You Just Never Know: Career Changes

In March of 2013, I took a temporary assignment developing training content for customer service agents. The project involved converting instructor-led training into self-guided online training. After about two weeks in the role, I was convinced that I wanted to formally move onto the learning and development team. At the time, I was a technical Advisor, but I had spent many years in training delivery prior to joining the company.

In just under a year (February, 2014), I had successfully transitioned into a training delivery role at the same company. A year after that (March, 2015), I transitioned into a training development role where I was tasked with creating online and instructor-led training content full time. My target audience was internal and vendor partner managers, and my content typically focussed on operations and software tools trainings. My career was exactly where I thought I wanted it to be. I was creating training products that were innovative and engaging and making a positive impact system-wide. Something I could never do in a classroom with 20 students at a time, or on the phone with one customer at a time.

Nine months passed, and , I decide to enroll in the Learning Technologies graduate program at the University of North Texas in Denton (January 2016). Upon starting the program, I wanted to learn more about instructional design and the technologies that I was using on the job. I also wanted to make sure that if I ever wanted or needed to change companies, I would have the educational credentials needed to remain employable on the open market. In my opinion, this is probably one of the smartest decisions I ever made, given the volatility of today’s job market.

Fortunately, I have not had to leave my company, and I am a mere few weeks away from completing the graduate program. At the same time, my career goals have changed significantly since this time a year ago. In January of 2017, I began working on what appeared to be another online training product teaching our internal and vendor partner senior managers about a new business metric. This small project blossomed into a global project that called for me to be equal parts performance consultant, project manager, and content developer. I soon found myself engaging with leaders at the highest levels of the company, influencing decisions, and creating training for large audiences. During this project, I also advanced from a content development role into a training project management role. And, to top it all off, after delivering my plan to the key stakeholder, I was invited to deliver the training along with a few other subject-matter-experts worldwide.

Secretly, I have always wanted a job that called for international travel and so I was eager to accept the task. I traveled the world for two months delivering training to audiences as big as 150 people in the room at one time. After each delivery, I met with the install team and we modified the training to make it better for the next delivery.  Rumor has it, this was the most successful training initiative of its kind in our company’s history.

While on this project, I began to wonder what my job would be like upon my return. I couldn’t imagine just going back to my cubicle and working independently on one training module at a time. Helping others see the big picture, isolating performance gaps, and offering solutions (that may or may not involve training) was of more interest to me. Furthermore, I really wanted to help others experience the rapid success and growth I had in the short time I have been part of the learning and development team at my company.

When I got back to the office after the worldwide tour, I developed one more training event that I then delivered worldwide with the help of a few subject-matter-experts in each region. This time I delivered all the training in a virtual environment. This required me to deliver the same training sometimes twice a day for three straight weeks, and while it was fun seeing all the managers again, I also realized that full time training delivery is not for me either.

So what’s next? As luck would have it, a new instructional design project management (IDPM) position opened up on my team.  This IDPM role is responsible for developing training content to support our instructor qualification efforts. The IDPM is also responsible for supervising the development of content using a pool of temporary training developers. The IDPM works with the training delivery program manager to identify training needs for skilling internal and vendor partner trainers and training managers. The role combines two things I am both knowledgeable and proficient at, development and delivery. There is also a large performance consultant piece to the role, which also appeals to me. So I applied for and was selected for the position.

The skills I learned about the development process in this program, coupled with my on-the-job experience have more than prepared me for this opportunity. I am equal parts excited and anxious about this new challenge.  I anticipate learning even more in this new role. I am especially interested in learning about building out a curriculum and using the LCMS to manage and distribute the content to others. I also think this role prepares me for my ultimate career goal which is to be a training manager, supporting other training professionals and overseeing the strategic direction of the training efforts for this or some other organization.

You just never know!

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Where O Where Have I been

Several months have passed since I have written on this blog. Where have I been and what was I doing? Let me tell you! In my current role, I am responsible for developing operations training for managers and leaders at all levels of the organization. In August, 2017, my manager asked me to determine how to skill managers on a new efficiency metric. The initial thought was a brief, online, self-guided training (SGT) module was all that learners would need. Little did I know that this SGT would lead to one of the most successful and rewarding professional efforts of my life.

To fully understand the new metric and the needs of the business, I joined a global project team. The primary goal of the project was to introduce the new metric and ensure that senior management knew how to effectively evaluate factors impacting the metric using a root-cause-analysis model. A secondary goal of the project was to help second-level managers translate the metric into behavioral conversations in order to help front-line managers coach employees on the behaviors that most impact business outcomes and customer satisfaction. We did not want managers coaching to a metric (number).

This may not sound like an exciting initiative, but it turned out to be one of the most fun, engaging projects I have worked on. Why? The reasons are many. One of the top reasons was that I was able to develop and deliver instructor-led training for a global audience. I worked with subject-matter experts (SMEs) in the business to create a learner experience that was engaging, interactive, relevant, and supported by senior and executive leadership.

Another reason this training initiative was so successful was that we took time after each delivery to discuss opportunities to get better and then immediately refined the content before delivering again. We also took time to refine the content for regional differences as we traveled the world (U.S., Ireland, Singapore, Tokyo). And finally, the learner response and acknowledgement was overwhelmingly positive.  You don’t believe it was that great, well listen to what others had to say:

  • “Invaluable experience. Donna and team made the 2 full days fly with their engaging way of presenting what is a complex and exciting new direction for how understands what drives our customer experiences.”
  • “A fantastic event. I wish we could have more of this type of interactive training. Donna was amazing! It was a brilliant event! Thank you!”
  • “This was great, Donna did a fantastic job moderating and facilitating the conference. Leadership team did an amazing job in putting all this together. This is a great opportunity and challenge I will begin with my Org.  Thank you for everything.”
  • “All presenters were well prepared, knowledgeable, and entertaining.  Donna Thomas and [name] were especially entertaining for topics that otherwise may be a bit dry.”

So, what did I learn? I learned that how information is presented is just as important as the information itself. I discovered that there is a lot more to creating content for audiences outside the United States than translating from English to another language. I also learned how important it is to take time to get to know your audience and identify their expectations before you design and deliver training. Most importantly, I learned that for others to view me as a credible resource, I had to show subject-matter expertise as the facilitator. Fortunately for me, I was able to develop expertise and communicate with the audience in a way that kept them engaged throughout the training. And, a couple of corny jokes don’t hurt.

The results of this experience have lead me to believe that there is a need for more people like me in the organization. Learning and development professionals who can develop expertise in business software tools, reporting tools, and business practices, then create and deliver training at all levels of the organization. My personal goal is to build this dream team in my current organization and fill a much needed void in the business. Today, our managers are often left to figure things out on there own using SGTs, online resources, and their peers. What they would prefer is for someone they have confidence in to explain and demonstrate, followed by opportunities to gain practice and feedback.

Wish me luck!

I Can See the Finish Line

Three days to go and the finish line is definitely in sight. Somehow, this course has come together and I am putting the final touches on the deliverables. All the key components are in Canvas (minus an assignment or two) and the facilitator guide (job aid) is basically in the can. I have to say, I wasn’t sure if I would finish on time.

What I discovered is that many of the early elements take the longest to build. Once I had each of the weekly lessons built, all the resources located and embedded, and the overall layout of the course in place, I was able to pick up the pace. For the first iteration of this course, I am pleased with the way it turned out. At the same time, I think there is definitely room for improvement; especially as it relates to creating a more interactive online environment.

If I were going to be developing in Canvas on an ongoing basis, I would want to know how to embed animation, how to use third-party widgets to create interactive elements for practice and knowledge checks. I recently viewed some online training created by Niki Case (2017), So that in some ways looks pretty basic, but in actuality it is very engaging and informative. You can check it out here if you like. I would love to be able to include something like this in future content.

So as it stands now, the course is ready to launch to the first pilot group. I could teach the course easily and I believe a brief train-the-trainer session with another instructor to evaluate the course content and to determine what additional information needs to be added to the facilitation guide is all that’s required to take the course into full production.

The biggest awareness I got out of completing this project is that I miss teaching college-level courses and I look forward to the day when I can once again adjunct a class or two at the local community college. In the mean time, I will continue building my development skills in my current job as a corporate training developer.

References

Case, N. (2017). The evolution of trust [animation]. Retrieved from http://ncase.me/trust/

Lessons Learned

The end of the course is fast approaching and as I reflect on lessons learned, I realize that I have a lot of opportunity for growth. My biggest challenge by far is time management; especially when I am actually developing content. I am very particular about how I want the course to look and thy type and quality of information I put in the course. This means that would should take one hour to complete, might take me four. In addition, if I am working on an element of the course development and I think about another way of presenting the information, I stop, do some research and often find myself recreating or redesigning. This is time consuming and slows down the development process significantly.

So what have I done to overcome this challenge? Well, I have tried to input lots of data and tell myself to go back and edit and refine after all the content is in the course. This has helped some, but I am not consistent in doing this. I have a tendency to correct and refine as I go. This is something I will have to continue working on. The same is true on the job. Try as I may to create a draft that is just a draft, I find that I am always trying to deliver final draft quality work the first time out. Amazingly enough, I somehow find a way to get all school and work projects complete on time, but it is with a lot of hard work as I get closer and closer to the deadline. Thankfully, I have had no technical or people difficulties for this project other than a period of time when I was without internet access. It is amazing how dependent we are on the internet to get things done these days.

As I review the content I have completed thus far, I am very pleased with the outcome and I truly believe that students and future instructors will find the course engaging, easy to navigate, informative, and full of tools they can use to create success in all areas of their life. My strengths are in creating quality content using HTML and other software tools. This week I am going to continue trying to work smarter and more efficiently to complete this project on time and at the highest quality level possible.

Time is Not My Friend

It’s week ten and the weeks, hours, and days are passing by much quicker than I like. My goal for this project is to create a 16-week, online course that teaches new and returning college students skills that can help them better succeed in a collegiate environment. The learning theory driving course development is social constructivism. Given this, I want to develop a course that calls for the students to collaborate with one another and also helps students increase their social presence.

While I was working on this course, I soon discovered that Time is not my friend. First of all it’s summertime and while you would think summer Time is fun and friendly with all the social interactions (family reunion, family vacation, weekend excursions, etc.), it turns out that when I engage in summer Time activities, I loose time I would otherwise spend working on course development. The fact that some of the locations I traveled to have no Internet access (even in this day and time) didn’t help either.

In addition to summer Time being unfriendly, work Time is also not a friend of mine.  I work 40+ hours a week managing the development of training content for a large technical company. Since this course started, I have had multiple training projects that I have on-boarded, designed, and developed training for. All this while attending 6-9 meetings a day. As you can imagine, work Time takes up a lot of my time.

So as we draw closer and closer to the end of the semester, I wonder what I can do to get summer Time and work Time to give me a break and allow me to shift my primary focus to completing this project. I have submitted a plan to Time and I am just hoping that Time decides to be my friend for the next couple of weeks as I work to get this project done.

What have I learned from this experience? Don’t go to SUMMER school.

=) donna

 

Development Timelines: Are They Real?

You ask how it feels to work on a professional timeline given that many corporate ID projects last three weeks. My first response was that I am glad I don’t work for a company that only gives me three weeks to complete a project. In my current role, a design project usually last six to eight weeks, which is consistent with the timeline of this course; however, the biggest difference is I don’t have to work alone, learn a new LMS, review other people’s work, and write blog post during the development process.  All of this takes extra time, which is making this project very stressful and I feel pressed for time.

Add to this pressure the that fact that I have to go to work everyday and write content for my employer and it is summer and there are lots of summertime distractions, like holidays and vacations, I would say that working to complete this project in the time allotted is very difficult. But difficult and impossible are two different things. I believe that this can be done and I anticipate delivering a quality final product. And the reality is, I already know that this does not exactly mirror the real world.

In many corporate jobs, there are teams of developers who work together to create training projects. For example, on my development team, we have a project manager who onboards the project, sets the timeline, estimates the level of effort, coordinates and tracks the activities, and reports progress to the stakeholders. We have a lead developer who conducts the needs analysis, develops the design blueprint, creates a design storyboard, and works closely with subject-matter experts. We have a multimedia developer who creates the images and interactive activities for the online content. And, we have supporting content developers who write content based on the lead developer’s design documents. There are editors who edit the content, and operations specialists who upload the content into the LSM and assign the training it to the learners. Even on the smallest project there will be a content developer, multimedia developer, editor, and operations specialists. So I am wondering if working independently on an all-inclusive project like the one for this course is typical in the real world, or do most instructional design developers work collaboratively.  Am I just lucky to work for a company with lots of resources?

As for this week’s revisions, I have not made many.  I am still creating the first draft of the content, much of it outside the LMS. I find it is easier to create content without the distraction of the LMS challenges. That way when I go to build each assignment in Canvas, all the content is complete I just have to figure out the logistics.

How Rough is Rough?

This week I continued to work on inputting course content in Canvas. Progress is slow, but I can already see that the effort put into the design document is paying off. The document keeps me honest and helps me ensure that I have adequately addressed the goals, objectives, purpose, problem, and assessment in the design. As for the learning theory, I naturally design content that follows the social constructivist learning theory and this should be evident to anyone familiar with this learning theory as they review the assignments in the course.

One of the challenges with this course is the fact that it is a pass/fail course. This makes assessment of learning using traditional methods like graded assignments challenging. There will be quizzes for each of the reading assignments for learners to self-assess their understanding; however, there are no rubrics for any of the other assignments. The way I plan to address this is through the use of confidence surveys. A pre-survey and a post-survey will be administered to the learners. This course is designed to be an enrichment course and the goal is for student to feel more prepared for college after taking the course than before.

What continues to make development slow is learning the LMS itself. I am not a fan of text-only content. I like to include images and other multimedia to make the training more engaging. I also like pages that are visually appealing so I tend to spend a lot of time trying to make sure things look good on the page. When I want to add a design element, I have to take time to learn how to do so in Canvas. This is time consuming and slows down the development process. What I need to do is learn to just put all the information in, and then go back and refine my draft. This is not only a challenge for this course, but for how I work in general.

So far, I have created the course, began entering information in the syllabus, created 16 weekly assignment pages. Outside of Canvas I have created most of the lessons ad handouts. My plan is to copy and paste the text into the assignments and attach documents, videos, and other supplemental material for each lesson. I have also started documenting information that I believe should be included in a facilitators guide so that instructors teaching the course for the first time will know how to navigate Canvas and what the expectations are for each assignment.

After reviewing the peer feedback, I can answer the question, “How rough is rough?” I would say very. I have a lot of work left to do with the biggest change being to continue working on the syllabus and making sure the it informs the students why this course is valuable, what they can expect to gain from taking the course, and what the expectations are to pass the course.

Lessons Learned During Design

Developing a course is of course the course of action I wish to take. But just like reading this sentence, even when each individual component is easy, putting the entire process together can be challenging; especially when there is a very tight timeline. I began the process by working on a design document that details the purpose and goals of the course and outlines how the course should be structured.

I have written several course design blueprints for my current employer and other courses. What I have learned is that each client has different expectations, so writing a design document can be different depending on who you are writing for. This can be frustrating at times because there is no “right” way or standard way to developing a design document. Based on the feedback I received in this course, my first draft of the design document was overkill in some areas and under developed in others.  Specific feedback included the following:

  • I outlined the course twice.
  • I used a confusing layout that made it difficult to clearly identify the goals and objectives,
  • My use of titles was confusing at times.
  • The assessment section was deficient.
  • There were spelling errors within the document.

In addition to learning how to improve my own design document, I was able to review a peer’s design document and learn from her as well. What I observed is that when creating content for oneself to deliver, there can be a tendency to provide less details about the purpose of the course because the developer knows what they intend and knows how to carry it out.

After completing the design document, I began developing my course in Canvas. This process is not easy. For me the first challenge is conceptualizing how to take the theory, goals, and intentions of the design document and create a visually engaging product that actually meets the learning objectives inside an LMS.

Why is developing in an LMS so difficult? There are many reasons. One of the primary reasons is that the developer has to first learn how to navigate and use the LMS tool itself. In my current role, I develop online course content in DreamWeaver and use a basic HTML editor to make modifications. I SCORM my content using a tool call Reload Jar and then I upload my content to a CMS. From there a training operations specialists adds it to our company’s LMS. I have very little knowledge of how to use the LMS other than to locate and review a course once it is published.

In this course, I have been tasked with using Canvas to develop and publish course content. I would rate my Canvas skills as basic at best. Therefore, as I add content, I often have to stop and locate how-to information for the feature I am trying to use. Thus far, I have learned how to create a new course, import content, update my file structure, add others to the course, create links, and add pages. The components that I have added so far are working and in the end I believe they will look good and function properly. I am looking forward to delivering the finished product.

What would I do differently next time? I would make sure to allow plenty of time to learn the LMS tool. I would create a sandbox and explore different features and functions within the tool. In Canvas, I am interested in learning how to incorporate the use of third-party tools to add some variety to future courses I may develop.  As far as difficulty creating future courses, I know that it will get easier and easier with each subsequent course I develop in Canvas. I can already see how understanding the LMS can influence the design document by  making it easier to visualize the course in the LMS as you write the design document.

Backward Design: A Novel Way to Design Training

Instructional design is the process of analyzing performance problems, then developing instructional products aimed at resolving the problem through skills development and knowledge transfer (Reiser, 2001a). Strategies to accomplish this goal are known as instructional design models. While there are several popular models, to chose from, I believe most developers have a favored model that the follow. Beginning in the 1960’s, a framework for thinking about instructional design began to germinate (Rieser, 2001b). One of the earliest, and most common models is ADDIE, even though Michael Molenda (2003) reported that he could not find an originating source for ADDIE, and believes it is simply a generic framework for the instructional design process in general. Since then, several other models have evolved. One of these is the backward design model.

The Backward design method was introduced by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (2005) in their book Understanding by Design. This model has been used in the education, manufacturing, and medical fields (Bruce & Doherty, 2011), and is a three-step approach for planning instruction. During the first stage, the goal is to identify the desired outcomes. During the second stage, it is important to determine how you will know the students have achieved the desired results. Then, and only then, during the third stage, do you think about how the content will be delivered and plan instruction. According to Fox & Doherty (2011), the reason to use backward design is to shift the focus from a a specific instructional method to the learning objectives and to increase intentionality. They reason that traditional methods often fall short of solving performance problems because of the their tendency to focus on how the content can be delivered. Backward design overcomes the shortcoming by shifting the focus to the desired result and forcing the developer to be more intentional about the instructional methods used in a backward designed course.

Prior to this assignment, I had not heard of the backward design instructional method. What I like about the model is that it places the focus on what is most important, outcomes. Working in a business environment, I know how important it is to be able to show that training has made an impact toward improving performance and resolving problems. By starting with the objectives and outcomes in mind, I believe it is easier to backwards engineer a viable solution and to gain stakeholder buy-in for innovative ways to deliver training. The development team I work on recently began moving away from using ADDIE toward using SAM due to it SAM’s iterative nature. So these two models are the ones I am most familiar with. I do spend most of my time in the analysis phase trying to understand exactly what the stakeholders want and identify learning objectives, so in many ways I am primed to move toward the backward design approach. I have several training projects in my pipeline for the rest of the fiscal year and I am going to experiment with using the backward design approach on one of them. I am curious to discover how this differs from what I am already doing by heavily focusing on the A in ADDIE.

Although I plan to experiment with the Backward design approach, my intention is to still apply social constructivism theories to the actual design of the instructional methods and learning activities. The difference between an instructional design method and the learning theory is that the instructional design method provides you with a framework by which to approach the development of the training content, while a learning theory provides you with research-based concepts and methods for developing specific learning activities. In my experience, I have found that the focus of the instructional design method is the course developer and the focus of the learning theory is the learner. It is important to differentiate between the two only in terms of developer understanding. Stakeholders do not need to know, and in most cases that I have been involved with, don’t care about the instructional design method or learning theories. What they care about is what is included in the training, how will it be delivered, and how will the learning be evaluated.

Resources

Fox, B. E., & Doherty, J. J. (2011). Design to learn, learn to design: Using backward design for information literacy instruction. Communications in Information Literacy, 5(2), 144-155. Retrieved from https://libproxy.library.unt.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/

Molenda, M. (n.d.). In search of the elusive ADDIE model – molenda_03.pdf. Retrieved April 23, 2016, from http://iptde.boisestate.edu/filedepository.nsf/bf25ab0f47ba5dd785256499006b15a4/693b43c6386707fc872578150059c1f3/$file/molenda_03.pdf

Reiser, R. A. (2001). A history of instructional design and technology: part I: A history of instructional media. Educational Technology Research & Development, 49(1), 53–64. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02504506

Reiser, R. A. (2001). A history of instructional design and technology: part II: A history of instructional design. Educational Technology Research & Development, 49(2), 57–67. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02504928

 

The Art of Documenting Design

An important part of the instructional design process is to document your design plan. However, documenting the vision you have in your mind is not always easy. Your client, stakeholders, funders, and other interested parties need to see the vision in writing in order to determine if the proposed training meets their needs and addresses the specific problem being presented.  Additionally, the completed design document becomes the road map you use during development and keeps you honest throughout the process. It may also be used by other developers who may be contributing to the development of the course.

This week I set out to create a design document for a course designed to teach new college students success skills. My first thought was, “I got this. I am really familiar with the course content and I have designed online courses before so completing this assignment should be easy.”  The reality turned out much different. One of the first things I realized is that the design document format itself may need to change depending on your audience. As a graduate student in learning technologies, I have taken several courses that required me to create a design document. Each instructor has a slightly different expectation of what the design document should look like. Additionally, I work as a content developer and my employer has a different design document expectation than my instructors.  In this course, the instructor did not specify a specific format. He provided requirements for the document and left it to me to decide how to present the information. Without a specific guide, I struggled to determine which layout to use and which sections to include (beyond the stated requirements). As a result, I over delivered in some areas and under delivered in others.

My design document had some sections that were redundant. I was trying to hard and ended up saying the same thing in more than one way.  This is a waste of time and does not help others understand what you are trying to accomplish. I also used labels for some of the sections that were not explicit enough. For example instead of labeling the goals sections as Goals, I labeled it as Learning Outcomes. This was confusing for both the instructor and the peer reviewer. My take-a-way from this mistake is to just call a thing what it is and keep it simple.

Another area I under delivered on was the assessment and evaluation sections. I included a summary statement and after reviewing the feedback I received, I realized that I could have done a better job of providing more details. A real client or stakeholder want to know how they are going to be able to assess the return on investment. In other words, how are they going to know if the training does what it says it is going to do, and how are they going to know if the way it is presented to the learners is engaging and enhances learning or distracts from learning.

My final product was definitely better than my original draft. I would feel confident sending this design document to a paying client and I believe that they would be able to positively, and enthusiastically sign-off on the project. But, I can’t take full credit alone. The most important lesson I learned is that it is best to share often and share early.  Feedback from others helps identify gaps, mistakes, and opportunities for improvement that the original developer would otherwise not be aware of.