During the pandemic, I went back to school to get a MEd, and I found the IDOL courses Academy. I realized there was much to learn, and that the Academy would help me move in the right direction. It occurred to me that I was undergoing a bit of a career re-calibration. I had many of the skills that I needed to become an IDOL. I’d done graphic design, teaching, curriculum development, and I wrote and published a novel. So I had all of the skills necessary to become and IDOL, didn’t I? Well yes. And no.
In the last blog I wrote I said Robin and Jay helped me get through several interviews at a job I still work at. Robin warned me that the role, as she was reading the description, was less about creating learning, and more about curating, managing, and operationalizing learning. Again, it was all Greek to me. I just saw a paycheck in a new field. My title was Learning and Staff Development Specialist.
As I settled into the new role/experience (for both myself and the organization), I started hearing all the things Robin and Tabatha and others at the academy warned me that I’d hear. Colleagues frequently declare “we need training”, and “can you organize and assign a series of pre-fabricated courses from the LMS library? Eventually, I turned to my IDOL courses Academy and graduate school notes. I pulled out the SME templates and the assessment templates, and all of the wonderful resources we have access to in the IDOL courses Academy. I began reading the books I bought while there - Cathy Moore’s MAP IT, The Accidental Instructional Designer, and Design for How People Learn. The books reiterated what I had learned in the Academy - our role and how it works is often misunderstood. Funny how none of it registered until I started experiencing it at work.
I began to assert myself and advocate for the needs and purpose of and ID in developing a learning culture. I started by stepping back to look at the bigger picture - I used the MAP IT philosophy to start conversations with folks about how not every performance gap demands training. Initially I got considerable pushback and I was being coveted in a small corner of the HR department. It started to feel like I was the “make things pretty” girl, or “people need to know the policy changed, can you make a training on this?” (enter multiple pdfs and manuals with a lengthy county jargon-filled policy I was left to discern).
I realized I would have to help them understand what I’m doing here, how they need to help me as SMEs, and what my lens can provide to the change management that they are undergoing… I said I wanted more autonomy to speak to different departments so that I could assess needs more effectively. I said I needed more autonomy to talk with staff to assess needs more effectively - pointing out that the amount of staff turn-over, leadership change, and lack of training have all done their part to make performance at an all time low. I needed to explain that building a PowerPoint, an explainer video, or a job aid would not change performance if staff don’t feel secure, and supported at their sites. It’s remarkable how few colleagues concede that relationship.
I found other opportunities that would pay significantly higher and allow me to do what I’d learned in school and at the IDOL courses Academy. I wanted to be a learning designer. I wanted to storyboard, design and develop learning! That’s what I wanted to do. I spoke to my direct supervisor and shared my thoughts about leaving. To her credit, she stepped up. To her credit, she was able to increase my salary. To her credit, she was able to self-reflect and step back by allowing me room to move. More autonomy… and then we got a brand new Executive Director.
He really knows what he’s doing. He’s taken organizations like ours and ‘put them back together’ before. He started by having 1:1’s with those of us on the leadership team. When I spoke with him, I told him of my time here thus far, and how the longer I’m here, and the more that I understand the needs, the more I am determined that I need to have a seat at the Executive Team table. Instead of having folks who don’t understand adult learning theory, how learning and motivation work, or instructional design tell me they need a training about X, then disappear with little to no information, I want to be in the conversations prior to that decision being made. I said I want to be at the table that discusses performance gaps and staff skill deficiencies, that my lens will likely save us a lot of important time and effort. That the kind of learning we need is not PowerPoints and boxes checked off. The kind of learning we need is that which leads to confidence in our workers through behavior change and better client outcomes.
Listen - the organization I work at does very important work. We’re going through the tale end of a difficult time that was exacerbated by the Pandemic. We employ a passionate staff that are committed to the work. The new Executive Director sees me. He sees the organization for where it’s at, and he sees the team. He has experience with Learning and Development Departments at other companies. He has his eye on making Learning and Development it’s own entity - he has his eyes on expanding my role a bit more. He listens to me when I tell him Change Management cooperates with Learning and Development to rebuild the foundation of any organization. He’s even interested in discussing how my experience with podcasting might serve us in both learning and marketing. Oh yeah, I love me some podcasting!
My learning began years ago on stage. On the radio. In marketing and graphic design. From there I moved into addiction counseling, case management, and ultimately teaching adults. This current season of my life was born during a pandemic, an online college, and the IDOL courses Academy.
Now that it’s all beginning to make a different level of sense, I may go through the next IDOL cohort as a student, to tie things up a bit in my skill set. I love what I’m doing. I love teaching and learning. I love serving others. I get to do all of these things here. Thank you for the start - I’ll keep checking in. :)
Written by: Jen Slumac
Jen is a talented Instructional Designer | Learning & Development Director who has been able to meld her passions into a life filled with purpose. From serving people living on the margins, to writing, performing, teaching, and graphic design, she gives back through multiple means of mentorship and professional contributions to both the L&D community and the most vulnerable populations among us.
She is a Professional Unicorn.
Instructional Design & Online Learning: www.jenslumac.com
Author, Trainer and Podcast Host: www.soulnotskin.com
Buy her book on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2UyMpVo
Words to INCITE reading:
When I began the journey from adult educator to instructional designer, I was merely looking for full-time work. I wanted to continue teaching, helping, learning and growing somehow. I’ve learned more by teaching adults than in doing anything else in my life.
During the pandemic, I went back to school and it occurred to me that I was undergoing a bit of a career re-calibration. I thought I needed to learn about Instructional Design so when I got a job I could live up to the position's requirements. It hadn’t occurred to me that the company that hired me may not understand the position’s requirements, and I’d be developing the job with them! How exciting.