. Melissa was gracious enough to spend some time with us, sharing her view on how upskilling factors into an ID’s career.


The New Normal?

Many senior instructional designers today acquired the bulk of their skills before many core technologies we use now were mainstreamed. In the early 2000s there was no YouTube. Before 2010 there were no iPads.

It’s easy to imagine current IDs are still getting their head around responsive design for multiple devices. That’s something that Melissa feels sets her apart from the norm.

Q: What does your typical toolkit for design and implementation look like?

A: Unlike many instructional designers, I use a variety of different tools for design process. When I am doing a mockup or storyboard, I don’t use PowerPoint, something I think we will see a lot more of in the future.

“I design to fit multiple screens; desktop, mobile, tablet, using Sketch to do my mock-ups”

Sketch Melissa has made the shift to designing for multiple screens from the ground up, whereas many designers still stick with the “desktop first” approach.

Considering the adoption rate of mobile platforms and new platforms such as Augmented Reality (AR) Reality (AR) and wearables on the horizon, designing in this fashion, is set to become the new normal.

That being said, Melissa is quick to point out that she’s driven by needs of the project in front of her and not by what’s fashionable.

Q: How is your design solution impacted by the need for multiple platforms?

A: It’s important to be capable of designing for a multitude of platforms and Sketch allows me to do that very easily. But of course there are going to be cases where the need will only be for something static on a desktop.

The Language of Success

Melissa’s wide range of coding skills make her notable, but it’s fair to ask whether it’s worth it for the average ID to walk the same path.

The answer, according to Melissa, isn’t a simple “yes” or “no”. It depends on the role you play in a team context.

Q: You have a different set of skills to many instructional designers, does it give you an edge?

A: I think definitely for my users it’s a benefit.

“I know that a responsive solution is going to be the best solution. And I just teach myself and learn”

A: The biggest challenge is if someone else needs to edit it and they don’t have the skills to do so, then that poses a challenge from a technical standpoint.

A: Not everyone is there yet, but I feel that’s where everything’s going in the future. In other words, it’s not much use to deliver content to a client that’s too technical for them to maintain or fix if anything goes wrong.

To Melissa, this is a temporary problem, since she sees the future of ID as one where these skills are more widespread.

Melissa’s ability to tweak a design is a great thing from the perspective of top-notch learning content.

The ability to provide the best solution for the problem at hand, often going beyond the confines of the authoring tool with code, solidify her as one of the leading designers in the industry today.


Espresso for Everyone!

Q: I would like to ask you about xAPI. Do you now create content with xAPI in mind?

A: I think it’s a game changer. I’m not saying there are other ways that we could collect data, but I think xAPI should be the standard. It’s huge for the future and everyone should be adopting it.

One of the best demonstrations of Melissa’s skills, is her Espresso Matchmaker . This neat demo shows the process of integrating Storyline, xAPI, Wax LRS and a little Javascript magic to figure out your drink preferences. It’s a simple idea that makes xAPI ‘click’ with users.

While the Espresso Matchmaker seems like just a bit of fun (and maybe showing off!) it actually has a very important role to play in Melissa’s mission to spread practical knowledge about xAPI and an LRS.

By using an LRS, she can display a live record of each click in her espresso selection toy, intuitively demonstrating exactly what happens at the back end when a learner performs an action the designers are interested in recording.

Q: Do you think instructional designers, when they see what xAPI  can do for them, is when it will become more greatly adopted?

A: The technical side is the hard part. When you use something like the espresso matchmaker, it clicks in your brain.

“I want people to feel empowered the way that I felt empowered when I was sat down and shown xAPI and how to use it. Once someone shows you how to do it, it’s becomes a gateway”



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The Million Dollar Question

So, should all IDs strive to adopt Melissa’s skill-set? The answer for her is (surprisingly) “no”. She’s a champion of cross-functionality.

Teams should have people who are deeply skilled in one area that completment one another.

Replication is inefficient.

Q: Is it fair to say that the future for the Instructional Designer involves more input at each stage from design to analysis?

A: I think everyone needs to know a little about different areas, but I dont think everyone needs to be silled in another area.

A: I hope in the future, that there is a bigger divide in job roles, so that the designers don’t become a jack of all trades.

Melissa is a testament to what’s possible if you’re passionate and dedicated to a craft. She’s clearly a valuable asset for Amazon, but at the same time she’s making a difference in the ID community as a whole.

You can try the first step on her path yourself! Just head over to and see how easily xAPI and a little coding knowledge can transform the experience of interacting with a learning system.

For interviews, articles and developing trends in the learning indsutry ,  Download The LX Designer’s Handbook today

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