New Year, New Contract

Happy New Year

Like many people, I’ve always been resistant to change. Okay. Maybe apprehensive is a better word. Either way, change is usually a huge challenge for me. This year I find myself in an interesting position where I must embrace the change.

Unlike the beginning of other new years I’ll be starting a new instructional design contract. With a great opportunity to really start the New Year off right, I’ve decided to take the new change in stride.

For the past two years I’ve had multiple contracts lasting anywhere from 4-6 months, on average, but they’ve all been with the same company, which has made the transition fairly easy.

This new contract is the first in quite a while where I’m working with a different organization. This means I not only need to learn a new project but also learn a new culture, policies and procedures, etc. of a new organization. Quite a feat for this stubborn Taurus!

In preparation to begin this new adventure in the New Year I’ve kept a few things in mind to get me started on the right foot that I thought I’d share.

Be Ready to Absorb Everything!

With the first few weeks of any job there’s often a ton of information thrown your way, which you have to absorb and understand before getting started with your actual position. This usually includes getting equipment, knowing the facilities, reading employee handbooks, etc.

I’ve learned, as a contractor, that the ability to absorb information is magnified times 10. Those few weeks of learning new information usually needs to take place within the first few days as the project you’re assigned for is usually ready to go or already in full swing.

In this being the case I have to be ready to absorb everything as quickly as I can and, furthermore, understand all the information as it comes my way. To assist during this process I usually take TONS of notes and ask just as many questions.

Be Positive! 

I tend to catch on to things pretty quickly which is certainly a plus as a contract instructional designer; however, with any position, especially in the beginning, there is opportunity to feel overwhelmed in trying to understand so much information in such a short period of time.

In order to keep on top of everything and still keep my cool I’ve learned to be positive with every interaction; whether with all the people I’ll initially meet or even with inanimate objects like laptops or software systems. Keeping this outlook prevents me from being attacked by a snowball of negativity and allows me to hold my head high as I weave my way through the maze of the unknown.

Be Open!

I think this is probably one of the most important items to keep in mind. I’ve learned that you have to be open to everything thrown your way whether it’s something foreign or familiar, negative or positive.

I’ve witnessed employees new to an organization mention how they performed a task at their last employer, resistant to the new method. In my book this is an absolute no-no!

Chances are things will be different anywhere you go so you have to be open to new ways to do things. Generally, I’ll take everything in and then, after some time figuring out systems or processes, I’ll make a suggestion. But only after fully grasping the organization’s concepts first.

Although a tad bit nervous to begin something new, I’m leaving myself open to a new year of positivity and great opportunity for growth. I wish the same for all of those on the same path.

Happy New Year!

Three Ways My Trip to Italy Was Like Being An Instructional Designer

2015-11-22 14.16.19
The Colosseum

A few months ago I wanted to do something different for this Thanksgiving and decided to take a trip to somewhere I hadn’t been. Rome, Italy. Truth is, I’ve always wanted to go and it was the perfect excuse to finally go there and mark it off my bucket list.

On my long journey back from Italy I started thinking about all the work that had probably accumulated for me after sipping cappuccinos and drinking wine for a week. Although I was lucky not to come back to much, I realized there were actually quite a few similarities between my journey in Italy and being an instructional designer including working with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), preparing for change, and paying attention to detail.

SMEs

2015-11-23 19.58.02
When in Rome! A little wine and bread to begin the evening.

As much as I love to travel, there’s always some apprehension traveling to Europe because I often don’t know the laws, language, and unsaid rules to the land (I’m working on all of this, by the way). I try to do as much research as possible prior to leaving but when I step off the plane I’m relying on natives to help me find my way. Italy wasn’t any different. I knew simple phrases to get me through the trip like buon giorno (good morning) and conto (check/bill) but if someone rambled off in Italian, I was in trouble! I think the look on my face said it all and let them know that I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about.

I pretty much relied on almost everyone I came in contact with to help me understand where I was going, what I was doing, and how to get there. Not to mention, I needed them to help me do it in a way I could understand whether broken English or hand gestures. In a way, all of these people I made contact with were my SMEs! They helped me learn the content including the culture and language to become more knowledgeable of what was going on. Now, mind you, I wasn’t completely ignorant to what was going on. I was eager to learn and absorb the culture as much as possible and the more I did this the more receptive Italians were to me for at least trying.

Being an instructional designer is pretty similar. I rely on SMEs for the same type of information as I did for Italian natives. They are essentially my lifeline to the content I need for whatever I’m developing. I rely on them to expand my knowledge on what I’m unfamiliar with and as my point person for any questions or clarification on what I’m developing.

It’s also helpful to know a little background on what I’m working on, as well, or at least seem as though I’ve done my homework. As Italians were receptive to my desire to learn the language, SMEs are receptive to me speaking their language as well, learning the systems, understanding the culture, etc.

Preparing for Change

2015-11-24 16.57.22
Sorrento at Night

My initial plan when going on this trip was to spend 3 days in Rome, head down to Sorrento to visit Pompeii and the Amalfi coast, and then spend one final day in Rome before heading home. On the second day of Sorrento I was supposed to go to the Amalfi coast; however, to my surprise the weather was absolutely horrible and due to the season, many routes to the Amalfi coast were closed. Not to mention there was an employee strike from those working at the train system, which meant I might get stuck the following morning. Definitely not in my plans!

At that point I had to make a decision whether to spend another day in the cold and rain where there wasn’t much to do or head back to Rome where I was more comfortable and familiar with. It would cost a little more money but after weighing my options, I decided it would be best to spend another day in Rome’s rain instead. Luckily I didn’t regret my decision!

I face similar situations as an instructional designer. Prior to beginning a project there is most often a plan in place; however, as any ISD knows, things change more often then we would like. Whether it’s not getting access to a system, waiting on equipment, having difficulties meeting with SMEs, you name it, change is inevitable. As ISDs we have to think on our toes, being willing to change and adjust when necessary while still maintaining quality of work and not to mention stay on those deadlines!

Attention to Detail

2015-11-23 17.16.47
Entrance of St. Peter’s Basilica

I had some idea from history books and photos of how Rome looked but pictures didn’t do this place any justice, whatsoever. Absolutely every fountain, building, wall, mural, painting, and anything you can think of was incredibly detailed. Just standing and viewing some of these items it was obvious how much detail and planning had to occur over decades to ensure precision with every minute nook and cranny.

Being an instructional designer is no different. Although tedious, the planning phase is critical to instructional design requiring attention to all details in every aspect to ensure the careful delivery and high quality of work. Skipping over this important step can lead to delay, frustration, and a blow to a reputation which can be detrimental to, not just a project, but potentially a career as well.

Ciao!

2015-11-26 19.20.08
Legend has it if you throw a coin from your right hand over your left shoulder into Fontaine de Trevi, you’ll return to Rome soon… You know I did it!

My experience visiting Rome was everything I could have hoped for and more. Whether you’re into art and history, or not, visiting such a magical place will certainly change your mind about many things. During my trip I learned more than just the city but the people and culture within it. The customs, language, style of dress, the list goes on and on. The trip also helped me realize that my role as an ISD isn’t just a title. I think many instructional designers already have known characteristics of the role of an ISD  before we even get there. Realizing similarities between what I do for a living and what I like to do in my free time makes me realize how much I actually enjoy it!

Look Before You Leap! Three Benefits to Storyboarding

Man jumping across the gap from one rock to cling to the other.

When I get an idea, I just want to dive right in. Forget the details! I just want to get started and see how everything turns out. This actually works, for the most part. During most of those times, though,  the probability of things running smoothly may be more opt  to chance and luck than skill or experience. Which is why, over the years, I’ve forced myself to write storyboards for e-course development, specifically.

Storyboarding can be defined as “the process of visual thinking and planning displayed in sequence.”* This is often documented in some way either on a whiteboard, paper, Word, etc. I prefer to storyboard using Word and a simple table. I’ve realized that this process of storyboarding really gives you a chance to get those ideas on paper and envision what the final product may look like.

You Get the Client’s Buy-In

Probably one of the best benefits to writing a storyboard is you can review your ideas and content with the client. Believe me, it is so much easier to do it at this stage rather than wait until you’ve developed an entire course and the client says “What the hell is this?!” Not only is this a let down to your ISD ego, but it means you may have to start from scratch. Say bye-bye to all those hard hours you’ve worked because they mean absolutely nothing right now! If you’re an employee of an organization, you’re most likely getting called into the office to find out what went wrong. If you’re self-employed, you’re eating ramen noodles for the next week or two to make up for the wasted hours.

It Saves Time

Like I said, I don’t really want to spend time on figuring out the details and would rather just jump in. I’m impatient and I feel I can think a little more freely. This may be effective for the right part of my brain but in reality, it’s actually slowing me down.

During development, if I don’t use a storyboard I’m trying to figure out the details at the same time, which takes time away from actual creation. Next thing you know I’m trying to figure out what content to add to a comment box or what type of action I should be inserting instead of paying more attention to the logistics of what I’m actually doing.

For me, the transition between writing and developing content takes some serious adjusting. I’m a great multi-tasker but trying to do both of these things at the same time is usually not very successful. Now when I develop a storyboard I know that I’ve gotten the okay from the client and I can jump to development without much need to ask any additional questions, leaving me to focus on the development and producing an awesome course.

CYA (Cover Your Ass!)

I am a HUGE CYA fan! I mean, let’s be real here. If you don’t look out for yourself, who will, right? There’s no better way to look out for yourself than documenting EVERYTHING that you do; that includes developing a storyboard. When writing a storyboard, you can have as many meetings necessary to discuss content and write as many versions as you need.

With the other benefits I mentioned above, if you develop a storyboard, you have the opportunity to really think out the process and run it by the client to get the okay to move forward. Having that is like gold because, guess what? If something’s wrong during development and review of the final piece, who’s to blame? YOU!

If you received that approval and checked in with the client during every milestone and there’s something wrong, who’s to blame? Not you! (At least hypothetically). When you don’t have a storyboard, you may have to defend yourself based on conversations and notes you scribbled down during meetings. This isn’t liable to be effective and there’s the potential to lose your credibility in the process.

So overall,  it be tedious to create a storyboard making sure you include every single bit of information. But the good news is that you’ll be incredibly prepared and professional easing the process moving forward.

*Thorn, K. (2015). The Art of Storyboarding.

Three Things I Wish I Would’ve Done Before My Contract Ended

 

Image of the signing of the contract for a business meeting.

I just finished negotiating a new contract and, luckily in working with my recruiters, they’ve made the transition much easier for me than finding the contract on my own. So what’s something I realized? Well, I can be incredibly lazy and just wait for new contracts to come my way. The bad thing with this? I’ve been too lazy and I’ve had to scramble if a client requests sample work which often results in half-ass work which definitely isn’t representative of my skill set.

So now that I have a couple rounds of interviews under my belt and I’m no longer stressed, I figured I’d take a look at what I can do to get myself more prepared moving forward and help anyone else going through the same process.

Completing My Portfolio

Perhaps the number one rule (or close to it) of being a freelance or contractor instructional designer is to have a portfolio. I’m ashamed to admit that, although I’ve had one in the past, I currently don’t have one completed. In fact, I usually don’t begin to get a portfolio together unless it’s requested by the client (so bad, I know!). Alert!! This is NOT a good practice!

Hypothetically, you should have a portfolio already in existence so you can just update it with new samples on a consistent basis. E-portfolios seem to be more prevalent now with the increase of social media, technology, and the like but hard copy portfolios are also a good thing to keep on hand, just in case it’s requested. There will be more to come on what to include with portfolios so stay tuned!

Keeping Up-to-Date

Let’s face it, when it comes to technology things move SO fast! Again, due to my laziness, I haven’t kept up-to-date on the updates to a lot of software programs. Hell, I literally just  personally invested in a subscription to Captivate v.8 and they already came out with version 9! So, needless to say, things move quickly and if you’re not in the know of what’s going on, you may get lost in the shuffle. Now this is not to say that all organizations are using the most recent version of software programs (which is often rarely the case, especially with larger organizations); however, I think it’s good practice to at least be aware of additions to these programs and, if possible, incorporate them into new samples and add to your portfolio.

Participating in Networking/Organizations

Over the years I’ve religiously renewed my membership to organizations such as ATD but I’m sure, like many others, that’s been the extent of my participation. I’ll maybe read an article or two within a quarter, perhaps attend a webcast (or at least get scheduled for one) but that’s it. Needless to say, it hasn’t really gotten me far or as far as it probably could have had I participated more.

I spoke with a colleague who had discussed her interaction with potential clients and, as a entrepreneur herself, she told me that the majority of the business she received came from writing articles or blog posts which were seen by organizations seeking ISD work. How easy is that?! So after speaking to her I’ve made an effort to do just that. I dread networking and throwing myself out there but it’s necessary to get some traction so that’s what I’m going to do!

Conclusion

So there you have it! Three things (there are many more, believe me) I wish I would’ve done many of times over as I’ve progressed through this contract world. I still have much to work on but I’m much more motivated to take those necessary steps to get things going!