Once upon a time, I worked at a small company. Because I knew the business and had helped design our software package, and because I was pretty good in front of a crowd, I ended up doing the training.

One thing led to another and a couple of years later, I got hired at a small multi-media production company that developed corporate training programs delivered on CD ROMs. 

My new job title: “instructional designer.”  I’d never even heard the term, but here I was—off to the races—in what’s turned into a rather healthy career in elearning.  16 years later I’m still at it, designing elearning programs for the (mostly) corporate market.  It’s what I do – and, hopefully, what I do well. 

But I got here pretty much by accident.

What about you? How did you find your way into this role? How did you end up designing elearning programs?  Is this what you wanted to be when you grew up?

Me? I had visions of becoming a high school English teacher or a writer of fine American novels. And while elearning design isn’t all that, it’s sometimes a whole lot more.  In my role, I teach, I write, I schmooze, I share, I design, I create, and I learn.

Because although I’m here completely by accident, I’ve tried to invest myself in this business with passion and spirit.  I walked into this field not knowing how to spell instructional design. And while I’ve never taken a formal class or gotten a fancy graduate degree in instructional design, I have spent a LOT of time learning the basics and honing my craft.  Maybe it’s some deep rooted inferiority complex, but my desire is to do my job to the best of my abilities.

Here are three things I regularly do to learn more about this profession and keep my passion for what I do at a gentle boil:

Read, read, read

I get geeky and read instructional design textbooks.  I learn about learning. I read up on visual design and design in general.  I read books about business and consulting.  And I also read novels and poetry and non-industry stuff to make sure I’m continuing to fill my creative cup.  Over the years I’ve created a reading list for Instructional Designers.

What about you? Are you reading about this stuff in your spare time? What books or resources have you learned the most from?

Conferences

I speak at a lot of conferences. As a speaker, I need to know my stuff, otherwise the crowd starts throwing tomatoes at me.  Speaking keeps me on my game.  And while I’m at these conferences, I get to go learn myself.  Good stuff.  And not just at sessions, but while connecting with peers and colleagues over coffee or late night karaoke.  Elearning people tend to be pretty passionate. Find your people and learn from them!

ASTD’s TechKnowledge (coming up January 30-February 1, 2013 in San Jose) is a great place to learn more about elearning and connect with other learning geeks.  Are you going? If it’s not in your plan yet, make it happen!  Speaking proposals are being accepted until June 10.  Make this be your inaugural year!  http://old.astd.org/content/conferences/techknowledge/RFPtk/

Community

Speaking of people, there’s a lot to learn from each other even when we’re not in the same room together.  When I was first getting my ID passion on, it was all about the blogging community and man-oh-man did I connect to a lot of great people through blogging.  It’s been a great place to document and process my own learning journey, and a fabulous way to connect with other elearning professionals.

These days, a lot of the community activity is on Twitter, where you can be up close and personal with great learning minds like Jane Bozarth (@janebozarth), Clark Quinn (@quinnovator) and Karl Kapp (@kkapp). 

For blogs of interest, be sure to check out the eLearning Learning blog feed aggregator (http://www.eLearninglearning.com/). Jane Hart’s lists tweeters in the learning and development space. (http://c4lpt.co.uk/social-learning-handbook/workplace-learning-professionals-who-blog-andor-tweet/).

Who do you learn from? Do you have a mentor you can bounce ideas off of or who can gently steer you into new areas of learning? Who are you connecting with and learning from online?

What’s in your personal learning plan?

So what’s your game plan for getting better at what you do?  Do you take classes? Go to free online webinars? Write books? Look at lots and lots of elearning programs for inspiration? What helps you create and sustain passion for this work?  Would love to hear your ideas and inspirations in the comments here—and/or find me on Twitter! @cammybean.