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Navigating a shifting world of instructional design: Nicole's narrative


The Adult Learning Hub recently sat down with 'Nicole', an instructional designer, originally from South Africa, and now based in Canada. Despite her incredible skill and talent for her job, she has needed to navigate a number of  persistent challenges, not just with Covid, but also as a black female wanting to continually advance herself personally and professionally, in a field that has drastically changed. Read on to learn more...

Sitting down with Nicole was like connecting with a friend from across the miles. Not only are we both adult learning professionals, but we both have a shared passionate for developing ourselves. Nicole told me of her love of designing learning experiences for adults. She started out earlier in her career as a system administrator in South Africa and often noticed that she would be tasked with showing other employees how to 'do stuff' (as she put it lightly)...and she was told that she was quite good at it too. She moved to Australia for a while, and ended up working as a Microsoft systems trainer, before settling in Alberta, Canada, where she would eventually stumble into instructional design, working for an oil company. She has become a kind of jack of all trades in the adult learning world, where she has been involved at every stage of the journey from initial learning needs analysis to implementation.

Working in the oil industry, where she is responsible for designing eLearning... certainly comes with its challenges. She recognized early on that learning online for oil workers, doesn't always makes sense, given their roles, responsibilities, and job location. She has needed to prioritize what skills can be learned online, versus what should be done face to face. In order to keep herself relevant, she has needed to spend more time coming up with creative solutions to engage and upskill people, in a way that makes sense for the job they are performing, but also finding solutions that are scalable for her company. Asking questions like, which tools work for me? Which ones work for our staff? And which ones work for each team and the wider business?

Throughout her career, she has noticed a few shifts in thinking around e-learning experiences and she has managed to remain flexible and agile towards finding options that suit learners and businesses together. Pre-Covid, employees might have been unhappy in coming to an instructor-led face to face training session, not really knowing 'what's in it for me' or why it was important they be in person. With online learning, if done well (including some gamification and puzzles to increase engagement) she has noticed there is greater focus and more willingness to complete tasks assigned to learners. For her, the priority has always been in how to best transfer knowledge to a job situation. For example, the topic of 'resilience at work' is often challenging to create material for online, as you tend to need live scenarios to work through. Whether face to face or online, it needs to make sense for both individuals and organisations, Nicole says.

However, with this shift in thinking around eLearning, companies have also become more aware of the importance of measuring ROI or return on investment, needing to investigate what the data is saying about time spent on a training and how this is being demonstrated in employee performance. With Nicole's in-depth experience, this has become an interest of hers and she wants to look at how she can move into data analysis in the future, but for her, there are also factors that are impacting her decision.

She mentioned to me that she is in the later part of her career, and to find ways to get companies to see her in a different light, despite a highly transferable set, is tricky. During our conversation, she also expressed the fact that race plays a role. In a white male dominated e-learning industry, being a black, female instructional designer who excels as data analytics, indirectly means she has needed to work harder at overcoming stereotypes and seemingly needing to prove herself. Getting businesses to look at her differently, given these factors, means that confidently navigating her career moving forward requires even more grit than before.

Towards the end of our conversation, she was candid with me and she said she is not sure how much longer she will be in the field of adult learning. With certain factors (often out of her control) impacting her practice and how she views herself in a changing world, she wonders where she will be in 5 or 10 years time and how she can continually carve out a unique, professional identity for herself.

After we finished our time together, I asked myself, 'How are we serving adult educators like Nicole? What other factors are there that indirectly impact what we do and how we are perceived in a drastically shifting world of work?'

I know there are others out there like her, who are committed to their learners and organizations, but how we support educators during changing and volatile times should be our priority. In The Adult Learning Hub, for example, we bring adult educators together, to talk about the big issues that impact all of us, in a safe space, off social media, with other like-minded peers. There is never a more important time for us to come together, in ways we have never before.

We recognize that we now operate in a world that is different, requiring us to be even more agile, further emphasizing the need for us to share our experiences and ideas, so we can invest in each other's success, both now and in the future.

Thank you Nicole for sharing your story with The Adult Learning Hub audience.

Do you have a story you'd like to share, of how you have navigated change throughout your career, as an adult learning professional? Get in touch, if you'd like to be featured in an upcoming article!

Alternatively, you can also sign up to our mailing list, to get regular insights and updates in adult education around the world. Or, even better, join The Adult Learning Hub (for free), to go into more depth on topics important to you and connect with other like-minded peers, in an safe and exclusive space.