The Key to Thriving as an Instructional Designer

Dog sitting in front of laptop with glasses on.

Unpacking What Makes the Best Instructional Designer

Is it the knowledge of theories, methods, or practices? Does having a Ph.D. Degree or several credentials and certifications set you up for success? Some may argue that you need the best soft skills in the industry, and others will tell you that being a great creative writer, project manager, or e-learning authoring tool creator is what makes the best instructional designer.

I believe that all these skills are important, but the question still lingers…what is the x-factor that makes a designer the most attractive and marketable?

Two words can answer this question: Constant upskilling.

Why is Constantly Upskilling Important?

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, once said, “In business, what’s dangerous is not to evolve.” (Fast company, 2010).

This has never rung any truer for the evolving and innovating new tech world we live in.

The field of instructional technology and the learning sciences is quickly advancing, and there is an increased demand for reimagining approaches, shifting innovation, and adaptability to the market. Major changes keep occurring with new technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR), gamification, and micro-credentials emerging and evolving.

The risk of not adapting to these changes could result in a lack of job satisfaction, a lack of credibility, being less valuable to your clients, the design of poor learning experiences, lower earning capacity, and even minimal career advancement opportunities.

A study done by Gallup found that the average salary increased by 8.6 % for American workers who participated in an upskilling program.

How to Upskill

So, what are some things that you can do to upskill constantly? Well, there are several things you can do.

  1. Join communities of learning
    Some of the most popular ones in Instructional Design are the Association for Talent Development (ATD), the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT), the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), Articulate E-Learning Heroes, the E-learning guild, and the e-Learning industry. These communities are filled with a wealth of knowledge and new industry trends.
  2. Follow experts in your field
    Another way to stay up to date is by following and interacting with experts/influencers in the field through YouTube, LinkedIn, and Podcasts. Like you, many Instructional Designers (IDs) face similar challenges like how content is provided, scope creep, and project and stakeholder management. However, you’d be surprised how many ideas you will generate simply by listening, watching, or reading about how other instructional designers have solved these challenges.
  3. Networking
    By networking with people within and outside your field of expertise, you expand your knowledge, positively influence a change in perspective and develop yourself into a thought leader within the ID profession. You can do this by participating in learning design conferences and webinars, reading recommended books (audiobooks), and being open to exploring new topics within the instructional design field and outside the field of ID (technology, marketing, design, data science, art).

Using Upskilling in Your Job

Practicing the skills you’ve learned from upskilling does not have to look a certain way. There could be many different ways you could apply what you are learning. Below are a few examples of how you can use upskilling in your role:

  • Set a goal of which tool/skills you will practice and stick to it.
  • Create a goal of using that tool/skill to build your portfolio.
  • Apply the knowledge you have learned in different environments, not just work. For instance, you can use the new skills you learned in coding to help build an online site where you can host all your favorite recipes. Or you can use micro-learning to build a better Sunday school lesson at church. Be creative and try using the knowledge in different contexts.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes! I have heard it again and again. People that are the best at what they do in their fields made hundreds if not thousands of mistakes and keep on making them. But that does not define them because they keep on learning from them and moving on.
  • Look for coaches and mentors that are great at what you want to learn and learn from them. Don’t limit yourself to just looking for coaches within your field, but explore other fields and apply those practices to ID.
  • Keep on practicing, the skills and tools learned. You will always learn something new that you did not know before.

Being the Best Instructional Designer You Can Be

Being the best you can be as an instructional designer is not a check-the-box mark of how many degrees or certificates you can complete. Neither is it how many methods and theories you know. It is about constantly changing, being curious, and creative, and taking incentives.

Our industry thrives on constant innovation and change, and if we don’t keep up, we will find ourselves missing out on being the best ID version of ourselves.

References

Fast company. (2010). What is Dangerous is not to Evolve. [Video] YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rEW4KFqHZc.

Gallup. (n.d.). The American Upskilling Study: Empowering Workers for the Jobs of Tomorrow. Gallup.com. https://www.gallup.com/analytics/354374/the-american-upskilling-study.aspx.

Armando

Author:
Armando Peña
SENIOR LEARNING DESIGNER

All views expressed are the author’s own and do not represent the opinions of any entity whatsoever which they have been, are now, or will be affiliated.