Letter To A Young Instructional Designer

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Connected 2023
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Interesting times indeed.

So you have already completed your basic education. Specialized on online learning, multimedia, a Master’s in gamification if you are bold. First the good news: The world needs you more than it ever has. But, you see, the thing is, for vast swaths of the inflexible education space, you are a hard sell.

Millions of educators of all ages continue to stumble with technology and its purported enhancements for the classrooms. Computers, apps, projectors in some cases, are still the bane of the existence of educated veterans who now have no other choice but to rely on EdTech in fundamental ways. Of course it’s not working out. Teachers are scrambling to convert their ordinary classroom experience —minimally changed— with mediocre to little success. While some argue that some level of digital literacy should be expected of a teacher, we never really got around to it. (Just like we never got around to ensure digital literacy, and universal access to broadband, and foolproof food programs for all children.) Schools of all stripes are scrambling, students are noticing and acting out. Refusing to take part. Demanding refunds. Boycotting in explicit ways, as well as more subtle ones. In all likelihood, millions of students will opt for a gap year.

And the reason? They don’t think online learning cuts it.

The downward trend in college enrollment rates will only accelerate, shutting down even more schools and campuses for good. The pretenses under which it’s worth taking on lifelong debt have never been less believable.

Guess what: You are the solution to the majority of these problems

Buried into the massive waves of support, resources and Facebook groups, there is a set of skills, a combination of talent and acute understanding of the need for bridging the world of knowledge with the world of usable and effective interactions. No one but you can assist in the now unavoidable task of building interactive experiences that are meaningful contributors to skill acquisition. Instructional Design is beauty that transcends a pretty interface, and allows for more genuine relationships with knowledge on the part of the student. Just like great design is as little design as possible, great educators know learners are inherently curious, and knowledge is inherently pleasing. Instructional Designers spend part of their job thinking and working on how to get technology —and themselves— out of the way.

But not all educators have the chance to aim for greatness. And now they’re locked into Zoom cells with fake backgrounds, trying their hardest to sail thru with their lesson as if this was only a minor hiccup. (Some backgrounds are pretty funny, thought.) As I was binge-watching Chernobyl and reflecting on the definition of “heroic,” which in the modern world it’s fast becoming synonymous with having no choice but to do your job, I consider the landscape that awaits you as an elearning professional, instructional designer, EdTech consultant and the like.

A generation ago your job did not exist, and I would not dare guess what your job will look like a half a generation from now. Will you seek for duller pastures, as droves of teacher justifiably do year after year? Or will you take it upon yourself to complete the puzzle –because all the pieces are there– and do your part towards effective, worthwhile, engaging, joyful learning experiences? Will you be instrumental in making online learning achieve its full potential and bring people closer to inner subject matter fascination than our parents –mine were both devoted school teachers– never thought possible?

If you will, this is your game plan

1. Stand out with a solutions-based portfolio

If you have no experience whatsoever, make some for yourself! Create rich, high-quality assets that push your skills to the limit. Keep asking yourself:

What kind of work do I want to be known for?

By building detailed and opinionated assets, they will have a higher long-term value, which you will be able to leverage across your online presence.

Build at least 3 projects aiming for a diverse showcase of skills, technologies and your personal insight or “theory of learning.” Make the content as accessible and interactive from every device as possible. Bonus tip: Add a “behind the scenes” video to provide a unique token of authenticity.

2. Write

Just, go ahead and do it. Sit down and don’t get up until you’ve written 500 words as coherently as possible. Do this every day. Elaborate on your vision, your process, your values and ideals as you were developing the items on your portfolio. Aim to become more succinct each day, with sharper and shorter paragraphs. This will become a gift when it comes to turning long reads into tweets and micro-blogging chunks. Only when you feel ready, build positively toned pieces, focus on cool ideas that actually work, and develop content you can place on your blog or popular websites. Ideally both. (Like LMSPulse! You can always send a draft)

3. Build an online media presence

With quality content ready, it will be that much easier to populate a regular stream of:

  • Up-to-date freelancing portfolios on Freelancer or Upwork. (Get highly ranked on relevant tests too.) It’s good practice even if you don’t plan on using these platform. If you do, apply to exciting projects one after the other even if you feel unqualified.
  • Valuable status updates on social media
  • LinkedIn profile with professional-level updates
  • Worthwhile contribution on niche communities, groups and forums
  • Bonus points if you keep your projects up-to-date on GitHub.

You get the idea. There is no excuse not to have evidence in today’s world. And if you have it, there is no reason why you should not shamelessly flaunt it.

4. Cultivate your relationships

At first, you were posting online as proof of evidence. Now, it’s worth trying out how you can leverage your online presence to connect with your future clients, employers, partners or teammates.

It is not that difficult to reorient your machinery to aim towards connecting with people you admire:

  • Build upon their existing portfolio or based on their core ideas.
  • Write a detailed critique —keeping it positive— with just the right dose of flattery.
  • Meet them in their dwelling: Is it Twitter, Reddit, their own blog comments page? Head out there. Check out their podcast, sign up for their webinar and linger at Q&A. (Know the limits, of course.)

5. Instructional Content Marketing

Leverage your presence further by building growth goals. If you already have a personal or freelance business, commit to achieve more material goals: Social stats, leads, conversions.

At this stage, remaining authentic and valuable is more important than ever. If you have gained some experience (or at least know how to solve a problem), get ready to assist others publicly. Over time, you will realize how vast the community of voluntary value creators is around the world. The contributions of the open source community alone are —literally— immeasurable.

What’s next? Hard to say. The future is fuzzy by nature. Which should not mean your values have to be. In a way, every action you make to make yourself more visibly valuable are also ways to answer yourself:

  • What makes me stand out? What is my unique and unmatched combination of strengths, experiences and insight?
  • Why is worth paying attention to me? What payoff can I deliver that is worth some mild nuisances?
  • How can I make online learning a enriching impactful experience to all in my community?

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