Tag: teaching

Adapting Resumes from Teaching to Instructional Design

Current teachers who are looking to make a career change often ask me for advice on how to adapt their resume for instructional design. Teachers already have many relevant skills for instructional design, but they don’t always know how to convey that to employers.

Principles for Adapting Teaching Resumes

    • List writing, lesson planning, and content creation first: Switch the order in which you talk about your skills and accomplishments. Instead of starting with teaching and training (even though those are the skills you use the most), put creating lesson plans and curriculum first. Emphasize all the points about writing over the ones about being in the classroom.
    • Say more about lesson planning and curriculum creation: You can probably reduce how much detail you spend on the actual teaching and focus more on the lesson plan creation. In many respects, it’s more important that you created curriculum and lesson plans to meet objectives and give students opportunities to practice skills. The fact that you then taught those lessons you created is secondary.
    • Use active verbs: Use active verbs to describe how you “designed,” “created,” or “wrote” lesson plans and “developed” curriculum, activities, and handouts.
    • Include objectives and assessment: You may want to include how you wrote objectives and assessed student performance in meeting those objectives.
    • Mention collaborative development: Talk about collaborative work. Committees are OK, but collaborative curriculum design is better if you have that kind of experience.
    • De-emphasize or eliminate course info: If your current resume talks about specific courses you taught, de-emphasize or remove that.
    • Remove or reduce standards: If your current resume mentions specific state or national standards that you are meeting, remove or reduce that. I would remove them for most corporate work, but those standards might be relevant for some highly regulated industries or for higher ed jobs where you need to meet accreditation standards.


Adapting Resumes from Teaching to Instructional Design

Example Revision

As an example, let’s look at how my resume evolved over the years. My summary for my first teaching job was pretty much just a list of what I taught, and therefore not very effective.

Original Version

Music and Band Teacher

  • General Music: Kindergarten, 1st, 3rd, and 5th grades
  • 5th grade Beginner Band and small group lessons
  • Junior High Band
  • High School Band, High School Music Appreciation and High School Pep Band

First, I summarized all of that teaching into a single bullet point.

Revision 1

  • Taught General Music, Band, and Music Appreciation for Kindergarten through High School

Next, I added a bullet point about content I created. The new bullet point comes first

Revision 2

  • Designed curriculum for a pilot high school Music Appreciation class, including readings, review worksheets, quizzes, tests, and group projects for engaged learning
  • Taught General Music, Band, and Music Appreciation for Kindergarten through High School

I followed a similar process for my second teaching position.

Revision 3

Music, Band, and Choir Teacher 2000-2002

  • Developed curriculum in collaboration with other teachers in the Specials team to ensure consistency and alignment with long-term goals
  • Measured student achievement of objectives
  • Revised plans in response to assessment of student understanding
  • Adapted instructional materials to meet varied needs, including learning disabilities
  • Provided technical assistance to fellow teachers using Excel, Word, and PowerPoint
  • Taught General Music, Band, and Chorus classes for 5th through 8th Grade

Music and Band Teacher 1999-2000

  • Designed curriculum for a pilot high school Music Appreciation class, including readings, review worksheets, quizzes, tests, and group projects for engaged learning
  • Taught General Music, Band, and Music Appreciation for Kindergarten through High School

Some of the old versions of my resume listed other skills and tasks performed. Phrases like this might be helpful in resumes as well.

Researched best practices in education to continually improve teaching.

Designed and implemented curriculum for multiple classes for varied age and ability levels.

Assessed student understanding and adapted instructional materials to meet varied needs.

Translated long-term goals into daily objectives

Looking for more info?

First Steps on My Instructional Design Journey

“What do you mean, there’s no textbook? What are we going to teach from?”

It was January of my first year teaching K-12 music and band. The questions came from the choir teacher, Cathy (not her real name).  Cathy had been hired mid-year to replace the previous choir teacher, who resigned over winter break. Cathy was in a state of disbelief. We taught parallel sections of a music appreciation course, but we needed to write the content ourselves. She simply couldn’t fathom it: how could the two of us create not just worksheets and tests, but reading assignments and projects too? How could we create an entire curriculum?

High School Music RoomI admit it; I’d been pretty nervous about it myself at the beginning of the school year. I loved the opportunity to stretch the band students with some music theory and history, but wasn’t quite sure how I’d manage with no textbooks, no curriculum materials, and no budget. This was a pilot course, so I had nothing from the previous teacher to build on either. The choir teacher also had a section of music appreciation, so at least I had someone to collaborate with. However, we needed to write everything from scratch.

Before the school year started, Betty (the first choir teacher–also not her real name) purchased some materials for a unit on rock history. It was too basic for high school students, but it gave us a six-week head start on pulling together more appropriate content for the rest of the year. For first semester, we alternated creating materials for units. I pulled out my jazz history notes from college and wrote an overview, timeline, and bios; Betty built a unit around musicals from her expertise. It consumed a lot of time, especially since we were researching and writing basically everything the students read. After all, we were effectively writing our own mini-textbook. But it was also a lot of fun.

Second semester came around. Betty was gone, and Cathy started teaching. For two weeks, she asked me nearly every day where the textbooks were. I suspect she imagined I was hiding them from her, playing some elaborate prank. Eventually, Cathy decided she wasn’t willing to put in the time to create content herself, even with my help. She purchased a collection of worksheets and taught from those in precise linear order for the rest of the year, never straying from the planned sequence.

I continued creating content on my own for my section of music appreciation. For one of my favorite projects from that course, students planned a virtual orchestra “concert,” including selecting music, determining the order, and writing program notes. The authentic assessment engaged the students more than any other project that year.

That work writing a mini-textbook helped me realize how much I enjoy creating curriculum. It’s similar to the work I do now as an instructional designer. I’m no longer the content expert as I was then; that’s what we have SMEs for. Writing for face-to-face teaching isn’t the same as writing for online, and writing content to teach yourself isn’t the same as writing content for someone else to teach or for self-paced e-learning.

Being forced to create all those learning resources from scratch was part of my journey to becoming an instructional designer, even though I’d never even heard of ID at the time. I’m still researching, writing, and creating, just like I was then, trying to craft great learning experiences. That is the essence of what I do as an instructional designer. And I still think it’s fun.

Image: High School Music Room from Rob Lee’s photostream

Questions about Instructional Design Careers

Last month, a reader named Jackie asked me a number of thoughtful questions about transitioning from teaching K-12 public school to instructional design. She graciously agreed to let me publish some of her questions and my answers here, since I thought others might be in similar positions and share these questions. I have altered a few details to make this more applicable to a general audience, although some questions and answers specifically mention the transition from teaching to ID.


Question mark made of puzzle pieces
Question mark made of puzzle pieces by Horia Varlan, on Flickr. CC-By

Q: Creativity is important to me, both professional and personally.  So though I know it’s impossible to generalize, are you able to speak to what kind of value there is placed on creativity as a designer, both in higher education, and in working with companies or organizations?  After rich collaboration with SMEs and other stakeholders, how much leeway do IDs have?  Are there jobs I should lean toward to which are more open than others?

A: Some jobs certainly offer more creativity than others. I don’t find developing software simulations to be particularly rewarding, for example, because there often isn’t a ton of creativity. When I work with faculty in higher ed, most of the time they are pretty open to creative approaches. I work with a lot of faculty who have no experience with online learning, so they generally are open to my expertise as far as how to use the technology creatively. There are exceptions; some faculty really just want to record lectures, have discussions, and give tests.

With companies, it varies quite a bit. I’ve found companies and organizations that are really interested in doing innovative things with training. For example, one course I wrote last year includes branching video scenarios, where learners watch a video and then make decisions as a “choose your own adventure.” The choices they make affect how people respond and what videos they see next. It was a lot of creative writing and storytelling to put learners in a real context. In general, more conservative industries like banking and insurance tend to value creativity less, and more innovative industries like technology tend to value creativity more.

Workplace Climate and Culture

Q: On a similar note, workplace climate is important to me.  I know that every employer has its own culture, but I am wondering if you have suggestions for finding ID jobs which embrace open, forward-thinking, animated atmospheres. It is admittedly going to be a challenge to go from the warmth of a K-12 environment to something completely corporate, so I am imagining that my inkling to stick to college and university work would probably best meet this need, initially, but I don’t want to assume.

A: Some corporate cultures are actually quite open and welcoming. I’ve found some higher ed environments to be so political as to be strangling. I think with corporate cultures, the size of the company matters quite a bit. A small company can feel like everyone’s family. With a large company, what matters most is your individual manager. I generally find that if my relationship with my direct manager is good, the rest falls into place for me, so I focus on that. A good manager will protect you in a larger organization. You’ll have to think about how to ask questions about organizational culture when you interview to get a feel for whether it’s a fit for you.

Work/Life Balance

Q: As a public school teacher, with the position that I hold, that has become a 24/7 responsibility, and there is zero work-life balance. Having the ability to take care of my health and prioritize the rest of my life is  a critical for me, so I want to make sure that as I explore ID, I am steering myself toward work which will allow me to dig in deep and grow my employer’s students, but which also honors my health and free time. Are there some fields within ID which are known as better or worse than others for offering that balance?

A: I feel like ID in general has better work/life balance than teaching, so just moving to ID already helps. Hourly or contract positions tend to be fairly limited in how many hours you work since companies generally don’t want to pay overtime. Personally, the most out of balance I’ve been was when I was a salaried manager in an organization that rewarded people with no balance in their lives. Emailing at 3 AM was a badge of honor in that organization. It’s one of the reasons I left that and went back to being an individual contributor as an ID. I have had times where for a few months we’re pushing for a project and therefore I’m putting long hours in, but that’s the exception rather than the norm. You certainly can choose to push yourself and get out of balance, but I find the balance much easier with ID than teaching.


Q: To what degree of accountability are designers held regarding whether students learn and perform better?  How are efficacy and performance measured for a designer?

A: I wish I could tell you that there’s a really strong expectation for proving our worth, but it isn’t the case. The reality is that in both higher ed and corporate learning, the most common evaluation is “smile sheets.” If the surveys are good and the feedback from instructors is good, we’re viewed as doing our job well. Managers who are familiar with ID will also review courses and provide feedback.

There is, however, increasing pressure in the corporate world to show ROI. If you start from a business problem, you should be able to show the results of training—increased sales, fewer errors, etc.  Some organizations do evaluate at all four of Kirkpatrick’s levels, and the Success Case Method is another good strategy for evaluating training effectiveness. Those tools are generally underutilized though.

New Trends

Q: With ID growing as a field, are there new nuances or developments you anticipate coming down the pike that are good for me to preemptively know so I am not spinning my wheels, or going in the best direction the fastest?

A: I wouldn’t learn Flash right now. The learning curve is too steep, and within a few years I think most work will be in HTML5. Most Flash e-learning now is done with rapid tools anyway. Usually if the Flash work requires a programmer, there’s a separate team for that.

Mobile learning is certainly a good trend to keep an eye on. I haven’t been asked to do any mobile learning other than very peripheral support, but I think within 5 years I will be doing some. I think mobile learning works best as performance support rather than courses on a tiny screen. Chad Udell’s Learning Everywhere is a good book on this topic, and there’s lots of blogs you can read for free. Check out my review of Udell’s book for more information.

Gamification is a hot trend right now; I’m not sure if it’s going to last. A lot of what passes for “gamification” is really superficial and not very effective, so this trend might fizzle out. That’s a shame, because there’s actually a lot of good that can be done with well-designed games, but I worry that the low-quality work will give the whole field a bad reputation.


Q: I will obviously need to create a portfolio, and I know that it will need to begin with volunteer opportunities.  What is the depth and/or scope of a typical person’s portfolio?  How does one, as an entry level ID, maximize potential for a portfolio that will leverage the best job?

A: If you have 3-4 examples as an entry-level ID, I think that’s fine as a place to start. Show off some of those creative activities you’ve developed. I’d focus on training for adults, such as professional development for other teachers, if possible, unless you’re targeting something like K-12 Inc or another online K-12 provider.

A variety of examples is beneficial, especially when you only have a few. You don’t have to show a full course, just a screenshot or two and an explanation of what problem was solved with your training and how you did it. If you want a job in e-learning, at least one of your examples should be of that type of learning.

Your graduate program should help you build a portfolio, including giving you an opportunity to create realistic examples. If they don’t, you’re wasting your time and money and should pick a different school.

Learning Technology

Q: I learn technology easily, but I have no experience creating with Captivate, Camtasia, Articulate, Flash or any of the authoring tools I have read are most valued in new hires.  What should I be focusing on to learn soonest?  Are online tutorials and websites, in addition to experimentation, the best way to learn these programs, or is it worth paying a heap for courses?

A: You know yourself and your learning style. I’ve mostly learned everything on my own, with the exception of Flash (I had to take a course for that). I’d focus on Captivate and Articulate Storyline first. Captivate has a bigger market share now, but Storyline is growing in demand. Both are fairly easy to learn, and there’s lots of free tutorials and community support. Planning a sample project for your portfolio and building it to get some practice is probably the best route unless you know you personally learn best with formal training.

Salary: Corporate vs. Higher Ed

Q: From what I have seen online, it appears that companies pay more than higher education.  Would you say this is true?

A: You’re right that companies generally pay more than higher ed. University ID jobs are probably more at the $50-60K level than the $60-80K range. Small companies generally pay a little less than big companies, but the culture at a small to mid-sized company might be a better fit for some people. I’ve never had any problem switching between corporate and higher ed culture, and most of the time I do both. I know other people find that one or the other environment works best for them, but I feel like both areas have advantages and drawbacks. I think I’m a better ID because I can work in both and take the best of both when I’m designing.

The eLearning Guild’s salary calculator is a great place to compare baseline numbers across industries.

Getting Contract Work

Q: How difficult is it to get short term contract positions to make extra money?

A: I had lots of trouble getting my very first ID job. It took me a year and 200 applications. However, once I’ve got that first job, I’ve never had much trouble looking for work when I wanted it. I’ve only done extra side projects on top of my full-time job twice in my career. In both cases, they were people who contacted me because of my blog, and not something I was seeking out.

Now that I’m doing freelance, I basically am not doing any marketing other than my blog and being active in groups on LinkedIn. I don’t spend time seeking out clients because I’ve got so many projects that I’m turning work away. I know that isn’t everyone’s experience, but I’m generally finding it harder to keep from getting overbooked and avoid getting my life out of balance than to not find more work when I want it.

Transition from Teaching, Job Searching

Q: Can you shed any light on what you learned the most in your transition from teaching?  What do you know now that you wish you knew then?  What would you do differently?  What is the most important thing that grew you?

A: One practical matter: when you apply for jobs out of state, make sure you say clearly in your cover letter that you’re willing to relocate at your own expense. I didn’t do that, and I know that’s part of why it took me 200 applications before I got my first ID job. People assumed I was looking for a remote position instead of being willing to move.

A lot of what I would do differently is specific to how I did that initial job search—customizing my cover letters more to each company, gearing my resume towards that audience more, etc. I would have created a portfolio earlier than I did: I didn’t actually create one until 2009.

Maybe going back I might have done a master’s degree or certificate early in my career. At this point, it’s debatable whether I’d earn enough more to compensate for what I’d spend in tuition. Only once or twice has my lack of a master’s been a hindrance to me, even working in higher ed. My experience is more important to employers now than the degree. I think I would have learned in a degree program though.

I’ve learned a lot of technology and how to use it to help people learn. I’ve also learned a lot more of actual research on how people learn and how to design learning than I actually saw as a teacher.

What has helped me grow the most has been my blog and interacting with other IDs. Twitter might be more your style; #lrnchat and similar chats are really energizing and good ways to connect with others in the field.  I think using social media and contributing to the conversation (not just lurking) is really valuable.

Your Questions

Do you have other questions about instructional design careers? Ask away in the comments. Do you disagree with any of my answers? I’d love to hear your perspective.

You may also be interested in my other posts about instructional design careers.