Picture this. You’ve just found a gift sitting on your doorstep. It’s wrapped up in plain paper, and tied up with a bit of twine. “Hm, utilitarian,” you mutter to yourself. You wonder, “where’d this come from?”
There’s a tag on it. You turn it over and it says…
“Seriously? A friend? What? This is weird.” You shake the box. It rattles. Ominous? Oh what the heck. You open it and inside you find this…
But the box has no photo of the finished puzzle. You can’t even tell how many pieces are in it. It really is a puzzle.
When I started as a student in the Boise State University Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning (OPWL) Workplace Instructional Design certificate program (WIDe) I had been a video guy for many years. I studied film production in college – even got a degree in it – and though I had a couple of different careers (video and IT) it was telling stories that most appealed. It still does. So why, at this point in my career – my life – would I want to go back and study something entirely new? Well it’s a bit puzzling, isn’t it? I sort of answer the question in this introduction video…
I’ve done my share of training video, but none with the rigor and structure of an Instructional Designer (ID). I had training objectives with storyboards and scripts to focus them. Timelines, project plans, and budgets to deliver on those objectives. And, contracts to hold everyone’s feet to the fire. There were best practices to help me strive to achieve better work. All sorts of clever narrative structures to draw upon. And endless technologies to employ. But as a learning paradigm, video alone was never enough to have a major impact on individual performance.
Three years ago I took a 12 week, boot camp course in web development. It was 11 to 13 hours a day, six or seven days a week. It was very challenging and I really didn’t pick it up. I wasn’t alone, about forty percent of the class really didn’t do very well, either. Why did I fail? Poor teaching? Bad curriculum? Too much, too fast? I wasn’t a good fit to write software? All of that was true to varying degrees.
But what I wondered about was: how could that kind of education be made more effective? I was indeed puzzled. I still am.
Starting With the Edges
Perhaps software is still best taught in more traditional settings or over a longer horizon. After all, learning transfer occurs through repetition. Working memory is a fickle faculty. Ignore brain science at your own peril. Learning software is no longer a primary interest. Learning however, is. And, that’s ultimately what brought me to the OPWL program.
In the first two weeks of my ID course I have dumped an enormous puzzle onto a table and starting with the edges (doesn’t everyone start a puzzle that way?) I’m gradually building my understanding of it.
I tend to second guess myself, to dither in the face of uncertainty. I know I’m not alone and likely you too vacillate from time-to-time. But there is nothing else to do except grab the next piece and find out where it fits.
Wait, I Know This!
In the middle of my career I spent a couple of years in the role of a non-technical project manager for a small software consulting firm. Truth be told, my lack of deep understanding of the software development lifecycle hindered my performance. But I learned something about project management: I really hated it and never wanted to do it, again!
But come on, really?! Managing projects is, at its core, unavoidable for nearly anything. Witness…
- Building a shed in the side yard – yes
- The PTO bake sale – yes
- New system rollout at work – yes
- Summer family vacay – yes
While I’m not an expert project manager I understand aspects of it well enough to refine my knowledge. I can read a Gantt chart. I understand how to allocate resources and find the critical path to task completion. There are other areas where my already existing knowledge can be brought along.
- I have conducted interviews, both on and off camera
- I have written documents, proposals, articles, and blog posts
- I have assembled and worked with different kinds of teams
But maybe my most useful quality is tenacity. I don’t give up or give in very easily and that has served me well.
It’s noteworthy to point out, but not dwell on it, that I’m older than most of my peers in this program. Noteworthy, because ageism is both rampant and covert, and when it’s obvious, it must be addressed. Author Ashton Applewhite provides a fresh view of it in this Ted Talk.