When I started this blog I said I would share my experiences and learning about instructional design as a career field. I also promised to tell about my own career transition with the hope that something in my experience might be helpful to others. In the end, it may be this latter goal that becomes the more significant one. In the two months or so that I’ve been looking into the instructional design field my thinking has already shifted, both in terms of my understanding of the field as a whole and of how I want to position myself within it. Since the ending to this career transition story isn’t written yet, it’s entirely possible that instructional design is not the area I want to move into. Only time and more experience and research will tell. Consequently, I think it will be instructive, both for me and for my readers, to explicitly reflect on my learning process from time to time. And so with this in mind, let me tell you about my current adventure! This will be a story without an ending (at least not yet) as it is still unfolding. But before I begin recounting my current saga, I have to take us back in time a little bit.
Exploring Web Development
I first thought about moving into the instructional design field back when I was still employed at the University of Arizona. I had been using the Desire2Learn learning management system (LMS) heavily for my courses, was experimenting with “clickers” (Classroom Response Systems) and was getting some exposure to the technologies in use in higher ed. Mostly, though, I was not a techie. I’d never coded, never played or been interested in gaming, and didn’t really know the first thing about digital technologies. Outside of what I was doing for my classes, the closest I’d come to working in the digital space was creating a couple of WordPress travel blogs (you can see them here and here) and playing with my iPhone. When it became clear I wouldn’t be staying in my faculty position (a blog post for another day), I started reflecting on my options. I figured it couldn’t hurt to have some technical knowledge regardless of my ultimate path, so I looked online for some free resources to help me learn more about HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). I found Codecademy and started working through its HTML tutorial. I didn’t get very far into it when I got offered and then accepted a job teaching high school in China. With an overseas move on the horizon, I put off learning more about web development.
Flash forward to this past summer. My high school teaching contract was up and I decided to come back to live stateside. For personal reasons I’ve ended up in Missoula, Montana and have decided to make a go of it here one way or another. After another side excursion into educational consulting (another blog post for another day), I have come back to the idea of teaching and learning, and especially instructional design and educational technology. Given my self-imposed geographical restrictions, I thought working in edtech would both allow me to remain connected to education and be something I could work on remotely if needed. I’ve also always loved planning and design work. Developing courses, planning and writing curricula and creating learning activities have been the aspects of teaching I’ve always had a passion for, so I thought some kind of edtech development work might be a good fit for me.
To learn more about instructional design and digital learning I set up a couple of informational interviews, both with professionals involved in online learning in higher ed. From them, and then subsequently from reading websites like O*Net Online, it’s become clear that I’m not going to get very far without some background in multimedia production and/or web design. And so I’ve been investigating several different learning options to see which might work best for me in my current situation. So far I’ve narrowed it down to three different paths: studying on my own with books and websites, taking a class or two in Media Arts at the University of Montana, enrolling in an online coding bootcamp like Bloc, or attending a residential coding bootcamp like Montana Code School. I still haven’t made a decision about which of these to choose, though at the moment I’m leaning toward just self-study with some media arts classes or an online coding camp. While a residential camp isn’t off the table, it would have to be Montana Code School since I’m not willing to move for it. The costs associated with relocation added to the cost of a coding bootcamp make the whole thing prohibitive, at least for me. Independent study, while certainly the least expensive option in the short-term, has its drawbacks. Not yet having a technical background or many contacts in the tech industry, I do worry about getting the kind of mentorship that I need. Finding good mentors was always a challenging proposition, yet I’ve learned the hard way that mentoring is crucial to getting you where you want to go. It also ties in with what I’ve learned about collaborative learning and communities of practice in the Coursera eLearning Ecologies class I’ve been taking. While I’m sure I could learn quite a bit just by reading on my own and building my own projects, I think I will need someone I can ask questions of, who can critique my work and who can give me an insider’s perspective on the web development industry. Mainly for this reason I’m thinking hard about online coding bootcamps. I’m especially interested in Bloc because it offers a special designer track where I could get training in both user experience (UX/UI) design processes and applications and some front-end development (the user side of the web). But I’m also trying to talk to a few people I know in the tech world to see whether they think it is worth the money since, like other bootcamps, “they ain’t cheap.” In the meantime I’m starting my own self-study program with books and websites. Even if I decide to do a camp, I’ll still do my own reading and investigation. So you can look forward to future blog posts from me that provide more detail on my web design learning! If anybody has any experience with coding bootcamps, especially the online ones, please leave a comment and tell me about your experience.