Monday, June 4

Accidents Do Happen

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?

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!

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 ( Jane Hart’s lists tweeters in the learning and development space. (

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.

Cammy Bean is the VP of Learning Design for Kineo US ( and has been accidentally doing elearning since the mid-90s. A frequent conference speaker and active blogger, Cammy served as the ASTD TK12 Planning Committee Chairperson and will be a featured speaker at this year’s ASTD LearnNow conferences in Boston (July 25-26).  You can find Cammy’s blog at


Judy Unrein said...

Cammy, one of my favorite quotes about design is from William McDonough:

"Design is the first signal of human intention."

It's true that a lot of our field is "accidental", and I love that you are taking up the cause to help people become more intentional. Great job.

Jen Sharaba said...

Thanks for the post! I am an accidental instructional designer as well. My degree is in Sports Medicine but that didn't work out. I started as a temp in my current company 15 years ago and worked my way up through the Customer Service ranks, finally landing in training. Being a "corporate trainer" inspired me to move into Instructional Design and earn a Master's in Adult L&D. I learn by reading books, articles, blogs, conferences, anything I can do to help me master the world of elearning and instructional design, especially because it's changed so much oever the years. One day I hope to contribute to the literature of our profession, starting with articles and maybe ending with an insightful book(s). I never knew Instructional Design and Adult L&D would become my passion and I appreciate when the experts in the field share similar career development paths that I've traveled!

Cammy Bean said...

@Jen, great story and thanks for sharing it here! I hope you do follow your path and write a book -- let us know.

@Judy, love that quote!

Helen Blunden - Activate Learning Solutions said...

Hello Cammy

I 'fell into' instructional design. Many years ago I was at a university orientation day and there was a really long queue of students waiting to speak to a scientist about potential job opportunities in the chemistry field and a good looking sailor in a pristine white uniform staring out into space. So I decided to go to him and see what the Navy had to offer. Am I glad that I didn't join the chemistry queue! The Navy offered me excellent training in Learning and Development and the rest is history. Many times I have used and reused the foundational knowledge and skills picked up in the Navy in my corporate roles over the 20+ years in the workforce. What i find amazing is that in Australia, you cannot find a course that you can do on Instructional Design - and one that is accredited and recognised. Instead, in my experience, people 'fall into' the role of instructional designer accidentally through their work as trainers/facilitators or if they know how to drive some rapid authoring software. I think people like myself are quite rare but I'm also excited about the opportunities to use my foundational skills and apply it to a new world our profession is facing. Thanks for your post!

amirelion said...

Hi Cammy,
It may be accident. It may be destiny. It may be small decisions we've all made along the way that lead us here.
I am also grateful for the fact that our field offers so much opportunity to learn and so many great people and sources to learn from, if you just set your mind to it.
I was 'supposed' to be in physics, maths and computers. That's even what I started to learn at university (later feeling passionate about philosophy and general studies - lucky me that's where I met my wife - destiny again for you). The accident that lead me to the training world was a student job at k-12 teaching skills through board games.
E-learning and learning solutions is also a whole new world of learning for me for the past year and a half, on which I've learned a lot through doing since I joined Kineo Israel.
I (and many others I'm sure) learn a lot from your posts so keep them coming. Hopefully will have a chance to hear you at a conference. about a book - ever thought about writing one for us? :-)

Cammy Bean said...

Ooh, the role of "destiny"...I don't know about that, Amir! And a book...we'll see, we'll see.

Helen, love your story. And all for a man in uniform, right?

What's wonderful and amazing about all of the stories people share is how different they are. As many routes to this field as there are people...

Andree G. Faubert said...

Hi Cammy,
I've just "discovered" your blog. I've read quite a few - thanks for sharing.I've probably learned more about elearning in the last few days by reading blogs, journals and connecting with people in the industry than I've learned in the last couple of years! I always wanted to be a teacher and almost right out of university I taught at a few community colleges in northern Ontario. It was a great learning experience, but it didn't take long to know that I really liked working with mature students but the kids right out of high school, not so much! About 15 years out of the teaching business (although even if my role wasn't teaching, I did all of the mentoring and internal staff training just cause I loved it)I decided the business planning in the government sucked and that I wasn't going to keep doing it. That's when I thought about teaching again. When I was teaching at those community colleges, it was the beginning of internet and I didn't have access to learning about adult education. I enrolled in a Certificate in Adult and Continuing Education, got a job in training and for the last couple of years have been playing with elearning. It's the way to go in most canadian government departments because there is very, very little money for training, but it's still needed. I'm having a blast learning about all of these new technologies and am able to apply what I learn almost instantly. I love it! I know that the next 10 to 15 years are going to be awesome. Thanks for the opportunity to share. I really like your blog. Thanks.

Cammy Bean said...

Thanks, Andree! Sounds like you're off on a great journey.

Francis Aguilar said...

Since I work for a writing company,, I always have to improve: do researches, read lots of articles about the given topic and as you mentioned, join blogging communities. I think it is a great way to learn other people's opinion and share our knowledge. Twitter can be also useful, agree. However, you should select your followers and who you follow very carefully.
Enjoyed your post, was a good read :)

Garima said...

awesome and fantastic post thanks for sharing this post.

college in Rajasthan