Published: May 28, 2019
In this episode of Become an IDOL, I’ll be chatting with Christy Tucker about her experience transitioning from secondary education to instructional design and eLearning development. We’ll be sharing tips for switching careers and landing your first job even if you don’t have a degree or experience. You’ll also learn how Christy Tucker became a name brand in the field of instructional design.
Christy Tucker is a learning design consultant at Syniad Learning with over 15 years of experience helping people learn. She specializes in using scenario-based learning to engage audiences and promote the transfer of skills to real-world environments. She has created courses for clients including the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity, Cisco, and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. Christy has been blogging about instructional design and eLearning for over 10 years.
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In this episode we discuss:
Robin Sargent In this episode, I'll be chatting with the Christy Tucker, about her experience transitioning from secondary education, to instructional design and eLearning Development. We'll be sharing tips for switching careers and landing your first job, even if you don't have a degree or experience. You'll also learn how Christy Tucker became a name brand in the field of instructional design. I have here with me today. The one the only Christy Tucker. And if you don't know who Christy Tucker is, make sure that you go to Christy Tucker learning.com. And you'll be like, Oh my gosh, I've read her blog posts before and I didn't even make the connection because she has been an instructional design blogger that everybody has been listening to since like 2011. I'm sure that you can correct me if I got that date wrong. And I have Christy on here with me today. Because one she's like a guru in the field of instructional design and to she became an IDOL from a secondary education background, and I'll have her tell her journey and story then. And then now she owns her own company, Syniad Learning. And she is a freelancer and a business owner and instructional designer and she is well respected in our community. And so she is like the perfect person to listen to, as far as like finding out about her journey, and becoming an instructional designer and what you need to do in order to land your first corporate instructional design job. So, Christy, thank you so much for being here. Tell everybody who you are, and like give them more details about yourself.
Christy Tucker Well, thanks for having me on Robin. So I, as you mentioned, started, as a teacher, I taught K 12 music and band, I have a music education degree, and a minor in German. And so I taught for three years. And then I had did K 12, my first year and then did middle school music band after that. And I have immense respect for all the public school teachers who stuck with it. Because I bailed after three years because it's too hard. And then I went to teaching adults, which was much easier. And I was much happier with I did corporate training, teaching people how to use Microsoft Office, in stand up computer labs. But I was teaching from published curriculum, and I missed the curriculum design side of the teaching that I'd had when I was teaching music. And so I discovered instructional design. And that's so I have been doing instructional design since 2004. Started out in higher education. And I've done a bit of switching back and forth between higher education and corporate but most of my work nowadays is workplace training. And so I have I actually started blogging in 2006. It's even longer than that 2011 is when I started my company. And so when I went independent, but I actually started blogging five years before that. I was creating a Master's course, on using social media, what we were then calling web 2.0. For those of you who've been around long enough to remember that I was writing a Master's course for teachers going back to get their master's degrees and on how to use social media and teaching and thought, well, if I'm going to tell these teachers that they should use a blog, because it's such a good learning tool, I should probably do that myself. And so I had no intention of having it really be become a business or affect my career so much. It was really just originally for my own personal reflection and learning and it has taken off from there. And so that is now 12 years and going on blogging, just how most people know me. My company Syniad Learning I went independent in 2011. And so I do work with a number of client's now independently and specializing particularly in doing incorporating elements of storytelling and scenario based learning.
Robin Sargent Okay, let me go all the way back to when you said you were a band teacher, because I was a band nerd. So like, what was your instrument?
Christy Tucker My primary instrument is horn.
Robin Sargent Like which one?
Christy Tucker French Horn
Robin Sargent Okay, because I was a trumpet player.
Christy Tucker I actually just played horn on Easter on Easter Sunday. We did have a little brass, pseudo brass quartet. We were short one brass player. We had a soprano saxophone fill in one of the parts, but we did have. So I just did play horn at church for Easter Sunday. And so I do still play a little bit. I'm not teaching music anymore. Well, that's not true. I'm teaching handbills in Sunday school with with lower elementary kids. So yes, I guess I am still doing some music teaching and I'm doing some handbell things and I sing and so I still do music as as hobby stuff. But that's not professionally.
Robin Sargent Right. Well, you still keep you still keep the passion alive. And I think it's so interesting, you know, that you like started out like with your passion as like your primary career path. And you're like, well actually want it to be more of a hobby. And then the other thing I wanted to ask is, you have a degree in teaching, like, like you mentioned. You did not have to go back and get another degree to transition into instructional design. Is that right?
Christy Tucker That is correct. Now, I will say it was challenging to get that first instructional design job. And I think if I had gone back to get a master's degree or a graduate certificate or something, I think that getting that first job would have been easier. My career has always been about learning in one way or another teaching and training and instructional design and consulting. All of that is around helping people learn. But making that transition from training into instructional design was challenging, it really did take me a full year to make to get that first instructional design job. And there were a couple of things going on that that kind of held me back in the job search. One was not having a certificate or or master's degree, I think it would have been more straightforward to go. The second thing that was the big thing that held me back is that I had no proof, no portfolio at that time. And that made it a lot harder to get a job. So I kept a spreadsheet of every job I applied to. Because when you're when you're unemployed, you have to keep that spreadsheet that shows how many things you've applied to or employers you've contacted and followed up with each week, and you have to do for a week. And so that spreadsheet has 200 rows in it. Because it took me that long to get that very first job. So anybody out there who's listening and who has, you know, applied to 10 or 12 things and has gotten rejected and feeling bad. Come join my club of people who got rejected from a bunch of jobs.
Robin Sargent That's right. And you only need one.
Christy Tucker And you only need one yes. And it any. And it took me in it was really hard that first one. I will say that once I had the title of instructional designer on my resume. I've never had trouble since then. That's right. It has always been that once I had some of that experience on there that I was able to generally speaking, frankly, I would post my resume out there and recruiters would contact me. I have been out of the market for full time jobs since for over eight years now. And I still have recruiters contact me a couple times a month saying oh, your LinkedIn profile looks really good. Are you interested in a full time job on site? Nope, I'm not gonna go work in a cubicle farm anymore. But thanks for contacting me, let me refer you to so and so who is looking. I know that there are people who are much happier doing full time work and and that's fine. Frankly, my husband is one of those people who is much happier having one thing to focus on and to have that steady environment. Personally, I have a really low tolerance for boredom. And so I like having multiple clients, and multiple projects going on simultaneously and juggling a lot of things and having, it can get to be too much sometimes. But I like that variety and always having new things to learn. That's a lot of what's fun about this field.
Robin Sargent Oh my gosh, I feel like we're like, we're like spirit animals or something crazy. Like, that is that's my same thing too, is like I even what they some of my bosses would say, like, watch out of Robins board because she's gonna cause mischief, because I do have like, a very low tolerance for boredom. I do just try to like, stir up things a little bit when I get bored. And that's also why I got into it too, right? Because like, you get to learn new things all the time. If you like change your job, or like you are a freelancer, then you have different client projects. And that's actually like the same thing for me. That's why I like went into freelancing because, like, you work for a software company. And then like, all you're doing is creating, like training for that software or, and like, on and on, like, whatever industry it is, you just, that's what you're training on. And I was like, I want to learn new things all the time.
Christy Tucker Yep, it is and it is, you know, instructional designers a great field for people who are like us who want to do new stuff all the time. If you are looking for steady having the same thing doing the same thing day in and day out all the time. This is probably not really the right field. Especially on the inspection design side, maybe on the developer side, there's probably people who are developers and bigger teams where, especially in an internal company where maybe you're doing more of the same thing. But I mean, I love having having the new stuff because there's always new new things to learn. There's new research on learning. There's more, there's new technologies, there's new subjects of stuff. I mean, my my current stuff, I have been overbooked right now I said yes to too many things. Now, you're probably familiar with this, from saying yes to too many things, but I've had a course on neonatal abstinence syndrome, which is babies newborns, going through withdrawal from opioids. So of course, I'm that for home for home visitors, a course on equity, diversity and inclusion. For a group that has volunteers working with youth, a course some software training, which I generally actually stay away from software training, but I have a little bit right now. And a course for advisors in universities who help foreign international students navigate visas and employment issues. So I've had those four things going simultaneously. Which is more than I usually try to have only two or three things at a time and not four. But yeah, so that's my current variety
Robin Sargent That is a range.
Christy Tucker It is it is a range of stuff. That's more than I like. If I could do my sort of ideal stuff, I would have one project where I'm doing some writing and storyboarding. And another project where I'm doing some more developing or more technical or more visual work. I like the storyboarding and the design and the analysis piece of things, probably better than development. But there's only so many hours in the day that I can write. And I find that if I have some variety in my work, where it's like, okay, I'm, I'm just like, done with, like, I cannot write any more about babies addicted to opioids right now. And I have got to go take a break and go, so then I can just go switch gears and go do Camtasia screencasts of software stuff are a little bit and give myself a mental break from what that is. And I do think it's helpful to have some variety, so you can sort of switch back and forth. And, you know, be more productive based on where your energy levels are.
Robin Sargent No, that is my mode to. I can't like do this anymore. But I know the timelines like this. So I'm gonna go switch to the front project where I get to make pictures because I actually, I write and storyboard whatever but like, my favorite part is development. So we should trade a few things every once in a while. You've mentioned what you became an instructional designer. And you had that on your resume. Now you get like calls all the time messages from recruiters. And that's the same for just about anybody, right? Especially if you have instructional designer and those keywords enough on your, your profile on LinkedIn or your resume, you are definitely going to get emails from recruiters. But what about when you're trying to make that first transition? I know you wrote an article about it, I'm sure you have a lot of thoughts about like, what, what are some, like the best tips you can give about rewriting a resume, so that it's instructional designer facing so to speak?
Christy Tucker Sure. So I think from from teaching, in particular, which is often where where people are coming from, think teachers already have a lot of the skills that you're going to do as an instructional designer. I mean, I'm certainly a example of that having come without getting the formal training in it. So it is worthwhile going on, I think it's it's much easier now you can go on LinkedIn, and you can search for instructional designers and see the kinds of things that they talked about and the kinds of skills and you can sort of figure out oh, okay, learning, you know, writing learning objectives. Oh, okay. That's the thing that we do, or creating assessments to measure learning objectives, adjusting curriculum based on what the assessments tell you, is a relevant thing. If you're coming from teaching to instructional design, I think one of the big things is to emphasize the work that you've done creating lesson plans and curriculum over the actual teaching, it doesn't really matter that more of your hours were probably spent teaching and standing in front of a classroom than in the creation. If you're transitioning, it's more important to talk about the parts that are more what you're trying to go to an instructional design the lesson planning the objectives, the assessments, doing all of that. So I think, talking less about the teaching, talking less about the specific courses that you taught, you know, maybe very briefly mentioning them. But talking more about what you created, my first year of teaching, we I taught a music appreciation class. It was the first year of a class and a pilot, and we had no textbooks. So the choir teacher, and I created a years worth of curriculum for that we created projects. And so my resume, told that story of how we did that curriculum and created all those materials, because that's relevant to instructional design. So I think, even just that is probably a big tip. I think there's also, Liz Ryan's approach to doing resumes and cover letters, where she talks about doing a human voice resume, and instead of necessarily doing all the sort of listing the bullet points here's my responsibilities of what the job was. Okay? The deal is, I taught K 12, musical band, you have some general idea of what it was, and most of the teaching part of that I don't need to give you more detail about it. So let me tell you the story about this music appreciation class, how I walked into this, I was hired two weeks before school started, and we had to come up with a curriculum right away. And so we created those materials, we cobbled things together, I did research we curated resources.
Christy Tucker She even does, in some cases, a like sort of a paragraph about this is what it was. And if you're changing careers, that format can work really well, because it lets you craft a story. You know, when I say my whole career has been about helping people learn one way or the other. That's part of how I've framed this whole thing. So it seems like it's a logical progression, from teaching to training to instructional design. Now that it wasn't quite as simple and linear in real life, as that story somewhat implies, because as I already talked about, it took me a year and a lot of struggle to get that first instruction design job. But in terms of framing that story, and you know, I think that that works. So your resume is your story about your career, about why you did things and what you learned when you were there and what you accomplished. Liz Ryan calls those the dragon slaying stories. So if you think about what's the big project, what's the big problem that you solve? What's a big thing that you're proud of from that job? And talking about that in your resume or in your cover letter, or having those stories ready for when you go to an interview, I think having those sorts of stories, and telling your story using your resume as a place to tell your story and how you've grown and what your journey was, that I think works when you're, especially when you're changing careers, from teaching or graphic design or whatever, to instructional design.
Robin Sargent These are excellent tips. And, you know, it's all about those challenges, just like you said, like slaying your your dragon stories, I think those this is excellent information. And also just going into LinkedIn and finding out like what other people are doing, and what are the things that they list on the resume. And also, those key words, right? So because all these resumes, they go through these applicant tracking systems, and you don't even come up to be considered for a position in many instances, unless your resume has these keywords. So even in your stories, you want to include the keywords like curriculum design, instructional design, learning objectives, assessments, just like you said.
Robin Sargent I love that that's such a let's start encouraging too, because I think a lot of people who try to make a switch, they see something like experience required three to five years. And that alone will like make them like not even apply. Right?
Christy Tucker And honestly, there are plenty of employers out there who will hire someone with a good portfolio and no experience or six months experience over somebody who has three years experience and no portfolio. Yep. I mean, I do now I do think that the portfolio is really critical, especially when you're getting started and you have less experience, because this is the other thing of trance, you know, moving yourself from teaching or some other field into instructional design, your resume can do something for you. But ultimately, like, Okay, you and I both know that teachers already have a lot of the skills for in circuit design. But employers don't necessarily really know that unless you show them and your portfolio is how you show them. This is these are the skills that I have? And yes, indeed, it really does transfer to this workplace training.
Robin Sargent Yeah, I think I've even seen, and I've probably mentioned it before, but I've even seen in job descriptions, we're not looking for higher education teachers or secondary school teachers for this role. But there is a bias built in to some of the hiring managers against secondary school teachers. So that's when it becomes even more important, especially when you're trying to transfer out of a rule that you're biased against. Is that online portfolio.
Christy Tucker Yeah. And, and I will say, okay, so there is some of that bias. And I've run into it, too. I had somebody who declined to hire me, because part of my career has been working in universities. And she said, Well, everybody who's ever worked in a university can never really work in workplace training. We've never had it. And I'm like, I work for Accenture and Cisco. Like, those are two pretty big corporate environments. But no, not good enough. It was totally irrelevant to her that I had worked for Fortune 500 companies. Nope, didn't matter. I had, at one point my career worked for a university. And so she declined me. So yes, that bias is out there. And to some extent, your portfolio can maybe get past some of them and some of those people just aren't worth aren't worth dealing with. Because I know lots of good instructional designers who used to be teachers. Me too. That was a lot of who we hired when we were hiring people, and we were hiring entry level people and hiring people who were more career changers. And so, yeah, we we hired a bunch of people who were former teachers, some of them. Some of the best people we had were the former teachers.
Robin Sargent So now Christy, you are just like it. Everyone who's like trying to become an instructional designer is familiar at all with, what's online, because your blog it's just grown since you said 2004-2006. You get your first job, because things really started the blog in 2011 when you started Syniad. So 2006, I mean, the all these years that your blog is here, and so like, people know who you are, mostly through that, but I don't know that you also do presentations. I met you through one of our social networking channels. How did you like the one step at a time that you've like, built up to the rock star that you are like, what if people not just start as an instructional designer and just laying the first job, but they want to reach great heights, like what's kind of what was your path to being so well known in this field?
Christy Tucker So it was for me, definitely starting with a blog. And as I mentioned, I didn't intend to have a really take off. So I would say, it is partly a matter of finding something that you can stick with in the long term. Because when generating that online personal brand, there is just time and some slogging away at it, that does happen. And part of why I'm well known is because I have so many posts. Now, some of it is also that I did, I got lucky with that instructional design career series. Because I have a series of posts that I wrote originally, in 2007. The first of which was, what does an instructional designer do? And it was because I kept getting that question. And so I wrote that post. Because it was a question that I kept answering. And I kept answering it and email because of a group I was in and I'm like, This is dumb. I'm going to publish my answer. And then every time people answer to ask me that same question, I'll just send them to the link instead of rewriting this every time. But lots of people have that question. And that's what it turned into. And so I think there is some luck involved in it. But if you are creating more content and putting things out there more often, and sharing things and sharing your knowledge generously. It sort of increases your chances of having that lucky break happen. The more you it's, you're increasing your luck surface area. And some is one person put it when you put more things out there, and it doesn't have to be a blog, you know, it can be a YouTube channel or Twitter or a Facebook group or whatever I think. But picking one and dedicating yourself to doing that one well is good. When I started out, I wasn't I did the blog, and I wasn't doing too much else. So I was doing a little bit of, you know, experimenting with other stuff. I do some on Twitter, but I still don't do as much on Twitter as other people my Facebook pages is kind of limited. I don't do as much with that. And it's okay to not do all the things. I think sometimes when people get started, they try to do all the things at once they see that, oh, well, you know, I do a blog and presentations, and I talk to podcasts. And I've done and I've a Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and I manage LinkedIn groups. Do one thing, do it well, when you've got that under control, add another one. And then add another one. So putting things out there regularly, and focusing on doing one well, if you experiment and you realize like, wow, I really, I hate blogging, and it's, you know, I hate writing and coming up with things, then switch and do YouTube videos or Twitter or something else instead. And I think the other thing is, in instruction because I think we're we're lucky we're in a field where people are so generous with their time and are just so willing to help each other. Because I got lots of help from from other people. You know, the group that we're in together is is an immensely helpful group that I have. I have benefited from the Reddit group. They've been LinkedIn groups. There have been other groups. You know, I think we are work in a field where there's just a lot of genuinely good, helpful, supportive people who want to help you and want to help you learn. And, you know, for the most part, even the big names of people are all, you know, pretty approachable and you know, there's there's a few exceptions, but but people are also pretty good about answering questions and, and helping when, when asked or being generous with their time, you know, you look at how many people are out in our field sharing. And it's, it's remarkable.
Robin Sargent How often do you post is it a weekly thing?
Christy Tucker I had been doing every other week for a long time, but I am doing every week now, I'm currently doing, I've been updating some of my old posts. I migrated from an old wordpress.com URL for my blog, which had been on for a long time. So people sometimes know me under the Christie tucker.wordpress.com where I was for most of that time, I moved in January and migrated to Christie Tucker learning.com. And one of the things about that is that that lets me republish on my old posts. So I've been trying to reap, update and republish some my old posts, some of those, you know, the instructional design careers posts, like what we talked about for technology skills in 2007. For example, I was talking about how much I was probably going to have to learn flash development, because that was the thing that people were looking for instructional designers to do. And so I had gotten, you know, was talking about taking a course at my community college to go learn some flash development, because in 2007, that was a thing. So I'm updating content. And I set aside, I have it on my my calendar, I set aside Thursday mornings, I work on my blog, and I write things for my blog before I start doing any client work. Because that's one of the other things about, you know, keeping up with it and doing it regularly. You have to prioritize yourself in your own development. Learning professionals are terrible at taking time for their own learning, and their own development and, and working on things or or building their own business. So I just set that time aside that I'm going to do like an hour or more on Thursday mornings and just work on my blog. And, yes, sometimes that block gets shifted, but I think I do prioritize doing that. There's always more client work to do.
Robin Sargent Yeah, you probably have to protect that time. And so speaking of technology, so there is a debate that many people have about like, do you actually need to learn an elearning authoring tool? When you're trying to learn land your first job? I know what I say what do you say?
Robin Sargent Yeah, this is excellent. Okay, Christy, what are your final and best tips for people who want to become idols?
Christy Tucker I think really, remembering that we have this great community of people online in all of these different communities, you know, the eLearning, heroes and Reddit and LinkedIn and Twitter. And to go out there and network and interact with people. A lot of the work that I find, especially now that I'm independent, is because I am helpful to other people that I go and answer questions. And it's not that I am selfishly trying to help other people, you know, just because I want to get business out of it. That's not the primary reason. But it does end up being that way that when you are out there, asking questions, and giving people help the people see you and they get to know you. And there is a lot of networking in this field. And so I think sometimes when people are just getting started, They'll worry about, oh, you know, going up to somebody at a conference there was at the Learning Solutions conference, there was somebody who was nervous about going to talk to Clark Quinn, and I'm like, Clark is such a nice guy, I'll introduce you if you feel like you need it, but really just go walk up to him and say hi, because all of these people, even looking at the big names and who have published books. They're almost all very down to earth people and very approachable. And, yes, sometimes we have to say no, when it is the Oh, can you spend five hours looking at my course and giving me really detailed feedback? Okay, I cannot say yes to every one of those requests, because I get too many of them. And I don't have time. But simple questions, go out there and ask, because there's a lot of really wonderful people in the field. And, and I think people who are newer afraid to take advantage of that.
Robin Sargent Yeah. That's one of the main reasons I love this field, because exactly what you said and even like you coming on the show, taking time out of your busy schedule, to help people become instructional designers. We just I can't thank you enough. So thank you so much, Christy.
Christy Tucker Thank you so much for asking me this was a lot of fun.
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