Breaking into the Business
Earlier this week a friend-of-a-friend contacted me with this question:
What are some tips that you have for someone who would like to get experience with curriculum design and development and eventually pursue a position in this field?
This new friend is currently working in student services, has some experience as an instructor, and is taking graduate courses in higher education. My response included the following:
Assemble a portfolio – Establish a website, blog, or use an online portfolio tool (like VisualCV) to collect examples of your work. This could include brief descriptions of the projects you’ve worked on in the past, screenshots of items you’ve designed and/or built, materials you developed when you were an instructor, a writing sample. As you plan and complete your course assignments, do so with your portfolio in mind.
Find your niche – What part of the process do you enjoy the most? What are your strongest skills? Designers and developers often wear a lot of hats – graphic design, technical writing, project management, programming, multimedia, editing, testing. Do you prefer working on face-to-face courses, blended courses, or all online? Do you want to work in higher ed, K-12, industry? From your coursework and previous experience you can probably also list areas where you need more practice.
Seek out opportunities to practice – Instructional designers get better with each project. Are there projects in your area, where you could assist, that would help you gain experience (creating user’s guides, training materials, etc)? Are there opportunities for you to volunteer your design and development services in exchange for the experience and additional portfolio items? For example, another friend is building a website for a community youth organization.
Emphasize related skills – You already have some very valuable experience. Curriculum designers and developers are almost always working as part of a team. Faculty members are usually on that team. Students are the reason for building the courses in the first pace, so your experience working directly with students – as an instructor and as an advisor – gives you a level of familiarity that will be an asset.
Network – Keep talking with professionals in the field and asking questions. Consider joining a professional organization (AECT, AACE, ISTE, ASTD, Sloan-C are a few – but there are a LOT more). Set up a profile on a professional networking system (such as LinkedIn), join instructional design groups, and participate in the discussions.
Look for a position – While you may not be ready to apply, you might be closer than you think. Register for job search ‘alerts’ related to curriculum design and development and read through the vacancy announcements as they arrive via email. What are they looking for in terms of experience, computer skills, etc? These announcements can be helpful in identifying areas where you need practice and items you might include in your portfolio.
What else would you recommend to someone trying to get their first job in instructional design? Other sources of experience or education? Do you think a degree in instructional design is required?
Photo credit: NotMicroButSoft, Flickr