Demystifying Instructional Design

Caroline Frankel - What instructional designers do

October 12, 2021 Rebecca J. Hogue Season 1 Episode 6
Demystifying Instructional Design
Caroline Frankel - What instructional designers do
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Caroline Frankel received her MEd in Instructional Design and graduate certificate in Instructional and Learning Design from UMass Boston in May 2020. She currently works at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Boston, Massachusetts as a Senior Instructional Designer. Caroline has provided leadership to her institution in online learning, as well as remote instruction initiatives following COVID-19. She's worked closely with the various clinical programs at her university on streamlining the remote instruction & assessment of clinical skills. Caroline tirelessly advocates for the student experience and helps her institution make data-informed decisions on instructional technology utilization &  integrations. Caroline enjoys mentoring ID students within the UMass Boston program and is a helpful resource if you're interested in a career in higher education or in corporate learning. 

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REBECCA:

Welcome to Demystifying Instructional Design, a podcast where I interview various instructional designers to figure out what instructional designers do. I'm Rebecca Hogue, your podcast host. Welcome, Caroline, to Demystifying Instructional Design, a podcast about what it means to be an instructional designer to begin with, would you mind introducing yourself?

 

CAROLINE:

Sure. Thank you for having me, Rebecca, on your podcast. My name is Caroline Frankel. I'm an instructional designer at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Boston, Massachusetts. I work in a very multifaceted role, which I am excited to share with you, and I've been in my role almost for four years.

 

REBECCA:

I didn't realize you'd been there that long.

 

CAROLINE:

Yeah, it's been a while.

 

REBECCA:

How did you get into instructional design?

 

CAROLINE:

Yeah. So I feel like every instructional designer has a different story of how we get into this field. My story is I was actually studying to become a French teacher, and at the same time, I was working at my college's help desk to implement a new learning management system. So I was both studying to be a teacher and working with technology, and everything sort of came together for me at that point. And I discovered the field of instructional design and just sort of a curiosity of what that would look like instead of being a classroom teacher. 

 

So after graduating college, I decided to look into really more of adult learning and training instead of being a classroom teacher. At that point, I decided to take a role of training at a health insurance company, which led me to get a lot of additional experience in doing classroom training and working with adults, which is totally different than working with high schoolers. 

 

And at that point, I started my degree at UMass Boston, which was a master's of education in instructional design, which is where I met you because you were one of my teachers. And we've stayed in touch since then, and I think it's really been, you know, nice getting to learn from you as well as others at UMass Boston. 

 

Since then, I, as I mentioned, I work at a university now in instructional design, doing a lot of different things with working with faculty, helping them with their developing, learning, building courses and navigating the pandemic has really been something I've been really honored to work at a university while dealing with a lot of challenges that have come out of COVID 19 and in sustaining learning throughout the pandemic and really examining what the new normal will look like in order to build equitable, effective and fairer courses for students. It's really been an interesting journey. I think my career so far and I think the pandemic has, you know, like for a lot of people across industries, has really changed things quite a bit in terms of how I perceive instructional design and really where I see it being valuable. I've worked in the corporate side and I've also worked. Most of my career experience has been in higher education at this point.

 

REBECCA:

When somebody asked you, what do you do, how do you describe that?

 

CAROLINE:

So what do I do? That's a hard question and instructional design, and I feel strongly that there is not a one size fits all answer. What I do is I work with faculty. I coach them in a university to help them produce effective, measurable and engaging learning experiences for their students. So I like to think of myself sitting at the intersection of technology, educational psychology and technology if I didn't mention it to help them make decisions on how they're going to be imparting their knowledge to students and really structuring it using instructional design frameworks to package their learning in a way that will work, really helping subject matter experts get away from just information transfer and thinking more strategically of how to make their content transferable and how to measure that learning actually occurred and being strategic with the technology and helping faculty and subject matter experts make decisions based on research that I've done, as well as experiences that I've had of what works and what does not work with online learning. For me, every day looks a little a little different. That's kind of, in a nutshell, I'd say what I do.

 

REBECCA:

What are your typical tasks?

 

CAROLINE:

OK, so my typical tasks every day looks a little different. My calendar always looks a little different. I would say I do a lot of consultations where I'm having meetings with faculty on how to use different technology. I have a lot of meetings where I am working with faculty on how to better organize and structure courses. 

 

I would say recently I have had a lot of people reach out to me when they have inherited a course that they did not build or design, and they are trying to make it their own or they're trying to kind of figure out how it was put together and spotting areas in the course that need to be improved. So I work, really counsel them through the process of identifying issues and ultimately correcting them. 

 

I do a lot of troubleshooting. I would say that, you know, if we're talking challenges, I would say that a lot of instructional designers, because we're so resourceful with technology, a lot of times we do become inclined to help with everything. So I would say I do a lot of troubleshooting with technology. I really try to field as many questions as possible because I feel that I have a responsibility to do that. What I do know, I do know how to troubleshoot something. So I would say that a lot of troubleshooting and my job and then I develop a lot of training for my university, for the faculty across my university. So I am constantly thinking about what's the next training opportunity that will develop and thinking more strategically of how we can offer training as an organization.

 

REBECCA:

So it's a balance of helping instructors create stuff, but you also are creating stuff yourself.

 

CAROLINE:

Yes, definitely. It's definitely a balance of that. I don't in my role right now, I am not responsible with a couple exceptions. Typically, I'm in an advisory role, I would say, because of the scope, the size of my team as well as the scope of our university. I don't have any courses that I own in entirety, but I have certain programs that I work closely with. I work a lot with my university's nursing program. I've worked a lot with. We have a business program as well that I've developed a partnership with and a lot of different ways. 

 

I have some frequent fliers that just reach out to me for help and really tapping my brain on different things. So I would say, yeah, it's a mix of primarily, I would say, advising our faculty to navigate a lot of really complex situations. And I would say probably a third of my role would be training development where I'm actually building my own, my own training.

 

REBECCA:

So you mentioned that you work on a team and so what? What other sort of professionals are on your team?

 

CAROLINE:

So my team is comprised of me, senior instructional designer. We have another instructional designer on our team who's also a senior instructional designer and does project management. And we have an instructional technology specialist who is specialized in instructional technology, and we work closely together as a team to make sure that we're able to find appropriate learning solutions as well as technology solutions. So I think we're constantly navigating honestly our roles and where our lines are, respectively. When instructional design becomes instructional technology and vice versa, it's always it's pretty fluid, I would say.

 

REBECCA:

What kind of projects do you find fun? What do you enjoy doing the most?

 

CAROLINE:

I would say I find it fun when I am working with somebody who is obsessed with the student experience. I find those situations very fun when I'm working with somebody that is really interested in how the learner is. Experiencing their course or if they're developing training, whatever it might be, but just someone. I find that partnership when I'm working with somebody who's very curious about how the learner experience is in there, then I find that very I find that very enjoyable. 

 

I'm actually working. One of the projects I'm working on that I think has been very fun and interesting is supporting a high-flex course that is becoming more and more of a normal in universities. Where you have part of your course is being it's your in-person instruction is being live streamed to a remote audience and you also have students that are physically present in the classroom and students have a choice of how they'll be attending the class, whether they're doing it remotely or whether they're attending in-person. So I think that's been very fun kind of learning more of what high flex entails and some of the challenges that are associated with it and ensuring that both remote students, as well as in-person students, are having the same experience in the in the environment that they're in. So that's been very fun.

 

REBECCA:

I think that's interesting because that's sort of one of those innovations in instructional design that COVID really struck, right? Because we talked about doing some of this hybrid stuff where you had this, we called it back then, not high flex. We called it hybrid in-person face to face. We've got a mix of both, but that was always a really tough nut to crack. Yeah. And then COVID made us have to crack it. Yes, it's so that, I think has been interesting. And it's I think there's going to be a lot of research coming out of that in the next couple of years. Definitely. What are the best practices like? What are the better practices? I would say, yeah, better practices in this area. 

 

What would you call your niche?

 

CAROLINE:

I'm still figuring it out, but I would say my niche is being able to sit in a lot of different hats at the same time, and I'll explain that I feel like I'm really great at being able to talk to everybody like I can talk to our I.T. teams, I can talk to our faculty. Really sitting in other people's shoes is that the expression sitting in somebody else's shoes and being able to navigate technology teaching. Being a student, I feel like that's kind of my superpower in instructional design is I've kind of been in all of those situations where I have had to deal with really complicated technology and troubleshooting it and being on the I.T. side where really implementing a lot of different systems and being responsible for it. 

 

I have sat on the side where I'm directly teaching and trying to transfer knowledge to students or to learners. I have been an online student and I know what it's like to navigate the challenges of being an online student, as well as understanding how fun it can be at the same time. So I feel like my niche is really being able to talk to a lot of different constituents at the university and help them understand what the student experience is like and also helping find solutions for complex problems. Because I'm able to speak the technology talk and because I'm able to speak the instructor talk. 

 

So I would say that's kind of my superpower in instructional design, my niche where I would say I'm specialized, I'm very interested in synchronous learning. I always have been interested in remote, real time instruction. However you want to call it. When online learning is happening via web conferencing, building best practices into web conferencing and synchronous instruction, that's always been an interest of mine even before the pandemic. 

 

I would say I love working with instructors who have zero experience in teaching online and helping bring them to a comfort point and expertize and being able to master their classroom. I've worked with a lot of people in the pandemic who did not know how to really use a lot of technology, so I would say I'm really specialized in helping somebody who's not familiar with teaching and technology come into a comfort and making a great experience for their students. So I would say that's my niche is really helping instructors be amazing teachers and coaching them through that process.

 

REBECCA:

What are the biggest challenges you face?

 

CAROLINE:

Biggest challenges I face, I think sometimes in instructional design, in an advisory role when you're helping advise faculty or other individuals on how to develop learning when the relationship isn't defined of what an instructional designer does, what an instructional designer doesn't do. 

 

I think sometimes it can be challenging when you're giving a lot of advice, but you're not owning the project. So whether or not your advice is followed can be challenging. So I think it's really important I've learned to be really clear about what an instructional designer can do, where the line should be drawn between an instructional designer and a subject matter expert. So I think that that can sometimes be a dance of kind of balancing that line of responsibilities. So I would say also just generally it can be challenging to explain to people what instructional design is. 

 

I think there's a lot of misconceptions about the field, which is why we're doing this podcast. So I think that can be hard where it's like every meeting explaining to somebody what you do and your role and having to make the time to describe to people what you do for your in your in your position. That can be a little tiring to constantly have to explain to people what you're doing. But it's fun. I've gotten some day I'll be able to deliver a perfect elevator pitch on what an instructional designer is. I'm still working on it, though.

 

REBECCA:

We'll come back to me when you get that because I definitely want to hear your elevator pitch. 

 

What skills do you find most useful in your work?

 

CAROLINE:

I would say active listening in terms of soft skills is the most important skill for an instructional designer being able to listen to somebody and. Talk through their challenges, as well as really listening to kind of hear where there might need to be a intervention in terms of developing training or developing a course and trying to just really listening. It's so easy because we have so much experience in developing courses and navigating technology. It's really, you know, it can be really exciting to start jumping into ideas mode, but I've really had to train myself how to be an active listener. I would say that's the most important skill that I've developed as an instructional designer.

 

REBECCA:

What do you wish you knew sooner about instructional design?

 

CAROLINE:

I wish that I had known sooner how easy it is to be convinced that a formal needs analysis is not necessary. I think a lot of times in instructional design, you're walking into situations where learning is being developed really quickly, but maybe not in the right order. It's kind of hard to explain, but we're formally trained in a process that often doesn't exist in the real world. 

 

Like organizations don't necessarily understand how an instructional designer is trained. Where we are doing a needs analysis of, OK, what is the learning need? And, you know, what are our goals and how we'll measure the goals? And we are trained in a really specific process. And I think what I've learned in instructional design and working with. Others who are trying to build courses is a lot of times they don't have that training and the background that we have. 

 

I wish I had learned sooner to really be firm in my process that I was trained in and to be kind of unequivocal and not compromise that process because it's very easy to be to push to really want to rapidly develop things and then not give them the time and the effort that they deserve. 

 

And I think if you and instructional design, when you put time upfront and developing and doing a needs analysis and building out your goals, how you'll measure whether or not learning occurred and if you do that heavy lifting up front, you will always have a better product at the end and it will be one that you can reuse and even use as a template moving forward for future projects.

 

So I always think the process is more important than the product in instructional design. And I think getting a process down that works for you on how you build learning is more important than the learning you actually build because that's what's sustainable and I think carries from situation to situation.

 

REBECCA:

What advice would you give new instructional designers?

 

CAROLINE:

I would tell a new instructional designer to be a generalist at first. I think it's really important, if possible, instead of jumping into a really specific role where you're doing training development or you or do like doing e-learning development. I've really enjoyed in my career having a role where I'm able to get exposure to a lot of different sides of instructional design. So I would say, if possible, at first, keep your options open when you're looking for an instructional design job and get as many experiences as possible so you can start to figure out where your interest is. I think that that is important when you're looking to be an instructional designer. I would say other advice I would give I always give to instructional designers is to not develop an inferiority complex. I see that a lot with instructional designers where. 

 

A lot of instructional designers, I think, get insecure about what they know and what they don't know and what technology they know and how much, you know, educational psychology they know or instructional design theory they know. I think it's just really important for all of us to constantly be improving what we know and reading research. I think it's more productive to be proactive about learning new skills and reading research and staying up to date on things. 

 

But I wouldn't let kind of the scope of the fields intimidate you because I think it can be a little intimidating at first where you feel like, Oh my gosh, how am I going to learn all this technology? All this theory, I think after time, over time at least, I found it starts to. There are so many patterns that you just naturally come across and learn and there's a cadence to the field. And I think that that comes over time. But it's not the type of thing, honestly, that you can like take a LinkedIn Learning course. How to be an instructional designer. Like, at the end of it, you're  done like, OK, I'm an instructional designer. I've only recently really felt comfortable saying, yes, I am an instructional designer, and I think that that comfort comes with a lot of trial and error.

 

REBECCA:

The last question I have for you is what's your prediction for the future of instructional design?

 

CAROLINE:

This is a tough question, but my prediction is that as a society. We are we are a different society because of the pandemic, and I think that instructional design went from being sort of a niche field to a totally necessary function in society to make sure that learning is built well. And I think we have as a society, increased our collective skill set of being able to navigate online and remote learning because we needed to. We had to figure out a way to continue to be able to talk to each other and to teach each other when we couldn't be physically present with each other. 

 

So I think instructional designers now, I think, are responsible for taking what we've learned as a worlds in taking the skills and experiences that we've all had now because of the pandemic and taking it to the next level and more seriously thinking about how can we ensure that learning that is developed remotely or that is developed online is quality? And I really think that the future of instructional design is helping organizations standardize the learning experience for everybody, regardless of how they're learning. Providing learners with the choice of how they'll be engaging with content and helping ensure that whatever the course that is being constructed or the training that is being done really helping organizations better measure that learning happened. 

 

It's not just building something and, you know, building a training and pushing it out to people. Did we do that? Well, you know, could it have been built better? Helping organizations really do needs analysis and figure out, OK, what? You know, what training needs to be built? What improvements need to be made? I just think instructional designers are going to are going to find themselves being more recognized in organizations as critical pieces of companies and of universities and really as leaders to help move things to the next level, because at this point, most of us have gotten comfortable with doing things remotely or virtually. But what's next and how can we actually take these methods of instructional design and put them into practice? 

 

And as you said earlier, there's going to be a lot of research that comes out and there already is on the implications of COVID 19 and instructional design in in learning across industries. And I think that we'll continue to see research that comes out of major successes that have come out of instructional design, but also major challenges that have emerged. And how how can we make learning fairer and really guarantee that we're learning occurs? And that's a that's a challenging thing. So I think that we're going to continue to be really instrumental in making sure that the next 10 years of learning and what that landscape will look like and really defining what that learning landscape looks like. So that's my prediction.

 

REBECCA:

Thank you so much for your willingness to come on this podcast and share your experiences.

 

CAROLINE:

Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed our conversation.

 

REBECCA:

You've been listening to Demystifying Instructional Design, a podcast where I interview instructional designers about what they do for show notes, go to demystifying instructional design icon. If you enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe. Thanks.

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