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Tips for Starting in ID

Often in my readings of online communities, people who are transitioning from one career (usually teaching) to instructional design ask inquire about how to get started in the field. It can be overwhelming switching careers (I’ve done it TWICE!), especially to a hot field like Instructional Design. If I could go back, I’d think about some things differently, although I am very happy with the work that I do. I often reflect on things that I am happy with that led me to my current spot, and things I would have done differently.

Things I would do again:

  1. Focus on a particular industry to gain experience in. Note, I didn’t do this purposely, lol. Academia can be very different than corporate than military. Preparation for working in these various fields is also different.
  2. Find overlaps and commonalities between my previous career (software development) and instructional design. This gave me a very unique perspective about how I approach solving problems. It also helped to expand my tool belt and set me apart from other professions. For example, I discovered how HTML and JavaScript are tools used in e-learning development. My first course, was an HTML5 course.
  3. Work to gain experience. Seek out people who require your services or your apprenticeship so you can boost your skills. In my case, I was fortunate in that I could “test” my skills at my organization.
  4. Formalize my skillset. Note, this isn’t required by everyone. Because I was moving from one field to another, I felt it was necessary to obtain formal education in the field. Although I already had a master’s degree in Computer Information Systems, I needed the background in education that I hadn’t gained yet. Some people may go the route of certifications. I went the route of a degree. You can’t go wrong with either, as long as the skills learned are transferrable. Note, often a degree is much more expensive than a certification.

Things I’d do differently:

  • Try to focus your career goals. This will help determine if prospective jobs are a good fit for you. Are you looking to become more of an e-learning developer or a trainer? The answer to this question can determine which org structure fits your pursuits best. I was asked to build my team. Luckily, I had begun my academic pursuit and had been introduced to professionals in the field with varying experience, so I was able to pick their brains.
  • Create a portfolio. This is a must-have if you are trying to break into many fields, but especially ID. You portfolio should contain not only e-learning coursework you’ve developed, but even things like design documents, storyboards, evaluation instruments you’ve developed, and anything else that shows your understanding of instructional systems design.
  • Don’t box yourself into “academic” thinking. Especially if you choose to work in the corporate sector, your skills in ID and knowledge of adult learning, pedagogy, etc. definitely play a major part in how you complete your work, but the bottom line is your output has to positively impact the bottom line. This is the approach you should take in your work life. Because of this, I realized the importance of evaluation (especially Kirkpatrick), and worked hard to always gather data for everything!

For those of you who have started in ID or worked in ID or training for a while, what tips do you have?

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