Become an IDOL 68: IDOL Success Story with Ian Melchinger, an IDOL Talent Member

Guest: Ian Melchinger, Program Manager

In this episode of Become an IDOL, I’ll be chatting with Ian Melchinger, a former Lead Instructional Designer at IDOL Talent. Ian discusses his experience as an IDOL courses Academy member and his journey to become an IDOL.

Read on to find out what it's like to work with IDOL Talent, the importance of giving and receiving quality feedback, and creating goals for continuous improvement.

Listen to this episode below:

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Let me tell you a little bit about Ian.

Ian Melchinger has worked in instruction, media, and movies for over 20 years. He lives in Connecticut, keeps chickens and bees, and makes musical projects with friends. He joined IDOL courses in Cohort 10 and loves remote ID work. He quickly become a Lead Instructional Designer at IDOL Talent and has recently accepted a position as a Program Manager at Learn Quest! 🎉

Connect with Ian: LinkedIn

Ian, will you please introduce yourself?

Thanks so much, Dr. Robin. It is a pleasure to be here. I listened to this podcast with other folks when I realized that this is something that I could do. So I hope that this works out for somebody that way today. I was born and raised in New Haven, Connecticut. It's a university town. Went to a prep school there, did theater and writing. In college, I played in rock bands.

Then I flew out to USC Cinema school and worked in post-production sound and script writing. But even then, as a TA to pay my way, I was making explainer videos about sound editing and, and getting in touch with my nerd, explainer powers.  My partner got a career move that put us back in New Haven.

After a little dalliance with the dot com bubble there with some websites and flash and game design, I became an English literature teacher for about 20 years -did art and media projects. I raised a couple daughters and the last one graduated in 2021. I thought now it is time for me to stretch, learn, grow, face discomfort,  and find another way to help people.

So I got on Daphne Gomez's Teacher Career Coach and I heard the IDOL podcast interview with you. I had never heard of instructional design. I did the five day challenge in March of 2022, and then I joined Cohort 10.I have very modest IDOL goals. There was always [that question] “What is your big IDOL goal?”

My IDOL goal was to trust the coaches and mentors. Take direction. Don't be the guy who has to explain everything in the room. Just be quiet and listen, but then I realized it was time to make a minimum viable portfolio. Do some job networking, LinkedIn, resume… these pieces that the program makes you do.

And then by the end of May, I was lucky enough to catch a contract with IDOL Talent and begin doing my first instructional design work. And that gets me to where we are now.

When did you find Daphne?

February 22nd. Oh, it was so fast. I know that contracts for most public school teachers are things that happen over the summer, but in the private school industry, they often happen in January and February. So I knew that in February I was not going to continue. And then I thought, “Okay, now that I've thrown myself out of my comfort place, what do I do?”

I did that full transitioning teacher mentality thing in February and none of it made me feel like home. And then I heard about this and I was like, I think I've been doing things like this my whole life, but I did not have a plan. I did not have a system, and maybe this would be a plan and a system.  And so that's why I dove in.

I want to talk about just how you were as a student, because a lot of the reason why you got selected for an IDOL Talent contract role was because of the way that you showed up in the IDOL Courses Academy. Did you know that you were just being a star student? 

You know, I've taught a lot of high school and college students and I know what I respond to. No one likes the know it all. No one likes the mansplainer. No one likes the person with their hand up all the time, but, because of the way the course is arranged that we all kind of webinar in and absorb, and I take a lot of notes and then I would go back and think, did I even write these notes? I was always very aware that I had not absorbed this stuff, so I'd repeat it to myself and try to remember the principles and the events and all the stages and all the steps. Then when we would show up and meet. 

I learned very quickly that the way the course is designed, the best way we all know to learn something is to try to teach it. But in this case, that means getting online, looking at people's assets that they've put on and rather than say, “Oh, it's great. Oh, you're awesome,” or “it needs work,” (things that are not helpful), I think we have this notebook full of things I just learned. Can I apply them to this person who I don't know and help them by using these techniques? Because if I can do that, then I'll know what to do for myself when I'm staring at the blank screen or I hit a wall.

So as a self-improvement measure, being helpful to other people is always the best indicator. Then it turns out that's a major point of being an instructional designer anyway. It’s that if it doesn't change behavior, it's not really good training or training wasn't the point. And so to train myself, I really understood I had to dedicate my whole behavior all day towards being helpful.

And that became my plan and it was actually just a treat to let go and not be responsible for anything other than applying these principles that I was learning to help other people and myself. 

It also showed us that not only were you showing it up for yourself and translating what you learn to people's feedback, but it also showed the coaches and the mentors, and even me, that you're in there and you get it and you give and you're helpful and you give quality feedback.
So even just those attributes alone look like somebody that you'd want to work with. Right? And that's the whole part of networking as well. So your networking was a little more internal than most people's, and so I think it's important to just kind of mention that you got an IDOL Talent job because of how you showed up as a student.

You made that really clear when you signed me on and I really appreciated that because it's opaque to us in the academy at first, like how it all works. And we don't really understand how many different limbs and paths and practices are going on under IDOL. So every week I would learn more about what's going on, and just getting through, like I'm still only like 65% through the curriculum and I've been going back and banging on those things.

But I've been trying to work on all the software and it becomes overwhelming at first, Right? Storyline and Rise and Vyond and Genially and Camtasia and Canva, and I'm still like, “I remember Adobe. I remember how to use these things.” But then there's these techniques. It's too much to do selfishly, like you just can't because it falls out of your head unless you apply it and production takes so long.

But you think if only there were hundreds of half baked assets made by other people who were trying really hard. I could get the advantage of revision by making comments on other people's stuff, and that was easy and fun, and felt good. But the advantage that I didn't see coming was that it made me much more receptive to Coach and Mentor feedback on my own work. Because you know, as a teacher you don't get criticism a lot from people. No one's sitting in your class. I mean, if they do, it's always the day that kids behave perfectly, right? So you don't get authentic feedback very much. But here in the eLearning world, when you send something and you just click submit and you walk away, and you know it's being viewed and there's nothing you can do about it anymore, all of that self-delusional talk just falls away and things really are what they are, and that can be super scary. But finding the right tone to comment on other people. And of course I've learned a lot from watching other people comment, like I'd say, Oh, this is how Tabatha writes about somebody's Storyline. I wonder if I can echo that on somebody else's thing that she didn't get to. 

And imitation works because it's principle based. And so, by the time I got notes that would've made me go home and just feel sad. Now I can say I understand what they meant. I understand why they said it this way. And I could just bang back that day with an improvement and then submit it and say, “How's this?” And that just feels good. I really enjoyed being able to control my own pace.

So you started in March, the class started in April…You had an MVP, a minimum viable portfolio by May?

Yes. 

Wow. People were like, “How'd you do it so fast?” 

Why’d I do it so fast? You know what happened? This is in the weeds, but I looked at the requirements for the first badge and just because there was an initial thing in the way that they were written about certificates and badges and stuff, I saw or thought I saw that I needed to have a complete storyline project for the very first minimum portfolio, which was out of my ability. And you know I misunderstood. So I was like, “Well, if I can't do that, I'm going to do everything else so hard that it'll make up for the fact that I can't do that.” 

And then near the end, we were talking and you were just like, “Oh, no, no, it doesn't have to be a Storyline. It can be in Rise. And like the clouds opened. It's like taking the weights off if you've been jogging with weights and then suddenly you can run. And I realized, okay, I can make all this stuff better. By week seven because I thought it was hopeless and I was just going for it anyway.

Then when I realized, oh, it's not hopeless, I just misunderstood. Then suddenly I was at the end and of course that end is the beginning because everyone will tell you that the first minimum viable portfolio is not something I look back on with pride. But, I look back on it as the first step in a long staircase that I really want to go.

And it worked. You thought it was impossible. You're like, “I've done all this work. I haven't done enough.” And they're like, “Oh no, you've done plenty.” 

Yeah. The mentors and coaches are their own very particular idiosyncratic people. They're all really different. So when they all speak with one voice, you start to go, “Okay, this is probably really true. Like I can really trust this. This is not an opinion, this is a craft.” And you know, signing on with a craft is a good feeling and it gives you a little more heart in pushing through on stuff because you can't argue with it.

It's out there working. And that really helped. A lot. And so it took me weeks to actually submit things to coaches. It took me weeks because I was like, “It's fine. My peers like it. High fives all around.” And then finally was like, “All right, there's a courage thing I'm lacking here.”  And then getting through those notes gave me a whole second win and then felt really great. That seems like that took forever, but it was just weeks. It was really not, not impossible.

We all know that getting hired by IDOL Talent is unlike any other contractor or even any other job that you'd ever get hired for. You were kind of just picked out of a pool and because I saw you in the community and I saw your work that you just got hired. Without an interview even. 

Yes and I've been rejected by the best, Robin. I was doing all those calls and people were like, “Great, we'll let you know.” And I'm like, “Okay, this is the job hunt.” Because I was new and so it was very remarkable to just come in on a job. And then, once I got inside the job, which, you know, we can't talk about in any detail for nondisclosure agreement purposes, of course, but once I'm in there, I realize like, “Oh, hey, that's one of my mentors. Like, that's somebody who's given me key advice and we're in here working on this project together.”

And you realize, “Oh, there's a community everywhere. And they immediately were on Slack helping each other out and cleaning up little things before they become big things and just make the momentum go. So that is also such a natural progression in the learning path that it does feel like a more advanced masterclass from stuff that I was doing that I'm still doing.

Because you know, I'm still in cohort 11. Rocking away trying to get my Vyond movies together and stuff. I mean you know, the fun never stops.

But now you get paid for your next level. 

Yeah. And that's good. And that is good. Well, just to say it, I mean like IDOL has a lot going on. And I remember first coming in thinking, “How am I going to do all this?” And the answer is, “One step at a time.” And now I'm doing the Freelancing Bootcamp that you've set up with two awesome colleagues. That's stuff that would've been paralyzing for me to think about six months ago. I haven't freelanced since the movie industry a hundred million years ago.

And I did not like it. I did not like not knowing where my next job was coming from. But now that has become exciting and that has become intriguing and curious. Maybe I'm just mellowing in. But now having a bunch of people who I trust from the Academy guide me through this next step allows me to think, “Okay, I can imagine that in some months, some years, sometime, I will gradually be doing contracting work and finding my own clients.”

Like that thing that seemed unbelievable now becomes believable. And with all those workbooks, it has to become believable because you have to put something in the workbook and then it becomes real over time.

This has happened in less than six months. 

Yeah.  If this were like a physical workout, it would have a before and after picture where I'm like this emaciated, slouching guy, and then I'm like standing up with good posture and look toned… I had to become super disciplined to do all the challenges that were very nicely laid out. Like no one's making me do it, but I thought, “Okay, it's right there for me to pick up. So let's pick it up.” And you know, the training has been great, but also the way it's forced me to set goals, get up earlier, you know, stay super healthy, eat right, you know, plan all this stuff that gets in the way.

It's made me manage my time. It's made me manage setbacks and find other ways to go around all these things that really, really matter. Everybody knows this stuff but actually practicing it every day, you need a goal. So, the goal helped me sort of bring up my best self and now that Better Self is doing better work. And so there is a spiraling up quality right now that that feels great.

What is the thing that surprised you the most, Ian, when you started working for IDOL Talent on a client project? What was it that surprised you about the work that was different from all those practice opportunities that you had?

Yeah, the biggest difference is the shape of the hierarchy that there's IDOL Talent. But they're also sending me to another organization that is putting me in with the team for another company. And everyone has their own project manager or their own curricular manager… I'm learning about the SME, the Subject Matter Expert.

Then I'll have four SMEs who never meet all at the same time. And then there's the original one who wrote the material that we're adapting. And then there's like a meta SME who shows up later and it's clear immediately that there will never be a time where all of those people communicate together and sort of decide all those priorities of how quickly do I respond or do I wait?

Or how many times a day can I check in with my project manager before I'm irritating her? Like all these puzzles…it feels like junior high. You know, where my foot touching someone's foot? Am I raising my hand in the right way? Am I corny? Who's looking at me? Except it's all digital and there are people, I'm on a conversation and there are people in South Africa, they're in Australia, or they're in different time zones and I realize I don't really know anything about anybody's life. But we're all connected on this thing, but connected in a strange way. So it's very asynchronous and I guess that all sounds like it makes sense.

It's a strange feeling at the end of the day, you sort of go like, “Did I have a good day at work? How do I know if I had a good day at work?” And then my partner comes home and she'll be like, “Well, I had these meetings…” But these are with human beings in a room more and more now.

Or she's like, “I took care of this patient.” And I think those seem very tangible, but, maybe it's not true. Maybe all work is like that. I mean, as a teacher, I never really know what effect you have on the students anyway. I think I'm learning how to tell the story of whether it had a good day or not, and learning what all those pieces were.

But that adjustment was crazy. The tech stuff was great. I love learning stuff I have never heard of before. And having to do all this research and having to become kind of a temporary micro expert on a very small subject, and then send all this stuff out and have someone who's a legitimate world class expert on a goal.

Yeah, that's pretty good. There's this one thing and that hasn't worn off yet. That sense of like really? That was pretty good. Cool. I'm glad I got that. Like that's exciting. I really enjoy that. I used to teach Shakespeare and Chaucer and poetry and I would see that look that students get when they suddenly would go like, “Oh wait, that's actually kind of well written and cool.” And I think I get that and I'm getting to have that now. So that part for me is super fun. 

That is a lot of surprises. Do you think that some of that came from just not…Well, I guess you worked in cinema, so you kind of worked in corporate, but it was its own thing, so not quite corporate at all?

Yeah, movie people are totally different. Most movie people consider themselves carpenters. They're like working class folks. They're in unions and there's a lot of rules because you know, a magician can't be surprised by their own trick. So everything has to have a clear, definitive structure. 

So, I'm used to things that function. I think the strangest part is I think I went in very naïve about how corporate structures work, and then I also suspect that every kind of job I do like this will have its own flavor and its own architecture and its own personalities and I still have a lot to learn about what is someone's personality, what's their experience or what's just the way it is in this job or in this company or the world. Like there's a lot of factors that I still haven't sorted out. 

So I keep a lot of journals. I write a lot because it's already funny to look back at stuff I wrote in June and say, “Oh, that was my best guess at what to do.” I've learned some things since then and it's necessary to do that. So I can try to make sure that my mistakes are the ones that you learn from that don't cause trouble. Because it's great to learn from mistakes, but not all mistakes are equally valuable. So I like to get the dumb ones out of the way so I can make sort of meaningful, interesting mistakes.

I love the way you put that. So you've found what was surprising to you. I'm sure that it was just a surprise that you would get a contract in that way. I think you've already kind of said it, but what are your next smaller goals? 

I think the most immediate thing is tools. I really like to be effective on the tool that I'm on and even though it's true that we're using instructional design principles and they're more important than the exact tool, each tool tells you how to use it. You give a room full of kids hammers and certain things are going to happen that are very predictable.

The tool tells you what to do. So I want to get my Vyond skill, my Camtasia skill, my Storyline skill…I want to get all the skills up where I can actually begin to move at the speed of thought. And there's a line that that you use a lot that I hear a lot of people say, where people are like, “Well, I've used that tool enough that when I see the script, I'm already visualizing how I'm going to execute.” And I'm not there yet with many of the tools.

And so I want to make sure I don't fall back on the tools I'm already comfortable with and end up being a guy using a hammer, like a screwdriver, because I just love a hammer. I want to learn the whole toolkit a little better and that might just be a lot of badge hunting for a while. 

If I get those things automatic, then I can start really learning about nuances of instructional design craft, because that's what really matters to me. I'm not just trying to crank out cool, three minute movies. That is a lot of fun and it is really enjoyable, but it needs to have that purpose and there's this idea about improving lives and helping people and that I'm reaching for, right?

So to get towards that, I think tool automation and, you know the way IDOL sets things up with badges, it's very easy to kind of scoff and roll our eyes at badges. But badges are great. Badges are goals that let you pull out your best qualities and really try. And so I'm going to really try for these badges like they mean a lot because then I'll make pieces that maybe are genuinely helpful.

So I'm working on that and then I'm just going to keep saying yes to opportunities for a while. Now that I've really made this my dedicated thing and I'm not going back to school, there is a lot of little conversations that I used to say, “Yeah, that's cool. I can't.” But now I'm like, “Well, maybe I can.” And it's been surprising already.

What becomes a connection? What becomes a thing that opens up a possibility? So between the tool work and just saying yes to letting things take me where they're taking me so far, that's yielded a lot of interesting stuff. My curiosity's fulfilled, my days are full. It's not overwhelming yet, but it's a lot in a good way.

So I think I'm just going to keep pushing like that until it feels like that's not the thing anymore. By next year, I'll have been through the Freelancer Bootcamp and I'll have my own LLC. I'll start really looking at questions about being a contractor versus being a freelancer, but that's a little still ahead of me. But I can see it coming around the corner a little.

You can even do both. To have a contract, to have a couple clients on the side for buffer and extra income and all that kind of stuff. I just love that you mentioned that your next goals are some new tools, which I think would probably surprise a lot of people to find out, “Wait, you got an instructional design contract and you didn't know all the tools?”

Yes, it's, it's been fascinating to learn that in all these discussions, there are discussions about the goal and the purpose and the people and the context, and that all comes first. Tools are definitely secondary. You'll be like, “Oh, and it's all happening in Rise.” Or, “Oh, you have to know this LMS,” or, “Oh, we're going to build everything in Storyline.”

And that can give you the terrors cuz you're like I don't know those things. But the sweetest thing I'm learning is that as you get good at one tool, it does help your learning curve with all the other tools. They do begin to talk together. Like I understand that Vyond can sit inside Rise very nicely.

And that is not a concept that would've even occurred to me to think about three months ago, and now I'm like, “Oh, I wonder how I could use that.” And that kind of curiosity is fun. I mean, it's like when you get a new bike. You want to start riding around different places and then you see new stuff.

So the tools are great. And also, man, I've been around on this earth long enough. I remember doing this when I went to film school. To use tools you could not get access to as a little kid in Connecticut. And now those things really are on your laptop and you can make professional movies on your phone.

And that's so real and it's very freeing. But it comes with a whole lot of responsibility because you have to look to a better purpose than just making it. I don't want to repeat myself a million times, I want to progress. 

So I think that there is a lot that you can share about becoming an IDOL but I think yours is just so unique in the sense that your first ID job is for IDOL Talent. What would you say is your best and final advice for those who want to become an IDOL? 

We want to just reflect and reflect and reflect that we can come out perfect by the time we do. But it doesn't go “Reflect. Improve. Do.” It's “Do” first, and “Do it Messy” speaks to that and mattered a lot to me when I began. Even in IDOL Talent, which is a professional job that I take really seriously and I really want to rock my responsibility in this career. You just have to show up and start making stuff. And then when you realize that you've run out of shoes, you have to reflect and then you have to start asking people, and then you throw it out there again.

The course you didn't make is never going to help as many people as the messy prototype and you can’t improve a thing that's not there. So “Do. Reflect. and Improve” is the thing I got told on week one, and it's stayed true and only become more true. Even as I'm working in IDOL Talent. Even as I'm thinking about building my own brands down the line, it all becomes the same continuum that you got to do it.

And then do a lot of reflecting and then think, “What is the most important improvement I can make?” Because I got to go do it again tomorrow. And that cycle is a wonderful cycle. You know, it's good stuff.

I think that is a great cycle. I think it's a wonderful reminder, and it's so simple about all the things that you can accomplish with just “Do. Reflect. Improve.” And even just thinking about those three things, like when you start to feel a little frazzled or frustrated or stressed out, well, maybe that's the time when you go and reflect instead, whether that's a walk or writing in your journal. Whatever. It'll be there when you get back. 
Ian, this has been such a pleasure talking to you and, and hearing your IDOL Success Story. So thank you so much for coming and joining me today.

Dr. Robin, it's a huge pleasure. Thanks so much and good luck to everybody out there. 

Thank you so much for reading the show notes!

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