Sunday, January 24, 2010

I am an Instructional Designer - This is My Story

Inspired by Cammy Bean’s post.

Caution: Long post. Is wordy and may be boring at places. But this is the story of my professional life. Life is boring at times. But it is always interesting when you write about life after 10 years.
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What did I want to be when I grew up? Honestly…. so many things!

I wanted to be a rock star, a musician, a dancer, a painter, a writer, an editor, and a teacher…all at different ages of my life and sometimes all of these rolled into one! But never did I imagine that I would be an ‘Instructional Designer’.

One of the big reasons for my lack of imagination is that I did not know that a career like this existed! And to add to my limited view of career choices, in my country, we did not have any courses then (and do not even have now) that allow you to graduate in instructional design. Our lack of vision continues…but more on that at another time.

My first encounter with content writing and editing was at school where I edited the school magazine for 2 years. I submitted many of my own poems for the magazine to compensate for the lack of participation from others. This meant that I had to write poems at a regular frequency and soon developed an appreciation for the ‘written word’ and writing in general. My home was always full of books owing to my father’s interest in reading. My interest in books and all things that help us ‘learn’ started early. Books became my friends.

After school, the difficult period began. Since I did not want to be a doctor, engineer, or a lawyer (what my parents thought I should be) or be a botany, zoology, or microbiology graduate (typical ‘girly’ subjects then), I decided to do something vocational. I joined Bachelor of Home Sciences (another girly course – for the obvious reasons –though my reasons were different). I am still surprised I joined the course – what with my utter lack of homeliness and no interest to be ‘homely’ either! I was a bright student and one with the toppers but I think I studied yet completely ignored the first two years (all about science and home). My carrot in this course was a chance to specialise in Community Resource Management in my final year. I waited for 2 years to ‘breathe again’ in my third and final year. The third year was all about consumerism, mass media, and management of resources – mind, time, and money. That is how close I ever went to formally learning about how to communicate with the public at large. I loved it!


My brush with management and the growing curiosity about the resource of ‘mind’ led me to enrol in a 2-year Post Graduate Management course. I went on to specialise in Marketing and Human Resource Management. With all my management studies and an increased confidence and practical view of life, fortunately (I can say that now), I landed my first job that of a content writer and within the first 6 months moved on to become a manager of content writers! Why I applied for the post is another mystery. The ad said they wanted writers without informing much about the kind of writing etc. I knew I could write so I applied. Rest is history – literally!

I learnt about instructional design on the job. I had the right environment - some wonderful mentors and being fortunate to be working in the largest training company. Along with working on client projects, very early in my career, I was asked to conduct instructional design-related training for budding writers joining our team, our division, and then our company. I started as a substitute trainer for some of the trainers who were not available at the time of the training. Slowly, the trainers did not need to be available anymore. I found my calling and took to training like a fish takes to water.


I think I learnt everything I know by:
- being asked to train others
- being given ‘challenging’ projects
- the trust and faith that my supervisors had in me

To feel less vulnerable, I opened my communication channels with my mentors trying to discuss the best way possible and finding the best possible solution.

To overcome the fear of being asked a difficult question by new hires or experienced folks, I read voraciously and built my own understanding of instructional design and all things related.
To avoid making mistakes others had made, I was always over-prepared and over-anxious.
To always be sure of everything I said to others, I tried things myself before making others learn it.

So it was all about learning and doing and making mistakes and learning! Soon, 10 years passed and here I was –doing needs analysis, curriculum analysis and design, course analysis and design, development, and training delivery without any fancy degrees on my card but by enjoying several positions in the area. By the way, my first ‘job’ lasted 10 years… with the same company. I did get a chance to pack a lot of experience and take up several positions in instructional design and learning.

Here I am now. I am walking a different path and have become an independent learning specialist. My work and approach remains the same. I am still learning and doing. I am making mistakes and experience continues to be my biggest teacher. Books are still my best friends. I read far more today. I blog, I tweet, I network. Instructional design and learning is my expertise and training delivery is my forte. I continue to be over-prepared and over-anxious! I think it helps! :)

10 comments:

  1. Very nice. I'm happy that there's lot of people who continue to help evolve the Elearning
    approach, many doors have opened to reach people's academic goal.

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  2. Good to know your story.

    I started with the print media, moved to the television, animation, web content and finally I am with the eLearning industry and I am happy to be here as I have traversed the New media path to understand the potential of the ELearning Industry.

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  3. @Kris and @Surekha - Thanks for your comments. Although we never thought we'd be associated with the learning industry, I am glad that we are. And by being here, we are getting a chance to make a positive impact on many lives. I feel empowered.

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  4. Hey Taruna, that's so well-written. Nice to know your story, could relate to a lot of what you've written. It still amazes me that even today people stumble into this profession by accident. Guess that's what makes us - the ID professionals such a passionate lot!

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  5. Thanks Geeta. Yes, I stumbled into this field. But that was the only accident. What followed was ‘by design’!

    At this time, I recall a quote by Michael Josephson - "Living a life that matters doesn't happen by accident. It's not a matter of circumstance, but of choice... Choose to live a life that matters."

    I am glad I did.

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  6. Hey TG! Felt very nice reading this. Your passion for learning and e-learning is very evident. So is the fact that you have successfully passed this on to countless people!

    After the disclaimer, I expected more though. :-)

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  7. Hi Taruna, I read your blog after a long time today. As always, it was a pleasure.

    I have a question that has been on my mind for some time (not necessarily in context of this article). Is it that a good ‘trainer’ will necessarily be good at instructional design and/or someone who is good at instructional design will make a good trainer?

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  8. @Sri - Thanks for your comment. I am glad you liked my blog. :)

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  9. @ Deepti - You have a thoughtful question. I think good trainers know what it takes to make the learning event successful for the learners. That's what makes them good! In that sense, yes they apply the principles of instructional design (knowingly or unknowingly). But all good instructional designers need not be good trainers. In my opinion, it takes far more to train than just knowing the principles. Good trainers are able to engage their learners by making a personal connect. Many ‘soft’ skills come into play within any learning event – communication, confidence, empathy, listening skills, patience, ability to give and receive feedback, willingness and adaptability to change, and openness to learn. If a trainer has a certificate in instructional design; has designed the training considering the best of theories and principles but s/he doesn’t have the qualities listed above, s/he can't be a successful trainer. Of course, this is my personal opinion! :)

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  10. Hmm..i quite like your opinion :). I can now relate to the fact that in sessions where trainers use role plays, examples, mnemonics, exercises, fair out better and more effective than plain 'gyan' types sessions. Thanks Taruna, you helped me settle with a big Q on my mind. I consider myself a very average ID (feel more inclined towards technical writing) but have more often than not received a decent feedback for my sessions. So was wondering if there is a connect between the two.

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