About Greg

About This Blog

This blog discusses eLearning issues and trends within the context of teaching, learning and working online.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Getting Laid Off, It's Not Personal, It's Strictly Business

In the movie "The Godfather" (Part I), there is a line where Michael Corleone says to his younger brother "It's not personal Sonny, it's strictly business".

In 2002, I was told by my employer that they had some bad news for me.  Due to the State of Maryland's economic situation, the university had to make budget cuts.  Unfortunately for me, my job was one of them.  I was shocked!  I said to myself "this happens in private business, not in the slow moving world of higher education".  I thought "how could they lay me off?"  I had good evaluations, was a dedicated employee, did all they asked and more.  Boy, was I wrong.   In other words, it's not personal, it's just business.

After the feeling of shock subsided, I had an uneasy feeling of panic.  What was going going to do? How long would I be unemployed?  Had I saved enough money? Who would hire me?  I felt very unprepared.  My resume and references were outdated.  Worse yet, I really had no professional portfolio to speak of.  Oh, I had accomplishments.  But many were undocumented and certainly in no shape to show a prospective employer.

To make a long story short, I survived.  I had a solid work history and an extensive network of professional contacts that proved to be my lifeline.  So what lessons did a I learn? Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned (or re-learned) was that life isn't fair.  If an organization can benefit by cutting their costs (e.g. laying you off), they will.  Accept that as fact and more on.  It's not personal...just business. You should never feel completely secure in your job.  Fear can be a good motivator.  As a former boy scout I should have known to be better prepared.

So what can you do to prevent this, or at least cope with it?  Here's what you can do:

1.  Accept the fact that anyone can get laid off at any time.

2.  Always be open to career opportunities.

3.  Stay on top of what the job market looks like for our field.  Know the changes and trends.

4.  Have your resume up to date.  There is nothing sadder than seeing a great job advertised only to find out you cannot meet the application deadline.

5.  Have your portfolio up to date and ready to share with people.

6.  Get feedback from professional colleagues on your portfolio.

7.  Have a LinkedIn account.  It's the number one digital professional network.  Recruiters rely on it.

8.  Don't forget in-person networking strategies.  In-person networking is not dead!

9.  Stay in touch with your professional references. 

10. Stay positive.  Good thing will happen, but sometimes things take time

Don't make the same mistakes as me.  It was painful learning experience, but it doesn't have to be. Remember, it's not personal, it's strictly business.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

If I Show You My Portfolio, I Have to Kill You

It may be similar to a popular line in many movies, but "if I show you my portfolio, I'll have to kill you" is no joke for many people.

In the field of instructional design, eLearning and training, professionals often get jobs or new contracts based on their documented performance.  This means that potential bosses and clients can look at work that you have done for previous clients. This gives prospective employers a very good idea about what you can do for them. 

It is very common now that prospective employers/clients ask to see samples of work.  As professionals in instructional design, eLearning, and training, it is safe to say that we are at a great disadvantage if we cannot share our work samples with others.  

So what do you do if you work for the National Security Agency, or Apple?  They won't let you talk about what you do, much less share your work samples with other companies. This presents quite a dilemma for people who work at places that have policies that forbid employees and contractors to share work samples.  In the government security arena (NSA, CIA, DOD, etc.), it is common that employees can't even talk about work with people outside their work environment.  The main reasons an organization may do this can include confidentiality, proprietary information, trade secrets, or security issues.

The first thing you need to do is check your employer's or client's policy about showing your work. The purpose of this is to find out exactly what you can do and what you cannot do.  If you are unclear you should ask questions. It may be helpful to pose real questions about some work you have already done.  With some smaller employers, be prepared that they may not have a policy on this.  

After finding out what your organizations' policy is here are some possible options:

1. "White out" or redact references to your company name in your work samples.

2. Use approved excerpts as a smaller sample of your work.  For example, you may be able to use 18 pages form a design document that totals 50 pages.

3.  Use work sample that are not confidential or proprietary such a "new employee orientation training" or a compliance training course that you created.

4.  Use approved screenshots from eLearning courses if you cannot provide access to a live course.

5. Revisit older work samples.  We sometimes forget what we've accomplished.  Look at old resumes or employee performance appraisal to find ideas or leads on older work samples that you can use. 

6. Revisit academic work samples.  You may have work samples from classes that you can use. Our 
Instructional Design program at UMBC requires students to create projects that many use as portfolio samples.

7. Volunteer for an organization to create a new work sample that you will be free for you to share.  It is rare for an organization to turn down a volunteer in our field.  This option will take time, but it may be the only option for some people who work in restrictive environments.

8.  At times, some people may be able to get hired or win contracts based on referrals from former employers or former clients.  While it is not the same thing as using work samples, this can work for some people.

Work samples are very important to our career advancement.  Make sure you are clear about who owns the content and how the work can be shared.  

Thursday, July 3, 2014

How A Junk Mail Flyer Changed My Career

Hmmm...Learn to teach online?
Who would have thought that receiving a junk mail flyer in my mailbox would have changed my career?  How was I to know that this one particular flyer would have a significant impact on my professional life?

In 1999 I was living in the Federal Hill neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland.  One day I received a flyer in the U.S. mail from the University of Phoenix (UOP).  They were recruiting potential faculty to teach online for them.  I had wondered about teaching online, but never really did anything about before. From my research, reading and conversations with professional colleagues, it seemed like eLearning was poised to grow.

Like many of you I had heard a number of things about the University of Phoenix.  Many of them were not good.   I tried to keep an open mind.  I was working at Towson University at the time in a staff position.  I mentioned to a faculty member that I was thinking about going through the UOP faculty training program.  To my surprise he said that he knew someone who had gone through the UOP program and thought that it was excellent.

I decided to enroll in the course.  I thought it would be good for my career.  I was right.  Prior to this training course I had never taken an eLearning course myself, nor had I taught one.  I had some limited experience with eLearning, but I never taught a complete online class.

The class required us to be available for 20 hours of class time, homework and studying each week. There were no exceptions for anyone.  If you missed class time or were late on your assignments, you were removed form the class and had to start over again.

The course was modeled after the UOP's regular 5 week format.  We experienced the same thing as students taking our courses.  This helped to develop empathy, as well as to "walk a mile" in the students' shoes.

It was a demanding and challenging experience.  However, I learned a great deal.  It was the foundation for developing my eLearning skills.  Here is some of what I learned.

What I Learned About eLearning 
1. It's not "easy" being an online student.  Online learning is not for everyone.
2. Online students need good time management skills, be motivated and disciplined
3. eLearning is not about the technology.  While online teachers use technology, a successful course is more about their ability to facilitate their learning.
4. Communication is very different.  We know how simple email communication can easily get misunderstood.  That misunderstanding can grow exponentially when it comes to eLearning.
5. Contrary to popular opinion, the University of Phoenix knows how to teach online

Other Lessons Learned
1. Be open to change, it's how we grow
2. You never know where or when opportunities may pop up
3. Use critical thinking and don't believe everything you hear
4. Take some calculated career risks
5. Your career is dynamic, so you need to be dynamic too

Because the flyer, my career would never be the same.  It opened up a number of life-changing opportunities for me.  Maybe you have some opportunities coming your way too.  Would you recognize them?  Be open-minded and give them a chance. Lastly, take a quick glance at your junk mail before you throw it away.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Top Reasons Trainers and Faculty Don't Like eLearning

Change is tough.  We want progress, but not change.  Change often arrives before growth.  While eLearning may be regarded as a positive change, others may dispute that. What is not in dispute is the growth of eLearning.  The Sloan Consortium has reported that over 7.1 million college students took an eLearning class in 2013.  The Association for Talent Development (formerly American Society for Training and Development) indicates that 39% of the all training for employee in 2013 was technology-based delivery.

While the growth of eLearning presents opportunities for some people, it presents many challenges for others.  Most of these challenges center around the concept of change.  As noted by Harvard business professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter, people resist change for a number of reasons.  I have encountered a number of faculty members and trainers that simply hate eLearning.  I believe that most of the issues relate to change.  

Why do some learning professionals really dislike eLearning? Here are the top reasons why:

1. eLearning Is More Work for Me - This may be true, especially at first. It takes time to learn anything.   What many trainers and faculty members realize is that eLearning makes you rethink your whole approach to teaching and learning.  You simply can't lecture.  Effective eLearning means that you have to redesign your course.  Additionally, it may mean that you will need to learn some new technology tools.

2. I Might Look Incompetent - Yes, this may be true as well.  Remember the first time you tried to ride a bike?  You probably weren't very successful.  Now you ride a bike without even thinking about it.  I remember teaching my first online course. It certainly wasn't the best course I've ever taught. What I realized was that investing the time in learning online teaching skills was worth it.

3. The Quality of eLearning is Poor - There are some bad courses out there.  This includes both eLearning courses, as well as in-person courses.  To generalize that the quality of eLearning is inferior is a false assumption.  Usually when I hear this argument it really is a diversionary tactic.  The real issue is that some people fear they would not be good online teachers.  The "poor quality argument" is an attempt to throw people off track, rather than addressing their real issues.

4. My Job May Be Threatened - Some faculty and/or trainers feel that they may lose their job if they have to teach or train online.  I think it is rare that organizations force someone to teach online in a "sink or swim" situation. Most organizations offer training and opportunities for trainers/faculty to shadow some classes.  Additionally, they can co-teach with an experienced faculty member before they teach an online class solo.

5. Technology is Not for Me - This is a legitimate concern. eLearning relies on technology.  Online learning is not for every teacher/trainer, nor is it for every student.  Some people who say this have not given eLearning an honest attempt, or they didn't receive proper training.  It is amazing that when technology benefits an employee, they can learn it pretty quickly (e.g. telecommuting).  Since minimum levels of technology skills are now required by many employers, I don't think that it is unreasonable for organizations to ask trainers or faculty to teach online.

eLearning is not going away anytime soon.  Learning professionals can choose to accept it or reject it. Given the growth of eLearning I believe the wise choice is to embrace it.  Choosing otherwise will limit your career opportunities.  So what will you choose?