In September 2001, I interviewed for the position of learning designer/program manager at a newly forming online university. I was later offered the job, and through the following decade it provided an amazing entree into an educational technology and online learning career.
But one question has always bothered me: If I had been doing the hiring for a learning designer/program manager, would I have offered the position to the 2001 version of myself? Probably not.
The unsettling truth is that the ed tech field is so new, and the state of the art is changing so quickly, that we have not fully developed a system for evaluating and hiring learning technologists.
A master's degree in instructional design (or educational technology or learning technology) increasingly is viewed as a minimum requirement to be considered for positions that involve course design, faculty training and blended or online program development. Instructional design and e-learning programs provide a solid foundation in learning theory, pedagogy and brain science (how people learn), in addition to practical training in course design and effective instructional methods.
That pairing of learning theory with technical competencies is what makes graduates from such programs so attractive. Technologies and e-learning platforms change quickly, but instructional design and technology mostly focus on improving learning. Graduates from quality instructional design programs have a solid background in learning theory and best practices, foundational skills that require sustained study and rigorous training. I'm looking to hire educators first, technologists second.
Despite a strong preference for credentialed instructional designers, we need to be flexible when ascertaining whether a candidate has developed expertise in learning theory beyond a degree, and willing to engage in long conversations with candidates whose credentials don't quite fit the mold.
The gold standard is a candidate who has designed and taught his or her own online course. There is nothing better than getting access to a course from its architect (good learning designers always download their courses and share them on an e-learning platform), evaluating the course design and discussing design choices as well as the designer's overall teaching experience.
A close second to having taught a course is having designed a course taught by somebody else. What I like to see is the actual course, looking not only for the quality of the course design (how well the platform or Web 2.0 tools are used) but also at whether there's a compelling narrative. The creative aspect of course design — where the course has a personality and tells a story — is a terrific indicator of talent and vision.
Absent a long history of observing the skills, abilities and personality types most successful in an ed tech role, we now risk hiring only those candidates whose backgrounds are similar to our own. The time has come for a discussion about how we select top candidates, and what potential hires can do to position themselves to be successful in this growing field.
There is little doubt the demand for such roles will continue to grow as education follows other information industries to the web and mobile devices, and competition for the best professionals is becoming fierce. It's a good time to talk about what we are looking for.