On LinkedIn, I was asked: “I would like to ask sir, how can I be a world-class educational technologist?” And I thought that was a very interesting question. (Of course, my immediate response should be “how should I know?” ;) But I thought I’d do a bit better. So here’s a recast of my response.
First, I get requests about how to get started as an instructional designer (particularly offers to come work for me). And, well, I’m an independent consultant, and just haven’t been a business builder. But I want to respond helpfully, and it’s one of those things that happen enough that I have this canned response:
If you want a bootstrap, working volunteer for a not-for-profit (NFP) foundation is a good step if you can. Areas of specialization? Depends on what you like: kids – K12 or NFP, higher ed, adult – organizational L&D. They differ. As to skills, make sure you know the major authoring tools, e.g. Lectora, Captivate, and/or Storyline. And of course have some background in instructional design/learning science. If you haven’t covered performance consulting, look into it so you don’t design a course when there’s a better/simpler solution. Make sure you have a portfolio of work. Good luck!
In this case, I also pointed him to a previous post, where I’d outlined some roles for learning experience design.
Then, thinking at the bigger scale of not just getting going as a new ID, but persisting, I added this:
Overall, you have to have the passion, it’s a long road. Have a good understanding of learning science, a fundamental grasp of technology, a mind for both design and process, and then put it to work doing real projects! Continue to read, reflect, and then as you start getting your mind around it, start sharing your thinking and get feedback (and listen to it!). Start local, work outward to sharing regionally, nationally, and internationally. If you learn, adapt and improve, and persist, you can get there.
I think that’s the path to improvement, regardless. In short. There’s more: I have just finished reading Eric Barker’s Barking Up the Wrong Tree (affiliate link); thanks to an ATD Sacramento event attendee, and found it having very interesting recommendations. Things like setting goals, giving, getting mentored, and more.
I think aiming to be a world-class educational technologist is a noble goal. Even if you don’t succeed, you’re liable to be better than if you just go through the motions. Now, I’m sure you’ve found things I’ve missed, so have at it!
Out of curiosity, do you think it’s better to be a specialist in a particular authoring tool or to be familiar with each of the Big Three?
I ask hoping beyond hope that you say the former because I have zero interest in Adobe’s horrid UI! It’s astounding to me that they’ve survived so long with the extreme learning curve that their software requires. Not to hijack this into a different direction, but that’s always bothered me about Adobe CS and related programs.
A very separate question: How do you know when you’re on to something novel vs. reinventing the wheel? It feels like it’s hard to find – our area is so specialized that mass sharing of ideas is limited to just a few outlets, and not everyone participates.
Interesting questions! I think if you know one, you can learn another easily, but being a master of one, particularly one you prefer, would be my recommendation. And I have heard that Adobe’s harder to learn, albeit potentially more powerful. Still, I might prefer the tool that is the core focus of the company. And there are things to be said for some of the other tools, I reckon. I know folks like iSpring, for instance, and have heard happy users of Knowbly. Again, mostly about what makes sense where you are, where you want to go, but also if you know one you’re likely to be able to pick up another easily.
As to novel vs reinventing the wheel: it takes research to see. HCI used to be a difficult field to track, because it had people from CS, and psych, and graphic design, and…all doing things and writing in separate places. Learning tech is the same way, you get tech folks, and ed folks, and learning folks, and…K12, higher ed, and corp, and…and it’s hard to find what folks are paying attention to in other areas. As a colleague with more experience than me once opined, it’s all be done before (going back to the Plato system in the 60s). Probably several times! Yet, there’s also something to be said for the right time. I have had many of my ideas, and some of others, presented and ignored. Then, at some later point, often years later, it’s suddenly the greatest thing ever seen! If you’ve got a good idea, keep pushing until you find a place to get some traction, and then document the outcomes.
Good thoughts. So, if I can extrapolate a bit on the second point, would you say that action research would be a key practice for an L&D professional who has ideas?
I am a strong proponent of action research, so the short answer is ‘yes’ ;). That said, I also note that innovation is not just a good idea, but putting it into practice and achieving improved results. So, double ‘yes’. I argue strongly that L&D needs to lead the way in taking ownership of ‘safety’, and smart experimentation (e.g. you know what you’ll do with the result, yay or nay). Once it’s working in L&D, you can be a credible ambassador to the rest of the org. And that shift, from dumping content, thru creating transformative experiences, to being the catalyst for organizational innovation, is what I see as the potential bright future for L&D. (extrapolating a bit ;).