5 Characteristics of a Successful Instructional Designer

 In Training, Trends

At Bloom Learning Solutions, we’re often contacted by people asking for advice on how to get into L&D or Instructional Design. Our advice is usually to jump in, ask lots of questions and learn on the job – after all, that’s how many of us got started, often jumping from another career altogether, fuelled by a fascination with how people learn.

That commitment to learning is one of the characteristics we see time and time again in the candidates we place and the people we meet at our events. But, when we decided to catch up with some of the graduates of our recent instructional design workshop, we realised they had a lot more in common.

5 Characteristics of a Successful L&D Pro

  1. Being willing to get stuck in

In many lines of work, you expect to reach a certain level and be able to rest on your laurels. Not so in instructional design, where constant changes in technology and organisational and learning needs mean there’s little chance of coasting on up.

Stephanie McKee Wright, an independent learning and development consultant, says: ‘A while back I was NZ HR business partner in a global organisation. Being an army of one, L&D fell to me, and the pressure was immediately on because L&D had been identified as a key driver of employee engagement so it was one of my top priorities. We also had zero budget for L&D.

‘I had to come up with ideas for learning opportunities then develop and implement them. I was also heavily involved in the introduction of our LMS into Asia-Pacific and that introduced me to the world of elearning.’

  1. Spotting transferrable skills

‘I had no experience or formal training in instructional design,’ Stephanie adds. ‘I used my own experience of facilitation and attending training to figure out how to put together classroom and elearning experiences.’

Liz Rawlings, an educational designer, agrees. A former editor, she found herself in L&D after the publishing industry went through some rapid changes. Finding herself in a completely different line of work meant she had to learn quickly and ask plenty of questions. She advises new learning designers – both employees and contractors – to demand thorough briefing and feedback.

  1. Knowing your knowledge gaps

In a rapidly moving industry such as learning design, there will always be knowledge gaps we need to fill. It’s the ability to spot these and fill them that makes a top instructional designer stand out.

Liz’s background in editing and project management gave her some essential skills for a move into instructional design, but she realised she needed to know more about learning theory and how to apply it. She went on one of our courses to make contacts and pick up learning theory basics, and supplemented this with reading and running ideas past colleagues.

Bret Peers, an instructional designer, has taken a similar approach to his personal development. ‘Take every learning opportunity, working lunch, webinar, event that’s available to you,’ he says. ‘Since landing my role, I’ve come to understand the wealth of learning new concepts, techniques, skills and have actively sought out learning events that will help me to progress – whether it’s from my colleague, a Lynda.com course or just a simple google. I think that alone has been my success factor.’

  1. Staying learner focused

Most of us can relate to a time when learners’ needs got overlooked and other stakeholders’ needs came to the fore. Trusty tools such as Gagne’s nine levels of instruction and Bloom’s taxonomy bring learners back into focus and often help us win over powerful stakeholders too. But how can you build these into your daily work?

‘Look far and wide for ideas and inspiration,’ Stephanie advises. ‘Join NZATD. Subscribe to blogs, read books, and look critically at any training material that you can get your hands on. And when you are developing content, always have the learning objectives in your face to keep you on track. Attend workshops and do your own learning from online resources.’

  1. Keeping confident

Bret moved into L&D from a more generalist HR background. ‘When I first got into my current role I always thought I was sinking, especially as I was working in a highly experienced team.’ I guess my own expectations were hard to meet, as I wanted to be as good as my team members.’

‘It was a steep learning curve to say the least, but I was eager to learn and having a manager who wanted to develop me made it a great journey.’

Stephanie agrees. ‘I thought that without formal training and experience that wasn’t recent, I didn’t have a hope of landing an instructional design gig. I thought I was going to have to take a big pay cut and go into a learning administrator role. By doing research about what skills an instructional designer needs and the principles of adult education, I was able to validate my previous experience. In my interview I thought to myself “fake it until you make it” … and found that I was actually on the right track.’

What characteristics have helped you stand out as an L&D pro? Managers, what characteristics do you look for? Let us know in the comments.

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