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Changing careers to begin an instructional design job may sound like a scary thing to do, but more and more people are catching the instructional design buzz. Instructional design is one of the top jobs teachers can transition into. I spoke to four instructional design and eLearning professionals who made the switch (3 are former teachers!). And, the best part is that they are all working instructional design remote jobs. They have made the career change into instructional design jobs in Higher Education, Corporate, and Freelancing.
Instructional design can be an excellent fit for career changers coming from a variety of different fields. But, if you’re thinking about making a change, you’ve got to check out what these four instructional design job changers have to say!
I Interviewed 4 Instructional Design Career Changers: Here’s what I learned
Shawntay: Today, we’re going to be talking to some instructional design career changers. We’ve got corporate, freelance, and higher ed. So, we’ve got a rounded-out, experienced group here that you can learn from.
I’ll be asking them questions to help you figure out what kind of instructional design job might interest you.
Tell us about your previous profession and what kind of instructional design job you have now.
I was a teacher for ten years. So, I taught high school social studies. Then, I decided to switch gears and became an instructional designer. I spent a lot of my first professional instructional design job working in the corporate world. Now, I work for the instructional design company with Shawntay!
Tell us a bit of what you were doing when you made that teacher-to-instructional designer transition?
I started as a training specialist. Then, I moved into a corporate trainer sort of role. So, I would deliver and facilitate leadership training for both team members and managers within the organization. So, we had learning paths, and I would facilitate and build things for the organization.
In my transition to that, I tried to use my experience and use all of my expertise from the classroom. But also to not be a poor teacher anymore! I get to check all of those boxes with instructional design, so I’m really glad about that.
I was also a teacher. For ten years, I taught middle school French, and this is my first year as a full-time freelance instructional designer.
I was on the corporate side for many years, working with a large insurance company. I worked on their education team, doing the up close and personal with the agents where I was doing the training and the facilitating. And then all of a sudden, [the company] also decided that we really need to have an actual design team. They called [the role] the education development specialist, but that’s just the fancy term for an instructional designer.
So I applied for that and earned the right to sit in the seat. It was super exciting to be there. Unfortunately, though, all good things must come to an end. So as of this time last year, they restructured the team, and my role was eliminated. It was a total shocker. I didn’t know what I was going to do! I gave it some thought and opened my own design company, and I’ve been working on that on the side. So, it’s been exciting!
I was also a teacher for about 15 years (language arts and reading). Then, I had an opportunity to leave the classroom and work for some Ed Tech companies.
I realized when I started looking into instructional design that I’ve been just following the ADDIE model for the last nine years. I was developing content to help teachers, administrators, and students learn how to use instructional software.
So, that’s how I started my transition: building content and delivering it, and doing face-to-face training. I was doing the data analysis, meeting with the stakeholders, and going over the data because it was a business. And if the data looks good, then they’re going to rebuy, and I get a bonus!
Bonuses are good. We want bonuses!
It’s always good to have the money! All in all, I found out last year that I was already doing instructional design. I just needed to learn the terminology and some of the cool tech we now have to develop content.
What spaces are you working in related to instructional design?
I’m working with higher ed right now. So, I’m working with subject matter experts (some are professors, and some are experts in their area). I work with them to write content for a college and put their instruction online.
Describe your transition from the classroom to a full-time freelance instructional design job.
It was a slow journey for me! Teachers are expected to get their Master’s degree. The traditional options for teachers weren’t very exciting. I couldn’t see those degrees being helpful outside of teaching.
Even though I had no plans to leave teaching, I wanted to do something that could be useful elsewhere if I ever needed an exit plan!
So, I got my Master’s in instructional design. I saw somebody on LinkedIn with this job title, “Instructional Designer.” I looked it up and was surprised that I had never heard of instructional design before. It seemed like such a perfect fit! I wondered, “why don’t more teachers know about this?” It seemed like such a natural path.
I finished that degree, and I didn’t think about an instructional design job for two years. Then, in 2019, I had what I thought was the worst year ever. 2020 put things into perspective there! It was a stressful year in my work due to things that were outside of my control.
So, I started looking at instructional design jobs. I polished off my resume and put together a sad portfolio using content I created as a teacher. I applied for jobs in every sector as well as bidding on projects on Upwork.
After a couple of months, I was offered a freelance position with an eLearning startup. It was a perfect opportunity that I was able to build into a freelance instructional design career.
What is a typical workday for a Corporate, Freelance, or Higher Ed instructional designer?
In the higher ed environment on day one, I’m introduced to the subject matter expert I will be working with. We go over our template, and then I take on the role of project manager.
I work with the subject matter expert to fill in content into a template. Then, we set up learning objectives for the entire course. Next, we evaluate those learning objectives. I’ve found that even if someone says they know Bloom’s taxonomy and how to write the learning objectives, don’t always take them for their word! Because they don’t, they might know the first two levels.
So it is our job to coach them by writing higher-level thinking objectives for these courses and guiding them. I’ve had to look at my communication style and step back to avoid offending somebody or making them feel like what they’re doing is wrong. When you’re working with a subject matter expert, they know their field, and we know ours. Sometimes communicating the differences isn’t an easy thing to do!
I want to highlight something that Joanie called out. As instructional designers, we know best practices in instructional design. So if you take our advice, we’re going to show you how to build the most incredible learning experience.
In the real world, we have this knowledge and expertise. Then when we go to work with someone who is an expert in the content but not in how to design amazing learning experiences. So it’s important to help the content experts reframe their expertise to fit within that learning experience.
We have to do this incrementally. It might be rough the first time you work with that subject matter expert! The next project you work with them on, it will get a little easier.
Darlene, what’s a typical day in your instructional design job?
I’ll give you a view of the corporate world because that’s where the bulk of my experience so far has been. Day one looks very similar to what Joanie described. It’s super, super fast-paced. You’ve got to learn to juggle and prioritize big time.
It’s not uncommon to be working on more than one project at a time. There could be multiple projects, and they could be huge projects, like rewriting policy processing software into a new program.
A project request comes to the manager, who assigns an instructional designer. From there, it’s very similar to what Joanie said. I work with the subject matter expert and follow ADDIE.
But, what led me to the Instructional Design and Tech Accelerator system was that I didn’t really know the adult learning theories. So, once I struck out on my own, I wanted to fill any gaps in my knowledge.
The Accelerator system helped me to cement what I already knew and fill in those gaps. In the corporate world, storyboarding may look different. Because everything is so fast-paced, maybe the storyboard isn’t a PowerPoint or a Word document. Perhaps it’s a mock-up of what the course could look like. Once it’s been determined (through working with SMEs) that we would build an eLearning course in Rise, for example, I would just start designing it instead of having a Storyboard. At the insurance company, we didn’t have the time to look at a storyboard.
My number one takeaway from a corporate instructional design career is that you’re never looking at someone’s resume and see ‘subject matter expert’ listed. It’s not their regular role. The SME has probably been voluntold. A huge takeaway from the corporate world is that the instructional designer has to sit down with the SME and walk them through project expectations.
Another good call-out Darlene! Best practices can collide with the real world. If you have a deadline, you might fast-forward through some steps of the instructional design process. That’s something that can come with experience, too. Thank you for highlighting that. Sarah, tell us about a day in the life of a freelance instructional designer.
What I love about freelance work versus teaching is the structure of the day. My workday is structured how I want to structure it. On the flip side, if I don’t put a system into place, there isn’t any!
I start every day with a to-do list. Physical planners help me schedule and prioritize the work since I work on multiple projects simultaneously. So I have to pay close attention to timelines to know what needs my attention first.
I also have to keep in mind my client’s time zones when it comes to my schedule. For example, if I have a delivery date on something for a West Coast client, sometimes I know I can squeeze that project in first thing in the morning before they’re awake!
Additionally, I work with contractors and lead other instructional designers. So another important part of my day is checking in on them and making sure they have the resources they need to continue their work.
Apart from that, my day is filled with the ins and outs of whatever my current project is. Right now, I’m deep in development in Articulate Storyline.
But also, my typical day includes errands or picking up my daughter from school. So I’m able to balance my workday with my family, which I love.
So true. That is something beautiful about being in business for yourself. The flexibility in your schedule is a nice perk. Alright, Katie, tell us about a day in the life for you.
It’s nice to hear everybody’s. There’s a lot of what I do in all three. I’ll focus on the corporate side. It’s fast-paced and fast-changing in terms of project scope. I will say, depending on your leadership, the scope can be fluid in corporate. It can be frustrating on the one hand, but it’s also nice to move things along quickly.
Are certain instructional design jobs typically remote?
It depends on the organization. It’s also like a pre-COVID/post-COVID question. Before COVID, most corporate jobs wanted their instructional designers in person. Now, after COVID, they’ve realized the work can be done remotely. So there’s a little more open-mindedness towards remote work for all positions now.
I agree, and just to highlight, all of us on this panel today are remote instructional designers, so I just wanted to call that out!
Did you struggle with imposter syndrome during your transition to an instructional design job?
That is something I think about all the time. [In teaching] we’re building courses, writing learning objectives, and preparing the delivery. You understand how to break things down for students. All of that is the same thing we’re doing as instructional designers.
As far as overcoming imposter syndrome, I encourage you to find your instructional design tribe. Find people you can talk through that imposter syndrome. Maybe someone on your reference list who’s going to help you see attributes you can’t always see in yourself.
Your instructional design tribe might consist of LinkedIn connections, Facebook friends, maybe other instructional designers in The Hangout. Reach out to them, send a message and start building a relationship.
Coming from teaching, it felt like someone was going to walk into the first day of my instructional design job and say, “No, get your purse. This isn’t the place for you!” In that first week, I met with leadership and had this lightbulb moment where I realized that everybody was still figuring things out. It doesn’t matter what position you’re in.
There’s also power in saying, “I don’t really know, I’ll figure it out.” No one is going to kick you out, but we feel like they might! Looking back, I realize I had as much experience as everyone else.
I have two moments in my life where, as an instructional designer, I experienced strong imposter syndrome.
Early in my role, I was often pulled into huge projects because of my background. These were 20 module compliance trainings. And how fun can you make it when it’s compliance training?
To step out of that, I relied on my colleagues’ advice. It helped me learn by watching others and recognizing that it can still be engaging, even if it is compliance training.
My second comment about big-time imposter syndrome was when I lost my job. I felt like maybe the role was eliminated because I wasn’t good enough. But logically, I knew the role was eliminated across the entire country. It wasn’t just me.
I gained back confidence because of my colleagues. I still have a folder filled with positive emails and recognition I received while working. If I’m feeling low, I can read through it. It’s also helped build my reference list!
I’ve been in education for about 20 years, in all different roles. In every single one of those roles, I was like, “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing!” I had imposter syndrome in every role.
At an ATD conference I attended, one of the speakers (a VP) mentioned they experienced it even at their level.
It’s normal to experience discomfort when you’re in a period of growth. We all go through periods of growth followed by periods of comfort so that imposter syndrome can ebb and flow. It’s totally normal!
What are your favorite instructional design resources?
ATD (webinars and articles)
Articulate Community (elearning blog and Articulate project help)
Audacity (audio editing)
SnagIt (video and screen capture tool)
Training Magazine Network (free webinars)
NV Access (screen reader)
What’s your best piece of advice for new instructional designers?
My biggest advice comes from the movie Frozen 2, just to do the next right thing. So you might know the end goal but not all the steps in between. So take the first step, and it will form from there.
For freelancers, my best piece of advice is to say yes. If you have an opportunity, take it, even if it doesn’t pay well or you feel that imposter syndrome like you won’t be able to do the work. Say yes to everything at first. Then, you’ll get to a point where you can be picky and charge a higher rate.
Connect with everyone on LinkedIn. It’s not like Facebook. It’s professionals. You can connect with anyone, even if they’re not instructional designers.
Use LinkedIn as a tool, even if you’re not applying to jobs yet. Especially for those transitioning from teaching who are worried about their resumes. Use the required skills from job postings to learn and build your resume.
And again, I encourage you to find your instructional design tribe. Especially if you’re working remotely, those connections are so meaningful.
Wrapping it Up
Have more questions? Looking to find your instructional design tribe? Join The Hangout to ask questions, get free training, and more.
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The Testimonials are In:
Working with Shanwtay and Katie at the Instructional Design Company was a dream come true. Their creativity, expertise, and professionalism throughout the entire process was beyond top notch. I engaged them to help turn my first book into a training course, and I could not be happier with how the final product turned out. If you have an instructional design project and you’re considering which company to work with, you can stop your search and thank me later. They are truly the best in the business.
I joined the Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program because I struggled to find jobs in instructional design beyond the development phase. I’ve done a couple of training programs with lots of random projects, but I was overwhelmed, not connecting the dots, and not good at structuring my writing to hit learning objectives. I was looking for motivation and direction at beginning a better Instructional Designer.
After taking the Instructional Design & Tech Certificate program and joining my fantastic team for support, I found the structure and approach to be what I need to take my next steps, evening improving my skills in the development stage.
Teacher, Future Instructional Designer
I love how this course let’s you work at your own pace. I got great tips and learned many things. The ongoing support for multiple people and groups is what I love the best. You are never alone in this process. I have been able to adjust my resume and began creating a portfolio of work I’ve completed to add when applying for jobs. I use many of the PowerPoint skills in my lessons and trainings. I would highly recommend this for anyone wanting to become an instructional designer.
Teacher, Future Instructional Designer
I have searched for the last few years to find some suitable career change where I wouldn’t have to earn another degree and where I could use the talents and skills I already have as a teacher. When I came across the Instructional Design Accelerator course, I loved the fact that Shawntay was a former teacher and could relate to a teacher’s need to transition from the classroom. This was what sold the course for me. Her experiences are invaluable especially when translating teacher duties to instructional designer duties. I would (and have) recommended this program to other teachers I know who are looking to transition out of the classroom. I do appreciate ALL of her feedback on my projects!
L&D Project Manager
The Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator certificate program is one of the most comprehensive ID programs out there for beginners. If you’re looking to grow your schools in ID and development then I highly recommend this program. Not only will this program give you an overview of theory, but you will receive a thorough walkthrough of how to apply what you have learned. Although I had already secured a position in Learning & Development when I bought this course, it helped me to move up into a new position as a Learning & Development Project Manager!
Future Instructional Designer
If you have any interest in ID, sign up for this program NOW! Shawntay and her team are top notch! The course content exceeded my expectations in a big way and the encouragement and support continues to be so valuable. You will not feel alone going through this course, you will learn so much, you’ll have many cheerleaders, and you will have fun!
Future Instructional Designer
I am really enjoying this program! It’s prerfect for someone who is thinking about a career shift to Instructional Design and does not have a lot of experience. This is my first real introduction to Instructional Design and it’s been the perfect beginner course to help me get my feet wet. The modules are broken down well and it’s great to go at your own pace and at your own time. The modules themselves are very comprehensive and you learn a lot from all of them. I really like how each one build upon each other and you’re working towards the bigger project of designing your first training course from scratch. I’m learning so much from going through this course! I was provided great feedback from Katie and Shawntay through the process via Trello Boards, comments on the Google documents, and Facebook group. This course has been well worth the time and effort and I appreciate the fact that I will always have the resources available to me after I complete the training (just in case I’m not quite ready to transition yet).
Future Instructional Designer
I can’t say enough great things about the Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program! The length of the program is perfect; it doesn’t feel rushed and there’s just the right amount of structure to give you the accountability you need. There are so many opportunities to get live answers to any questions you have related to the course content or anything ID-related! This program gave me the support and structure I needed to both feel affirmed in the relevant skills I already had coming in and to fill in the gaps I had as a career-changer going into ID. Shawntay, Katie, and all the coaches are super helpful and supportive. I now feel confident that I have the tools and access to resources I need to apply for ID jobs without wondering if there’s something I’m “missing” in the preparation process. I’d highly recommend this program to anyone wanting to transition into ID or who just wants to brush up on their skills in the field.
Krista Johnson Awomoyi
Freelance Instructional Designer
I’d highly recommend the Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program. I’m blown away by how much I learned in just 12 weeks. I had ID experience prior to taking this course and was just looking to get a better understanding of applying adult learning principles. This course well exceeded my expectations! Not only did I gain a clear understanding of adult learning principles, I was also able to apply those principles by creating assets for your portfolio using PowerPoint, Adobe Premiere Pro and Storyline. The hands on support that we received was top notch.
This program is one of the most robust yet fulfilling L&D programs I’ve seen. I learned so much about the industry and about the limitlessness of my own capabilities. I am so appreciative of Shawntay and all of the trainers who took part in the program. They went above and beyond with not only guiding, but communicating live and working one on one or in small groups. If you are on the fence, I say take the leap and you will not regret it! There’s so much to learn, not only from the trainers, but also the learners in your group. Everyone comes in with their own skills and can be additional support and guidance for you. Thank you for creating this program!
Instructional Designer Training Facilitator
Shawntay is an amazing individual. She is very knowledgeable in all aspects of ID and eLearning. She is also very compassionate and loves to help and see everyone around her grow and prosper. Shawntay has been a great mentor to me and she has helped me mature as an instructional designer and eLearning developer. She has provided me with opportunities when others have overlooked me. I am very grateful to have met and built a lifelong relationship with Shawntay.
I recently got hired into my first instructional design / training position and Shawntay was one of the first people to congratulate me!
Freelance Instructional Designer
My teacher-to-instructional-designer journey began two years ago when I left my teaching comfort zone and started my first freelance ID job. Now, I’m stepping out of the classroom and taking my freelance work full-time, so I’m thrilled to be joining the Tech Accelerator program. Adding technologies like Articulate 360 and Adobe Premiere Pro to my qualifications will help me take my courses to the next level and attract more clients!
Teacher Transitioning into Instructional Design
I am genuinely grateful for this course. I wanted a real-world perspective and feel like I got it. I’m teaching now, but nearing retirement age but can see myself working as an instructional designer well into my retirement years. My other goal is to take as many courses in statistics as possible in hopes of bringing some mathematical precision to the ROI question. Like you say, getting accurate metrics to measure ROI can be a challenge, but I intend to work on that part. That’s unimportant right now, what is important is the fact that I feel like this course was well worth every penny I spent and I would to it again in a heartbeat. I have too much going on right now, but as soon as I get some time freed up I intend to take your course in project management.
Turns Your Written Thoughts Into a Masterpiece!
Shawntay Skjoldager can turn your written thoughts into a masterpiece. She is great to work with and the most organized person I know!
President and CEO, The Creative Entreprenuer
Shawntay has been incredible!
Shawntay has been incredible and her team is responsive and effective in translating my training programs into professional presentations. Don’t hesitate to contact her for your project.
Beth B. De Lima, MBA, SPHR-CA, SHRM-SCP
President and Principal of HRM Consulting, Inc.
IDC is My Secret Weapon to Soar Above My Competition!
The IDC team has been my secret and special weapon of success. They have delivered above and beyond with every single project out in front of them. They have met and beat timelines. They have been Uber responsive every step of the way. I keep them on speed dial and have and continue to recommend them to friends and clients. If you are in need of instructional design and plenty more, this is THE ALL-STAR team that will more than deliver and help make you and your project soar above the competition.
LT. COL. Jason O. Harris
U.S. Air Force Officer, Special Operations Pilot, U.S.A.F. Academy Instructor, Motivational Speaker
A Tremendous Asset to the Project Team!
Working with Shawntay and the Instructional Design Company has allowed our university to meet the growing demands of our programs. Shawntay’s expertise allowed for the course development to be completed on time and met all of the university requirements. Shawntay’s project management skills were phenomenal and allowed my team to work on other areas while she completed this project for us. Her work is of high quality and her professionalism and willingness to help made her a tremendous asset to the project team.
Academic Quality Assurance Specialist, Abilene Christian University
Creative & Highly Talented!
Shawntay is a creative and highly talented instructional designer. She brought a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and leadership that enabled her to own the design and creation of a full scale facilitator curriculum and train-the-trainer program. It was a pleasure to partner with Shawntay, her project management and communication skills ensured the project was on time and on budget.
Breaks Down Mammoth Projects
“Shawntay is quick study and carefully synthesizes information for presentations that are clear, concise and captivating. Her personality draws the audience in and her content mastery is excellent. A team player and organizer, Shawntay has the ability to break down mammoth projects, keep everybody on time and on task.”
Author, Speaker, Strengths Coach
“I have had many opportunities to work with Shawntay—mainly in the support of implementing new eLearning initiatives. I have been very impressed by her ability to quickly learn how to use rapid eLearning development tools and effectively use them to create multiple courses within a short timeframe. Shawntay’s enthusiastic nature, attention to detail, and dedication to her work make her a pleasure to work with and a great asset to both Texas A&M University-Commerce and the broader training community within the Texas A&M University System.”
Director of Learning Strategy, Caveo Learning
Top Notch Professional
Working with Shawntay has been an immense pleasure. She is atop notch professional who brings enthusiasm and extensiveexpertise to professional curriculum development and execution. Her knowledge of tried and true techniques to maximize the effectiveness of presentations is invaluable.
Nancy Drapeau, PRC
Vice President of Research, CEIR - Center for Exhibition Industry Research
Fortunate to Find Shawntay!
“I was fortunate to find Shawntay when our organization was looking to expand and update our educational offerings. Shawntay proved herself to be an educational and personal development expert who immediately made an impact with our clients throughout Europe. Everyone who came into contact with Shawntay was immediately impressed by her level of expertise and willingness to share her knowledge with those around her. I would not hesitate to recommend Shawntay to anyone looking for an education subject matter expert.”
Director of Qualifications and NSD Services, Mary Kay Inc.
Short Turn Around. On Time. Under Budget!
“We hired Shawntay to develop a training facilitator’s guide and PowerPoint slide deck for an operations manual heavy with technical content. The project was made more challenging by a very short turn around, 5 business days, and the fact that the operations manual wasn’t complete and was being updated simultaneously with the facilitator’s guide and slide deck. Despite these challenges, Shawntay delivered as promised. On time and under budget.”
Dave Beeman, CPP
Vice President, Andy Frain Services
Need an Expert Who Consistently Delivers?
“Working with Shawntay you will immediately notice her professional presence and poise, but over time her tenacious pursuit of excellence and her skills in instructional development and adult learning will really impress you. I worked with her at Mary Kay, and was able to experience firsthand her great rapport with regional partners in Europe, understanding their unique sales force training needs. In addition, Shawntay consistently exhibited grace under pressure, made executive decisions to move business forward. If you are looking for an expert who consistently delivers and goes the extra mile to get things done, contact Shawntay!”
Marketing Director, Academic Partnerships
Quality Products & Solutions!
“I had had the pleasure of knowing and working with Shawntay on more than a few occasions. I found her to be a very good business partner and very committed to delivering a quality product or solution in a timely manner. I have always had a positive experience in partnering with Shawntay and would recommend that you consider leveraging her talent.”
Judy Owen, CPC
Transformational Leadership Coach
“Invest in yourself and take your skills to the next NEXT level!”
Get yourself signed up for Shawntay Skjoldager’s Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program today and be on your way to success! Within the first week of taking her course, you will experience growth! Be sure to plug into her Facebook Q&A sessions for personalized help, too. This is THE course to take if you are new to instructional design or have landed on the training team and need help getting started.
Managing Partner, PHiG
“Her enthusiasm for adult learning is contagious!”
Shawntay has exceptional knowledge and experience with all aspects of creating and implementing effective, performance based training for adults. She is exceptional at needs analysis – identifying target audiences and collaborating with business owners to keep training focused on business needs. And she is great to work with – always providing great support to get projects done on-time and on-target. She is always on the look-out for new and more effective ways to engage learners. Her enthusiasm for adult learning is contagious!
eLearning Developer/Instructional Designer, Vivos Therapeutics
I have known and worked with Shawntay as a education program director and use the expertise of ShawntayMichelle for the development of my presentations. The service has always been “spot on” with professionalism, care and attention. Shawntay’s recommendations to my ideas make me look good to my clients.
Al Lomas CMP, CEM, CMM, CFE
Owner, Certified Consulting Services
“Shawntay Skjoldager reached in and made my training life so much easier!”
I am new to the training design and development world and I was SO excited to get in there, but I really lacked the real-world knowledge that would set me apart from my peers. And, then Shawntay Skjoldager walked into my life with an outstretched hand and a seemingly endless list of ways to knock every training out of the park. From the Training Analysis Form to the Tay Tay tips, this course made my life so much easier and even ironed out the review process that I had been struggling with for months.
Take time to invest in your own learning and make sure to put Shawntay Michelle at the top of your personal development list!
Training Specialist, LegalShieldCourses