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Choosing a Grad School

When I first decided to go to graduate school, all I knew is that I wanted an education master’s degree. I didn’t even know that what I was doing was called instructional design (which actually, it wasn’t fully ID, but that’s a different story). I wish I’d known then some of the things I know now about choosing a graduate school and how the skills learned translate to a successful career.

For the record, I graduated to Purdue University’s Master of Science in Education program and it is a top-notch graduate program. I feel like I happened upon a good program instead of knowing what to look for prospectively. Also, keep in mind, I was a newbie to professional instructional design, so my prerequisite theoretical knowledge was minimal.

The program has key focuses which have proven to be essential in my professional experience:

  • Project management: no graduate-level ID program should gloss over this. It is, after all, one of the competencies of a professional instructional designer. My first Master’s degree was in technical project management, so the extra focus was helpful.
  • Pedagogy and ID theory: Offerings you design should be no accident. This is one of the foundations upon which you base your instructional design decisions. It’s important to be able to tell if a situation calls for case-based learning or how to properly form learning objectives.
  • Web-based tools: Many of the tools used, especially in the pandemic world, require virtual collaboration. It’s great to know how to vet these tools and include them in your designs.
  • Systems design: Understanding systems thinking is something that sometimes escapes even seasoned instructional designers, but it is so important. Systems design is especially important if you are leading design of training programs. It helps to not only identify efficiencies and opportunities for communication, but also to think about how does one offering benefit the whole.
  • Evaluation: One of the important tasks of any training practitioner is being able to prove the effectiveness of your training. These courses can teach foundational methods for evaluation, different kinds of evaluation and when to use evaluation.

Graduate school is a huge time and financial commitment. You want to make sure you are getting the biggest bang for your buck. Tell me, what other competencies do you think are important for a graduate program?

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