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Thursday, May 28, 2015

3 Steps to Becoming an Instructional Designer

I love talking to people in Instructional Design!  We can sit back and chat about experiences and share funny stories about projects that have gone right and terribly WRONG.  It’s nice to have someone who understands what you have to go through especially for those who are a team of one. 

My favorite conversation to have is how you became an Instructional Designer.  Last year I explained my process of becoming an Accidental Instructional Designer.  One of the interesting facets of this career path is that no two people share the same story.  There are however, the same three steps you can take which will help you become more desirable to employers.  Like all other jobs, it boils down to Education, Experience, and Skills.  But what specifically?  Let's talk it out.

Education


People in learning value education, go figure!  The “debate” has been circling around the Internet for some time but the general rule of thumb is that it definitely doesn’t hurt.  It seems like most employers want a Bachelors degree either in Business, Communication, Education or Informational Technology.  Once you get into the Masters level more specialized degrees are available. On top of a degree, both Bachelor and Masters, certifications are available as well.  If you already hold a degree a different disciple then compare your coursework with that of a Instructional Design degree to see where there is gaps.


If you’re not able to continue your education you can invest in professional development courses.  A lot of the associations and guilds for the learning community provide opportunities but I find them to be quite spendy.  If you have the money and ability then by all means sign up for a membership and courses.

Here’s a list of guilds, communities and associations you can join:

If not, good old Lynda.com has some awesome content.  I started paying for a subscription in February and haven’t regretted it yet.  They have tons of videos and avenues for you to explore.  The content is being updated frequently and you can add your certifications directly to your LinkedIn profile. The ones I feel would be the most helpful are based on theories and technology.

Courses on Lynda.com that I recommend:
On the more basic level is reading articles and watching videos that explain different topics in the field. Watch eLearning authoring tutorials and videos from market leaders and  fellow Instructional Designers. Then find some great quality companies that provide helpful content on their blog and check out an article once a day (or 20, I won’t judge).

Blogs I love:
There’s also Twitter chats that happen frequently that you can join.  I’ve found that trying to keep up with these conversations can be mind boggling especially if your using a mobile device.  Go into the first one knowing that you might feel overwhelmed at times and need to find a process that works best for you.  I personally have to be on my laptop and focus all my energy on reading comments and replying.

Here's some hashtags:

#lrnchat
#edchat
#blendchat
#mlearning
#elearning
#gbl (game-based learning)
#edtech

Don't forget to add me into your conversations! https://twitter.com/jvalley0714

Experience


For someone getting into Instructional Design, experience seems to be the hardest category to fill.  While some companies are kind enough to work with people looking to start off after getting their degree or switching fields, the opportunities seem to be fewer and farther in between (then say, ones asking for even 1-3 years of experience). You could start a YouTube channel or blogging to gain experience and knowledge writing and speaking about topics but the best way to gain experience is to work on projects for your portfolio.


An alternative to building up your portfolio is working on short-term projects in your spare time.  Quite often I’ll see companies looking for someone to help with a project that only lasts 3-6 months or work that’s on a project-by-project pay. While that doesn’t seem like the best opportunity for people already in full time positions, with the proper planning and dedication it’s a possibility.  It could also be just enough to get your foot in the door at a company.  You can also offer your services for free to non-profits and look for paid freelance projects on websites like upwork.com and elance.com.

For Instructional Design careers there seems to be three avenues you can choose from; contractor, regular employee and remote worker. I worked as a contractor for the first part of my career and it was a great experience. Most listings will spell out how long the position should last and if there’s a possibly of extensions. Again most of the ones I’ve seen are for 6 months periods but the one I was hired into ended up being over 3 years because of project extensions being renewed. The best place to find these types of jobs are through employment agencies. 

If the company is really interested in having on site learning professionals then you’ll see postings for jobs within their learning or training department.  These offer the same working conditions as any other typical job and if they’re with the right company can provide plenty of learning experiences and growth. Try your normal searching avenues like Indeed and LinkedIn to see what’s in your area.

This field also includes a sector of positions that are remote or telecommute. These jobs will have you working from home on your own personal computer and software or using company provided technology. The requirements seem to be a bit higher with most requiring a Bachelors degree and five or more years of experience.

Skills


To be a great Instructional Designer you need to go be good at applying the principals and theories of Instructional Design (and other relevant fields), be an excellent project manager and be able to successfully create material using any technology required.  The growing trend is for companies to have a training department of one or hire fewer employers who are a jack of all trades.  For this reason you should familiarize yourself with the skills needed in applying principals, theories, and models like ADDIE, hone your project management skills, and work up your knowledge and experience on any technology that may be relevant.  To start with you should have a good understanding of authoring tools and learning management systems, Microsoft Office or equivalent especially PowerPoint and Word, an audio software, a video software and an image manipulation software.

There are plenty of free software’s out there.  As a matter of fact, heres over 350 to get you started: http://jennifervalley.blogspot.com/2015/03/almost-350-free-or-cheaper-tools-and.html


Again, I’d turn to Lynda or Youtube to get you started and certified.  The more projects you work on the higher skill level and expertise you can present. You can even carve a niche by offering advice on a particular product and build up your experience that way.

Still have questions or concerns?  Add me on LinkedIn so we can further the conversation. https://www.linkedin.com/in/jennifervalley0714



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