Getting Laid Off – It’s Not Personal. It’s Strictly Business

Getting Laid Off – by Dr. Greg Williams, UMBC ISD Program Director

laid offIn the movie “The Godfather” (Part I), there is a line where Michael Corleone says to his younger brother “It’s not personal Sonny, it’s strictly business”.

In 2002, I was told by my employer that they had some bad news for me.  Due to the State of Maryland’s economic situation, the university had to make budget cuts. Unfortunately for me, my job was one of them.

Laid Off

I was shocked!  I said to myself “this happens in private business, not in the slow moving world of higher education”.  I thought “how could they lay me off?”  I had good evaluations, was a dedicated employee, did all they asked, and more.  Boy, was I wrong.  In other words, it’s not personal, it’s just business.

After the feeling of shock subsided, I had an uneasy feeling of panic.  What was going going to do? How long would I be unemployed?  Had I saved enough money? Who would hire me?

Preparation is Key

I felt very unprepared.  My resume and references were outdated.  Worse yet, I really had no professional portfolio to speak of.  Oh, I had accomplishments.  But many were undocumented and certainly in no shape to show a prospective employer.

To make a long story short, I survived.  I had a solid work history and an extensive network of professional contacts that proved to be my lifeline.

So what lessons did a I learn from getting laid off?

Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned (or re-learned) was that life isn’t fair.  If an organization can benefit by cutting their costs (e.g. laying you off), they will.  Accept that as fact and more on.  It’s not personal…just business. You should never feel completely secure in your job.  Fear can be a good motivator.  As a former boy scout I should have known to be better prepared.

So what can you do to prevent this, or at least cope with getting laid off?

  1. Accept the fact that anyone can get laid off at any time.
  2. Always be open to career opportunities.
  3. Stay on top of what the job market looks like for our field.  Know the changes and trends.
  4. Have your resume up to date.  There is nothing sadder than seeing a great job advertised only to find out you cannot meet the application deadline.
  5. Have your portfolio up to date and ready to share with people.
  6. Get feedback from professional colleagues on your portfolio.
  7. Have a LinkedIn account.  It’s the number one digital professional network.  Recruiters rely on it.
  8. Don’t forget in-person networking strategies.  In-person networking is not dead!
  9. Stay in touch with your professional references.
  10. Stay positive.  Good thing will happen, but sometimes things take time.

Don’t make the same mistakes as me.  It was painful learning experience, but it doesn’t have to be. Remember, it’s not personal, it’s strictly business.

Always in learning mode,
Your friends at ISD Now

The Instructional Design Mold to Autism Training

This week’s blog entry, The Instructional Design Mold to Autism Training, was written by Vijayshree Rautela

autismThe instructional design formula, when correctly implemented, can make training for any type of target audience effective. It lays down a clear path for the instructional designer to follow right from analyzing and identifying the training need, determining what makes the audience learn best to implementing  training, and evaluating its effectiveness.

Autism and Instructional Design

My recent calling to create training for special needs children made me realize how true this really is. The focus for me has been on creating training solutions for autistic children. And I found there couldn’t be a better target audience to test the effectiveness of instructional design. What’s more it’s a perfect match – the defined structure and all the carefully outlined details and consistency in approach are some of integral elements in creating effective training for autistic children.  Here’s an audience that functions best in structure, order, and consistency. If you love to get into the psychology of your target audience and analyze what make them tick and learn, this could be a fun and self-fulfilling project.

Training for Autism

As an ‘ADDIE’ Instructional Designer, here’s how I see it working for training autistic children:

autism

autism autism3 autism4 autism5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After ADDIE, let’s look at the learner types.

It’s interesting to note that based on the learner type, the same content can be molded into different training types.

If it’s a visual learner, training could focus on visual strategies. It’s observed that visual thinking is more prominent in autistic individuals. So pictures with words and phrases describing an action or alphabet would be effective.For example, the letter A could be denoted with the picture of an apple with the alphabet printed alongside it.

For auditory learners, content could have learning strategies that are more audio-based. For example, some children may respond better if sentences, phrases, or words are sung to them. In case of kinesthetic learners, there could be more activities utilizing hands where learners get to touch and understand the objects – classroom training activities where the letters are actual plastic objects that the children can and touch and feel them to understand them.

Most autistic children have issues with motor control. If it’s online training, then using the mouse could be a problem. Touch screen commands would be more effective in this case. In fact it could be an engaging activity for learners if instructions are standardized graphics that they can consistently relate to, example: continue, back, click, select etc.

There’s usually a challenging skill or two to teach a target audience. For autistic children it is mostly social interaction. Autistic individuals are usually not social by nature and maintaining eye contact for them is a challenge. I’ve observed that autistic individuals enjoy watching shows, movies, and videos and absorbing information from them.

An interactive online training could be effective with engaging video demonstrations on social interactions that are identified as challenges for the child. The videos can be humorous, showing the “don’ts” in contrast to the “dos”. Mostly autistic children/individuals do well in learning from videos/movies that have close captioning – helps them watch and read simultaneously.

A blended learning solution could also be effective to target social interaction skills. After viewing videos and demonstrations online, there could be classroom interaction sessions where the learners get an opportunity to implement the same.

It’s important to keep in mind the behavioral issues and list of things that distract or frustrate the learners identified in the analysis stage. A group of support crew is very important to be present at this stage.

And who doesn’t love choices? When in a classroom set up, if met with opposition to perform a certain task, the strategy to offer choices that have the same learning result could work. This helps in identifying what the learner prefers to do and is also motivational.

Today there are various apps that are available to help engage and train children with autism. However, if it’s a training customized and tailor made to specific learner types and based on instructional design principles, it has better chances of effectiveness. There’s more work, but at the end of it, there sure is more fulfillment than for any other target audience to see your training solution work!

A special thanks to Vijayshree Rautela for sharing this important post on autism and instructional design with us.

Always in learning mode,
Your friends at ISDNow

How A Junk Mail Flyer Changed My Career

junk mailWho would have thought that receiving a junk mail flyer in my mailbox would have changed my career? How was I to know that this one particular flyer would have a significant impact on my professional life?

Dr. Greg Williams, Program Director for UMBC’s ISD Graduate Program, shares his story of how junk mail changed the trajectory of his career.

Junk Mail Offered a New Direction

In 1999, I was living in the Federal Hill neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland. One day I received a flyer in the U.S. mail from an online university. They were recruiting potential faculty to teach online for them. I had wondered about teaching online, but never really did anything about before. From my research, reading and conversations with professional colleagues, it seemed like eLearning was poised to grow. And now, a supposed piece of junk mail confirmed it!

At the time of receiving this flyer, I was working at Towson University at the time in a staff position. I mentioned to a faculty member that I was thinking about going through the online university’s faculty training program. To my surprise he said that he knew someone who had gone through the same program and thought that it was excellent.

It All Started with a Junk Mail Flyer

I decided to enroll in the course. I thought it would be good for my career. I was right. Prior to this training course I had never taken an eLearning course myself, nor had I taught one. I had some limited experience with eLearning, but I never taught a complete online class.

This particular class required us to be available for 20 hours of class time, homework and studying each week. There were no exceptions for anyone. If you missed class time or were late on your assignments, you were removed form the class and had to start over again.

The course was modeled after the online university’s regular 5 week format. We experienced the same thing as students taking our courses. This helped to develop empathy, as well as to “walk a mile” in the students’ shoes.

It was a demanding and challenging experience. However, I learned a great deal. It was the foundation for developing my eLearning skills. Here is some of what I learned.

What I Learned About eLearning
1. It’s not “easy” being an online student. Online learning is not for everyone.
2. Online students need good time management skills, be motivated and disciplined.
3. eLearning is not about the technology. While online teachers use technology, a successful course is more about their ability to facilitate their learning.
4. Communication is very different. We know how simple email communication can easily get misunderstood. That misunderstanding can grow exponentially when it comes to eLearning.

Other Lessons Learned
1. Be open to change, it’s how we grow.
2. You never know where or when opportunities may pop up.
3. Use critical thinking and don’t believe everything you hear.
4. Take some calculated career risks.
5. Your career is dynamic, so you need to be dynamic too.

Because the flyer, my career would never be the same. It opened up a number of life-changing opportunities for me. Maybe you have some opportunities coming your way too. Would you recognize them? Be open-minded and give them a chance.

Lastly, take a quick glance at your junk mail before you throw it away.

Always in Learning Mode,
Your friends at ISD Now

eLearning – What I Wish They Told Me…

eLearningWith eLearning being so popular now, many trainers and college faculty are learning to teach their first online class. Read on and hear from Dr. Greg Williams, UMBC ISD Program Director.

eLearning Resources Abound!

Today a number of great resources are available to beginning online teachers. These eLearning resources range from blogs and websites dedicated to this to entire books on the subject. Additionally, there are numerous great courses now that help you learn how to teach online. I taught my first online graduate level course over ten years ago. eLearning resources were not as plentiful as they are now. I was given a syllabus and an empty course shell in Blackboard. I think someone wished me good luck. That was about it.

Looking back, there are a number of things that I wish someone told me before I taught my first online class.

8 eLearning Things I Wish I Learned Ahead of Time:

Know Your Students – It is important that you get to know your eLearning students (and their motivations). For example, do they need your course to graduate this semester? Are they working three jobs and taking care of kids? Are students taking your course because they love the topic? Or did they register because all their other class choices were filled? Have they taken online classes before? Beware the students taking your class because they think that online classes are “easier”.

Be Deliberate About Communication – Have a plan about how and when you communicate with your eLearning students. For example, I tell my students to expect a response from me in 24-48 hours when they post a question or send me a direct email. Don’t leave them guessing. Over the years I have received numerous VERY long emails from students. They have dozens of questions and concerns about their performance in the course. Rather than respond via email, I usually ask them to talk on the phone with me. It gets to the point quicker and helps to deal with any issues directly. Additionally, it may be a good idea to have an eLearning course FAQ.

All Students Will Not Read the Syllabus – As teachers we are very proud of our course syllabi. Be prepared that a number of students will not read it. How do you deal with this? You can structure an assignment that forces them to read the syllabus (scavenger hunt). Or you can award bonus points if students can answer questions about your syllabus. Remember that the syllabus is the contractual document between the students and the college. When there are issues over grades, the courts always refer back to the syllabus.

Technology Will Fail You and Your Students – No matter what you do, technology will not work at times for you and your eLearning students. Murphy’s law mandates that this failure will happen at the worst possible moment. Encourage (require?) your students to have access to a backup computer. Additionally, have them save everything in MS Word first before they post it. It’s also a good idea to have them save files online using tools such as Google Drive and others. This will minimize issues such as “my hard drive died and my assignment is gone”.

Check Your Course Every Day – I originally thought that checking my eLearning course every few days would be more than enough. Wrong! What I discovered was that it makes much more sense to check in online every day, even if it is only for 20 minutes or so. Students constantly want feedback in a timely matter. Additionally, questions may pop up that are time sensitive and need to be addressed quickly.

eLearning2Simple Is Good – My original eLearning course design was much more complicated than it is now. I used to think that “more was better”.  What I discovered over the years was that I sometimes confused students by giving them too much information. They didn’t know what to do or where to go on the course site. Now I’ve really scaled my course design back. The lesson I learned was “it’s not about the technology”.

Students Know How to Take An Online Course – Even though the first online course I taught was in 2004, I really thought that students knew how to take an online course.  Boy, was I wrong! Taking a course online is a completely different experience than taking a face-to-face course. What I’ve learned is that just because I have a lot of experience teaching and taking online courses, it doesn’t mean that my students do. We sometimes forget that everybody does not use a computer every day.

Students Will “Disappear” – I was surprised to learn that a handful of students simply “disappeared” from my course. What I discovered was students simply stopped showing up or stopped participating in the class. Even worse, they never even told me why. I had to seek them out myself. What I found out was they had work issues, personal issues, medical issues, etc. Some stopped participating just because learning online wasn’t for them.

eLearning is Not for Everyone

Over the years, I’ve learned that online courses are not for every student, nor are they for every instructor. As an instructor, it is helpful to keep an open mind and realize that you can always learn and get better. Ten years from now, who knows what I’ll write about this topic.

For more info, check out my video on this topic.

Always in Learning Mode,
Your friends at ISDNow

You Don’t Need a Degree in Instructional Design to Get a Job

By: Dr. Greg Williams, Program Director, UMBC ISD Graduate Program

This blog article might get me fired!

ISD JobIn my position as the director of a graduate program in instructional design (OK there’s my full disclosure), I often get the question “Will this degree get me a job?” My answer is no. That response may be heresy for a college professor.

In reality, I am not sure that ANY degree guarantees you a job these days. If people truly think that a degree alone will get them a job, then they are wasting their time and their money.

Employers look at a number of things besides your education. That may include your work experience, your skills and competencies (as documented by a professional portfolio), how well you work in groups, how you solve problems, your creativity and much more. You should never overlook the importance of career tools and such as your resume, your references, your relationships within the professional community, how well they interview, etc. They too play a part in getting a job.

My academic colleagues may not like this, but everyone doesn’t need a college degree.

If people really wanted to they could get comparable knowledge on their own. They could do this by:

  • Reading and studying and practicing on their own
  • Taking appropriate professional development courses
  • Getting feedback and coaching from professional colleagues
  • Working with a mentor
  • And much more!

This might give them similar benefits that may compare to the content of a college degree. Are there exceptions to this? Of course there are! The truth is that most people don’t have the self-discipline to do this.

The older you get, your degree becomes less critical in getting a job.

As you gain experience, employers look more at your accomplishments and your body of professional work, far more than your degrees. There are some employers who use the degree as a screening tool to eliminate candidates from a large pile of applicants. However, in some workplace environments degrees are very important (higher education), while in others they are not (e.g. sales).

It is very possible that you may not need a degree at all. There are a number of people in our field (instructional design & eLearning) who are very accomplished and don’t have a degree. The difference is they have accomplishments and a body of work that showcases their skills.

As with many questions in life, the answer to this question often is “it depends”. Before you spend a lot of time and money on a degree, think about what you will put into it (time and money) compared to what you will get out of it (raise, new job, skills). In the end, you are in charge of your own career, so weigh the pros and cons carefully.

Speaking of careers, I wonder if I still have a job?

Always in learning mode,
Your friends at ISDNow

Effective E-Learning: Graphics

Research had shown that graphics, be it line drawings, charts, and photographs and motion graphics such as animation and video, can improve learning when effectively used in an e-learning environment.

graphics

What is Effective Use of Graphics?

In this case, an effective use of graphics refer to those that are related to the material presented. Dr. Ruth Clark presented the findings of research conducted by Richard Mayer and his colleagues at the University of California at Santa Barbara in her article Six Principles of Effective E-Learning – What Works and Why published by Learning Solutions Magazine.

Research on the Use of Graphics

In his research, Mayer compared learning about various mechanical and scientific processes from lessons that used words alone or used words and graphics. In the majority of the cases in this research, he concluded that test subjects improved their understanding when pictures were included. On the flip side, the research indicated that unrelated graphics can actually depress learning. Clark further explained in her article that “while graphics can boost learning, it will be important to select the kind of graphic that is congruent with the text and with the learning goal. Graphics that are irrelevant or gratuitous actually depress learning. Consider selecting your graphics based on the type of content you are teaching.”

Learn More about Graphics and Effective E-learning

Read more about this multimedia principle of adding graphics to words to improve learning, as well as about the five other principles presented: contiguity principle, modality principle, redundancy principle, coherence principle, and personalization principle. Share your experiences with the use of graphics in e-learning in the comment section below.

Always in learning mode,

Your friends at ISD Now

www.umbc.edu/isd

Unlearning to Learn More

Unlearning is just as important, and some would argue, even more important, than learning.

What is unlearning?

Unlearning happens when one comes face-to-face with a new idea, concept or thought that contradicts what has been learned previously.  The world is constantly moving, changing, and shifting. If we don’t acknowledge this, we threaten our very survival, be it professionally or personally, in this ever-changing landscape.

unlearning

New ideas have always been a catalyst to growth and development, be it in a classroom, in a business setting, or in a relationship.  These new ideas are constantly replacing old ones. What we spent years learning, may no longer be applicable today or in the future.

Learn to Unlearn

How does one not drown in the sea of knowledge when it is constantly being saturated by newer concepts that replace old ones? The answer is quite simple. We need to learn to unlearn.

What Does it Mean to Unlearn?

Our minds are being filled with a constant flow of information. If we don’t stop and empty some of it out, we won’t have room for anything new to enter. To stay fresh, vital and on top of the game, we need to make room for new knowledge because the world is ever changing.

Benefits of Unlearning:

  • Release old ideas
  • Let go of old habits
  • Make room for new information

Why Should We Unlearn?

As ISD professionals, it’s critical that we understand the need for unlearning because technology is always changing, and what served us once, may not serve us today or tomorrow.

Unlearning Allows Us: 

  • To grow
  • To allow new ideas to take up root
  • To gain new perspectives
  • To adapt to the changing environment
  • To remove barriers that limit our potential

In her blog, Taruna Goel introduced this excerpt from a paper titled ‘Lifelong Unlearning’ written by Trevor Pateman: “In our cognitive lives our memories – what we know – is often an obstacle to engaging with the world around us. It is a commonplace that what we see is often influenced by what we think there is to see, and if that is true, then that might be taken as an argument for thinking less and with less conviction. We should carry our knowledge lightly, and always be ready to let go of it.”

Check out this video by Author Jack Uldrich on Unlearning Possibilities:

Have you had to unlearn something recently?

Always in learning mode,
Your friends at ISD Now
www.umbc.edu/isd

ISD Professionals: Four Reasons You Need a Portfolio

Are you prepared for when that opportunity comes into your path, offering a chance at a fantastic project that could elevate you to the next level in your ISD career?  If a potential client came calling tomorrow, would you have your best work ready to showcase? If not, read on.

portfolio

Why a Portfolio?

  1. To prove you have experience
  2. To sell yourself
  3. To showcase your talents and value
  4. To stand out from the competition

What to Present in a Portfolio?

Your best work. Period.

Here’s the caveat, though: you must honor the privacy of your clients. Before adding their projects into your portfolio, seek the written permission of their legal department. If you can’t obtain their permission, consider creating projects on your own to add to your portfolio.

What is the Best Portfolio Format?

Online and Paper versions both have advantages. Online allows for easy sharing, easy access, and easy correction in a cost effective manner. Paper-based portfolios have tangible, sensory value and are great for face-to-face interviews.

How to Organize a Portfolio

Leigh Anne Lankford, an Instructional Design Consultant, summed up her recommendations in her article, ISD Professionals – Building a Portfolio. She suggested these effective methods to organize a portfolio:

  • Place projects in chronological order.
  • Use the ADDIE Model to organize projects.
  • Organize projects according to the ASTD Competency Model.

Regardless of which organizational method you use to showcase your portfolio, the most important thing to keep in mind is to make it clean and clear of errors, and present only your best work. Seeking the advice and objectivity of someone unbiased can prove extremely helpful, as well. Encourage critical feedback from this person.

What to Include in Your Portfolio?

Think of a portfolio as a snapshot of your skills. It’s your chance to get in front of a prospective client and wow them with your ability. Place yourself in the shoes of the prospective client. What do they want to see? What would win over their confidence? What skill sets are critical to their project? Be sure your portfolio addresses these questions.

In her article, Lankford drafted a comprehensive list of items to consider:

  • One sample of High Level Design.
  • One Storyboard if you design for eLearning.
  • One Facilitator Guide sample.
  • One Participant Guide.
  • Content areas samples that showcase your expertise.
  • Evaluations you’ve created and their related feedback.
  • Recommendations and glowing reviews.

At UMBC, students admitted to the Master’s degree in Instructional Systems Development – Training Systems, are required to complete a professional portfolio. This requirement replaced the current comprehensive exam requirement in 2012.

Dr. Greg Williams, UMBC’s ISD Graduate Program Director, stated, “The purpose of this new requirement is to provide students an opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned in their coursework and the program. It also provides students, employers, clients, colleagues, etc. with tangible evidence of our graduates’ knowledge, skill, abilities and competencies. Portfolios can be a wonderful career tool that may assist graduates in getting jobs, promotions, new clients, and other professional opportunities.”

UMBC offers students a course called Portfolio Development & Talent Management

Did we miss something critical that you’ve included in your portfolio? Please share in the comments below.

Always in learning mode,
Your friends at ISD Now
www.umbc.edu/isd

The Emotional Impact of Schematic Faces

Many might agree, schematic faces, or emoticons, have a way of sweeping into our minds and filling us with joy, sadness, anger, and many other emotions. How amazing is it that a simple line drawing can affect us on such an emotional level?

schematic faces

The Power in Schematic Faces

Smiley faces can make us laugh, giggle, and smile back. These smiley schematic faces can soften a sentence, add humor to a serious discussion, and offer a friendly tone.

Expressions in Schematic Faces

As human beings, we pay attention to faces. We connect to them. We interpret vast amounts of information in seconds just from laying our eyes on them. Our basic survival depends on our ability to interpret and digest non-verbal cues from a person’s facial expression.

Findings on Schematic Faces

Connie Malamed, a consultant, author and speaker in the fields of visual design, online learning and information design, wrote an article on this subject titled, The Visual Language of Schematic Faces. In this article, she discussed the idea of Facial Codes. Malamed explained, “The conveyance of facial expressions are uncannily reflected in schematic faces. This is probably due to our competence at reading and interpreting what is known as the facial code, which many believe is universal to all people in all cultures.”

In her article, Malamed references research conducted by Paul Ekman, one of the most well-known researchers in this field, and his findings on prototypical facial codes that express six distinct primary emotions, joy, sadness, surprise, fear, disgust, and anger.

Importance of Schematic Faces on ISD Professionals

Our faces hold great communication power, and even in simple line form, human emotions can be expressed clearly and concisely. As users of technology and imagery, this wonderful ability of the human brain to interpret data from schematic faces can have far-reaching benefits by ways of helping to improve the way we communicate visually, and how this communication is then absorbed in a profound level.

Do you make use of schematic faces in your ISD work?

Always in learning mode,
Your friends at ISD Now

www.umbc.edu/isd

E-learning Video 101

An e-learning video can be an instructional designer’s best friend. Producing a quality e-learning video can be relatively easy. It’s readily available to a wide audience. It demonstrates skills in real time fashion. And it has an evergreen shelf life.

How to Make an E-learning Video Stand Out

Start with the end in mind. What is your goal? What do you want learners to walk away with after participating in your e-learning video? Once you understand your goal, it’s time to design using key concepts to bring out your information in a logical, organized, and visually appealing manner, a manner that will tap into your learner’s senses.

e-learning video

Tap Into the Senses with an E-learning Video

To tap into the senses, an e-learning video must engage, must stimulate, and must create a desire in the learner’s mind to understand the information you’re presenting. For this to happen, an e-learning video should be produced with a few elements in mind.

Elements of an Effective E-learning Video

Panopto Blog wrote an interesting article on Five Tips for Making a Better E-Learning Video. They shared several key concepts to help keep learners engaged. They recommended the following for e-learning videos:

  • Keep learners engaged
  • Provide learners with an environment that is interactive
  • Visually appeal to a learner’s senses through variety in color, content, and imagery
  • Demonstrate key concepts by showing instead of just telling
  • Deliver accessibility across multiple platforms
  • Offer captioning for those who are hearing impaired

Do you have tips and tricks on how to create an effective e-learning video? We’d love to hear them. Please share them in the comments below.

Always in learning mode,
Your friends at ISD Now
www.umbc.edu/isd