Thursday, April 26, 2007

Memoirs of an "Instructional Designer"

I don't have a master's degree in instructional design or education. In fact, I don't have any kind of master's degree at all. I have never taken a class in pedagogy. I have never taken a course in adult learning theory. And yet here I am. My current business card says I'm a "Manager of Instructional Design". How did that happen?

I have learned everything I "know" about instructional design and teaching by doing.

A brief history:

Education: English and German Major.

Had thought I would go into teaching. Got accepted to a Master's program for secondary ed, but deferred. Got a job at an awesome company. Loved the people; loved getting paid. Bought a bike and took scuba lessons. Thought I'd try the working thing for awhile -- so long as I never had to wear panty hose.

I started my professional life in operations -- behind the scenes helping people do their jobs better. After a few years, I got involved in an IT initiative (then it was called MIS) -- designing a new software application to support our call center business. I talked to the users, translated their needs into requirements, translated that to the techies, worked up flow charts, designed screens, etc. That led into training. I did stand-up classroom sessions on the software. I wrote a monthly user-newsletter -- tips and tricks for maximizing the application. I had expertise. I had a knack for communication. I was an SME.

In the mid-90's, I made the leap to a multimedia training company. They liked my software training experience. I thought multimedia sounded pretty glamorous. I was a SME turned instructional designer. We produced loads of CBTs -- delivered on CD ROM. Lots of video. Lots of simulations.

My boss had an educational technology degree from Harvard. She taught me the basics of instructional design, although looking back it wasn't much: Instruct, Demo, Practice, Assess. I was never told about Gagne's 9 Events or the Kilpatrick Levels or ADDIE or the ARCS model or even much about adult learning styles, except that people all learned differently.

We had a novelist, turned video pro, who was our most creative instructional designer. Through observing him, I learned how to make good video -- the essentials of good lighting, dialogue, directing, storytelling.

I was there for 5 years, and then the company went under. Didn't make the transition to the web and got lost in the bubble.

Since then, I've done a bunch of freelance instructional design and script writing. I was a classroom assistant and lead teacher at a trade school for adult learners -- very hands-on (quite literally -- it's massage therapy). And now I'm here -- "Manager of Instructional Design."

I've created a lot of bad e-Learning over the years -- page turner after page turner. And I've created some really good stuff.

I've got a lot to learn about instructional/learning/experience design.

But at this point, I'm here to stay. This is my career. This is how I support my family. This is my expertise, even without the fancy letters after my name.

If you'd like to learn more about what I'm doing these days, check out my current job description.

My point is this: I don't think I'm that unusual. Or am I? What's your story? How did you get to be an "instructional designer"?

So let's get the tools and information out there to support folks like me. People who get "promoted" from SME to instructional designer and just start running with it. I believe that with the rise of rapid e-Learning tools, we'll see more and more non-instructional designers doing instructional design.

The 30-minute masters is a great start. What else have we got?

22 comments:

Mrs. Keady said...

Funny, I have become an Instructional Designer because my intense loathing for the world of public education (I have fought the fight for 4 years, starved for the people long enough). Same skills (plus or minus), loads better living.

Cammy Bean said...

You are definitely not the first instructional designer to have gone this route. It's very interesting the paths we all take to find our current careers. Some folks escape the corporate world to teach; others flee the teaching world to get a "real job".

Rupa said...

Nice post. Even I have my masters in English. I got into instructional designing by chance and am enjoying it.

Cammy Bean said...

Rupa...your experiences confirms for me a general trend -- that most of us get into the field by chance. Glad you're enjoying it!

Brent Schlenker said...

Hi Cammy!!! LOVE this post!
I'm one of the unfortunate ones with a actual honest to goodness Masters Degree in EdTech. The degree opens many doors but that's about it. Nothing I learned is actually applied today. I learned Toolbook and Authorware on my own while in the program. The profs understood very little tech.

I was one of the few in my program that had media production, programming, graphics design, and web skills. It was all the things that I was able to DO, that no other ISDers could, that made me highly employable. One of my peers who had TONS more technical skills than I had left the program to DO stuff. Not just study about other people's stuff.

Everybody has a different path. Sharing our past as we travel our unique path's is what is important to true learning.
The tools of the future allow us to learn from each other and establish baseline knowledge within a group very quickly to get stuff done. Its a beautiful thing. Making much of what is taught in ISD programs today unnecessary. Actually they have become more like history programs.

lmentz said...

I have a Masters and a Doctorate in EdTech and still find it hard to make the leap from the micro to the macro. It seems to me that a lot of companies really want a lot of the micro (the job descriptions require Flash, Captivate, etc.) instead of the macro (planning, design, implementation, future thinking). I tend to be the sole ID/developer/whatever in a lot of places where I work. It's only been in the past few months, really, in talking to other IDs that I've realized I'm really good at the macro but don't have the resources on a daily basis to do what I really want to do. I find myself constantly challenged to find out what is good in ID.

Cammy Bean said...

Lisa (lmentz) -- a lot of companies are looking for and expecting their IDs to do everything from analyze to design and then build. But there are other options out there where you can keep your focus on the macro and let developers and graphic experts execute your vision. Keep looking!

Anonymous said...

I was a Science Teacher in the Public Schools than got a Masters in ID from Utah State in the late 1980s-- I have over 20 years experience in ID. Still overthe past seven years I have been unemployed as an ID about half of the time and have to work as an LPN in a Nursing Home between ID Contracts. These contracts get shorter and fewer between-- and my ID career is getting pushed in to extinction. Industry goes through cycles of valuing ID of being of any worth. Many corporate Training Managers I have worked for in industry have no idea of what ID is really about-- and will not let a real ID do their job. Currently I live in Denver, Colorado, the IT job market related to ID here is flooded with people who do/did ID of a sort during the IT/Telephony Boom of the 90s. Most people in the Denver, CO area who have done ID are unemployed as IDs, doing something else,( like working for Wal-Mart) on the wake of the dot com bust that happened some eight years ago. Demographics indicate that IDs can now do better in a small town in the mid-west or north-west USA because very few IDs are there, while a few micro jobs exist in developing small businesses.
Most ID jobs now are micro jobs anyway, with the ID having to include the skills of Web development including CSS and JavaScription-- and even PHP. So at age 54 I am in the process of learning advanced level web development skills. But anything is better than continuing working in a Nursing Home as a floor nurse (weekends/nights/on-call/ 12-16 hour shifts)

Carolyn said...

Looking for a micro approach to instructional design? Find a job with a company that works under military contracts. I would not do it any other way. I get to be the ID and only the ID. I have graphic artists, programmers, QA, and subject matter experts at my disposal at all times. Military contracts require this. Of course, I am expected to provide my ID perspective/expertise to the other team members but, I will never have to figure out how to create a graphic element or program an interaction. I say what I want and I work with the expert in that area to get it done.

Cammy Bean said...

Carolyn, thanks for your input. Perhaps we should add Macro or Micro in front of our job titles. You're a Micro ID. I'm more of a Micro ID/PM -- but I don't do any of the graphics or building either.

Hazel said...

Found this blog by chance.

My experiences prior to becoming an ID are, in order: English teacher at a vocational school, HS teacher, and textbook editor. At the time I applied for the post I have now, I just finished taking all the units of my master's degree and was also applying to teach in college (I thought that I still had a place teaching).

Cammy Bean said...

Hazel, Glad you found the blog. I'm interested to hear more about your ID role. Are you in an academic setting or corporate? How have you found the transition going from teaching to ID? What types of experiences are you designing?

Hazel said...

Corporate setting. We cater to local customers and accept international projects. The transition was smooth, because I was initially roped in to do Quality Assurance first before getting my first project as an ID. So far, I've been tasked to make courses the way the clients like them (the click next format, with the occasional interactivity and the usual multiple choice test thrown in before the final assessment). I'm presently tasked to research ways to make the courses a lot livelier than the usual Click Next version.

Cammy Bean said...

Hazel - "the way the client likes them." Aah -- that's the problem. As IDs, part of our jobs needs to be to convince clients why another way is better. That's wonderful that you've been tasked with that research project. There's a lot of great resources and blogs out there. Keep us posted on your progress and what you discover!

Carolyn said...

Cammy,

Perhaps I am attempting to "split hairs" but when I read your response to Hazel that stated, "we need to convince the client that another way is better", I immediately thought is that the best idea in this economic environment? Is it the best idea in any situation? Would it not be better for us to consider what the customer is asking for and then working with that information come up with a viable approach that in the end meets the needs of the learners? There are times when we have to say, this is not how I would like to do it, but this definitely meets the needs of the learner and the organization at this time. Based on resources and schedules we often don't get the opportunity to take our instructional products to the level that we would like. Just my 2cents.

I also wonder what Hazel means by "livelier." Is the learner not learning? Is this change for the sake of change because newer technology is available? As IDs, we should always error on the side of instructional necessity before we lean towards change for the sake of change. I am not suggesting that is Hazel's reasoning, it just occurred to me as I read her reply.

Cammy Bean said...

Carolyn -- What I *should* have said is that part of our job as instructional designers is to educate our clients about best practices in instructional design. Teach them why different instructional strategies might work better than the traditional click next to continue.

To Hazel's point about "lively" -- I don't think making eLearning more lively is just about applying new technologies. Lively eLearning is a course that gets the learner involved - which one can do simply by writing in a more conversational tone, or by creating appropriate exercises and activities to help the learner think critically about the content and ensure better transfer.

Carolyn said...

Thanks Cammy,
I completely agree with your clarifications. Partnering with our clients is the best choice for a win/win outcome. '

Hazel said...

I should have clarified: MOST of the clients want the Click Next approach to elearning.

And Carolyn does have a good point on resources and time, and I want to add to it the constraints involved, i.e., how much animation the client wants in the course that will reflect how much they're going to pay for it.

"Lively eLearning is a course that gets the learner involved - which one can do simply by writing in a more conversational tone, or by creating appropriate exercises and activities to help the learner think critically about the content and ensure better transfer."

That's the one I meant. Thing is, our hands are tied because the SME absolutely doesn't want the content changed too much. Can't say whether it was because they got touchy with my correcting their grammar or because it altered the meaning they wanted to convey.

Sahana said...

Cammy, loved the post! More so because I have a very similar background--English Major, German certification from Max Mueller, high school English teacher, virtual English instructor to adult Japanese learners (via Moodle), then into ID...

What helped me tremendously is my experience with teaching--both face to face and online...teaching children as well as adults...

When I entered the "actual" e-learning world, I realized I lacked the appropriate skills of using multimedia effectively...I went on to do a short ID course, which introduced me to valuable theories (that supported what I had been doing instinctively and gave me a sound background) but did not teach me the practical aspects.

Reading your post reminded me how important it is to know/understand things like the essentials of good lighting when making a video, dialogue, directing, storytelling...

An ID needs to have such varied skill sets that sometimes it seems one of the most daunting professions...I don't think I will ever know everything. But this is what makes it so exciting that I know I am where I want to be.

Thank you for a great post.

Lady of the Lake said...

I am also new to this blog, but glad I found it! Very interesting conversations here!

My path: BA, certified as English etc. teacher, then MA as a Special Ed teacher. Got fascinated with computers early on (yeah, I'm old) and went back for Ph.D. in Instructional Technology - had to be talked into the doctoral program, as I never thought that was me. It was, as it turns out, a fantastic program - unlike Brent's, from the sounds of it. Gave me the framework to go any which way I wanted, because I had the underlying S & K needed. No, I did not learn specific software packages -- but I could do that as needed. What I did learn though was process, the research behind it, and theory tools I'd need in application.

I never did become a real techie -- I am definitely best at designing, and depending on others to do the graphic design, programming, etc. needed to accomplish what I want. I've spent most of my career in academia, although have also done corporate work. I'm passionate about good teaching -- and that incorporates good design.

At the college/university level, faculty aren't taught to do what they do. They need to be an excellent historian, a master chemist -- but there is no requirement to be a fantastic teacher. The skill set isn't the same. So I was a 'bridge' person for many years - the liaison between the techies and the faculty. I found that many times I actually was in a position of teaching the faculty how to teach (they didn't necessarily realize this).

You are right Cammy, in that there are few trained ID folks out there, and most come to this by chance. I retired last year, and was immediately deluged with requests to "come and work for me" -- so I started my own company. Who saw that coming? Not me! I haven't had to look for work yet, amazing. A senior designer with lots of experience and good knowledge of the field and I had no idea how valuable that could be.

Since I spent most of my career being the sole designer in a situation, and having to constantly explain what that meant - I'm really enjoying the conversations here! I'm getting to think about things I haven't had anyone to talk with about, and the different ideas and perspectives are very stimulating!

Lady of the Lake said...

I am also new to this blog, but glad I found it! Very interesting conversations here!

I took the path to ID through teaching. Got fascinated with computers early on (yeah, I'm old) and went back for Ph.D. in Instructional Technology - had to be talked into the doctoral program, as I never thought that was me. It was, as it turns out, a fantastic program - unlike Brent's, from the sounds of it. Gave me the framework to go any which way I wanted.

I never did become a real techie -- I am definitely best at designing, and depending on others to do the graphic design, programming, etc. I've spent most of my career in academia, although have also done corporate work.

I'm passionate about good teaching -- and that incorporates good design. At the college/university level, faculty aren't taught to do what they do. They need to be an excellent historian, a master chemist -- but there is no requirement to be a fantastic teacher. The skill set isn't the same. So I was a 'bridge' person for many years - the liaison between the techies and the faculty. I found that many times I actually was in a position of teaching the faculty how to teach (they didn't necessarily realize this).

You are right Cammy, in that there are few trained ID folks out there, and most come to this by chance. I retired last year, and was immediately deluged with requests to "come and work for me" -- so I started my own company. Who saw that coming? Not me! A senior designer with lots of experience and good knowledge of the field and I had no idea how valuable that could be.

Since I spent most of my career being the sole designer in a situation, and having to constantly explain what that meant - I'm really enjoying the conversations here! I'm getting to think about things I haven't had anyone to talk with about, and the different ideas and perspectives are very stimulating!

Sonu said...

I started off as a SME to a group of Instructional Designers. 6 months down the line I found the work they did so fascinating that I signed up for a Certificate Program in Instructional Design. A year later I was signed on the same team as an ID.