Ethan pretending to get bitten by a tiger statue at Siegfried and Roy's Magic Garden

My First Year and a Half in eLearning: Completing the Circle

Above: Me getting bitten by a tiger statue while at DevLearn 2021.

Massive amounts of change have happened since I graduated Elon University’s Interactive Media program as COVID-19 struck the world. However, one thing remained the same: I grew up making games in PowerPoint and now I (almost) do that as my job with Articulate 360.

Where I started

Since June 2020, I have been working at Relias. Relias is a healthcare training company located in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.  I was an Associate Course Technologist at first, but I got a promotion to mid-level Course Technologist in May 2021.

My class work and volunteer projects helped me get this role, yet I don’t know where I would be if I never proved to my parents I could use PowerPoint when I was six.

My parents wanted me to prove I could use the program to be allowed to use it on my own. A few hours later, I presented a 26-slide animated Thomas the Tank Engine extravaganza. I lost the file long ago, so here’s a rough recreation of the title slide:

PowerPoint slide adorned with scattered train pictures
Mom, what’s WCAG? (GIFs courtesy of GifCities, Thomas photo courtesy of Quora)

This was the initial spark for my love of digital media and technology. That PowerPoint lead to more complex, interactive slideshow Pokémon fan-fiction. Those lead to a train-based GeoCities site made with basic HTML and CSS. The GeoCities site lead to using AppleScript to make old computers swear. Years later, I earned a B.A. in Communication with a concentration in Graphic Design at William Peace University and an M.A. in Interactive Media at Elon University.

How I got here

Before entering the eLearning industry, I thought I would never find a career that encapsulated all of my interests. Almost no job I was aware of connected graphic design, coding, designing interfaces, and video editing into one position.

All I knew was that I wanted to use at least some of those skills to make learning more engaging. I grew up in a family of professors that highly valued education and realized that was a rare gift as I got older. I wanted to get more people to enjoy gaining knowledge too.

At first, I thought I could do this by majoring in Simulation and Game Design. While WPU had one of the best programs in the state, I found that it wasn’t a good fit. Sophomore year, I changed my major to Communication so I could focus on graphic design since the school didn’t have a graphic design degree. This went well at first, but I yearned to get back to doing more with technology.

That’s when I met user experience designer Brenna Mickey at an alumni event while I worked at WPU’s alumni office. She told me about her field and the more I researched it, the more I thought I found my dream industry. The next year, I got into Elon University’s Interactive Media program to learn UX design.

At this point, the childhood PowerPoint games were a fun memory of me creating with technology for the first time. Now, I wanted to get an associate UX design position at an educational institution with my grown-up grad school skills. After all, I didn’t make my capstone project in Microsoft Office.

Completing the Circle

The last two months of graduate school meant applying for jobs in a market blown up by COVID-19. Thankfully, before we finished the semester at home, a recruiter at a career fair referred me to Relias. They had an open Associate Course Technologist role and it seemed to have what I wanted in a job.

I started my role building in Xyleme and editing its templates in HTML and SCSS. After 11 months, I started building in Storyline 360 too after getting a promotion I applied for.

Developing courses for healthcare professionals has completed my circle of interests. In addition to what I do in Xyleme, I get to use my graphic and user experience design skills to create slides in Storyline 360. I also get to edit videos for special projects and webinar modules. Storyline 360 is a slide-based authoring tool that was originally a plug-in for PowerPoint, so I’m close to where I started (even if I don’t make games in Storyline 360 yet). It also helps that I have great colleagues and got to go to the DevLearn eLearning conference last year.

A slide with buttons and informative text
An interaction from a course about stroke treatment that I built. As you could guess, my design skills have vastly improved since elementary school.

I didn’t know about the eLearning industry until grad school, but so many of my skills were transferrable I feel I’ve been training for it for most of my life.


One of my favorite passages from my grad school books was about the invention of the cell phone. According to Networked: The New Social Operating System, the first cell phone call in history was Martin Cooper using his new invention to taunt his school bully. The former bully, Joel Engel of Bell Labs, said “It’s him again” and then hung up. No, I am not joking.

Cooper and the rest of Motorola felt proud to invent this device. However, they couldn’t have known that moment in 1973 would start a communication revolution we’re still living through today. In the same sense, I couldn’t know that making my PowerPoint experiments would be anything like developing eLearning as an adult. I also didn’t know how many learning-specific technologies I could work towards mastering (example: I’m at xAPI Cohort now and learned about cmi5 at DevLearn a few months ago).

Now, akin to when I was six, I’m starting to play more with the quickly-evolving world of eLearning development I have just discovered. I can only guess what authoring tools I’ll use in 20 years, but I’m confident I will still be here.

Ethan McElvaney

A eLearning developer and civic tech designer with several years of digital media experience. I aim to make engaging training for healthcare, civic, and education professionals so they can do their best work. I also like volunteering with Code for America, hiking, and playing action role-playing games.