What does it take to become a better instructional designer?
A quick internet search results in page after page of articles with a wealth of tips, steps, and resources to help you sharpen your skills. All this knowledge is extremely helpful but it may also produce choice overload. Too many choices is often as bad as too few choices. Think of it like a trip to the grocery store. Looking for a jar of peanut butter is no simple task when you have over 20 choices in front of you. You want to make the healthiest choice for you family, but how can you sift through so many products that all claim to be the best? So, you read the labels, look up reviews on your smartphone, compare prices, and try to remember which brands your friends use all in an attempt to select a healthy jar of peanut butter. Why? Choice overload.
At this point you may be wondering why I’m adding yet another choice to this discussion. The answer is simple: my post doesn’t claim to have all the answers or really any answers. My goal is to share my experience as a fledgling ID in the hopes that someone finds encouragement in their journey.
What I’ve Learned
My experience includes working as a nonprofit training and development specialist, training director, and as an instructional designer in higher education. Additionally, I’m almost finished with my IDTE master’s program at Samford University (3 classes to go!). Basically, I could be considered something between a novice to early intermediate designer. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
- I don’t know as much as I thought I knew. I’ll admit that as I began my Master’s program, I thought my previous and current experience as an ID would possibly give me a leg-up in my studies. It wasn’t that I thought I knew it all and would breeze through the courses, but I did think I possessed knowledge that would make my journey easier. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to learn and grow as an ID but I think my idea of what really went on in instructional design was incomplete. As we’ve moved through the courses, this manifests in a struggle to see beyond my past work, and the bad habits I’ve developed over the years.
- Team work makes the dream work. One thing that has helped me and my master’s cohort has been collaboration. During the first semester, we created a cohort Slack channel to support, encourage, and build friendships; especially since we’re in a fully online program. I’d used Slack in several previous jobs, but didn’t realize how much it helped us all grow as a team. Every day I awaken to find my cohort fellows online and ready to chat. We discuss our frustrations, discouragements, share resources, encourage each other, and a few funny memes. Whether you’re pursuing a degree, working in education or a corporate setting, or freelancing, connecting with other designers is a key element as you grow.
- Keep everything. Articles, conference notes, your ideas and reflections…save them all. If you’re in a degree program, by all means, save everything your instructors share! Their experience, insights, knowledge, and feedback are a goldmine. I’ve used iBooks author to create books from each of my courses. Each contain:
- Instructor content
- assigned readings
- my own work with the instructor’s feedback
- Take an online class; teach an online class. Experiencing each role really helps you understand course design from all angles. Seeing the process from their point of view builds empathy into your own design strategy and work with SMEs.
- Read, read, read. Books, blogs, papers, and more help us hone our craft. Here’s a few of my favorites:
eLearning Industry blog – https://elearningindustry.com/
ATD Blog – https://www.td.org/atd-blogs
Shift eLearning – https://www.shiftelearning.com/home
eLearning Brothers – https://elearningbrothers.com/
Cathy Moore – http://blog.cathy-moore.com
Inside Higher Ed – https://www.insidehighered.com/
Articulate Blog – https://blogs.articulate.com
Understanding by Design by Gary Wiggins and Jay McTighe
Creating Significant Learning by Dee Fink
Design for How People Learn by Julie Dirksen
Your list may be similar or different from mine but both are important. Learning from our mistakes is just as important as learning from success. I love this quote from Ellen DeGeneres,
“When you take risks you learn that there will be times when you succeed and there will be times when you fail, and both are equally important.” – Ellen DeGeneres
For me, this is crucial for those working in a design field. At the end of the day, innovation and creativity demand both elements. This is how I’ve grown and will continue to grow as an ID: listening, learning from others, practicing empathy, reading, and staying the course.