Monday, June 02, 2014

On becoming an instructional designer

A colleague of mine has identified that she would like to progress her career into instructional design, and I was called in to suggest ways in which she might achieve this goal. So I thought I'd turn it into a post.

Many companies are developing internal learning materials without recourse to an ID, with varying results. But if you're developing third party learning resources for someone else - particularly someone who's going to pay you for it, you'd probably be best advised to have some instructional design skill on your team.

I'm not going to reinvent the wheel, here. The subject has been covered by others, so I'm going to point at some of those.

There are formal qualifications out there that can be obtained: diplomasBachelor's degrees, Master's degrees and beyond.

But I'm not convinced that that's necessarily the best way to go. While I consider it more important to understand learning theories than some appear to do, and acquiring skills is always useful, I think the core of a good instructional designer is an ability to champion the learner/user. The one person who is seldom present in any of the conversations or planning meetings is the person who is going to use the resource after go-live. In my view, the ID's job is to represent that person. And this requires a level of empathy and insight which I don't think can be taught. A person who has this sort of empathy and insight will be able to learn the theory and acquire the skills as they go, and with a useful sense of context from the outset, in my opinion (with which you may differ, of course).

I would expect far more value out of a programme such as the one offered by the Ministry of Instructional Design. The contributors are genuine movers and shakers in the field. I'm not sure if they still run them, but it would be well worth finding out.

I would also suggest making yourself a virtual apprentice of some of the luminaries in the field. there are a few ways of doing this:
  • Participate in something like #lrnchat - a tweet chat for learning professionals
  • Read blog posts such as this one by Cathy Moore and this one by Christy Tucker. Both blog posts contain a fair amount of 'link love', so there's a wealth of information to be mined there.
  • Participate in MOOCs like this one
  • Attend conferences and choose seminars that will help you move towards your goal. There is such a long list of suitable ones, and I'm aware that you may live in a different part of the world from me, so I will resist the temptation to list all the ones that I try/would like to attend.
I hope you find this helpful. It's not meant to be exhaustive, but it should provide a useful 'starter for ten' as the saying goes.

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