A Conversation with Cammy Bean

The other day I had a chance to catch up with Cammy Bean, she is passionate about the field of L&D and is founder of the popular Learning Visions blog and a staple among presenters at various elearning and learning conferences.

Cammy has just written her first book called The Accidental Instructional Designer which has gotten great reviews on Amazon and from among the learning community. I had a chance to catch up with her the other day and ask her a few questions.

Kapp: First, what is an “accidental instructional designer”?

Bean: Most of us didn’t get into this field intentionally, but rather stumbled into it. When I was a kid, I certainly didn’t imagine that I’d be designing eLearning when I grew up. Of course, computers barely existed in my childhood, but I date myself…

It’s a pretty familiar story – you’re good at presenting, you get tapped to be a classroom trainer. You’re good with PowerPoint, someone assigns you to take on that eLearning authoring tool. You know the subject matter really well, someone says “Hey, she should train everyone how to do that!”

And so we have this field of instructional designers—armies of people out there embedded in organizations who help create eLearning and are responsible for designing training materials—people who wanted to grow up to be teachers, writers, veterinarians, biologists, playwrights, engineers, you name it. And one day they wake up and find “Instructional Designer” printed on their business cards and suddenly, it’s official.

So we have these armies of people accidentally stumbling into the field, waking up and looking around and saying, “Hey, I’m not exactly sure what I’m doing here, but I’m ready to figure it out.”

Kapp: You’ve just written a book about accidental instructional designers, what is the message of the book and what can readers learn from reading the book?

Bean:Most accidental IDs know they’ve got a thing or two to learn. They want to turn that accidental practice into an intentional one. And that’s really why I wrote this book—to help people jumpstart their accidental careers and start creating better eLearning sooner rather than later. In the book I’ve shared a lot of the tips and lessons I’ve learned in the 18 (gulp) or so years that I’ve been doing this. I made a lot of mistakes along the way—it took me almost ten years to really turn that intention on, so I’m hoping I can help people get moving sooner.

Kapp: What do you think is the hardest transition or lesson that an “accidental instructional designer” needs to learn to create effective instruction?

Bean: The hardest lesson? Probably understanding that your typical audience member really doesn’t need every scrap of information about the subject at hand. Less is more. Really. It’s OK—and actually a good idea—to tell your subject matter expert that his 100 slide PowerPoint deck crammed full of text bullets really isn’t going to make an effective eLearning experience.

Instead, focus on the three core things that you want people to be able to DO. And then have a plan—some kind of an instructional strategy or model—that will help you organize your program and help your audience get the most out of the experience.

Kapp: Changing topics slightly, as a newly minted author, what advice do you have for someone in the learning field who wants to write and publish a book? What where the high and low points of the process?

Bean: The high point…definitely having Justin Brusino at ATD say “yeah, this is a great idea for a book!” It makes a difference when you’ve got people behind you who think you have what it takes.

I’ve been writing publicly for years—my blog, the Kineo website, various journals and publications—and writing comes pretty easily to me. That said, the low points…sitting at the kitchen table late nights after the kids were finally asleep, just trying to get it done. I had to let my perfectionist go (OK – that’s really not all that hard for me—I’m a get-it-done-in-a-good-enough-way kind of a person), but I still wanted to make sure that what I produced wouldn’t embarrass me or the people with whom I associate!

And then the really lowest point? Discovering that first typo in the published book! Uggh!

Kapp: Finally, any advice for graduate students just entering the field of instructional design?

Bean: Grad students entering the field have an advantage – they have intention. Those of you going to school for instructional design, hats off to you. But be warned! There is often a disconnect between what ID schools teach (not Karl’s program, of course) and what industry/corporations want. If you do a search of job postings for IDs and compare that to program descriptions for ID programs, you may be surprised by the differences.

Have a mind to what it is that you want to do when you’re done with your program and make sure that the program is giving you the skills and experiences you’ll need to get started. We’ve turned down many a newly minted Masters in ID who just didn’t have a portfolio or practical experience to show for it all.

Most of all—enjoy the process of being in school. Keep your beginner’s mind, always. When you finish your program, be flexible and open and don’t go out into corporate America with a rigid vision that ID is only done this one way. The real world often just does things the way they do them and often not by the book…maybe not even by my book!

Kapp: Thanks Cammy! See you at an upcoming conference.

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  1. Santhosh Kumar September 18, 2014

    Great advises for ‘Accidental Instructional Designers'; good read for other practitioners too! Thanks for this brilliant interview, Karl Kapp and Cammy.