A Note from Shawntay- One of my favorite things about being an Instructional Design Trainologist is meeting new professionals (both in-person and online) that are passionate about making a change. Everyone’s instructional design journey is unique! Hearing from people of different backgrounds and how they came into the instructional design field is interesting and inspiring.
So in this new series, which I’m calling “Instructional Design Journeys: Career-Changers Who Are Crushing it!”, you’ll hear from different beginning instructional designers as they share their journeys through career-changes. They’ll share some of their favorite tips and resources that helped them transform from their old career into an instructional designer!
Five years ago, I thought teaching was what I would do for the rest of my life. For better or for worse, I was committed to my school district and being an educator.
If someone had told me then that it was possible for me to leverage my skills and use them in an exciting new way, I never would’ve believed it. I especially wouldn’t have believed I could achieve this while working for myself, full-time, from home. But now, that’s my reality as an instructional designer!
Being a teacher was my passion. However, working in instructional design has allowed me more flexibility and creativity than a teaching schedule allows. Not to mention, I’ve found an amazing balance between work and family while still incorporating the teaching skills I spent so many years developing.
I happily share my instructional design journey and the resources I relied on to get here with aspiring instructional designers. Especially teachers who want to transition out of the classroom.
My Instructional Design Journey
For the past 12 years, I’ve worked as a middle school French teacher. In my fifth year, I started researching Master’s degrees. It was a natural next step for an educator, but the popular choices underwhelmed me.
I found one school that offered an Instructional Design program, and I was intrigued! The more I researched instructional design, the more shocked I was that I had never heard of it before. My strengths in curriculum design and content organization seemed like a perfect fit for the field. Furthermore, as a teacher in a niche subject area, I had been designing and developing all my own resources and assessments for years.
Fast forward a few years, I started a family and was quickly burning out in my teaching position. It seemed like every year, more responsibilities and requirements were added to my plate. I found it difficult to balance the work I had to do outside school hours with my personal life. I was stressed and spread too thin!
At the end of that school year, my administrator let me know that my teaching schedule would be changing for the following year. I took this as the sign I needed to make the first step to a career in instructional design.
Instead of accepting the new schedule, I dropped half of my classes. I’d be making ⅓ of a normal teacher’s salary, but I’d only be teaching two classes a day. Opening up some freedom in my schedule to start working as an instructional designer
Making it Work as a Freelancer
As soon as I decided to drop down to so few classes, I knew I needed to hustle to make up for the lost income. Here’s what I did to set myself up for success as a freelance instructional designer:
Calculated Monthly Expenses
This was an important first step, and one I would recommend to anyone who decides to leave a position before they have another job lined up. I grabbed a free monthly budget template, opened up my bank statements, and tracked my expenses for the previous 3 months.
Armed with the knowledge of my monthly non-negotiables (not to mention the cold-hard fact of how much unnecessary shopping I did), I was able to calculate how much money I needed to make each month as a freelancer to continue paying my bills.
Enlisted a Support System
I was lucky to have a real-life support system in place that I could turn to for advice during this transition. Thankfully, my immediate family was supportive of my decision to step away from teaching and try something new. Both my parents made mid-life career changes, so I had a few success stories to guide me.
There’s also a huge benefit in finding an online support system. I wish I had thought to join a Facebook community when I was in the middle of this change. The resources for career changers that are shared in The Hangout are invaluable. Not to mention how friendly and quick with advice the members are.
Updated My Resume
This was one of the more time-consuming processes I went through in my transition. A teaching resume looks quite different from other corporate resumes. Plus, I hadn’t been in the job market for almost 10 years!
The first thing I did was jump on LinkedIn and look at profiles and resumes from other instructional designers. I used these to reword my skills and experience to make them more relevant to the instructional design jobs I’d be applying for.
Updating my resume also gave me a chance to see where I had skill gaps. I noticed some commonly required skills were missing, and I knew I would need to continue learning to add them to my own skillset.
Set Up Job Searches
Even though I had some learning to do before I jumped into an instructional design position, I set up searches on LinkedIn, Higher Ed Jobs, and Monster. Getting those emails every day kept my motivation up and gave me a chance to see what was out there.
Applied for Backup Remote Work
There were no guarantees I would get work as an instructional designer soon, and my monthly budget tracking gave me a very specific number I would need to work toward to stay on track. My instructional design journey would end pretty quickly if I didn’t! Luckily, I had used Upwork in the past for a side-hustle.
I opened my profile to data-entry and content writing jobs. Simple, low-paying work that I knew I would be good at. Content-writing was actually a good way to gain experience for script-writing instructional designers often do.
Additionally, I applied to a few other popular work-from-home sites like Appen and Rev. Were these highly-engaging, high-paying jobs? Absolutely not! But they were easy to do from home in my downtime. Not to mention, I was able to quickly begin earning enough extra income to work towards my goal of being an instructional designer.
Instructional Design Resources for Career Changers
Finding the right guidance for making a career change can be tough. Especially when you don’t have the budget for expensive graduate-level courses or subscription-based authoring tools. These resources for career changers are either free or things I considered an important investment in my transition.
Resume Writing Guide
This is a resource I found later in my transition, but it would have saved me so much time and research if I’d had it from the beginning! As a freelance instructional designer, I’m always updating and upgrading my resume.
The free guide trends towards teachers, which is perfect for me, but I would recommend it to anyone. Included are helpful tips and a sample resume that can act as a great starting point for career changers.
I’m New Here
Nyla Spooner’s podcast is the perfect resource for new and aspiring instructional designers. She does a great job at breaking down different aspects of instructional design. Even better, her podcasts are short and sweet, most around 10 minutes long!
I grabbed this book by Tom and David Kelley on a whim. It became a great source of inspiration during my transition. Although it isn’t typically associated with instructional design, it’s aimed at helping people to unleash their creativity regardless of their field of work. This is a motivational read for career changers who may be feeling uninspired in their current job.
Additionally, there’s a heavy focus on out-of-the-box problem solving that I’ve found incredibly helpful in my instructional design work. I find myself coming back to certain chapters years later as I help clients find creative learning solutions.
The Instructional Design Company Blog
I connected with Shawntay’s blog right away. Her transition to instructional design was similar to the path I was on. There are so many valuable articles that are perfect for beginning instructional designers.
A few of my favorites include Visual Design Can Be Learned and How To Be A Rockstar Remote Instructional Designer.
In the past year, despite a global pandemic, I’ve hit a few milestones in my instructional design journey. Thanks in part to the resources above, I landed and successfully completed my highest-paying contract. I managed the project completely solo and the client asked me back for a second project!
Additionally, I’ve decided to step away from that part-time teaching job. I was holding onto those 2 classes and my love of teaching, but ultimately know that moving into full-time instructional design work is the right path for me. I’m excited to see what I’ll be able to do!
Finally, I’m thrilled to be taking part in the Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program. Now that I’m transitioning to a full-time freelancer, I know this will be one of the most important resources for career changers! I can’t wait to take my skills to the next level, dive into project management, and build my own courses in Articulate Storyline.