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  • Writer's pictureDakota J.

Instructor to Instructional Designer: A Day in the Life of a Learning & Development Specialist

Updated: Nov 8, 2021

And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.
— Meister Eckhart

Last fall, I made the decision to make a career move from being an English as a Second Language instructor to becoming an Instructional Designer. I’m not going to lie, I BOMBED my first few interviews. The terminology between the two fields can be vastly different, and not knowing how to talk about my experience as a teacher in Instructional Design terms proved to be my greatest detriment. Eventually, after interviews with a couple of different universities and corporations, I excitedly accepted a position with the Provider Assistance & Training Hub in the School of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

While the title sounds fancy and all, do you even have the slightest idea of what an Instructional Designer does? Many people don’t realize that nearly any classroom-based, webinar-led, or on-demand training course was designed by a group of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and Instructional Designers (IDs) or Learning & Development (L&D) Specialists. While the latter two are, to many and the vast majority of the field, similar, many people do not really understand what they do.

On that note, if you are even remotely interested in learning about a day in the life of my ID career, then you’ll want to keep on reading!

Good morning starshine, the Earth says “hello”! (7:00 a.m. – 8:00 a.m.)

Around 7:00 a.m., I usually roll out of bed, put on some workout clothes, and make my way downstairs. On my way to the basement, I make a stop on the main level of the house to greet my kiddos (two dogs, Charlee & Rosco, and two cats, Tyra & Oscar). let the dogs out to go potty and prepare everyone’s breakfast. I also take a moment to set up the coffee pot for delay brew, so that I can have a fresh cup of coffee immediately following my workout. We are fortunate enough to have a projects and extra space in the basement that lends itself nicely to a kind-of home gym.

While I used to get stuck in bed scrolling through social media and email notifications first thing in the morning, I recently muted those apps and removed my work email account from my phone. Instead, I wake up to a lovely iPhone notification that says “Good morning!” and shares the weather.

After my morning workout, I take care of my hygiene and start to get myself pumped for the day. I grab my first cup of coffee (cuppa) and make my way to my home office. 

Cuppa #1 (8:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.)

As a my friend Chelsea recently said in a blog post, “If any corporate employee tells you they don’t drink coffee or at least some sort of caffeinated tea or beverage in the morning, they’re not from this world.” As you will quickly see, my morning is generally organized around what I can get done between refills of coffee!

Starting around 8:00 A.M., and with my first cuppa on my desk, I log-in to my computer and open Outlook, Teams, and OneNote. While I wait for my email to populate, I go into Teams and send a nice “Good Morning!” and a gif (or emoji) to my co-workers. It’s a bit of a fun habit these days that keeps us feeling connected even though we aren’t in the office together.

Once my Outlook and emails have loaded, I go through my little AM checklist, which includes:

  1. Checking any new emails.

  2. Reviewing flagged emails from the day before.

  3. Checking any assigned tasks in Outlook.

  4. Creating OneNote pages for the day’s meetings.

These tasks also allow me to set up my calendar for the day. Generally, I prepare any agendas for workgroups the day before, so any preparation that I am doing for meetings day-of is creating a OneNote page for them, linking that to the Outlook meeting invitation, and importing the agenda into the newly-created page.

Once I get those things done, I go into each of my workgroups in Teams and check to see who has completed what tasks and if I need to send any follow-up emails. I’m fortunate enough to work with some great people, so I don’t often have to send many follow-up emails regarding tasks I’ve assigned. After that, I go into my Outlook calendar and fill it in with the various projects I’m going to work on throughout the day.

By this point, it’s nearly 9:00 a.m., and my cup is empty, so it’s time for a refill. I grab my cup, walk downstairs with Charlee. I let Charlee out the backdoor to be outside for a bit and pour myself a second cuppa.

Cuppas #2 & #3 (9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.)

Now that I’ve poured myself a second cup of coffee and set my calendar for the day, I pick up one of my projects and get to work. While I usually have multiple projects in the works with different deliverable dates, I usually prioritize how I work on projects from day-to-day based on when my workgroups are. There are a number of different programs that I use to build out the various different projects. For instance, for classroom-based and hybrid trainings, we tend to use slide decks that we create using MS PowerPoint. If we are designing and on-demand elearning course, then we will use Articulate Rise and/or Articulate Storyline.

While Rise, Storyline, and PowerPoint are the programs that we use to build our projects, there are numerous supplemental programs that we use to take our e-learning courses to the next level. For instance, I recently spent nearly an entire week building out a series of videos in Vyond. While it didn’t take long for us to record the script for the audio, the storyboarding and building out of the video is what took the majority of the time.

Obviously, it takes a lot of time to build-out a video and prepare a storyboard, so it’s not unusual for the entire first part of my workday to be consumed by a single project. When I set up my workday like this, it allows me to get in a focused mood and usually I can send a project out for review by the workgroup by the time I take lunch.

Lunch & La Croix (11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.)

My Lunch & La Croix is a nice little hour that I take for myself and kiddos every day. I have it set in my calendar to remind myself to get up and go make lunch at 11:30 a.m. Lunch is usually just leftovers, and when you work from home with your spouse, this allows for a break in the workday and a little socialization. We usually put on the “Hell’s Kitchen” or “The Price is Right” channel on Pluto TV while we eat.

After lunch, I get the harnesses and leashes put on the dogs and we go for a walk. We are lucky enough to live in a beautiful neighborhood with a number of different walking paths. Every day, we take the dogs for at least one walk that last about 30 minutes. This gets us out of the house, we get some fresh air, and I can’t deny my love for soaking up some of that Vitamin D!

The dog walk usually brings us home about 12:30 p.m., and it’s time for me to grab another cuppa (tea this time), and make my way back to my office.

Cuppa #4 (12:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.)

When I get back to my desk after my lunch break, I usually check my email again to see if I’ve received any responses from my workgroups or colleagues. I also get back into Teams to see if there are any updates to the tasks that I’ve assigned, and check in with my L&D group chat.

My workgroups are generally scheduled for one to two hours in the afternoon. Being as I am the L&D/ID specialist in the workgroups, we have also been requested to facilitate these workgroups. I’ll get on Zoom a couple minutes early and make some small talk with my workgroup (mostly composed of SMEs). Once everyone has joined the meeting, we discuss our project. I show them the work that has been done since the last meeting, and I let them provide any and all feedback that they have.

I feel compelled to say that I am very fortunate to work in the field of social work. I have so much respect for the SMEs and, as part of the Provider Assistance & Training Hub, I get to have a hand in re-shaping how youth behavioral health services will be deployed across the State of Illinois. That is very meaningful, which is one of the most important things to me in a job.

Cuppa #5 (2:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.)

Of course by this point in the day I am not drinking coffee anymore, so my cuppa now is likely to be some good, old-fashioned H20.

If I don’t have any more meetings or workgroups, I make some time to follow-up on tasks that were agreed upon in the meetings that I did have. I always work best when ideas are fresh in my mind, so I generally take some time after a workgroup or meeting to start immediately working on revisions to the projects. My job brings me so much joy when the SMEs see their ideas come to life with my creativity, so I always try to “make things right” when I get to work after they provide feedback.

Generally, at the end of the day, I set my calendar for the next day. I’ll make sure that I’ve prepped for any meetings that I might have and send any final emails for the day. Working from home provides everyone an opportunity to work during the hours that work best for them, I am always sure to respond to some emails at the end of the day, just in case a colleague might find working in the evening to be more suitable for them that day.

Otherwise, I jump into my group chat to say “good evening” to my L&D colleagues before logging off for the night. Or, if it’s a Friday, I jump onto a short video chat/happy hour with a few of my colleagues to share some of the cool things we’ve worked on throughout the week.

Other Random Acts of Collegiality:

  1. SMEs mistakenly, but lovingly, asking me to do what I do best… which is “prettify things”.

  2. Calls with colleagues to problem-solve or brainstorm a creative dilemma that one of us is encountering.

  3. Follow-up emails for clarification on numerous reviews (think rapid prototyping) on a project that is close to being sent “up the chain” for review by state and national experts.

  4. Last but not least, answering and responding to random Skype for Business calls from elderly gentlemen who would like to request medication refills. (The other day, the same guy called my phone 4 different times, and I had to explain each time that I’m not his doctor.)

So… is it what you expected?

At the end of the day, I found instructional design / learning & development to be a more-than-natural fit for me. Moving from classroom instructor to instructional designer has given me the opportunity to let my technical and creative skills flourish, while also creating meaningful change for how youth behavioral health services will be deployed across the State of Illinois.

If you are interested in learning more about what the Provider Assistance & Training Hub at the School of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign does, feel free to reach out to me or check out our website!

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