Tag: Cammy Bean

Broad and Deep Instructional Design Skills

Do instructional designers or learning experience designers need to know how to use development tools, or should they focus just on analysis and design? What about people who only do development but no design; are they instructional designers? How much project management falls under the role of instructional designer? What about LMSs—do instructional designers need to know about those too? Psychology, cognitive science, graphic design, usability, and other fields also overlap with instructional design. The Many Hats of an Instructional Designer game describes us as counselors, performers, users, artists, and problem solvers.

Many of us in the instructional design field struggle to explain to others what we do for a living. I usually say, “I’m an instructional designer; I develop online learning.” I think part of our struggle is that we haven’t agreed even among ourselves what exactly an instructional designer does. The range of roles and responsibilities is pretty wide. Lots of us do a little bit of everything. Nearly 16% of respondents in the eLearning Guild’s 2015 salary report identified their job as “do a lot/little of everything.” Clearly many people do work that doesn’t fit neatly into a single job category.

The core skill for instructional designers is creating learning experiences. I would argue that anyone who isn’t creating learning experiences isn’t an instructional designer; they’re working in a related role. That doesn’t necessarily mean only designing formal learning and courses. Creating job aids or supporting informal learning could be a core task for instructional designers too. However, if your role is taking a storyboard created by someone else and building it in a rapid development tool, you’re not really doing instructional design. I would classify that as elearning development or media development instead.

T-Shaped: ID Skills. On the horizontal bar of a T, broad skills. On the vertical bar of a T, deep skills.

Cammy Bean refers to this as a “T-shaped” skill set in her book The Accidental Instructional Designer (p. 16).

We need broad skills and understanding (the top of the T), with potentially one area of deep expertise (the vertical bar of the T). The horizontal bar enables you to communicate and collaborate with experts across a wide range of disciplines, making you a versatile generalist with a well-rounded point of view. The deep vertical bar makes you a specialist.

I love this idea. It’s a great visual for thinking about how people have different strengths in a field where we all wear a lot of hats. Knowing where you’re strong helps you focus your career. You can work on your weaknesses or gaps in your skills, but you can also emphasize and focus on your strengths. As a freelance ID, I can focus on design and writing, especially writing scenario-based learning. That’s my strength, and it’s where I can differentiate myself from others in the field.

What about you? Does this metaphor resonate for you, or does it not quite fit your role? What do you consider to be the vertical bar in your T?

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12+ Books for Instructional Designers

If you’re looking for some reading to improve your skills or get started in the field of instructional design, check out these books.

ID books

General Instructional Design and E-Learning

Design For How People Learn (now in its second edition) by Julie Dirksen is one of my favorite books in the field. I’ve recommended it many times. It’s easy to read and understand. It makes research about learning accessible in ways you can apply immediately. The illustrations are charming and reinforce the concepts well. Read my review for more details.

The Accidental Instructional Designer by Cammy Bean is especially good for career changers and those who landed in instructional design from other fields. It provides a model for the range of skills that fall under the umbrella of “instructional design.” It includes practical tips on topics such as working with SMEs and avoiding “clicky clicky bling bling” or flashy interactivity and multimedia for the sake of being flashy. The design models in chapter 4 are probably familiar to many with experience in the field but very helpful to beginners who want to do more than just the same type of course and interaction for every situation.

Designing Successful e-Learning by Michael Allen tells you to “Forget What You Know About Instructional Design and Do Something Interesting.” All of Allen’s books are focused on helping people design e-learning that is interactive, engaging, and useful.

e-Learning and the Science of Instruction by Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer is one of the first books on e-learning I bought, and I still refer to it when I need evidence to justify decisions to clients. If you’ve ever wondered if formal or conversational style is better for learning (conversational) or if your on-screen text should replicate what’s on the screen (no, it shouldn’t), this book explains it with the research to back it up. It’s not perfect; the authors do sometimes disregard research that contradicts their own findings, and they sometimes make their principles seem more absolute than they probably are in real life. However, it’s still a solid reference.

First Principles of Instruction: Identifying and Designing Effective, Efficient and Engaging Instructionis David Merrill’s effort to distill the common principles from multiple instructional design theories. A shorter, earlier explanation of these principles is available as a free PDF.

Games and Scenario-Based Learning

The Gamification of Learning and Instruction by Karl Kapp explains how to do more with gamification than just badges and points. Karl summarizes research and game theory and explains how substantive elements of games like narrative can be used to improve learning design. I wrote more about this gamification research previously.

Scenario-based e-Learning by Ruth Clark is similar to eLearning and the Science of Instruction in that it summarizes research findings. This book is specifically focused on developing scenario-based e-learning, including everything from simple branching scenarios to complex simulations.

Learning Communities

Building Online Learning Communities by Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt is aimed more at online instructors than instructional designers, but it’s a wonderful resource for IDs working in higher education or supporting online and blended learning communities.

Digital Habitats: Stewarding Technology for Communities by Etienne Wenger, Nancy White, and John Smith is about how technology can enable communities of practice.

Other Topics

Learning Everywhere by Chad Udell is a fantastic resource on mobile learning, providing everything from a big picture view of broad categories of mobile learning to specific technical considerations and pitfalls. You can read my review of the book for more details.

Show Your Work by Jane Bozarth is full of visuals and explains how to “show your work” by sharing what you’re doing and learning using social tools. The book explains the benefits of creating a culture where people share their processes and discoveries.

Now updated to E-Learning Uncovered: Adobe Captivate 9, which I’m sure is just as good as the last edition. E-Learning Uncovered: Adobe Captivate 8 by Diane Elkins, Desiree Pinder, and Tim Slade sat on my desk for multiple weeks because I used it so often that it wasn’t worth bothering to put it back on the shelf. This book was an immense help to me in learning Captivate 8. I’m sure their other books on Storyline 2, Lectora, etc. are equally valuable.

More Reading Lists

I received so many great suggestions after posting this list that I posted 20+ More Books for Instructional Designers.

If that’s not enough, these reading lists will give you additional ideas.

Your Selections

Did I miss one of your favorite books? Leave a comment with your suggestions.

Stats Review from 2008

I’ve been blogging for just over 2 years now; my first posts were on December 26, 2006. Like many bloggers, I definitely had a slow start: only 44 views in all of January 2007. Now I’m averaging over five times that every day. My numbers aren’t nearly as impressive as someone like Stephen Downes, but I’m not doing this to set records. I’m still quite pleased with the growth I saw in 2008 over my first year of blogging.

Views and Subscribers

Take a look at these comparisons:

  • Total number of views for the year
    • 2007: 16799
    • 2008: 61062
    • That’s 3.6 time more views in 2008
  • Average daily views
    • 2007: 46
    • 2008: 121
  • Highest daily average in a month
    • 2007: 91, in August
    • 2008: 223, in September
Monthly View Statistics
Monthly View Statistics

It’s hard to do a comparison of feed statistics. WordPress quit providing statistics in June of 2007, instead recommending people switch to Feedburner. I’m approaching 300 subscribers on Feedburner now, plus another 200+ on my main WordPress feed. If I could consolidate my subscribers, I’d have over 500. My subscriber numbers have grown a little faster than my views; they don’t seem to dip the same way my views have a couple of times, as you can see in the chart above.

My growth hasn’t been steady, but 2008 was steadier than 2007. Some of the bumps are from external links. June 2007 is when I posted my series on Instructional Design Careers, which generated a link from Don Clark and a lot of great discussion. April 2008 is when I liveblogged the TCC 2008 conference. Stephen Downes linked to me then, and I posted more times in that month than any other month (42 total posts). Since then, I’ve been mostly gaining momentum.

The recent large dip you see in the chart is August 2008, when I only wrote one non-bookmark post. It’s possible there was a problem with tracking that month too, since the numbers seem out of line with the trend. I expect that December dipped because of a combination of less posting and the holidays. The last data point on this chart is January, and since we’re only a few days into the month it’s still pretty low.

Top Posts

My 2008 top posts by views:

  1. One Keyboard and Mouse, Two Computers (4,893)
  2. Instructional Design Skills (4,516)
  3. What does an instructional designer do? (4,306)
  4. Technology Skills for Instructional Designers (2,890)
  5. Telecommute Instructional Design Jobs (2,500)
  6. Getting Into Instructional Design (2,453)
  7. Is Instructional Design the Right Career? (2,315)
  8. Professional Organizations and Career Opportunities (1,569)
  9. New Features in Captivate 3 (1,567)

After that are the pages for Instructional Design Careers and About Me, and the views drop off significantly.

The top post on that list gets a lot of search engine traffic, but no comments. I don’t expect that gets me many long-term readers either. Other than that and the new Captivate features, everything in the top rank by number of views is about instructional design careers. Only 2 of those top 9 posts were written in 2008 (#1 & #5); maybe the more established posts actually have more links to them and therefore rank better in the search engines?

Top Search Engine Terms

These are the top searches which brought people to my blog:

  1. instructional designer (584)
  2. instructional design jobs (276)
  3. instructional design skills (186)
  4. instructional design career (167)
  5. cyber bullying quotes (167)
  6. what is an instructional designer (163)
  7. one keyboard two computers (163)
  8. christy tucker (142)
  9. instructional designer skills (118 )
  10. two computers one keyboard (110)

Many similar phrases turn up too, plus a few interesting ones like “dirty comments,” “ubiquitous learning,” and “birthday reflections.”

Top Referrers

Google Reader and the Google custom home page are the top two referrers to my blog. Pageflakes and the WordPress dashboard also rank highly.

Here’s the top blog posts that send traffic to me. Cammy Bean gets the prize for being on this list twice:

What do the patterns tell me?

  • Lots of people are interested in learning about instructional design as a career. My posts on getting into the field and the skills created an initial bump in traffic and are still getting traffic and comments 18 months later.
  • When I post more regularly, I get more traffic–mostly. Sometimes my traffic still grows even when I don’t write as much as long as what I write is interesting. But, there’s a general correlation between number of posts and views.
  • External links are critical to building traffic, especially early on. Maybe I should be doing more to link to new bloggers myself to pass that traffic along.
  • Search engine traffic is getting to be a bigger driver of traffic for me. I’m not particularly doing anything to optimize my blog for search engines, so I think just writing good content is enough for the kind of traffic I’m getting.

Instructional Design Certificate or Masters Degree

I got a good question via Ask a Question yesterday and would like to hear some other opinions on this issue:

I’m very seriously considering a career change into ID.  (I’ve spent 20 years in various business assignments with the last 8 in IT.) I’m involved in teaching extra-curricular activities to kids and adults in my community.  I very fulfilled when I’m teaching and I’ve come to the conclusion that I want to follow this as a career path.  Having said this, I’m exploring a master’s degree in ID.

I was hoping you would give me your opinion on the topic of graduate certificate vs MS degree.  I’ve narrowed my search down to 2 schools.  1 school offers a grad cert along the way to getting an MS degree while the other is the MS degree on its own.

So the question is… would employers have value someone who has a lot of business experience (including facilitation skills) and only the grad cert or is the MS degree the minimum requirement.  What is your opinion?  (I realize this is going to depend on the company.)

My answer is that you should do the one where you think you will learn more. A certificate from a great program is probably more valuable than a masters degree from a mediocre program (although I expect your choice isn’t as black and white as that). Which program looks more interesting and personally motivating for you?

My other suggestion would be to go with the certificate program because it still gives you the flexibility of continuing on for the masters. Not knowing exactly which programs you’re looking at, I know that Indiana’s Instructional Systems Technology certificate counts as credit towards a masters. So, if you do the certificate and you really feel like you’re learning a lot and would continue to learn more, you could do the second half of the program and do the masters too. If it’s a program like that, you can do the work but still keep your options open.

With universities and other academic institutions, a masters degree might be a requirement. With companies, it’s possible it will open a few doors, but I expect that the certificate would do about the same. Cammy Bean’s small-scale survey shows only about a third of IDs having advanced degrees actually in instructional design. If two-thirds of us (including myself) don’t have a degree, I think it’s hard to argue that the masters is a firm requirement. I don’t think you should focus on the credentials part of the decision as much as looking at what’s going to be the most valuable learning experience and give you the best skills.

So that’s my perspective, as someone without either a certificate or a masters. What do you think? Would you look at a certificate differently from a masters when hiring? Would you push for the masters as the better learning experience?