Thursday, August 25, 2011

Career Advice from an Award-Worthy eLearning Developer

Guest Post
Andy Chan has been nominated as Best eLearning Designer in the Maestro eLearning Awards [], dubbed the OSCARS of the eLearning industry. What follows is an interview between Andy and the award’s organizers, Maestro eLearning [].

Q. Congratulations for being nominated! How'd you end up at where you are today?

How did I end up where I am today?  Let's see...

To start off, I am currently a Senior Instructional Designer/eLearning Developer at Symantec Corporation.  My path to Instructional Design, specifically eLearning, began about six or seven years ago.  At that time, I was a training specialist doing classroom training as an stand-up instructor.  I was teaching prior to that too but felt no longer challenged.  Incidentally, I saw the potential of eLearning when the company I was with at that time contracted work with outside vendors to create a series of online courses using Adobe Captivate.  It was then I saw the future of training in web and computer-based platforms.

During that time, I felt the only way to advance my career was to enhance my academic credentials.  I took the dive into graduate school.  The enrollment process at the University of Massachusetts in Boston involved a compilation of essays, applications, and stomach nerves.  In September 2005, my first graduate class in Instructional Design began.  While at Umass, my regimen included core ID courses, along with multimedia and technology classes.

In the midst of grad school, I started a new job that utilized my eLearning skills.  Gradually, the Instructional Design knowledge and technical skills gained in graduate school were applied on the job.  Projects for different constituents demanded different skill sets and I pushed myself to be at the forefront of educating an adult workforce, asynchronously.

Throughout the past several years, my technical skills expanded and have, along the way, acquired more and more challenging projects.  I also freelance part time on Instructional Design gigs to expand my knowledge and professional network.

That's the gist of my journey in the past six years

Q. Could you unpack your decision to attend graduate school? Some stumble into instructional design in a sort of DIY way—they informally pick up the craft via various books and lots of Googling. What were the benefits of getting a formal education in the field?

The primary reason I decided to go to grad school was to advance my career.  Having done classroom training prior to that, I felt I was in the "middle of the pack", nothing to distinguish myself among the many other training specialists.  Furthermore, I found that many folks that are training specialists stumble into this role simply because they are subject matter experts (SME) without formal training in course development and the like.

By having a formal degree in Instructional Degree, I felt the benefits were credentials that proved I went through the rigors of systematic methods of course development, adult learning theories, instructional technologies, to name a few.  Additionally, it demonstrated to my employers (past/present/future) that I could develop any subject, using the most appropriate technologies, and be in any industry.

Q. If you were to go about developing your career again, would you do anything differently?

If I were to develop my career again, I doubt I would do anything differently than the path taken.  Since graduating from graduate school four years ago, I have pondered whether I should have enrolled sooner, say, five years earlier.  But things happen for a reason and am happy at the current circumstances.

I believe this is a great time for being in eLearning and for asynchronously learning in general.  The technology for computer/web-based training has come of age.  Computers are faster, bandwidth greater, allowing online courses, many with robust animations, to be delivered anywhere, anytime.  I feel fortunate to be involved in an ever-changing industry.

A colleague once asked me, "How come you're not a web designer?"  His question was in the context of why I build Flash-based eLearning content instead of straight-up web design.  My answer was that, at heart, I'm an educator.  The technical tools are only that—tools.  They help me to train and educate a workforce and can make the content more engaging but teaching is at the core of my passion.

Q. So if you were to look at your career journey and distill some lessons from it, what kind of advice would you give to someone who's thinking of entering the eLearning industry?

There are a few tidbits of advice I'd give to anyone considering to enter the eLearning industry.  The first is to maintain an online portfolio.  This showcases your work to potential employers and clients.  Naturally, the online portfolio should be updated with the most recent works and moreover, with the most contemporary graphics and styling.  An online portfolio demonstrates professional commitment.  If you're a beginner, say a recent grad, and lack professional experience, create 'mini projects' in your spare time to include in the portfolio.  

On the technology front, I'd suggest to keep abreast with the latest technologies and more importantly, to be aware of what employers are looking for.  A good method is to routinely scan job postings to identify what skills and tools companies are looking for.  Even if one is not actively looking for new opportunities, this will keep you abreast of trends in the industry.  For instance, if the latest eLearning software is in its 5th version but most companies are still using version 3, you may not need to upgrade to 5 yet.

Lastly, since eLearning is constantly evolving and companies are looking more and more to asynchronous learning, it behooves the person to keep his/her skills up to date by taking courses or tutorials.  This could range from quick, online tutorials that last under 20 minutes, to one day workshops, to full fledged enrollment in a college/university either for one semester or an advanced degree that can last couple of years.  The key is to constantly be learning and being aware of our ever changing industry.
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