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Become an IDOL 66: Success Story with Former Teacher Laura Wilczek: Hanover Research

Guest: Laura Wilczek, eLearning Developer

In this episode, I'm chatting with Laura Wilczek, a former teacher who transitioned to a new career as an eLearning Developer for Hanover Research. While teaching during the pandemic she realized she had a unique set of skills and a passion for developing courses and training. 

 Laura shares great pointers for how she navigated the course, purposely applied what she was learning, and landed a new role in 2 months!  

Listen to this episode below:

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Let me tell you a little bit about Laura:

Laura is a former teacher who successfully transitioned into the learning and development space after enrolling in IDOL courses Academy. She began her teaching career in 2009 and started developing a passion for creating virtual learning materials during the pandemic. Laura was a part of the 10th cohort of the Academy and is currently an eLearning Developer at Hanover Research.

Connect with Laura: Website | LinkedIn

When did you start looking for a new career and how did you find out about instructional design?

I kind of happened upon it by pure luck and chance, I guess. When we returned from virtual learning and kind of went hybrid, I thought, you know, things were going to get better. Things were going to really turn around, but after the global pandemic, you can't expect things to change really quickly. And it was through having to get creative with virtual learning and e-learning instruction, and then also doing some work for a nonprofit that involved developing virtual training and eLearning products for them that I realized, wow, this is something I really enjoy.

And I didn't even really know it was an official profession until I was listening to Daphne Gomez’s podcast and you were a guest. And I just played that podcast, listening to you talk about IDOL Academy and instructional design. And I was like, “Wow, this sounds really cool.” And kind of like what I've been exploring on my own and thinking about, and really wondering if there's a job out there like this.

The rest is kind of history. You know, I was kind of doing a lot of soul searching and self-exploration. And then when I heard your podcast interview with Daphne. That's what kind of got the ball rolling. And I did a little bit more deep dive into instructional design and whatnot. And then I finally decided, you know, it's time to invest in myself.

It's time to stop trying to do things on my own. I'm a big believer that if there's a professional out there that's willing to help and knows what they're doing, to invest in that help and really learn. I'm a lifelong learner. And I think that's why I'm so drawn to instructional design and eLearning development. Investing in myself and joining IDOL Academy was one of the best decisions I ever made.

What kind, what kind of feelings did you have when you first enrolled and got started?

I experienced the full gamut of emotion signing up and then doing that little week-long, kind of lead up to the official academy start date kind of got me really excited. I couldn't wait. And it felt it felt like Christmas really. I hardly slept the night before the first day of the Academy, because I was just so excited. And then you log in, you watch all of the intro videos, you kind of get the lay of the land and you look at all of the different paths you can take and the assignments and the different things you can do and, and need to do to earn badges.

And then you're like, “Oh my gosh.” I was like, “Okay, okay. Don't panic.” And..I can't say enough about your coaching. The group coaching, the mentors, the coaches, and then just really having that sense of community, knowing that I wasn't alone in starting this journey transitioning out of the classroom. And we kind of made a study group from the online community and I'm still great friends with all of my study buddies. We continue to meet to this day, even though I'm officially in my first role as an eLearning developer for Hanover Research, we still meet.

 And we still talk about projects and kind of act as each other's cheerleaders. So, the community really helped tremendously. In terms of being constant cheerleaders and motivators and providing useful feedback that you felt like you were getting things done bit by bit. And yeah, just remind yourself, you can't do it overnight.

Do you want to give a shout-out to your accountability buddies? Which group are you in?

So I had, let's see, Mandy as my mentor. She was great for transitioning teachers. I am so grateful for all of her helpful advice. And then we kind of made a small–it was just in Mandy's session that we were kind of chatting and a couple of us were like, yeah, let's get together and make a study group.

So now there's Kea Maria,  Jamie, and Rachel. And so the small group of us continue to meet and talk about our projects, things that we're learning and just continuing to do the things within the Academy. You know, that's a great thing about IDOL Academy is you're a lifelong member and you build this sense of community and new things pop up. New trends happen, and you just log back in and you keep on chugging along and, and upskill.

So how long did it take you? You started, you got through the uncomfortable feelings, started to find your people and started to make some progress. When did you finish enough of your portfolio, resume, and LinkedIn, before deciding that you were going to start applying? 

So, funny story.  Before I officially joined IDOL Academy, I was kind of like, jumping back into LinkedIn and trying to tinker around and change things. But I wasn't really getting anywhere. And it was through talking, listening to your sessions on LinkedIn and Mandy's input, and just talking with others in the community that I started to really do things with purpose.

And I knew that I wanted to build a portfolio with enough different little assets. And like you say, “Do it messy” which is really hard, because you're like, “Oh my gosh. It needs to be absolutely perfect.” But I knew I wanted something from Articulate Storyline and or, and a Rise course and a storyboard and a Camtasia video–and just kind of show these little, but impactful projects. And have different aspects to my portfolio so that it was really well rounded. 

So that was just kind of my motivation. I used Trello boards and all of your tips for, you know, kind of managing your time in project management and just felt successful with each little thing that I did. You know, some days were really overwhelming just with teaching and whatnot and just knowing, okay, well, I outlined this or I wrote the script for this.

Just celebrating that and having the community again, to celebrate that, as well was really, really helpful. And I started to build my portfolio and really be intentional about my LinkedIn profile. I included key phrases that you talked about in the Academy. It's so funny. Networking is huge.

I was just following the instructional design LinkedIn hashtag and someone posted that their instructional design team was growing and they needed an eLearning developer. And to reach out if I had any questions about the role. And of course, I had heard of Hanover Research, but I didn't really know too much in terms of what the specifics of the job were or what Hanover's vision was.

So, I reached out to this person that worked at Hanover. She and I had this conversation and it was really talking with her that I was like, I can do that. You know, I can do Rise. I can do Articulate. I can make Camtasia videos. But in talking with her and realizing through all this experimentation in my portfolio, I did have some skills there.

And just to really have faith and confidence in myself was really important. I think a lot of transitioning teachers think we're just teachers and that we put ourselves in this box, but that's not true. We have a lot of skills. And if we find the right mentors, invest in ourselves and find the right tools and really work at it, we can do amazing things.

So I was really lucky to find this person on LinkedIn and I applied. The thing that really carried me through all of the different interviews was my portfolio. So, I can't emphasize that enough. And I know you do in the Academy too, just to Do It Messy. Get as many assets as you can. And then tinker and edit when you have time. But just build that website and make it look professional and put yourself out there.

How long after you started the academy did you find this connection? How many months would you say it was?

The exact dates and times are a little fuzzy, but I'll try again. We started in April. And by May, I was kind of talking with this person and I had already officially put in my resignation to my current teaching job. So it was kind of huge in the sense that, regardless of whether or not I was going to get a job automatically out of the academy, I knew that I could not go back to teaching just because I promised myself if I ever became that cranky teacher or whatnot, that I would immediately find something else because that isn't fair to students and my coworkers and myself to, be stuck or feel stuck in a job that isn't sparking as much joy as it used to.

So I put in my resignation in May. I did four rounds of interviews. and I started at the beginning of June. 

That's an expedited timeline. That's really impressive. You've got a minimum viable portfolio done in a month. You started networking and started interviewing for four or five weeks and you landed your job. What was your start date?

Officially? June. Most of that month of May was probably interview rounds.

How many interview rounds would you do? 

Four total

So everybody always wants to know the details. What was your first interview? Was it a phone screen? 

Yeah, the first one was a phone screen. And then my second one was with a potential manager. And the third round was kind of interesting. I had to assess an eLearning course or module and kind of look at what were the successes of that module and what were kind of the areas for improvement.

And I really used a lot of the knowledge that I gained through the Academy of the different iterative design phases and key terms to really put in my report, show off my skills, and what I knew about the instructional design field. And so that was kind of the third stage where I had to provide that report and do a quick, brief follow-up. And then the fourth stage was with the Chief People Officer or the head of HR. And then an offer quickly followed.

What was some of their feedback when you did your assessment on the broken knee learning course or whatever sample they gave you?

They thought they thought it was very professionally done. Canva was a tool I got to know a lot more about through the IDOL Academy as well. And just structuring the report in a very clear manner of “Here's the number one thing that I would fix and here's why.” You know? Back it up with some of the statistics I learned through watching the webinars and, and listening to the guest speakers about why eLearning often fails and what things we can do.

And just my knowledge now of branching scenarios and even just accessibility, which I know is another thing that the Academy talks about. Accessibility is a huge thing right now. It's always been a huge thing, but I feel like our field is really taking a closer and much needed look at accessibility too.

And talking about the right color palette and providing captions or audio transcripts and whatnot. So just even that too was really impactful and differentiated my analysis from possibly others.

Can you believe that within a month or two you were able to look at someone else's eLearning course, identify what is working for that course, and even come up with levels of improvement in just like two months? And wow them enough for them to write you an offer.  Hanover is a pretty well-known company. Isn't it? Can you tell us a little bit about what Hanover does?

Hanover Research does custom research and they're in the K12 sector, corporate, and higher education. Really what I knew of Hanover was just as a background in K12 education and their very well-known surveys about school culture. So I knew of them in that regard. But now that I am officially part of the organization, I just see the scope and depth of all the different projects they do and all in all these different domains or practice areas.

And I'm officially part of their learning and development team. So right now I'm working on eLearning for their onboarding and new hires and kind of developing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging courses, and looking at different things that we need to address through eLearning and kind of a blended learning approach.

So you're doing all internal training for their employees?

Yeah.

Once you actually got the job, did you feel ready for it or more comfortable once you actually got your stride? Once you started working, what was that like?

So I won't lie. Probably a mixture of emotions. I was super excited to just meet my team, get my feet wet, and see how it would go. But at the same time, I was nervous because this is officially my first, eLearning development job. As I mentioned earlier, I had been doing some projects for like a nonprofit and for the University of Notre Dame. Kind of developing projects for them. But this is like an official paid job. So there's a lot of pressure. I feel that comes with that. However, something that I kept reminding myself of is the portfolio that I developed was 100% me. I put in all the work, I developed all the ideas. I did it all. Blood, sweat, tears…so many long hours. Shout out to my husband because we have a one-and-a-half-year-old and he took on a lot of the afternoons and evenings just to allow me to go down to my office and plug away my portfolio.

But just knowing that that portfolio was a hundred percent me and that they were impressed by that in the interview was enough for me to convince myself, “Hey, I can do this because you did that portfolio. They liked it. So they will like what you do for them moving forward.” And just kind of reminding myself that constantly was what calmed a lot of nerves and the kind of that imposter syndrome that I think everyone experiences at one point or another.

Do you feel even more confident now that you kind of know what you're doing now?

Yes. I love it so much. I'm with a great team, a great company, and it's just so much fun to log in every day and know that I'm doing something that I love. And that brings me so much joy. I get to create all of these different e-learning modules and I have a sense of autonomy and creative freedom. So that really helps. And I just do a lot of things in Articulate all day and talk with my team, get feedback, do storyboards, and whatnot.

But just knowing that a chunk of my day gets to be spent or dedicated to a creative avenue is what really keeps me going day in and day out. And that's what really drew me to the field. Again, I'm a lifelong learner. So I'm learning about all these new topics to bring to the employees at Hanover internally. I still utilize my skills as a teacher, you know, writing objectives, and thinking about how to scaffold the learning appropriately so that they master those objectives.

And then I get to bring in New knowledge I have about instructional design and e-learning development. And graphic design and kind of use all these different tools in the business. So it's just a perfect mixture that keeps me coming back for more every day

You went on a journey that, I think most people would like. Build a portfolio, get an interview, go through that process, and then start your job. What is your best and final advice for those that want to become an Idol? 

I would say definitely make a priority list. Have some sort of management system, whether it's Trello boards or just a pencil and paper checklist. And dedicate, carve out time in your schedule and know that it's temporary chaos and just nose to the grind in the sense.

Eventually, you'll have a well-rounded portfolio that you can start feeling confident to apply for jobs, and that portfolio's gonna carry you places you never even knew were possible. So just carve out time, know that you're going to have frustrating days or just creativity blocks, but that if you keep working at that portfolio and checking things off your list, you will get there.

How happy was your husband when it was over? 

He just said I had this sense of joy again. I loved working with my students. If teaching was just working with students all day and not all of this other red tape and current fears and whatnot–just with all the school shootings and unfortunate news events, I would still probably be in the classroom.

So being able to find my new niche and source of joy and creativity means so much to me. And my husband was like, “Wow, you're a totally different person. You're back to the old Laura that you used to be pre-pandemic before the world turned upside down.” So he's very happy.

Now we're coworkers because we both work from home on different floors. It's nice too because we'll take walks or go pick up coffee together. So it's really paid off in all, all different ways, whether it's my personal life, family life, professional life, and just mental health too.

I'm just so happy for you, Laura. I mean, the joy is palpable. Just hearing you talk about it, I  can feel it. It just makes me so happy for you and just so appreciative that you came and shared your story because I know that it'll help others. Thank you so much for being a part of what makes IDOL courses Academy great, which is our community full of people like you. Thank you so much for coming and sharing your story.

Yeah, of course. Maybe next time I'll have an IDOL unicorn tattoo just to show my love for the Idol Academy. My little study group jokes that we're all gonna get one because it's a crazy eight weeks. But it's a life-changing eight weeks and beyond. So definitely to anyone that's wondering whether or not to take the deep dive and invest in themselves, you won't be disappointed.

Well, I'm gonna have to send you an IDOL unicorn sticker. Thank you again, Laura.

Yeah, of course. Anytime.

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