Recap of TLDC’s The Road to L&D

a winding road lined with trees
This is a recap of the TLDC event, “The Road to L&D: From Teaching to Instructional Design,” from Friday, January 21, 2022.

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Reading Time: 7 minutes

Introduction

Whether you’re a teacher looking into learning and development careers (L&D), or you’re starting out in an L&D role, Friday’s TLDC event, “The Road to L&D: From Teaching to Instructional Design,” was chock full of advice, best practices, and resources.

If you missed the event, you weren’t able to attend all of it, or you want to reflect on what you learned, stay tuned to TLDC’s YouTube channel and social media accounts because they’ll be posting the recordings.

In the meantime, here are my five takeaways from the event.

UPDATE: Recordings are now available here!

The L&D Job Market Is Hot, Hot, Hot!

That headline is a direct quote from career coach Sarah Cannistra, who kicked off the event. She shared that there are more than 500,000 available positions in learning and development careers right now. About 4 percent of those positions were instructional-design-related (which is still more than 20,000 jobs).

Unfortunately, I don’t know how many of those positions are for people who are just starting out in the field. But the message was that if you’re worried about the market being oversaturated, you can relax a little. There’s a lot of work in L&D careers out there.

Part of the reason for this is people are no longer staying in jobs that don’t offer professional development opportunities. So, corporations are realizing that if they want to attract and retain top talent, they need to invest in training.

In addition, since the pandemic began, even companies that were die-hard proponents of in-person training have shifted more of their learning opportunities to online platforms. Instead of only classroom courses, many companies are offering eLearning, virtual instructor-led training, and microlearning. And they’ve realized they need L&D professionals to help them design, deliver, and manage this content.

That’s where you and I—and our job security—come in.

There's More to L&D Than Instructional Design

Of all L&D careers, instructional design probably gets talked about the most. In fact, if you’re a teacher looking into other careers, it may be the only L&D career you’ve heard about. But you need to know that it’s not your only option.

Dr. Luke Hobson talked about what he wished he knew before becoming an instructional designer—presenting a summary of his book with that title (affiliate link). If you’re looking into ID as a career, I encourage you to read his book or follow his free content to learn more about what’s involved with the role before deciding it’s the career for you.

Sarah shared that about 90% of her coaching clients originally come in wanting to be an instructional designer. But this is before they gain clarity about the other types of roles that exist and what would be a good fit for them. After they get that clarity, only about 17 percent land on an instructional design role.

Here are some of the roles that exist in L&D:

  • Instructional Designer / Learning Experience Designer
  • L&D Specialist
  • L&D Manager / Director
  • eLearning Developer
  • Trainer/Facilitator
  • Virtual Facilitator
  • Virtual Producer
  • Performance Consultant
  • Learning Management System Administrator
  • Customer Education Specialist
  • Customer Success Partner
  • Data Analyst
  • Instructional Technology Specialist
  • Digital Content Creator/Curator
  • Accessibility Specialist

Raven Wilson shared her experience moving into L&D from classroom teaching. She spent eight months pursuing an instructional design path—even going to graduate school for a certificate—before realizing that it wasn’t for her. One deciding factor was that she didn’t enjoy writing lesson plans. So how could she be happy in a career that was all about designing lessons? That’s when she realized she needed to look beyond instructional design.

Find Your Strengths and Passions

Raven advised teachers looking into L&D careers to start by listing things they really love about teaching. Think beyond the students. What else about the job do you LOVE?

She discovered that she loved delivering information, meeting with administration, and working with adults. Then she researched other types of career possibilities that included these types of activities.

Raven landed in a role as a Customer Success Partner, helping customers be successful at using software. And she loves it!

Raven pointed out that finding your niche is hard, and it’s okay to change your path if you get into a role and realize it’s not for you. She and Sarah both discussed the importance of being clear with yourself about what you enjoy and are good at. 

One resource to help you with this type of soul-searching is the High5 Test, a free strengths assessment.

My “High 5” biggest strengths are:

  1. Thinker (I enjoy mental activity and meaningful conversations.)
  2. Believer (I want to do the right thing and don’t compromise my values.)
  3. Philomath (I love learning new things.)
  4. Deliverer (I take responsibility and follow through on commitments.)
  5. Empathizer (I have a natural ability to step into another person’s shoes.)

These qualities make instructional design a good fit for me. I enjoy thinking through the best instructional approaches and get excited about working with different subject matter all the time. I don’t need to be in front of learners.

A colleague of mine would surely have “Coach” as a top strength. She enjoys working closely with people to support their personal growth. She excels at instructional design. But she really shines—and is happiest—in the classroom working with learners. So, she jumps at every opportunity to facilitate train-the-trainers and other sessions.

A Portfolio Is a Must for IDs

Even though the job market is hot, because many teachers are entering L&D, you will need to make your application stand out. One way to do this is with a portfolio—which is more important for instructional designers and developers than for other L&D roles.

Tim Slade pointed out that more companies are hiring for skills than for credentials—and a portfolio is a way to show evidence of your skills. As an example, he said he could list “salsa dancing” on his resume. But if a company wanted to hire him as a salsa dancer, they’d want to see evidence that he could salsa dance. Sadly, there was no salsa dancing demonstration during Tim’s session.

He shared examples of different portfolios and provided advice for creating one, including registering a domain name, choosing a platform, and determining what to include. He stressed quality over quantity. As Tim said, “They’re only going to spend a few minutes in your portfolio. In those few minutes, they’d better see your BEST work, not all of your work.”

"A portfolio is a living, breathing artifact of your skillset. If you invest time, it’s something that will change and iterate over time, as your skills and abilities change and iterate over time."

Tim answered a lot of questions about creating portfolios, so be sure and catch the recording of his session when it’s available.

When creating your portfolio, Tim advised asking yourself:

  • What am I really good at doing?
  • What do I really enjoy doing?
  • What do I want to be hired to do?
  • What are people willing to pay me to do?

These questions also work if you’re trying to find the L&D role that’s right for you.

Do Your Research

Laura Hoyer and Heidi Kirby talked about the learning curve associated with becoming an instructional designer—which also applies to other L&D careers. You’ll need to learn about terminology, tools, adult learning theories, project management, needs analysis, accessibility, and more. It can be easy to get overwhelmed.

How do you handle the learning curve? The best advice from Friday’s speakers—and that I can echo—is to build your professional learning community (PLC).

Finding a community is one of the best things you can do for your career. Make L&D connections on LinkedIn and other social media. Join communities like Teaching: A Path to L&DThe eLearning Designer’s Community, and TLDC.

You can find more advice for building your PLC (and TONS of resources) in my post, How to Become an Instructional Designer: The Ultimate Resource List. Many of these resources apply to other L&D roles as well.

Summary

Teachers, I encourage you to think about what it is you LOVE the most about teaching. And you can’t say, “the students.” What parts of your job (or even past jobs) do you excel at? Start making a list. Then look up some job postings in L&D, and see which ones require skills, characteristics, and responsibilities that match your list. Connect with people currently in those roles and learn all you can from them.

If you’re not a teacher but you’re looking to start a career in L&D—or find your niche—you can use the same types of questions to find your perfect fit. Remember Tim’s questions:

  • What am I really good at doing?
  • What do I really enjoy doing?
  • What do I want to be hired to do?
  • What are people willing to pay me to do?

These all speak to finding your “why.” And as Sarah said, “when you get crystal clear on your why, it makes for a smooth, easy, fun, and authentic journey.”

"People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe."

Resources

Most of the resources I’ve listed below are free. I’ve noted when they’re not.

Some of the presenters also sell courses and other services and may use their free offerings as an opportunity to market those products to you. I’m not endorsing them, and you are under no obligation to buy them. In fact, I encourage you to take advantage of the plethora of FREE information that’s readily available. And always do your research before signing up for a course, certificate program, academy, coaching, or other service that costs money.

General Resources

Communities

Portfolio Examples

Accessibility Resources

Books (Not Free)*

*I will earn a small amount if you choose to purchase books from the above links. This helps to support this blog and does not affect the price you pay.

Speakers' Pages

Upcoming TLDC Event

TLDC is hosting another sure-to-be-amazing event this Friday, January 28 called Writing for Instructional Design. Speakers are Christy Tucker, Kim Lindsey, Jen Yaros, and Dr. Nicole Papaioannou Lugara. I’ll be there—will you?

If you can’t make it, check back the following Monday for my recap of the event. Or subscribe below to make sure you don’t miss out!

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