The Skeletons in My L&D Closet
I feel like I've been in the business of teaching and learning for what feels like forever. In job interviews, when they ask how long I've been doing what I'm doing, I'm sometimes tempted to start with 6th grade when I volunteered to help out in a PreK class for kids with severe autism, or that summer at 16 years old where I was a counselor at a science camp, or my 8 years teaching horseback riding and doing full day programs as a senior instructor. All before the age of 24 and way before I found myself where I am today.
Basically, this is my long-winded way of saying... I've had a lot of time to make mistakes! There are definitely some skeletons in my L&D closet I'd rather forget about. But today, I want to share them with you so that you can avoid them.
1. Annoying the Learner with Frivolous Tasks
My first year teaching writing to undegrads in a formal class setting, I had to come up with my syllabus without much guidance. I assigned an essay that asked students to consider their worldview. Good assignment.
Then, borrowing from another assignment I saw someone else do, I had students cut down the essay. Next, I had them rewrite it a third time as an expanded version.
The purpose was to help them with editing, but it wasn't clear to them why they were rewriting the thing three times. And honestly, when they handed their papers in for feedback, I wasn't entirely clear why either. I didn't see massive meaningful change.
From then on, I stuck to assessments I designed and were focused on my goal:
Help students embrace writing as a tool for communication so that they can use it to accomplish goals and advocate for the changes they want to see in their world
But this is something I see all the time. We get lost in the learning objectives and "creative solutions" and forget the bigger picture. All learning should be goal focused.
If it doesn't help the learner achieve the bigger goal, don't include it.
2. Developing Bad eLearning
For one of my early projects as a freelancer, I had a potential client ask me to design a short interactive copywriting module for them that could be delivered asynchronously online. I was just learning Adobe Captivate, and I suggested that I build the module in it. I really had no business doing that.
But they were excited about it and took me up on the offer.
In my first few years as an ID, I focused mostly on curriculum, video, and assessments. So... I was lacking true know-how when it came to variables and triggers, and my visual design skills were limited to some basics I learned as a photography minor in college/whatever I picked up working with creatives.
The course was-- by my current standards-- atrocious. I used a Captivate animated character and had her in front of a whiteboard with a lot of text. There was no audio. I don't think it was accessible in any way. I don't think it was appropriate for the audience.
To be honest, I don't even remember the assessments. I think I designed some because hands-on is my style, but I couldn't tell you.
Although they were pleased with the outcome, I'm pretty embarrassed now by what I turned over.
Also... I charged them a flat rate of $400, and it wound up taking me 38 hours because I kept breaking the triggers 😂🤣😭 In the end, I made less than $11 per hour. Definitely not a good use of my time or theirs.
By all means, take on stretch tasks, but within reason.
If you really have no idea what you're doing and the client is counting on you, at least outsource the task to someone who does.
I truly hope they hired someone to redo it at a later date.
3. Overusing Explainers
Explainer videos are wonderful. YouTube is full of them. But much like the classroom lecture, there's a time and place for them. They shouldn't be used for everything all the time.
I often come back to aviation training, but that's because I spent 6 years working with different aviation clients. There is so much resistance in the field to doing anything that isn't "how it's always been done." For pilot training, especially, everything had to be by the book-- literally, they have FTMs. It would go: Basic Indoc --> Systems Training --> FTD --> Sim --> IOE. And Basic Indoc and Systems Training were almost always lecture only (this frustrated the living heck out of me). Basically, no one wants to fight with the FAA, and the auditors often just want something that makes it easy to identify the items on their checklist.
As a result, I found myself suggesting this style of video quite a bit because it most closely resembled the f2f lectures and the (boring) CBTs they were familiar with. Many times a job aid, a knowledge base, structured on the job training, or a simulation would have been a better solution.
It's really important to keep that forgetting curve in mind. Most of what someone sees in an explainer video will be forgotten if they aren't actively participating and trying to learn the information in some way or making some kind of emotional connection to the content.
Getting past overusing the explainer is really a matter of learning to ask better questions during the needs analysis phase and getting more comfortable pitching solutions to clients (rather than waiting to reject their ideas).
4. Underestimating My Value
This is probably the skeleton I've been hiding the deepest.
I've helped enterprise level clients perform training needs analysis, provide frameworks for improved performance, transition from f2f to online learning, and develop more content that I can remember. I've helped businesses of all sizes from global to solopreneur increase their bottom line, improve their service, and cut costs. I have a New York work ethic, meaning I get things done quickly, and I maintain positive relationships with my clients.
But I often get so hung up on "how long will this take me" that I forget the value of my service. I doubt my pricing or my solution or even my ability to deliver.
It's still something I work on. I know many of us are. There are three things that have really helped me:
Find your people - Having a network of colleagues I communicate with regularly helps me put things into perspective. I am so thankful for the learning pros I've connected with on LinkedIn and Instagram and especially for those who have joined me in my Freelance ID, dev, LXD group on Facebook.
Study consulting - Learning more about business, performance, needs analysis, working with clients, and doing sales has had an immense impact on my self assurance when it comes to new and challenging situations.
Write down your successes - Every little job done. Every award. Every time someone says something nice about your work. Put it somewhere you can look back to.
No bones about it... I'm still a work in progress.
I know I've learned a lot over the years. I typically make better choices. I propose more meaningful learning solutions. I advocate for time to get a full picture when I work on new projects. I take on level-appropriate development work. And I ask for help when I need it.
But you know, we all make mistakes, and while I wish I didn't, they all helped me to become a better designer, leader, and person.
Any closets you want to clean out?
I promise not to judge your skeletons, and I'd love to hear about the lessons you've learned along the way.