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Become an IDOL 88: Instructional Systems Designer 1750 in the US Government with Monica Garcia the Branch Chief of Air Force CDC

Oct 30, 2023

Guest: Monica Garcia

In this episode of the Become an IDOL podcast, host Robin Sargent interviews Monica Garcia about her role as an instructional systems designer for the Air Force. Monica describes her career path which began in air traffic control and led her to become a branch chief overseeing curriculum development for 70,000 Air Force students across 180 career fields. She discusses some of the differences between developing training for the military versus corporate settings and provides advice for those looking to enter the field of instructional design.

Listen to this episode below: 

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Enjoy the Episode Transcript below:
   

Robin Sargent  

Welcome to become an IDOL. I'm Dr. Robin Sargent, owner of IDOL courses. This is the place where newbies come to learn and veterans share their knowledge. I have here with me today, Monica Garcia, and I met Monica through the IDOL Academy. But what made me invite her to the podcast today is the interesting role that she has as an instructional designer in the Air Force. Now, Monica, will you please do a better job of introducing yourself and maybe what your role is called and what you do?

Monica Garcia  
Yes, absolutely. So Dr. Robin said, I am a 1750, which is an instructional designer in the Air Force. I actually get to work and develop training for the airmen that are coming straight out of their initial skills training. So basically, the way it works is they go to basic training, or boot camp, then they're assigned their job. And they go to what we call initial skills, training or technical training. And it's essentially like a vocational school where they learn how to do the job that they're assigned. So in my job, I actually worked for an agency within the air force called the Air Force Career Development Academy. And what we do is we develop the knowledge component of their on the job training. So basically, when they get to their first duty station, after they've graduated technical training, they move to wherever their first station is going to be. And they're learning their job at their duty location. We provide that kind of text based content that they're going to study, and then they'll do the hands on portion in their work center. So we are serving members, we have probably about 70,000 students across the Air Force. Yes, 70,000. And we service career fields, from aircraft maintenance, to services, to medical, pretty much a majority of the career fields, I think we actually have about 180 career fields that we build curriculum for. And so it's super awesome, because we get to impact, really the Air Force mission and how airmen are learning their jobs.

Robin Sargent  
Oh, my gosh, I have so many questions. I'm so fascinated by what you do. And even just thank you for explaining kind of the process and the journey that they go through in order to meet your curriculum and instruction. So 70,000 students, that's wild to me 180 career fields, that is incredible. And so how big is your team.

Monica Garcia  
So our organization as a whole has about 35 civilians, and we it's broken out into three branches. We have two curriculum development branches, I'm the branch chief for one of the branches. And I have five instructional systems specialists or 1750s, that fall under me. So they're my really my specialist in design. But then I also have men, each team, my counterpart has the same. And then we have support services, which includes like media, and we have computer like programmer specialists that are on our team as well as customer support. So those users that are actually logging into our courses. But then I have about 35 military additionally, on my team that are our career field sneeze, they're like the leads me, we call them learning engineers, because they actually get to develop, they are doing the analysis. So they are coming from the operational field, and we get to teach them the process of instructional design and how to develop curriculum for their own career field.

Robin Sargent  
Okay, so you've got all these 35 subject matter experts. 

Monica Garcia  
Yes. 

Robin Sargent  
Because you have 180 career fields your training for. 

Monica Garcia  
Yes. 

Robin Sargent  
Now you mentioned that your area does text based. But you also mentioned on your team, you have tech and developers. So what does that look like?

Monica Garcia  
So when I say text based where traditional so if anyone's been in the Air Force, they heard the term CDC's, which are curriculum development course, career field, career development courses. And so those have traditionally been text based text books. It actually dates back to WWII. There's actually if you've ever there's a WWII Museum in New Orleans, and there's actually a CDC because it was basically distance learning they got mailed to their textbooks in the field to learn their job. We are currently modernizing that and transitioning to interactive online training. So we develop our courses in articulate rise, storyline and captivate. And we host them in Moodle LMS. And so that's, that's how they have access to our courses. So we're transitioning, by modernizing a while ago, they they digitized that text into PDFs. And we are now taking it into where they can really interact with the content building simulations, we have 3D modelers that we are working with. We are really for some of those kind of soft skills, we're using a lot of articulate rise, because then it allows our SMEs who are not curriculum developers by trade to get involved in the process.

Robin Sargent  
So I want to know your story. Monica, how did you become the chief, the branch chief of only three branches in this space? And so how did you get here? Tell us your story.

Monica Garcia  
So I came by way I actually worked for Disneyland before I joined the military driving the monorail. Yes, I had some cool jobs. And then so I enlisted in the Air Force I was an air traffic controller during my active duty time. And so part of that was I was what we call nonvauled. So I did not volunteer for it. But I was not nonvauled to the air traffic control schoolhouse, so that initial skills training for air traffic controllers, to become an instructor, and that put me into the education and training world. And at that time, that was my transition period moving from active duty into the civilian sector. And so I really started learning about curriculum development or what's involved in that while I'm with an instructor, because as an instructor, we are responsible for really maintaining our lesson plans, updating slides, reviewing test questions. I actually had an opportunity where I became what we call the craftsman course manager. So that's the next level after you get your initial qualification. And it was essentially a computer based training. And they took that knowledge component and then they did their OJT for that. So essentially, to become a supervisor. And so that was my first kind of step into online learning, just managing that course. So then I separated from the Air Force and stayed on at a civilian instructor. And so I continued that journey with curriculum development, I found I really just loved the analytical mixed with the creative. And then I finally moved to, we have a faculty development or we instructed the instructors, that's where they had to go to become an instructor. So I interfaced with all these career fields at Keesler Air Force Base, which is where I currently work out of in Mississippi. And then that is where I was working on a course. Coincidentally, it's also called IDOL because it's the instructor developer of online learning course. And so it was one of the first Air Force courses to actually teach a traditional curriculum developers how to develop content for the online platform. Because developing curriculum for the instructor led training is so different from developing for even an online facilitated course. And so it really taught how to look at different ways to continue that interaction, even if the instructor wasn't fully involved. And so I saw when the IDOL Academy, I'm like, It's kismet, I need to go just on principle. And so I got to work with a contractor who actually taught Instructional Design at a community college. And she really kind of took me under her wing and taught me, I felt like I was Luke Skywalker with Yoda. And it really allowed me to see all the benefits. So I actually went back to school got my degree in learning, design and technology. And I kind of became the specialist for online learning within the air education training command. And so because of all the people I worked with, this job came up overseeing the development of online learning and here I am today.

Robin Sargent  
And I mean, I want to also just follow up because it seems like you have such a rich history of experience and background. You've got a master's degree. You got me curious why, I know you said it's kismet because called IDOL but why don't you actually enroll in IDOL Academy?

Monica Garcia  
Because my entire history in instructional design has been with the Air Force. I'm all about getting a well rounded perspective. And I know that there's a lot to learn from other facets of the industry. And so I really like IDOL, because it does focus a lot on the corporate aspect. And so because it's so easy to fall within that bubble of your industry, and not really be able to peek outside of behind that curtain, and see what other facets are doing. To me, it was really interesting to kind of get that perspective, because one of the things that's very different between corporate like when you're applying for a corporate job, and applying for a 17 position, in federal, you don't require a portfolio. So I didn't have a portfolio. I've done all these projects, and all of these things, but I had nothing to really show for it. And so I'm like, I need to, like, have a showcase of all of, it's like my history. It's like my scrapbook of my blood, sweat and tears. And so I loved it, because it allowed me, I only knew the Air Force, so it allowed me to see if I wanted to move into that freelance aspect, which is kind of one of the things I'm moving to kind of as a side things to do, like part time. I like getting different perspectives. I like seeing different lenses of the industry. And I like learning from other people, because I know that you never stop no matter what experience you have. There's always more that you can learn. So I'm a lifelong learner.

Robin Sargent  
That's exactly what I was thinking. Right? Of course, you are, me too, right? It's just that love of learning. But so I'm interested, I bet you have a great perspective on what are some of the key differences you've noticed between the way you approach instruction for the military versus maybe what you've learned about how we do it in corporate.

Monica Garcia  
I would say that some of the biggest differences is that the military is very, very structured. I hate to say it, but we're a little behind the corporate industry, just because there is a lot of red tape that has to happen to get things passed. We have a lot of security things that we have to be mindful of. We just now probably this year started using articulate simply because it had not been approved on our Air Force network prior to that. Because even if there's software we want to use, it has to go through a rigorous process to be approved to be purchased, not just purchased, but used on our secure network. So that's one of the biggest differences, I'm sure corporate, you have other nuances that you have to go through and security protocols dependent on what the industry is that you're working within. But that's one of the biggest things, the interview process, the job application process, definitely different. You know, I know a lot of people are interested in the government and working for the government sector, but just don't know how to navigate it. So I know that you'll see me in IDOL. Like, I'm like, hey, there's this job open, maybe apply for it. But I have applied to a couple of roles in the corporate sector. And I did notice, like, I was not used to like the three interviews, you know, basically in the federal process, you submit your application, and then you might get on the referral list. And only when you're ready for an interview do they call you. Basically everything is we review the resume, we see what your qualifications are, kind of see if it fits what we're looking for. And then we usually select maybe three people to interview, each location is different. But that's a big thing. Because I know, I've interviewed for a couple of big name companies, and they're like, oh, you're a third. And I'm like, three, there's three interviews. I know, right? And then they're like, oh, we want to see examples of your work. I'm like, I mean, okay, but that was just not something I'm used to, you know, their interviews as long as I could speak the language and to kind of give examples. It was just a very different process than I was used to. But I would say that those are the biggest things that I've noticed between the corporate and oh, and then the portfolio with corporate one in the portfolio. That's probably the other biggest thing like an oh, give us your LinkedIn and oh, give us your firstborn child and we want to see photos of what you're doing, and federal you're like no pictures, you know, we don't like it's all very diverse. We want to make sure that equal and everybody is treated equally based on their qualifications. And not that federal guidelines, it doesn't matter what agency, we have to follow the Office of Personnel Management. And so in the corporate, it seems like it's really dependent on the organization. And so that's definitely was different.

Robin Sargent  
Yeah, those are huge differences. So I bet a lot of people, they probably see jobs that they'd be interested in for the government, but then they see security clearance. Is that a stop sign for a lot of people and should it be?

Monica Garcia  
It should not be. I know security clearance can be very daunting, actually, it is, it is a huge benefit of getting into the government sector, because say, you get a security clearance, the government pays for it. Whereas a security clearance, you know, is very expensive. We're talking 10s of 1000s of dollars for the process. The biggest thing with security clearance is they're just making sure that you are trustworthy. And so even you know, a lot of people are worried like, oh, I have a traffic ticket, oh, I have, I have some financial stuff, as long as you're open and you're honest about it, there's nothing to be scared of with getting a security clearance. And most jobs, they're gonna ask for a secret, which is the lowest, really the only time you'll be getting a top secret is if you're dealing with certain agencies and the level of security of the content that you're developing, but most 1750 jobs, you're going to be a secret at the most.

Robin Sargent  
And usually on the job, they say, you know, secret clearance, so you can still apply without that secret clearance. And if they select you, they will send you through the process.

Monica Garcia  
Yes, yes, you don't have to have a secret clearance in order to get it. But it will require you to get a secret clearance once you apply. So we've had civilians where they came, you know, they came off the street, they're not prior military. And they had to go through the security clearance process. It delayed in what they were able to do, but it doesn't hinder them accessing certain things. So a security clearance is really certain briefings that you you can't attend. But really it shouldn't stop anybody from applying. That is not a that is not a game stopper, so to speak, if you don't have one, or you've never had one.

Robin Sargent  
What really interests me about your field, too, is because of such the importance for how you develop people's career because it really can mean life or death in the military. And I think there's a lot that people in corporate could learn from how you approach instruction, especially since of the stakes that are involved. What are some of those like key takeaways that you would share with people trying to develop skills in the professional setting that you've learned in your career with the military,

Monica Garcia  
If we're talking about being an instructor, per se, I've really learned, you have to, it's really good to understand what like the goal is. One of the best ways to get into the government kind of work towards the 1750 is to try and get instructor positions that the 1712 series. And a lot of times, especially if you've been a teacher in the past, that's a great way to get your foot in the door. Generally, those instructors start at a GS9, which I believe starts at about $50,000 a year. And those are a great way to kind of get in and try and understand the organization and how the federal system works. Understand how that organization is developing content. I do know that your curriculum developers and your instructors, they work in two separate offices, but they also collaborate. Working with the military, you have to be more assertive, because they're essentially still in training for as the military piece. So you can't like be as informal with the students as you might in a civilian college environment. I mean, I know in a college environment, you're still teacher and student, but it's even more so more formal in a military setting just because you have to be mindful that they're still in training. When they're in the uniform, they are still following rules and guidelines, and there's a certain sense of authority that you have over their military career. But I really love that the military classroom still embraces trying new things right now the big, they're really going towards student centered it's been very instructor centered for like 50 years. And so they're really transitioning to student centered. And really seeing that that evolution has been really interesting to see how it's being embraced by that community, but going in and as an instructor and then learning the nuances of the military curriculum development process, even though they use ISD. It is a great learning experience from that end.

Robin Sargent  
Yeah, are there any specific things that you notice that you do in your instructional design, when you are dealing with some of those sensitive life or death type of topics? Like is it about? I mean, I know you say, do it in a more formal way. But is there anything else like how you approach it? Or is it about weaving in more experiences about showing people like, what happens when it goes wrong? Or what are some of those things that you weave in there?

Monica Garcia  
Yes. And when I was teaching air traffic control, specifically, we would show videos or so one of the things in air traffic is all of our transmissions are recorded. And so oftentimes, when there's an accident, they'll keep those tapes. And we use it as a learning tool. And so one of the lessons that we would teach when I was an instructor, and the schoolhouse is the tapes from an accident that occurred in the Air Force for a aircraft collision, and talking about what the problems were or the issues that led up to that. And so that comes from personal experience. And that comes from my knowledge of what is happening, and how I'm able to tie that into the lesson like, Okay, this is why. So we just talked about this, and this is why this happens. So, you definitely use those personal experiences. It's about bringing in that emotion, it's about bringing in what can happen if you do this job wrong, and really stressing the importance of that. In developing the curriculum that we are now, pictures convey a lot and can evoke a lot of emotion. And so we really strive to to be mindful the media that we select as well. So we really try and incorporate a lot of video and images that are all of military members. Stock images don't really have a lot of good content for military. So the nice thing is there's a site called divids that's DVIDS and that is all stock photography from all of the Department of Defense, all the public affairs that has photos of members and uniform videos, articles that you can utilize for training. And so we really integrate that into our courses to convey the importance of the job and so that they can also relate to the people that are in the training.

Robin Sargent  
Fascinating. Okay, Monica, I just have to ask you a final question. And since you are a branch leader, I imagine that you have a hand in hiring part of your team that comes to work for you.

Monica Garcia  
Actually, I'm doing an interview panel today.

Robin Sargent  
So this is the perfect final question for you is, what is your best advice for those who want to become, an I'll just say, an instructional systems designer, and I'll be more specific with the government in the military.

Monica Garcia  
The biggest thing is, make sure when you're submitting your resume, be very specific on what you've done. A lot of resumes that we get are very generic because people try and just put the KSAs or the knowledge, skills and abilities. They copy it and put it into their resume. But we're like, well, what did you do? So I think I know in IDOL, you teach about good, what good resumes look like. So we want the same thing when you're applying for the federal government. So make sure that it's specific because it's going to showcase what your abilities are, because you're going to get an interview based on your resume. So you want to make sure that your resume is top notch. That's 100% what we look for. Don't worry about length. I had a resume that was like seven pages at one time before I knew better. But I still got the jobs because all my bullets they had actual impact statements they showcased the numbers they showcase how what you did, they basically it's what you did, and how it was impactful to the organization. And then say you get an interview be yourself, be real, be honest. We can tell if you're nervous and you're not saying everything because we've read your resume, typically an interview panel, each panel member provides a series of questions. And, you know, as we're reading the questions, we're like, Okay, if you have a notebook, bring a notebook, because some of them are multi part questions, and you want to take notes. And so if you don't hear all of the question, you want to make sure that you answer all parts of the question. Because then do you take notes and we're like, yeah, they didn't even answer that part of the question. Don't be afraid to say, can you repeat that last part? I forgot that. That's not going to be a ding on you. It just shows that you're being mindful. Oh, I missed that part. So if you have a notebook with you, that tells us, okay, they're really interested in, you know, writing things down. If you don't know about what the organization does, ask, you know, we have a lot of people that we give them an opportunity to ask questions at the end. And they're like, nope, I don't have any questions. I'm literally like, you don't even know what we do. Like, do you know what we our organization does, if you're interested in the job really show that you're interested and inquire about the mission of the organization that you're applying to. And I would say that that's for any agency, I've seen jobs for Homeland Security at the Internal Revenue Service, the Army, all these jobs, just recently, oh, and the VA, any agency is going to be like that. And I would say that even in the corporate sector, those are the same things, I believe that you know, they would be looking for. So I always try and say, sell yourself. Don't think you're being arrogant, you know, by talking yourself up, because that's your time to shine.

Robin Sargent  
Oh my gosh, this was just such an insightful time I've been able to spend with you, Monica, thank you again for your service to our country. And thank you so much for being on the Become an IDOL podcast. I appreciate you. 

Monica Garcia  
Pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Robin Sargent  
Thank you so much for listening. You can find the show notes for this episode at idol courses.com. If you liked this podcast, and you want to become an instructional designer, and online learning developer, join me in the IDOL courses Academy where you'll learn to build all the assets you need to land your first instructional design job, early access to this podcast tutorials for how to use the elearning authoring tools, templates for everything course building and paid instructional design experience opportunities, go to idol courses.com forward slash Academy and enroll or get on the waitlist. Now get out there and build transcendent tours.


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