One of the recurring questions I hear from those trying to start their instructional design careers is “How do you get experience in the field so you can get your first ID job?”
It feels like a catch-22 for many people trying to get that first ID job: you can’t get any experience until you get a job, and you can’t get a job without experience. For people with a masters degree or certificate, it’s less challenging, especially for those who built portfolios as part of their educational programs. But what about teachers, trainers, or technical writers who are learning on their own and want to demonstrate how their existing skills can transfer to ID? If you’re someone looking to transition from another field into instructional design, what do you create for your portfolio to prove your skills?
One common recommendation is look for volunteer work to get some experience before getting your first job. That’s general advice that would apply to pretty much any field, but it’s especially helpful if you’re looking for an authentic project to create. If you can find a nonprofit organization with a cause you care about it would be a win-win for everyone. You get some experience and a project for your portfolio; a nonprofit gets some free content to further their cause. Local historical societies, museums, or unemployment services offices may be interested in your volunteer work, as might an open source project looking to educate people about their application. Sites like OER Commons and e-learningforkids.org accept content, so you could create something and have it used by real people.
The LINGOs Global Giveback Competition has been another option I’ve often recommended in the past. This is an annual competition for learning in non-governmental organizations. They’re always looking for volunteer instructional designers.
Update 1/17/2014: The goal of Designers for Learning is to pair instructional design students with non-profits who need their skills. This organization is currently running a pilot program, but it’s a promising idea since so many students need experience with real projects.
Update 12/6/2015: KeelWorks has opportunities for volunteer interns. These are part time positions that can generally be done from anywhere.
Update 5/24/2016: If you’re mostly looking for ways to build your portfolio, the weekly E-Learning Heroes Challenges are a good place for inspiration. Sharing your work in that community can also earn recognition from your peers.
If you have recently started as an instructional designer, especially if you switched from teaching/training/another field, how did you prove your skills? If you hire instructional designers, what kind of work from candidates has impressed you? Do you know of any organizations looking for volunteers?