Best and Worst ID Projects

What are your most successful and least successful ID projects? Two graduate students have asked me this in interviews, and it’s a good question for reflection.

Most Successful

One of my favorite courses was an online graduate course on cultural competence for K-12 teachers. The evaluation for that course asked if it was a “transformative” experience for students. I knew I was setting a high bar when I wrote the evaluation, and I expected that most students would say that they learned from the course but that it didn’t really transform their teaching. However, about two thirds of the students said this course was truly transformative; it made them completely rethink their approach to teaching.

It was a challenging course, and it really pushed people out of their comfort zones. That’s where the real learning happens regarding diversity though. We used storytelling successfully in that course to bring the theory to life and help people make emotional connections. Students also told many of their own stories and shared experiences in the discussion forums. I consider this one of my most successful projects because it really inspired people to change.

Screenshot from the diversity course

Part of a story used to teach identity development in the cultural competence course

Least Successful

One of my very first freelance projects was not successful, although it was an excellent learning experience for me. I made a number of mistakes that I now know to avoid. It was a subcontracted project, but I didn’t have a detailed Statement of Work (Mistake #1). I briefly discussed a scenario-based approach with the owner of the contracting company, and I thought he understood what I planned (Mistake #2). The client reviewed and approved the storyboard, but the owner never looked at anything until I had the full Captivate course completed. I didn’t make sure I got sign-offs from the owner at each stage (Mistake #3).

He was aghast that I hadn’t created a traditional “click next” page turner course and demanded (in all caps) that I scrap everything and completely recreate the whole course over a weekend. Since I couldn’t complete that amount of work in his time frame, I offered to either do a smaller revision over the weekend or a full revision in two weeks. He wouldn’t accept that his demand was impossible, so I didn’t get paid for the rest of the project. I know now to have better agreements in place, especially regarding reviews and revisions. If the owner had reviewed the course at the storyboard stage or we’d had a better definition of the course in the agreement, I’m sure we could have come up with a solution that worked for everyone.

Your Best and Worst?

What are your best and worst ID projects? What have you learned from those experiences?

Tips for Starting to Freelance

In August, I quit my job as a long-term contractor at Cisco to officially make the leap to freelancing. I did some side projects earlier in the year, but not enough to replace my full-time income. I want to share my experiences and tips from these first three months as an independent contractor for anyone else thinking about making this change.

Man leaping between two rocks

Get a Project First

If you’re currently working, don’t quit until you have a project lined up. Obviously, not everyone has this luxury, but if you do, stay put until you’ve signed an agreement with a new client. In my case, I had been talking with a potential client for several months before a project finally came up that was big enough to justify quitting my job.

Put Money in Savings

This is hardly unique advice from me, as I received it from several people myself, but save up money before you start. You need a cushion in the bank to cover expenses when you’re getting started. Many clients have a 30-60 day lag before you get paid, so even if you have billable hours from day 1, it may still be two months before you get a check.

As with the previous tip, I know not everyone is in as fortunate a position as I was. If you are working currently though, and are thinking about moving to freelance, start saving now. I’d been considering this switch for over a year, so we had 6+ months of living expenses saved before I left Cisco. That has significantly reduced my stress levels.

Be Ready for Delays

I’ve experienced a lot of “hurry up and wait” with clients. I finally get a PO signed, but then the SME isn’t available. The design document is approved, but the rest of the project is held up

When I quit my full time job, I had a big project lined up, one that would easily cover my expenses and keep me working pretty much full time for two months. I figured I didn’t need to work too much at getting other clients right away since I’d be too busy with this big project to do anything else anyway. Then most of the work got pushed back from August to October, and I was caught off guard. Fortunately, as noted above, my husband and I had money in savings to cover some slow weeks, but I wasn’t expecting the amount of delays I’ve had. In hindsight, I wish I’d gotten other clients lined up sooner. On the other hand, I took the slow time to build my business website, set up an LLC, meet with a CPA, etc., and it was nice to have the down time to address those details.

Multiple Income Streams

One independent contractor I know has talked about never wanting to be “owned” by a single company again after a less-than-wonderful experience as a salaried employee. Michele Martin made this great observation a few weeks ago: “Would you rely on a single company’s stock for your retirement fund? Why, then, do you rely on a single organization for your salary? … Strength and security is found in diversity, not homogeneity.”

Part of my mistake with not being ready for delays was still relying on one particular client for my work, then scrambling to find something else to fill the time when the project was postponed. Now I know there will be delays and slow periods, so I’m building up clients so I’m not so beholden to one organization or another. I’m not quite where I want to be yet, but I’m getting there.

Professional Liability Insurance

One thing I didn’t initially realize I needed is professional liability and errors and omissions (E&O) insurance. A few clients have asked about it though, so I’m getting prices now and plan to have it soon. Other people I’d talked to about freelancing had mentioned setting up an LLC, getting a privilege license for the town where I live, and so on, but nobody talked about the insurance. I’m not sure if many people don’t get it, or if everyone I talked to just assumed I already knew about it.

Build a Network with Social Media

Most of the clients and potential clients I’m working with are people I connected with through social media. In a single two-week period in October, 10 different people contacted me about potential instructional design contracts, and 6 of those found me through either my blog or LinkedIn. The typical path people take is searching for a phrase like “instructional designer” on Google, finding a post like What Does an Instructional Designer Do?, and then visiting my business site or portfolio. It’s too soon for me to know what else I may have to do for marketing in the future, but so far, my blog is definitely working as a marketing and networking tool.

Your Tips?

I got some good tips and resources from several people when I asked previously about getting started as a freelance instructional designer. Those of you who have made this leap yourself, or are thinking about it, what other tips do you have?

Image credit: Leap by tricky ™

The New Learning Architect

These are my live blogged notes from Clive Shepard’s presentation titled The New Learning Architect, part of the eLearning Guild’s Thought Leaders Webinar Series. Clive’s book of the same title is available for purchase if you have a Kindle (which I don’t, so I haven’t read the book). (Update 10/16/11: Clive pointed out in the comments below that the book is also available in paperback.)  Additional information and excerpts from the book are available on the Onlignment site. Any typos, mistakes, incomplete thoughts, etc. are mine, not the presenter’s. My side comments in italics.
Clive saw too much “us vs. them” with people supporting traditional vs. new learning methods. This book looks at how to bring those strategies together.

We are born as learning machines. Simplest learning model is just doing things; automatically as we do things, we learn unconsciously. With conscious effort (reflecting, observing, experimenting), we learn more. Doing – learning – doing – learning

Who/what contributes to learning? Model, inform, facilitate, support

  • Teachers, coaches, facilitators, etc. can facilitate this conscious learning.
  • Peers–we have tended to not acknowledge this much
  • Info/Content
  • Experts

Poll questions about how we learned when we first started in our current field, how we learned when we last switched jobs, how we learned a completely new sport/hobby.

People starting in a new field had fairly even split across options (formal learning, coaching, peers, JIT info, experience). Switching jobs was more experience and JIT info. New sport/hobby was heavily for expert/coach.

The point is that how we learn ourselves depends on the situation. We can’t just make generalizations about a single method being right in all situations.

Four Contexts

  • Formal: Learning to do something. Just in case, all the trimmings
  • Non-formal: Learning to (just in case, easy does it) (Coaching, OJT, podcasts, etc.)
  • On demand: Learning to (just in time and just enough)
  • Experiential: Learning from (doing and reflecting)

Two perspectives

  • Top down: organizations need employees to perform, managers decide what needs to be learned
  • Bottom up: employees want to perform. People take more responsibility for their learning than in the past

What employees need for bottom up learning to thrive:

  • Motive (may be intrinsic motivation b/c we want to learn, but may be external rewards or other reasons)
  • Means (access to tools, resources; having skills needed)
  • Opportunity (have to have time to do it; need authority or right to do it)

Great table with examples in each of the four contexts, bottom up and top down, but too much for me to capture here. (Update 10/16/11: The table of the four contexts is available on the Onlignment site.)

What can we do to support experiential learning

  • Systematic job rotation
  • Enrichment projects
  • Performance appraisals (when not used to abuse people)

Employees can engage in formal learning on their own; they can choose to take formal classes. That’s bottom-up formal learning

On demand: we can’t possibly provide everything that people need, so giving people opportunity and confident to use tools like search, wiki, forums, is important

Bottom up experiential learning: personal reflection, reflecting with others, blogging, getting a life

Example: Traffic wardens. This group doesn’t have much career advancement and not much motivation to learn, so not much experiential learning. More formal learning (like compliance training)

Example: Software engineers. This group has more discretion in time, works from home sometimes, much more opportunity for experiential learning. We may not need to provide too much structure, but support and permission, opportunities to practice are important. This is a different kind of architecture.

Consider the organizational goals and the individual learning population. Given those goals, assess priorities for the learning contexts. Get the right balance between top-down and bottom-up learning.

What is a learning architect?

  • Not a learning builder (at least not necessarily–one person might have both roles)
  • More of a consulting role
  • Can’t just be one because you call yourself that
  • Take responsibility to do more of this, not just what your clients say they want. You wouldn’t go to the doctor and say “I’ve done all the research online, just write me a prescription.” Need to make the client aware that you know more about learning than they do and you can make recommendations they wouldn’t think of

Question: How does learning architect interface with instructional designer?
Answer: Design happens at multiple levels. Finding the right balance for tools is the architect, but specific details are the instructional designer. All aspects of the same role, but broadening the responsibility

Question: Does the job market have the option for learning architect?
Answer: The job market may not have that formal title, but if you’re responsible for all the ways a group learns, this is the learning architect. Title might be learning consultant

Image credit: Blueprint by square(tea)

Getting Started as a Freelance Instructional Designer

Open for businessIf you are starting out as a freelance instructional designer or consultant, what do you need to know and do?

I am currently exploring my options for freelance work. I know many of you out there have made the leap from regular employee to consultant. I’m interested in any words of wisdom you might have. Do you have any favorite resources or books? Are there any lessons learned or great tips for the transition?

I have found a few resources already:

Please pardon the following blatant self-promotion.

My current contract is scheduled to complete at the end of July, so I am looking for projects starting in August. I have several leads right now, but if you have or know of any projects starting in August or later, I’d appreciate you keeping me in mind.

Update 12/4/2011: Now that I have made the leap, I’ve posted a few tips for making the transition to freelance.

Image Credit:

Building an open source business by opensourceway

2009 Review

Happy New Year

It’s time for that annual ritual of looking back at the year. Unlike last year, this year I’m actually reviewing before the new year starts.

What did I do this year? A few things come to mind.

  • In January, we officially launched Sakai as our LMS, marking the end of a long process of choosing the right system and converting all our courses.
  • In April, I presented with my colleagues at the TCC conference on our LMS selection and implementation process.
  • In June, I found out that my job situation was not especially secure. Not coincidentally, June was the month I finally put together a portfolio of my work.
  • In July, my column on using wikis for ID process documentation was published in the eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions magazine–my first official published article.
  • In August, my husband and I closed on our first house. No more renting!
  • In December, I started a new job. It’s been a somewhat slow start, as I had no computer for the first two weeks, but hopefully I’ll have some more to write about soon.

These are my top posts according to the social signals measured by eLearning Learning:

  1. Blogging in a Walled Garden
  2. Why a Wiki?
  3. Google Wave in 10 Minutes
  4. Sakai 3 Development Process
  5. Google Wonder Wheel & Other Search Options
  6. TCC09: Podcasting with Section 508
  7. TCC09: Digital Storytelling in a Web 2.0 World
  8. LearnTrends: Microlearning
  9. LearnTrends: Personal Knowledge Management
  10. CCK09: Connectivism and Constructivism

If I was looking for evidence that live blogging during conferences and webinars provides value, I think this sums it up quite nicely. Half of my top posts by this measure are notes from presentations I attended.

By the number of views, my top posts are mostly related to instructional design careers. The posts from my original series on instructional design skills and how to get started in the field are still some of the most popular here, even though they are now over two years old. What Does an Instructional Designer Do? ranks pretty highly in the Google search results for “instructional designer,” currently #3 (behind Wikipedia & Indeed).

My top search terms are clearly focused on instructional design (with a bit of traffic to my March 2007 cyberbullying post):

instructional designer 2,148
instructional design jobs 836
instructional design certification 564
cyber bullying quotes 553
cyberbullying quotes 378
what is instructional design 355
what is an instructional designer 341
instructional designers 268
instructional design certificate 253
instructional designer skills 252
instructional design skills 217
what does an instructional designer do 207

Looking at just the numbers, my number of views didn’t increase dramatically in 2009. In 2008, I had about 61,000 total views; this year I had about 79,000. I went from about 160 daily views to 215. Those are respectable numbers; not outstanding, and certainly not enough to make me a big-name blogger or give me delusions of making a full-time living from my blog. But not bad.

I’m happy to see that my number of subscribers has more than doubled though. Figuring out how many RSS subscribers you have on a WordPress blog can be challenging, but adding everything up from my multiple feeds looks like I have over 1000 subscribers. That feels like a more relevant number to me than the number of views on the site. Subscribers are long-term readers, where many of my views are just search engine traffic from people who will never be back. Subscribers are people who have decided my blog provides (at least some) long-term value to them.

I don’t know what the new year will bring, but I’m looking forward to the challenges of 2010. Happy New Year everyone!

Image Credit: cc licensed flickr photo shared by uhhhlaine