Transitioning from K12 to Instructional Design?

I was recently asked how I transitioned to becoming an instructional designer after teaching in K-12.  Actually, I’m not officially an instructional designer.  My current job title is Senior Instructional Technologist – which translates into supporting faculty with the integration of technology.  I am currently a PhD candidate in an instructional design program which will open some opportunities for me, but I’m still not sure I like the model of the Subject Matter Expert handing over all the content for the Instructional Designer to create the instruction.

I must say that transitioning out of K12, when all your recent experience is in K12 is extremely difficult.  My decision to leave K12 was difficult for me emotionally.  Add the credulous looks during job interviews and it made me truly question if I had done anything that society saw as worthwhile.  Once I finally did get a job, through a temp agency, I found secret delight in the fact that I was the only one in the office that could successfully fix the copy machine.  At least that was one skill I gained in all that K12 experience.

But back to the question, which I think is a good one – how did I transition from K12 to instructional design.  I began my career as a French teacher.  I had always told myself that I would look at getting a MA degree, if life permitted, after a few years of teaching.  So during my second year of teaching I began looking a programs.  I loved teaching French, but an advanced degree in French was not that enticing.  I looked at MBA programs and did a bunch of searching for programs in teaching, instruction, technology.  It came down to an MBA in organizational behavior or education/instructional technology.  The Educational Technology degree won out.

At the end of my program I looked at my school and realized – as I discovered is often the case – that the teacher who was really into integrating technology in the classroom and had been the technology guru for years was an institutional icon.  I was not going to progress or use my degree in that school.  (And those institutional icons also tend to be men who think that women can’t do technology – at least all the ones I encountered.)

I applied to all sorts of jobs.  There was one job in particular that is very similar to my current job – supporting faculty at a University with technology – that I really wanted.  The rejection letter that I received was kind and offered some insight that changed my job seeking practices.  While this job was what I wanted to do, I needed to get some more experience before I could be considered for a job like that one.  I came up with a list of three things that I needed – 1) more experience with technology, 2) more experience with different age groups and 3) experience with a more diverse population.  (My first job was in a high school with an extremely homogeneous population.)  So then I started looking for jobs that would give me those experiences.  The job I ended up with was as a Site Technology Coordinator at a K-8 school where the number one language spoken at home was Farsi.  Not exactly what I wanted – but it provided me with the 3 needed areas of experience.

Fast forward to my current place of employment, I actually started at the University through the temp agency as an office specialist.  It was a job, I could do it and I was working at the University.  (More experience in higher education was on my current list of experiences needed.) I basically opened the mail and answered phones (and fixed the copy machine).  I would periodically watch the employment opportunities to see if there was anything.  I happened upon the instructional technologist position, applied and got one of the openings!

I was finally working at a University supporting faculty with integrating technology!  But still not an instructional designer, in fact most of the faculty saw me as simply the Moodle technician – some still do. (Moodle is the learning management system we are using.)  Patiently, I have attempted to convey the experience I have, both as an instructor and as an online student.  I have moved up in the department and have had some wonderful opportunities to learn an grow.

So, in reality I’m not an instructional designer – I’m currently not sure I want to be.  But rather than jumping straight from K12 into instructional design I had to build my resume so I had the skills to match the job.  I know that any good teacher can easily transition to instructional design.  The problem is convincing the people who are doing the hiring that you have the skills – not only to do the job, but to work in an office.  (In one interview, the interviewer expressed concern about me being able to function in an office setting.  I’m not sure what she meant by that, but I think a functional teacher could more easily transition to an office than an office worker could transition to the classroom!)

I am grateful to the kind rejection letter that helped me see what experience I needed.  I have continued to use that framework – it might not be my ideal job, but does it give me skills and experience that lead me in the direction I’d like to go.

So this is where I would sum up my advice from my experience…

  • One thing I have learned is that building bridges is important.  You never know who will be that connection that will get you in the door.
  • Ask the interviewers what skills and experiences you are missing that would make you their ideal candidate.  This is the one thing that really helped me find the best job right after my MA degree.
  • Continually learn – whether it is a degree, community education classes or simply playing with the free versions of instructional tools available, keep learning.  And document that learning by building a portfolio or website.

Here is some additional advice from watching a friend.

  • Look for opportunities to use your skills and talents outside of the K12 classroom.

I have a friend, also in the instructional design program, with a background in deaf education.  She was introduced to a parent’s group who were looking to create instructional materials to support young children who are deaf.  This simple introduction led her to become an educational consultant on their current project.  This resulted in an amazing project for one of our classes, as well as something to add to her resume.

Good luck with your searching!  There are opportunities out there.


The (K-5) Teacher side of ‘Design’: in Teaching vs. Instructional Design

This is a continuation of  looking at ADDIE from instructional design through the lens of a K-5 teacher, we are looking at Design.  For previous posts on this subject check out the Teaching vs. Instructional Design category.


According to Gagné (2004), the Design step of ADDIE includes the following:

  1. Translate course goals into performance outcomes, and major course objectives (unit objectives).
  2. Determine the instructional topics or units to be covered, and how much time will be spent on each.
  3. Sequence the units with regard to the course objectives.
  4. Flesh out the units of instruction, identifying the major objectives to be achieved during each unit.
  5. Define lessons and learning activities for each unit.
  6. Develop specifications for assessment of what students have learned.

1) Translate course goals into performance outcomes, and major course objectives (unit objectives).

In the K-5 setting, the course goals are determined by the state standards.  How those standards translate into the unit objectives in the classroom, is something the K-5 teacher determines, often in coordination with the grade level teachers.

2) Determine the instructional topics or units to be covered, and how much time will be spent on each.

The K-5 teacher, often in coordination with the grade level team divides up the content into the designated school year.

3) Sequence the units with regard to the course objectives.

Along with the school calendar is the timeline for the state testing, often well before the end of the year.  Not only do the teachers have to meet the objectives, but they must decide which objectives will be taught after the state testing.

4) Flesh out the units of instruction, identifying the major objectives to be achieved during each unit.

At the K-5 level, this is often done in coordination with the grade level team.

5) Define lessons and learning activities for each unit.

I think this is the part that most people understand that teachers do.  Teachers have been sharing lesson plans for a long time.  I’m not sure how a teacher could only do this one step.  Well, a good teacher definitely does more than just this step.

6) Develop specifications for assessment of what students have learned.

There are a number of different ways to assess what students have learned.  I think most people think all assessment is multiple choice tests.  (High stakes testing ends up being like this, not that it is the best way to assess students.)  Especially when you think about the K-5 setting, there are many things that can only be assessed by doing.


Design is the step where content and context come together.  Regardless of which role you have (instructional designer or teacher) there is much work that must be done in coordination with the other role.  One could argue that there are a number of designers who do all this and the teachers simply implement.  But having evaluated pre-service teachers in CA – watching video of them teaching and scouring their very detailed lesson plans with modifications, the teachers that simply taught the script (because the school required it), did not teach well.  However, that same script taught by a teacher who has done analysis and worked out a design that will work for that specific classroom, were incredible teachers.

Remember, I was only looking at the second step in ADDIE and only looking at K-5 teachers. I will continue this thinking going through the various levels of teaching and looking at each of the ADDIE steps.

Gagne, R., Briggs, L., Wager, W., & Keller, J. (2004) Principles of Instructional Design (Fifth Edition). Belmont CA: Wadsworth/Thompson Learning.

Are Teachers Instructional Designers?

In my original post about teaching and instructional design I ended with a question on why instructional designers don’t see themselves as teachers.  Perhaps I was asking the wrong question. Perhaps I should ask: Are teachers instructional designers?

See one person’s thoughts on this question – Are Teachers Instructional Designers?

The (K-5) Teacher side of ‘Analyze’: in Teaching vs. Instructional Design

As I am working on my PhD in Instructional Design I am constantly comparing my previous experiences with what I am learning.  One of my struggles has been this whole idea of Teacher vs. Instructional Designer.  There appears to be others in a similar journey or exploration so I have created a “Teaching vs. Instructional Design” category to collect my thoughts in my own journey.  Perhaps this journey will enlighten others in their own explorations.


As noted in the title of my blog, I love teaching.  I have taken a round about path to acknowledging my own love,  prompted (or hindered) in part by many well intentioned influences pointing out that I should be “doing” rather than “teaching”.  I even had a professor in my teacher preparation program begin his class with “There is a saying,  ‘Those that can DO.  Those that can’t TEACH.’  I need to add, ‘Those that can’t teach, teach teachers.'” I still do not understand why he would say this to us aspiring teachers, but I can say I don’t remember much of anything else he tried to teach us.  (And I later bought a t-shirt which declared, “Those that can Do.  Those that can Do MORE, Teach!”)

There are a number of different concepts of a ‘Teacher’ and a number of different pathways into teaching.  In higher education they are called professors.  In the K-12 setting they are teachers.  And in the corporate arena they can be trainers or instructors.  To begin this ‘dialogue’, I am going to focus on teachers in the K-5 setting.

I have run across statements lately like “Instructional designers understand how people learn.” “Instructional designers follow a systematic, iterative process.” “Trainers deliver what the ID writes.”

So, let’s look through the general lens of ID (ADDIE) at a K-5 teacher, beginning with analyze…


This is where the ID 1) determines the need for instruction, 2)conducts an instructional analysis to determine the cognitive, affective and motor skill goals for the course, 3) determines what skills the students are expected to have and how they will impact the learning and 4) analyzes the available time and how much can be accomplished in that time and possibly doing a context or resourcs analysis as well (Gagné, 2004).

1) Determining the Need for Instruction

In a K-5 setting, this is often mandated by the government.  Students are to be taught, period. State standards have been created and decided and handed down.  Some states have included teachers in the process of creating standards.  But this is actually looking a problem and deciding if instruction is the needed solution.  If you have not talked with a 4th grade teacher lately, perhaps you should ask about what they ‘teach’.  Yes, they teach the curriculum as mandated by government, state boards of education and school boards.  But they also teach, problem resolution and communication.

On any given school day, a class of 4th graders will pile into the classroom after recess.  As the teacher looks at faces and listens to the chatter, it is clear – something happened.  Now the teacher must decide if ‘teaching’ needs to be done.  The events that transpired on the playground are often an obstacle that must be surmounted before any work can be done on math problems.  Some teachers will address the issue, make judgments and decisions for resolving the ‘problem’ and move into math.  But the good teachers know that taking 5-10 minutes to teach about communicating and resolving problems will, after a fashion allow the class to transition more quickly from recess to math.  The students will gain the skills to communicate better and resolve their own issues.

Communication and problem resolution are not in any state standards for the 4th grade.  And yet, a good 4th grade teacher will teach these things in a very conscious way.  Analyzing the problem and then determining if instruction is the best solution to the problem.

2) Conducting an Instructional Analysis to Determine the Cognitive, Affective and Motor Skill Goals for the Course

Within the K-5 setting, teachers are certified to teach all the grade levels.  It is possible for a teacher to be switched from teaching 5th grade one year to 1st grade the next.  Teaching 1st grade is very different that 5th grade.  Each grade level will have specific standards mandated by the state.  While a K-5 teacher does not make the decisions at the standards level, the teacher does make the decisions at the unit level and below.  The granularity of the analysis is up to the teacher.

3) Determining What Skills the Students are Expected to Have and How They Will Impact the Learning

When I worked as a site technology coordinator at a K-8 school, I was impressed with the coordination demanded of a K-5 teacher.  Not only did the grade-level teachers meet often to make sure that they were equally preparing students for the next grade-level, but they also met with the grade-level teachers above and below.  Not only are these teachers “determining the expected skills of their students” but they are working with others to help prepare student who have the necessary skills to progress.

4) Analyzing the Available Time and How Much Can be Accomplished in That Time and Context and Resource Analyses

Any teacher will tell you that there is not enough time in the academic year to cover all the expected standards, and especially not before the administration of the standardized tests.  So, a K-5 teacher does analyze the time constraints and plan instruction based on the standards, the expected skills for the next grade level and available resources.


Looking at the four components of the Analyze step of the ADDIE instructional design process as described by Gagné (2004).  A K-5 teacher does participate in a large portion of the analyze steps.  Due to the state standards and other mandates, a K-5 teacher does not participate in some of the goal setting and determining the need for the instruction.  However, the process should include at least a representative from each grade level as those standards are being reviewed, discussed and modified.

Remember, I was only looking at the first step in ADDIE and only looking at K-5 teachers. I will continue this thinking going through the various levels of teaching and looking at each of the ADDIE steps.

Gagne, R., Briggs, L., Wager, W., & Keller, J. (2004) Principles of Instructional Design (Fifth Edition). Belmont CA: Wadsworth/Thompson Learning.

Teachers and Instructional Design

I am currently working on a PhD in Instructional Design.  I waited to find a program that fit into where I have come and where I am going.  But even now, in the middle of this choice I often wonder why this new fangled term “Instructional Design” is so “new”.  Isn’t this just another word for teaching?

And then I read We Are Not That Different by Elliott Masie, and I couldn’t agree more.

Teaching and Learning is generally the same at all levels.  It is as you focus on the content and the learners that the differences start occurring.  And isn’t that the way it should be?  I would not expect the lessons of a third grade classroom in south central Los Angeles to look identical to the third grade classroom in rural Idaho.  Each teacher will take the content and work with it to create lessons that will connect to their specific classroom.

I loved the connection of social learning using a jig-saw activity as an example in an elementary school classroom. Divide up the content between a small group of learners. Each becomes the “expert” in their section which they then teach to the others.

Mr. Masie wishes that “every college professor and high school teacher had the opportunity to spend time in a corporate learning department.”  I wish the corporate learning folks could spend time in the K-16 setting. There is amazing things happening in classrooms all across the nation.

Teaching vs. Instructional Design

I came to a realization today that Instructional Designers do not seem to see themselves as teachers.  I say this because whenever I see ID it is more about the structure of content.   And much of the reading does not mention an instructor at all.  Now I do understand that the majority of those claiming the title of Instructional Designer are in corporate settings, but why is teaching demoted, relegated to the K-16 setting?  (The article that prompted these thoughts.)

I am reminded of my search for a job, after making the decision to leave teaching high school (long story, right decision, but I miss it terribly most days).  Because all my experience had been in schools I was not seen as “fit” to work in an office.  I honestly could not believe what I was hearing.  I had to defend my experience in organization (managing 200+ students – as people, in grading, in work assignments, planning lessons, working with the office staff); in interacting with a variety of people in a professional manner (parent teacher conferences with so many different types of parents, negotiating with publishers and vendors, fundraising, open houses, school psychologists, special ed teachers, district support people); and office machines.  (Ok, that last one – I don’t know a successful teacher out there that does not learn quickly how to fix just about any duplexer, copier or fax machine.  And when I finally did get an office job – I seemed to be the only one not afraid of the copier!)

So back to Instructional Design…I’m not understanding why the teacher is eliminated from the equation.  I understand that there are situations that demand a self-paced, individualized learning environment.  However, successful life-long learners seek out experts, colleagues and mentors.  This is the feedback loop in the Systems model.

I love the “Granny-cloud” in the research done by Sugata Mitra.  His research shows that children will naturally learn (Hole-in-the-Wall Education).   The “granny-cloud” is added in and the children get to practice their English accent, show off their work, be encouraged, pointed in better directions, made to answer questions about their work.  In other words they get feedback.

Feedback can be “programmed” in to any type of learning instrument.   My school currently uses Moodle and between creating questions and setting up the quiz there are 4-5 different types of feedback that can be made available to the students within Moodle.  But the real feedback comes from a person analyzing and adjusting the upcoming coursework based on the performance of the students.  A teacher’s compliment in a forum encouraging students in the right direction.  Feedback must be real if the system is going to effectively maintain itself and grow.

I suppose the root is I just don’t understand how an Instructional Designer does not see himself as a teacher.

Update: For more thoughts and explorations on Teaching vs. Instructional Design see the Teaching vs. Instructional Design Category.

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