Building Bridges

To Teach, Learn: How Instructional Design Professionals Take Time for Their Own Learning

Though instructional designers create courses that facilitate learning, we also must prioritize our own education, like everyone else. So, which learning methods work best for us? How do we make time for learning when confronted with looming work deadlines? And what tips do we have for fitting in learning time?

To answer these questions, we spoke with two instructional designers, Mea Allen from the DelValle Institute for Emergency Preparedness, a program of Boston Emergency Medical Services that educates EMS employees, hospital employees, and public health workers; and Alison McIssac, an instructional designer at EnVision, about effective ways they stay informed of the newest developments in their field.

Alison finds that she learns a great deal from observing other professionals’ work and leveraging what she learns in her instructional design. She pays careful attention to video presentations, since these are such a large part of instructional design. Alison may notice a new animation technique, for example, and later incorporate that into her own work.

Both women rely on the availability and convenience of Internet resources. Mea has enrolled in webinars of interest and also favors the eLearning Guild, which offers online forums and articles that she can bookmark for future reference. Alison spends time on the LinkedIn group for Adobe Captivate, an elearning authoring software, which helps her to refine her skills.

Alison has found that e-learning or distance instruction correlates well with her schedule. In 2010, she furthered her learning with a Certificate in e-Learning Design and Development from the University of Washington. This program required both group and independent projects. “For me, it’s about fitting [learning] in where it makes sense,” says Alison.

Mea is also advancing her education, pursuing a Master’s program in Instructional Design at UMass Boston, which features both traditional and online learning. She explains that she enrolled in the program to add a theoretical background to the practical skills she already has. This program has the added advantage of allowing Mea to incorporate projects from her job into her coursework, such as her Intro to Design class at UMass.

Even with a busy work schedule, Mea underscores the value of focusing on her own education. “I make the time because we are so busy, and just started blocking out time on my calendar.”

As vital as formal learning is, it’s important to remember that we all can further our own education with choices we make each day as professionals. What steps can you take today to increase your knowledge base?

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Learning can be informal as well as formal, and happens every day. Leverage your observations to add to your skill set.
  2. Utilize Internet resources to their fullest capacity. Do some research to determine the resources that will be most helpful to you. Bookmark these and review them regularly.
  3. If you are enrolled in an educational program, consider using a work project to fulfill an assignment. It’s a win-win!
  4. Fit in learning whenever you can, even if it’s only a few minutes. Every bit helps you in your career.

Do you have a tip to share? E-mail your favorite learning ideas or resources, and we’ll share it in the next edition of Building Bridges.