Instructional Design Tips from Cammy Bean

Instructional Design Tips From Cammy Bean
Instructional Design Tips From Cammy Bean

I recently had the opportunity to interview Cammy Bean, a frequent speaker and popular eLearning blogger. She shared many practical instructional design tips that you can use to improve the training you build.

As a special bonus to my readers, and as a thank you to Cammy for the interview, I’m giving away 10 copies of her new book the The Accidental Instructional Designer. Just briefly share your story of how you became an instructional designer or eLearning professional in the comments section of the post for a chance to win one of the copies.

And now, on with interview!

How do strangers react when you tell them you’re an instructional designer?

I think a lot of instructional designers struggle with that. Once I explained my job to someone and he was horrified. He started hissing at me and he said, “You’re the CBT lady.” And he went on to describe all these horrible things that eLearning at a lot of corporate institutions looks like and what it represents. It’s locked down courses. It’s really boring. It’s text boxes on screen. It’s getting one question wrong on a test and having to start the whole thing over.

And it sounded like a really painful experience.

Are all instructional designers destined to be the “CBT Lady”?

Slide1No. There are a lot of people out there creating eLearning in the spirit of the CBT lady, kind of because they don’t know that there’s a better way. And we’re all here to tell them that there is a better way. There is a way to create eLearning that’s engaging and interesting and actually helps move the needle on performance and makes people want to pay attention.

Why do you think there’s so much bad training?

The CBT lady has created these really boring pieces of “eLearning” and employees don’t value it. They don’t want to suffer through it. And senior managers and senior stakeholders hate it and think it’s really boring. So they don’t want to pay for it. So it’s becoming this kind of downward spiral because there’s no perceived value in it.

So how do we change that as professionals? How do we go back in and show people that there is a better way? You may have to invest a little bit more in it because thoughtful design does take time and some resources.


What’s one way people can build better eLearning today?

Become a better writer by directing your writing at the learner. eLearning is about human beings sitting down at computers, going through online experiences. Far too often that human element gets forgotten.

So throw out some of that instructional design language and speak like a human being in conversation with another human being. Talk as if you’re sitting down at a table having coffee with someone, having a conversation about this content. And that’s something that you can start doing right now.


What can we learn from sales people and marketers?

Training involves persuading people. We are trying to sell them on an idea, on a process, on a concept. And we want to sell them on this idea that they need to change their own behavior.

So the challenge is to create compelling messages that really tap into that and answer the question: ‘What’s in it for me? Why do I care about this?’ But doing it in a way that really does entice and attract is huge. The CBT lady does not know how to do that well. She doesn’t know a thing about marketing.


How do people get eLearning interaction wrong?

Meaningful interaction to me is not about the clicking. It’s what I call clicky-clicky bling-bling. It’s just all shiny and sparkly and ooh and ah, which actually can distract from the learning experience. So if you have too much bling, all that the learner’s going to remember is how shiny it was and they’re not going to remember the content that really matters.


So you want to steer away from that jeopardy board or your miniature golf course quiz that has no contextual relevance to the learner’s life; it’s what Sebastian Deterding calls a “disconnected challenge.” So if you give people this challenge that they have to solve this jeopardy board, what becomes more compelling is answering all the questions on the jeopardy board, not really figuring out to apply them back into your own world. I don’t want to just totally throw out these types of templates, but I think they get misused way too much.

On the other end, you want to avoid the “clicky-clicky blah-blah,” which is just boring. Boring like 8,000 clicks on a screen to uncover all the content–and it’s just dreadfully boring.

So what makes for good eLearning interaction?

Make sure that the learner is engaging with the content in a meaningful way. So it’s about cognitive interactivity. It’s using your brain to think about the content. And you can do that without any interaction on screen by just stopping and asking the learner a question: “What do you think about this? How are you going to apply this in your own world?”

You could ask them to write something down on a piece of paper. “Write down the name of one person that you can call after you’re done here to discuss this with.” If it’s a sales training course, maybe there’s two people you can share XY and Z with after today. Write down an action plan. Give them ways to interact with the content that’s relevant to their own life and that could be truly  meaningful and not about the clicking on screen. So don’t assume that interaction has to be about clicking.


How do you like to incorporate stories into the training you build?

Stories are a way to make eLearning content much more relevant. It’s kind of like dress rehearsal. In Made to Stick, the authors Chip and Dan Heath say that the second best thing to actually doing the activity is to see a story unfold. They say that stories are a flight simulator for the brain. Just by reading along in a story, putting on that person’s shoes and experiencing life through their eyes for that moment–it can be almost like a practice exercise.

So how can you do that in a meaningful way that is relevant to the situation and has that context? That’s a challenge. But as instructional designers, that’s your job–to go out and extract the right stories from your subject matter experts and work with them to home in on the areas where people make mistakes in the real world–because that’s where we’re going to get the most bang for our buck. Focus on those three top mistakes and have your story highlight those mistakes. Give people the experience of making those mistakes through those stories.


We actually use eLearningArt character packs to tell stories of people. And it’s nice because you provide lots of different poses and you can tell that story and show a conversation in a meaningful way so that people get that sense of going along with it. Stories are a great way to give life to the content and provide that relevance.


Explain the difference between teaching a skill and changing behavior.

Changing behavior is something that we don’t see a lot of in eLearning really. We see a lot of teaching knowledge and skills or informing people about a new policy, putting out the word that there’s this new thing that you need to be aware of. But there’s less of that true behavior change. I think the reason for that is changing behavior takes time. And I would venture to say a lot of corporate training in general, they don’t invest that kind of time.

If you want to change habit at home or lose weight or stop smoking, that takes time and it takes repeated exposure to messaging and to reminders and those cues. So instead of thinking about creating a single learning event, we need to step back and create more long-term campaigns and think about ways to reinforce those methods and provide continuous opportunities for practice over an extended period of time so that ultimately we can change behavior.


What’s the biggest challenge most IDs face?

One of the biggest challenges for organizations is they feel like their culture is too stuffy and they’re not allowed to be more human in a way, if that makes any sense. So if you try to make the tone more conversational, there can often be resistance to that because people think, “well it’s not professional enough.”

So as an instructional designer your job is to educate your internal client on why this is a better way and why a more human approach is actually going to have more impact in the long run.

What advice do you have for the one-person training department? 

There’s a huge percentage of instructional designers working within organizations who are a one-stop shop. Where you are the graphics person, the writer, the developer, the programmer, the learning expert, and more. The person in a one-man shop is wearing a lot of different hats all at once. And those are a lot of really different skillsets. And it’s really overwhelming. The person who can do those all really well is truly some kind of a superhero and is a rare, rare individual. I do not do all of those things!


It’s a big job and stakeholders don’t often understand that. So what you may end up with is eLearning is more like what the CBT lady can put out because she is trying to juggle so many things at once. And it’s as good as it’s going to be. And that is a real challenge. So how can you change that within your organization? If you can kind of share that motto, you can go talk to your boss and your…those higher up stakeholders and say, “You know what, this really is a lot of different skillsets. And if we want to do more quality programming here internally, we need to think about either working with external partners or hiring additional individuals within our organization who have skills and expertise to balance out my own.”

Before you go, tell us. How did you become an instructional designer?

So many of us in this field got here by accident. We didn’t have an intention to grow up to be an eLearning instructional designer when we were children. In fact, when I was a kid, there was no eLearning. It didn’t exist. It wasn’t a field. So why would I have even aspired to it? But through a series of fortunate happenstance and accidents and being in the right place at the right time and having skills and aptitudes in certain ways, I ended up with a job title of instructional designer.


How did you make the transition to an “intentional” instructional designer?

It was 2005 and people were blogging and there was a whole community of eLearning professionals out there trying to figure out how to use this thing called the Internet that was really exploding. And eLearning was becoming more mature. So there was this great community of people starting to connect. And I tapped into that, and I said, “You know what. I’m going to be doing this probably for the rest of my grown up life, and I should do it with passion and with great intention.”

I called it getting an informal degree in instructional design. So I started reading a lot of books and talking to a lot of people and writing my own blog. And that really was a jumpstart. And here I am today, very much through that process.

Get a free copy of Cammy’s book

How did you become an instructional designer? Share your story in the comments a chance to win a free copy of Cammy’s book: The Accidental Instructional Designer. I’ll be giving out 10 copies of the book to my readers who share their stories in the comments below. This is not a paid promotion. I’m personally buying the books to share with my readers because I think there’s a lot of value in reading it. 🙂

If you want to learn more from Cammy, you can read her awesome Learning Visions blog, follow her on Twitter, visit some of the great resources over at Kineo, or order a copy of her book from Amazon.

52 thoughts on “Instructional Design Tips from Cammy Bean”

  1. Right after I posted, I realized I never shared my story of how I got into eLearning. So I’m adding my story to the comments section. 🙂

    I can really relate to Cammy’s story. I, too, am an accidental instructional designer.

    When I graduated college in 2000 and was looking for a job, the internet bubble had just burst and the economy sucked. SmartForce (now SkillSoft) was a publicly traded company with a solid business model and was still hiring. I was looking for a job in technology, not an eLearning job. But the role first required me go through 3-6 months of training as an eLearning simulation developer. After a few month of building simulations and studying instructional design, I moved into a junior role in their services group helping fortune 1,000 companies build their training programs.

    14 years later, I’m still working in the eLearning space! As a kid, I would never have predicted this is what I’d be doing as a career, but am thankful that I found something that I enjoy. I’d love to hear your story as well. 🙂

  2. I am also in the ranks of an accidental designer. 17 years ago I was working in the travel industryin a sales and reservations call center in NYC. For several quarters in a row I was the top salesman, so I was asked if I could conduct some ‘training sessions’ on what techniques I used to close my sales. I had no idea what I was doing,but I realized I liked getting up in front of a group to share my ideas. Fast forward a few months and the company moved to Florida. I was tapped to go down there for 3 months and train the new hires. So, in a classic ‘trial by fire’I learned on the job how to create trainers guides, training docs, curriculums, etc. Thus, an accidental ID was born. Over the years I transitioned to virtual classroom and eLearning design. And that’s my story… and I’m sticking with it!

    PS – Cammy, I hope you book sells like hotcakes!

  3. Brenda Heilman

    I, too, am an accidental instructional designer! I was working as a government financial assistance worker when our state’s department decided there had to be a better way to train workers state-wide. They created one of the first 2-person elearning units in our state government. Because I had worked with financial assistance for over 12 years and was a pretty quick tech learner, I was given the opportunity to start building courses. I truly love what I do and enjoy the endless pursuit of perfection in instructional design–there’s always something to learn! 🙂

  4. Cynthia Hollingsworth

    Thanks for sharing this. It was awesome — I felt as they say “that you had been reading my mail.” I, too, am an accidental ID — although it’s accidental on purpose. I was a non-traditional undergrad student and graduated with an associates in applied science in data management and a BS in computer information systems and design and a minor in technical writing. All good stuff but I didn’t know what to do with any of it. Solely because of a connection I ended up in my first post-degree job as a documentation writer and classroom instructor of hands-on software application training. This was at the start of the Internet and Web and I was hooked. I because the Queen of Quick Docs, writing one-page deskside how-tos. There’s only so many you can write though, and I moved into faculty support of online courses. I still trained and wrote, but began to move more into teaching. About this same time I earned my MS in adult education. That was it — the perfect marriage was born.

    Education is a system. Managing data can be data about how students learn and instructors teach. Adult education brought it all together and over a decade ago I became the instructional designer for my school. I am that “one-person training department” Cammy spoke of.And, I love it! I’m not a complete expert in all things, but I’m more than a fair amount of skill in most areas. I didn’t grow wanting to be an instructional designer; I grew into being an instructional designer, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  5. I started in the late 70’s in electronics with green screen displays and in the early 90’s in education and the infant internet. Middle and High School, and Community College beginnings have brought me to the position of Distance Education Coordinator at the University of Florida. From the days of Netscape and Page Maker to the Creative Cloud has been an exciting journey, and I believe that we are not nearly at the end of the productivity line. I produce video, audio, photo and other types of media to assist in the instructional process. We are finally breaking into new territory with the bandwidth allowing for multimedia online in a watchable format. I help faculty to move to, to date, four different learning management systems, as well as continue to augment their teaching with flipping the teach to online and more doing during class time. I love my job!
    : -)

  6. Harriet Stroupe

    I became an instruction designer by design and an e-learning professional (I hope I’m viewed that way!) by accident, or, more accurately, by evolution. As our clients began to replace classroom training with e-courses, I recognized that I needed to keep the best characteristics of classroom training and apply them to e-learning. So I’ve learned to always keep the learner in mind as I’m developing online training – asking myself, SMEs and others involved in the project “If the learner was sitting in front of us instead of their computer, what would we want them to do, what would we tell them, what would we ask them?” This learner-centered approach helps save us from the dreaded information dump (we’d never do that to a live class and survive) and encourages us to involve and engage the learner.

  7. I was a very accidental instructional designer who became an
    intentional instructional designer. Rewind back to the 1990’s with me to the
    time when we got our first home computer. As the mother of 3 teenagers, I voiced
    my opinion that the computer was a waste of money, time, and resources. After
    some time my kids coaxed me into sitting down at the computer. To this day they
    still wonder that I ever learned to use a mouse. It was shortly after this that
    the company I worked for declared bankruptcy and closed their doors. Because of
    the Jobs Training Partnership Act in our state, I was able to attend the local technical
    college on JTPA’s dime. I enrolled in, and completed, the Computer Business
    Applications program where I “fell in love” with computers. I was introduced to
    online learning and knew that this is what I wanted to do. Through my next 2
    positions in healthcare, I was able to help with creating computer based
    learning. During this phase, I wanted to move into instructional design full
    time so I decided to enroll in an accelerated online visual design program. I
    loved it! Because of my demonstrated skills and further training, my boss moved
    me into the instructional design job permanently. Ten years later, I love my
    job and many days I feel that I’m not “working” so much as I am doing what I love.
    I can honestly say that I believe I was meant to be an instructional designer.

  8. Melissa Miller

    I became an instructional designer somewhat by accident too! I was teaching middle school music in a large public school when I decided to pursue a Master’s in Education and an Ed.S. in Instructional Technology. I finished both of these degrees in the course of about five years and thought I would go on to be a Technology Integration Specialist in a public school, coaching teachers on how to best implement and use technology in their classrooms. However, there were no positions available in schools near my home and a friend told me about an Instructional Design position for a software development company right in my home town. I was currently driving 70 miles round trip each day to my teaching job in a public school and the prospect of eliminating that drive sounded good! I applied and soon landed the job of Instructional Design Specialist for a financial software development company. At first I wondered what I had done because I was not used to teaching on a topic for which I was not the subject matter expert. However, I soon learned how to work with SMEs and after several months of learning in this new job, I was loving the position of Instructional Design Specialist!

  9. Richard Steinberg

    I, too, am an accidental instructional designer. I began my career 30 years ago as a journalist and eventually became a public relations writer in state government where I “translated” bureaucratic jargon into language that could be more understood by people with limited education. My first foray into training involved teaching bureaucrats the importance of plain language writing. When the internet launched in the mid-1990s, I shifted my focus from print materials like brochures to website development and content management. In the early 2000s, I became interested in accessibility of electronic information by people with disabilities. Once again, I tried my hands at training by teaching people how to format documents and web content so that people using assistive technology could make sense of them. With a combined background in writing, design, multimedia, and online, I am becoming versed in instructional design. I now understand that the information dump of slideshow presentations does not equal teaching (or learning).

    Cammy, I hope you sell a lot of books!

    1. Richard. Thanks for sharing. Simple, clear communication is so important. I think SMEs and stakeholders that speak the jargon don’t realize what it’s like for learners who aren’t fluent in their jargon.

      Interesting about the focus on accessibility. Do you make eLearning courses that are accessible too? That’s not something I have a lot of experience with.

      1. Richard Steinberg

        I can create accessible eLearning using HTML, but most of the folks in my
        shop don’t know HTML. We have been using an older version of Adobe Captivate,
        which is not accessible, but will be starting to use SoftChalk soon and it is
        relatively accessible. Our LMS is Moodle and it is accessible. Instead of
        dealing with Captivate for accessibility, we have been offering an accessible
        PDF or Word document.

  10. I was about 13 years into my Air Force Career when I decided that I wanted to be a part of the training department. I went to the man in charge and told him I really wanted to be a trainer. He then interviewed me for the job. He was pushing for the “new” computer based training ideas. He wanted me in that position because he saw me light up when he talked about it. Next thing I knew, we built a school and rocketed our command’s training into the 20th century. Now I am retired and building instructional design courses for my state. It was just by chance that I hooked up with the right guy and the right time.

  11. Accidental, also. I started out with a degree in education. I always had a flair for writing and wanted to work with technology, so I became a technical writer for a computer software company. As a volunteer with the local literacy council, I became acquainted with adult learning and the impact it has in the workplace. I progressed to working with multimedia, then instructional design and development for e-learning. Two passions–learning and writing–fulfilled!

  12. My degree is in Kinesiology, the study of human movement. My career started with helping individuals post heart attack in Cardiac Rehab and post physical therapy. I also conducted community health and wellness courses. My husband got a job in a very small town so I had very limited opportunities to use my degree. I ended up getting hired as a training coordinator for an engineering company by telling them I scheduled and conducted those health and wellness courses. I then worked my way up to a classroom trainer. Once again we moved, this time back to the big city! At this point in my life I feel in love with training, but what I soon learned is my small company that only did classroom training left me unskilled in eLearning development. I interviewed for a learning and development position at Microsoft but did not get the job:-( However, they hired me as a vendor. I sold them on the fact I could learn the software they used to build eLearning quickly. And that I did, busted butt to learn Captivate. Looking back on that first course, it was horrible in today’s standards, but I learned so much. Today I still work for Microsoft as an FTE supporting our global training efforts for all consumer agents worldwide and we use ILT, blended and eLearning as our methods of development.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story. Sounds to me like you did get the job! 🙂 Sounds like you’ve created a lot of opportunities for yourself throughout your career.

  13. My MA in English as a Second Language focused on curriculum development since, in 1986-7, there was little available. During one summer ~1992, I was asked to develop an Introduction to Psychology for ESL learners at my school system. I realized that I liked developing training much more than teaching. I was able to get a job supervising an Employee Development division the following year, and the rest is history.

    In that first job, we programmed elearning on a mainframe (PLATO software), which led to IconAuthor as we introduced PCs to the organization. I have used multiple platforms over the years, but still like ID. So, I’m not really an accidental ID, since that is what my training is in…

  14. Heather Connors-Hoogheem

    I have a Master of Public Health in Epidemiology and a Bachelor’s degree in Biology, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. I did research for a while (not a good fit) and eventually ended up as a Health Coach. I gradually took on additional responsibilities within Health Coaching and, after about five years, helped to develop and run a training department within the Health Coaching Center. Just over two years ago I transitioned to a Sales Learning Consultant with a health insurance company. I absolutely love what I do and feel so fortunate to have stumbled into this great career!

  15. Picture, if you will, the late 80s in the UK. The Smiths and the Pet Shop Boys were on the radio, and I was a computer programmer in London’s West End.

    Bothered by the slog needed to maintain other people’s code, I moved into training new programmers to “write for the reader” and to add meaningful comments. (As Cammy said, “Far too often that human element gets forgotten.”)

    In training, other avenues opened, and I moved to Sydney in the early 90s. There, keen to combine my coding skills with my ability to write for humans, I got an ID role making training simulations of PowerPoint, Windows 95 etc in VB (Visual Basic).

    Like you Bryan, I also had a stint at what became SkillSoft – I worked for Tarragon, which was a specialist branch of the then CBT Systems, based in Sydney.

    After a venture into technical writing (aka Framemaker wrangling), I’m back in ID today, and enjoy using tools like Articulate Presenter (aka PowerPoint) and Storyline.

  16. As with so many I also was accidental, but then I got into training in an accidental way too.
    Having been off work for a very long period due to illness I went to college to do a computing course to help me get back to work. Helping out one of my fellow learners, the teacher pulled me aside and I thought I was going to be told off for interfering! She said she’d seen how I’d helped him and that the college was looking for new people to teach adult education in IT. Instead of an office job I got a teaching job!
    Fast forward a few years and I started working for the County Council as an IT/Personal Development trainer. I really wanted to explore ways to get our training out to as many people as possible and realised elearning was the way to go. With no training and little idea of what I was doing we got hold of design package and off I went, first with some IT based modules then Personal Development ones. This helped me get my current role of Quality and Design Officer and I must have authored 100s of modules by now and really enjoy the challenge that the role brings.
    Following people like Cammy gives me loads of ideas of how we can get away from these boring read/click modules into something far more exciting and dynamic that leads to real behavioural/educational change.

  17. Elaine Berrick

    Me . . I have no degrees, in any educational topic anyway, I guess the only degree I could possibly claim I have would be in the subject area of good old life. This has come to me by trial and error, finding myself doing jobs I definitely don’t want to be doing and the nice surprise to find I am actually quite good at things I had never thought I would be. Me . . build e-learning . . never in a million years, but yes, that’s what I am doing. Fumbling my way through e-learning authoring software, trying my hardest not to fall into the “death by slide” trap and doing loads of other people’s e-learning stuff hoping to pick up the good bits. I seem to be one those people you talk about in your interview – trying to be the superhero as there is no-one else in the organisation who is remotely interested except the management team of course who want effective e-learning out there yesterday. Of course a strategy and implementation plan for the coming years is required, and I have given them one. My vision for the future . . and i am determined it will come to pass. Why am I determined? Because I absolutely love it. Until the vision comes to pass my own strategy is simply . . keep going girl!

  18. Eighteen years ago I entered the field of Training and Development as a trainer with bold aspirations of empowering learners… no matter what it takes (almost)… let me take you through this rousing journey…

    Unbeknown to me at the time, during a harsh Ithaca winter, I found myself sitting in a computer lab struggling to type a paper on what I thought was a word processor. (it wasn’t). It was a terrifying experience because I had never used such a beast as a computer to type a paper. I tapped the shoulder of every person who was unlucky enough to sit next to me to ask if they had any better idea of how to use the contraption than I did. (They didn’t.) After about 8 hours of this battle, I completed my three page paper and was determined that none of my friends would struggle as I had.

    Pronto… A trainer was born!

    Several years later I found myself in teaching displaced workers how to use the Microsoft Office® applications. My fearless adventures into the world of technology led me to the realm of training sales and customer service representatives the joys and miracles of using CRM. Certainly, having the representatives write rap songs about the application was an effective learning technique (even if we were almost kicked out of the hotel for laughing too loudly).

    Eventually, I was asked to write the curriculum for software that I was training, and I morphed yet again into a curriculum developer. As my duties expanded, I matured into a full fledge (or is that fledgling) Instructional Designer with all of the decisions of how to put together an entire curriculum. Ever since, I have been learning from the brilliant blogs and seminars of luminaries like Cammy Bean, Christopher Pappas and Justin Ferriman. I am in awe of what can be done to help learners achieve their potential and inspired to bring “AHA” moments to students utilizing my material.

  19. After a career spent in journalism and education, my move to instructional design was geography driven. We moved. I needed a new job. This was education related so I moved on over. I’ve learned a TON about computers and software and finance (my company creates banking software) and enjoyed far and away most of it.

  20. Stephanie Williams

    I started my career as in Industrial Hygienist, working as part of the Environment, Health and Safety group at a company. I then moved into the training manager role and began with the implementation of a Learning Management System. This prompted my interest in developing training for this new system. I began taking a few courses on instructional design and found that I really like the creativity and development aspects of instructional design. SInce I enjoyed it so much, I decided to start my own e-Learning devleopment company.

  21. Angie Shertzer

    Accidental CBT lady here too. Put myself through college while working & then with a kid & was able to load up a BA in English with minors in psychology & journalism. I am an educator at heart & always dreamed of teaching. Yet with my tricky life circumstances, I could never stop working enough to manage unpaid student teaching plus family. So when I finally graduated, I landed a temp gig tech writing at a small educational software company. It was a goldmine. I stayed for many years, learning an unbelievable amount. They trained me as an ID & trainer – grad-level training but on-the-job. I remember rewriting questions & distractors over & over to get it right! 15 years later I still draw back on all those skills, even though I have added to them with lots of independent study.

    And the irony? I am an educator after all. And it turns out that my heart is in teaching adults, not teenagers, and e-learning is a passion.

    So this accidental CBT lady IS an educator & totally living the dream!

  22. Hello! Looking forward to reading the book! Another accidental ID person! Started working for a payroll company in sales support approx. 25 years ago. The regional director approached me and said they needed a regional trainer. I applied for the position and the rest is history! Years of standup training, virtual training and instructional design with the same company. This company also provided me with all my instructional design training at various conferences and workshops and I also obtained my Master’s degree in Admin/Supervision of Learning Programs. I am doing long-term contract work now, primarily for pharma companies (past 7 years) and still love the job and industry! I design and develop more rapid eLearning design and now than anything else, which is my preference! Love the new tools available now to help me do my work, and also how learning has transformed while continually providing me with more opportunities to learn and grow.

    1. Amy- How’d you like your Master’s program? Was the focus on eLearning, or learning in general?

      Yeah. The development of the tools over the past decade has been awesome. And it’s great to feel like you’re learning and growing!

  23. Extremely accidental! In 1997 I was writing and producing for a show on Cartoon Network when I heard our show was going on a “Hiatus” for a while. (i.e. cancelled…) I picked up HTML for Dummies, and taught myself enough to be able to move over to and work on the website for a few years. After moving back home to Baltimore, I started with a web/media digital design firm, and a couple years in we got a huge contract to build something called “eLearning” modules for the govt. With lots of design in my background, I worked on that project and got a crash course in ID. Great timing, too, because when the web design boom busted, it was an easy transition to make. From there it was off to Thomson Learning, where I learned all about storyboarding and the development side, to pair with the design side, and took those skills to become one of the “one man shops” like cammy mentioned for U-Haul. After stops at Walmart’s HQ and across the pond for Hitachi UK, I’m now an ID for Johns Hopkins Medicine. Yup, a long, strange trip, all because my cartoon job got cancelled!

    1. It’s hard to see it as positive at the time, but it sounds like the cartoon firing worked out great. Do you find that you use any of the writing/producing skills in your courses today?

      Pretty impressive that you taught yourself enough HTML to work on a little site called CNN! 🙂

      And yes, it was a long trip, but it sounds like you picked up a lot off valuable skills along the way!

    1. Sandy- Thanks for sharing. I agree that not every course can be “exciting.” I think focusing on relevancy (as Cammy put’s it: “What in it for me?) goes a long way. And I think your philosophy is a good one… try to create courses that would hold your attention. Very often we forget about the experience that the learner is going through when they take the course.

  24. I became interested in Educational Computing in 1986 when I was informed of a new pilot of a Master’s degree program. The evolution of the field led to me feeling the need to update my Master’s degree in Educational Technology in 2010-2011. My positive online learning experiences led me to pursue a PhD degree in Instructional Design and Technology (IDT). I am now a PhD Candidate with only my pre-proposal and dissertation left to complete. My dissertation will incorporate a phenomenological research methodology on the lived experiences and perceptions of early childhood education teachers who have participated in a blended-learning professional development training. Cammy’s book would be a welcome addition to my shoes (books) collection and is in direct alignment with my research study!

  25. With a degree in applied math, I started out as an actuary. That bored me to tears after a couple of years, and I moved on to a bit more “exotic”-sounding role as a cruise ship purser. After burning out from the long hours associated with that, I returned to actuarial work but knew that was a mistake soon after. I have always been skilled in editing and proofreading, and that led me to pursue a position as editor for a small reference book publishing company just as we were being introduced to the world of the Internet. A year into that job, I joined Peace Corps and taught math and English in a public school in Nepal, and then I returned to the publishing job. After a few years working for the publisher, I moved on as institutional publication specialist for a for-profit college. Loving the sharing of information through writing and editing, and finding the work with websites fascinating, I discovered that my desire was to combine these two things. I got a master’s degree focusing on educational/instructional technology, but I still didn’t get a job as an instructional designer immediately. First, I worked as a development writer for a small private college, and then I worked as a freelance writer/editor/proofreader for book publishers, an online demo developer, and a college magazine. I finally scored a position as a “technology analyst” for an association, in which I didn’t really analyze anything but did a lot of jobs that e-learning specialists today often do (created presentation slides for trainers, developed an online training course in Flash/Moodle, facilitated Webinars, etc.). After a while, I became dissatisfied with the situation at that organization and felt determined to find a job as a “real” instructional designer. I found such a position at a state university and have worked in higher education ever since. Although I enjoy my work there, I feel that we need to be more intentional about developing truly excellent courses there, and I dream of being an e-learning developer such that I can make courses that learners enjoy, are motivated to begin and progress through, and use the learning successfully and effectively in the future.

    1. What an interesting path to becoming a “real” instructional designer. You sound passionate about building better courses. It really does take an intentional approach to build something great. Keep it up!

  26. I was in training to be an Instructional Designer since I was 16 yrs. old, I just didn’t know it. I’ve held many jobs, from waitressing to accounting to being a director
    of a software company division. Because I didn’t have a degree, I strived to be the best at whatever job I do, no matter how trivial the job may seem to others. My passion has always been art/graphic design and I always found a way to integrate my creativity into all of my jobs.

    At one point, I found myself working for a software company, travelling the country training on the product. I encountered all ages and computer experience levels. The most rewarding training involved the older adult employees, who had never had any exposure to computers and they were sure they couldn’t do it and would lose their jobs. While often wiping away their tears, I found ways to provide them with encouragement, self-confidence, and realizing that they can take personal pride in developing new skills even at this point in their careers. I watched people completely transform and I saw pure joy in their faces as they did things they learned computer skills they never thought they would have. I also wrote the software user guides – and personally knowing the audience, I made efforts to write as though I was there speaking to them.

    In 2007, I left the software industry and didn’t quite know where I was headed. To kill some time, I assisted a friend on an eLearning course. He set me up with
    Articulate Studio, got me started, and away I went. I had found my calling. All
    of my experiences and passions had just come together in a perfect synergy. After getting great client feedback and requests rolling in – it became an intentional career. I’ve since taken many ID courses; worked with several seasoned ID’s and achieved certification. My output may not be the high-end, sophisticated and complicated modules that sometimes make me feel inadequate – but I think they are thoughtful, instructionally sound, graphically pleasing, and designed based on how I learned first-hand how adults learn and what I know motivates them. For me, Instruction Design and the output I deliver is personal. My favorite quote that sums
    up my accidental ID career and reminds me to always put myself in the learner’s
    place is: “Practical wisdom is only to be learned in the school of experience. Precepts and instruction are useful so far as they go, but, without the discipline of real life, they remain of the nature of theory only.” Samuel Smiles, Author.”

    I’m so happy that the world of Instructional Design and eLearning found me! I can’t imagine doing anything else at this point in my life.

    1. TJ- Awesome that you helped older employees about technology and turned a terrible experience into a positive one. I think we all take for granted how “easy” it is to do certain tasks because we do it every day. I’m working with my dad to redesign his website (he’s a metal sculptor) and it was eye opening to see some of the struggles he was having. He is a smart man, but was getting stuck b/c he just doesn’t have a ton of computer experience.

      Keep up the good work!

  27. When I finished my undergraduate degree (International Business), I was working for a temp firm while I searched for employment. The temp firm sent me to a company that built software training. It was a steady temp job and after a few months, they offered me the job of office assistant. I needed health benefits so I took the job and continued to look for a job that better matched my degree. Some of the instructional designers at that firm needed some help with their deliverables – this was before eLearning truly existed – and I offered to help. Most of what they produced was ILT but my favorite project back then was building a help system. I loved that it was online and the learner could jump to whatever topic they needed. The rest is history. About two years ago, I completed a masters degree that focused on instructional design 🙂 I truly enjoy it. I get to build things and help people with their jobs! It doesn’t get much better than that.

  28. Accidental, as my degree is in library science. At my former organization, I reported to the Director of HRD and layoffs took away his training staff – I became his training staff because I was basically it, as well as running a large library. I got interested, started taking some courses in Adult Ed. I applied to my present position 14 years ago and watched my job evolve from classroom trainer to virtual trainer to mostly-delivery-mixed-with-some-design professional. My next world to conquer is mobile learning!

  29. Carol Gonzalez

    In my late 30’s, having a good job, a young family and a supportive husband, I FINALLY finished my BS in post secondary education. Unable to quit a good job to student teach was out of the question, I was sad and frustrated. While working in data entry for a contract with the USAF Red Flag Training Program, a job opportunity opened up with a company that won the contract to develop curriculum for the Weapons School at Nellis AFB. Even though it was a pay cut, I jumped at the opportunity. After 6 months I was asked to work for a new program, the UAV Predator Pilot & Sensor Operator Training Program as an ed tech. The location was at an auxiliary field 30 miles north of LV, then known as Indian Springs AF, and now known as Creech AFB. As we all know the Predator morphed into the Reaper and the program was in great demand. In the meantime, working on my MA in Ed Leadership I was promoted to the ID/Curriculum Development Manager for the program. I learned to develop eLearning because it was needed for the program, and I fell in love with it. I remained there 12 years until the program moved to New Mexico.
    Currently I am an eLearning ID for a DOE contractor working for the Dept of Homeland Security/FEMA, developing training for First Responders in the prevent/response mission for Weapons of Mass Destruction.
    When I went back to school at the age of 35 with 2 young girls, I never even considered that the path would take me into the world of eLearning and instructional design, especially in a field that is so important in saving lives. I wouldn’t change a thing.

  30. Corrie Bergeron

    I started in engineering but discovered that a) it was not nearly as interesting as I thought it would be, and b) my math skills were sub-par. I saw a flyer advertising a course in Industrial Education and thought it looked interesting, so I changed majors and got a degree for teaching shop – just before the Industrial Arts programs were essentially shuttered statewide. I did sales and get-me-by work for a year or so, then a friend suggested that I might be a good fit for a new graduate program in Instructional Technology. I got an assistantship, and my previous technical background (including programming FORTRAN on punch cards!) served me well.

    I graduated, moved, and hired on with a temp agency while I looked for a “real job.” The temp work exposed me to a wide variety of work environments and data-entry user interfaces, which served me well once I landed that “real job” as an ID. I’m now working in higher education helping college teachers use technology effectively.

    Over the years I’ve worked on large projects (20+ team members, 18-mo schedule, $750k budget) and small ones (1-hr workshop w/ handout), in content areas from aviation to metallurgy to management. ID continues to be a fascinating and rewarding field (though we never seem to be able to escape the existential angst of, “what is it that we do, exactly?”)

  31. Very insightful interview indeed! I like the emphasis that the author pays on interactivity on e-learning. It is indeed an important component of any e-course. But developers often struggle with what kind of interactivity to choose or how much of it is too much and so on. Based on our experiences here a few ways of making sure that your e-course has effective interactivity build into it –

  32. I studied my BA in International Business and Management studies and landed a job as an executive PA to a CEO in one of the largest Banks in Tanzania. I always had a thing for education and training, so I took part in most tasks that would expose me in education and learning. After 2 years in the role, I decided to make a move to Human Resources. Again as a PA, I got really bored. One day, I decided to browse online to see some new ideas on the area of learning & development, I found out about online learning and career opportunities in instructional design. I volunteered to design a course on Anti-Money Laundering for online learning. 800 staff were able to complete the course on our internal web… I visited online resources on Instructional design etc. I have never looked back. I am currently pursuing my Msc. in Instructional Design and Technology, currently a Learning & Development Manager in one of the largest Banks in Tanzania, and the Bank has finally acquired a proper Learning Management System. Super excited!

  33. While I was in college studying to be a computer programmer I went to work at the Golden Arches. In no time at all they were promoting me to management positions and sending me through their very solid Management Development Programs. I learned a lot from them but most importantly, I really learned how to train and develop others. When I left to have a family I thought I would go back to that but I didn’t. I ended up working for state government doing office work til someone stumbled upon the fact that I had a computer programming background and asked if I wanted to learn how to build their websites and online policy manuals.
    Once I did that, they though “let’s put our training online”. So they got me some add-on to use with the web site development software I was using and that’s how it went. I got some books, starting reading and learning. Originally, I was just the technical expert and the content was written by ILT trainers. That first course was painful and we quickly learned the concept of “chunking”, before we built anymore. Now I strictly build eLearning and sometimes develop the ILT portion that goes with it. I still get challenged by SME’s when they hand off content to me thinking I can simply copy and paste their ILT into an online course and it’s good to go. I spent a lot of time convincing them that the online course should read exactly like the policy manual. I would love to read your book.

  34. I’ve wanted to be an instructional designer since I was 3 years old. Just kidding. I fell into it like many others. I had a BA in Political Science and wanted to do 2 things: travel the world and be a songwriter. Well, I spent a few years in Nashville trying to do the songwriter thing. Then, I sold everything I had and bought a backpack and an open-ended round-trip ticket to Amsterdam. I spent 6 months working at one of the Christian Youth Hostels in Amsterdam and then traveled around Europe for 2 months.
    Having rid myself of the travel bug, I returned to Nashville to play at lots of coffee houses for, unfortunately, no money. I had a friend attending Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. I decided to look for a graduate program there and found their great instructional design program. After graduating from SIUC, I accepted a job at FedEx in Memphis as an instructional designer. The rest is history.

  35. I stumbled into eLearning more than 10 years after getting a degree in Interdisciplinary Humanities (which led me everywhere and nowhere). My first real job (after working in the theater and waitressing) was to index newspaper and journal articles for University Microfilms, which published hardbound indexes. After moving to Chicago, I indexed literature according to philosophic thought for Mortimer Adler’s Great Ideas volumes. My roommate was dating someone who worked for Roger Schank’s Institute for the Learning Sciences at Northwestern U in Evanston, Illinois, and she let me know they were hiring “Media Indexers.” Getting this job threw me into the middle of pretty advanced learning theory and I began organizing media clips and building scenarios. I became the first director of content when the Institute spun off a corporate entity, now called Cognitive Arts. There was a brief detour into usability and information architecture during the web boom, but when so much of it went bust I returned to training. For more than 12 years now I’ve been building training for the members of non-profit organizations. I love the fact that, after years of theory, I build training that is used every day by the people I build it for.

  36. In 2006 I gave up on my lifelong dream of teaching. In between the crappy economy, an unplanned pregnancy and general dissatisfaction in the University and their program provided I choose I stop going. I found myself with a useless Associate degree, a beautiful child and feeling like I was trapped in a never ending tunnel of employment and schooling options. I went back and forth from being a stay at home mom and working jobs that I found unsatisfying.
    After three years, a job assignment ending and with another baby on the way, I decided that if I was going to back to college now was the time. I started a Business Administration Associates degree after loving an accounting position I took through a temporary employment agency. I used many of the credits I had previously received to complete nine courses in two semesters. I had to sign a waiver that said I was limited in time, money and the courses I could take. The whole time wondering if I made the right decision. I struggled with the idea of going back reminding myself how it felt to leave education behind. I would have to remind myself every so often that Business Administration is stable, there are so many avenues to choose and the success latter is pretty straight forward. I was almost done when I found out that my financial aid ran out and I was forced to walk away with only one course remaining.
    After having my second child, I took a part time job as a receptionist at an Educational Center. During this time, I worked closely with HR to get teachers and therapists ready for the school year, maintaining safety for children and staff, creating documentation on processes and policies and setting up professional development opportunities. It was at that moment when I realized that Education and Business could intersect. That I could combine Education, which I loved the most with Business, the one that I felt stable.
    I started seeking employment hoping to go from part time to full time when I came across a job opening from a local college. The title was listed as a Content Assembler and I was stumped. I tried googling the title and looking up information on what that meant or how it worked but came up with nothing. The posting was cryptic and had foreign words to me like course authoring, Lecotra and SCORM. Something on the page was screaming at me. Something felt right. I decided that this is where I needed to go next and submitted my resume hoping that I wasn’t packing boxing or stapling papers all day long.
    After clarifying the tasks in the interviews, I was ecstatic. This is what I was looking for! The position ended up being an eLearning developer contract position for a Fortune 50 company. I learned course development software, techniques and theories, graphic design and honed my professional skills. I drove in deep learning anything and everything I could: self-teaching myself to teach others. I soon branched into the concept of translating material volunteering for a new service to be provided. I learned process life cycle and the importance of documentation while building relationships with other employees. Finally, through hard work and dedication I rose to a half time Instructional Designer position that opened up the opportunity for me to work with SMEs, review courses and implement Instructional Design best practices and theories into every day development and process.
    I’ve since moved into new position that has taken me 900 miles away from everything I knew for a better chance. By accidentally stumbling into ID I have opened up opportunities, the globe and most importantly my confidence. I feel committed and ready; as if I finally have a professional purpose. Now I just need to talk myself into getting a Bachelor’s degree…

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