Interview with Cammy Bean about The Accidental Instructional Designer Book Release

In the L&D space Cammy Bean has become a bit of a "household" name. She's VP of Learning Design for Kineo US, a frequent presenter at industry conferences, a recognized blogger and "Tweeter" with over 6,000 followers.

With nearly 20 years experience, Cammy refers to her career in instructional design as "accidental." This accidental career path prompted her to share her experience learning the ropes with fellow ID's. Cammy's book,The Accidental Instructional Designer, set to release May 2014, provides helpful tips and insights to ID's -- both experienced and beginner. Check out the Q&A interview below to get a glimpse into Cammy's new book.

What prompted you to write The Accidental Instructional Designer?

The eLearning industry is filled with people who fell into their roles quite by accident, myself included. I wrote this book to help those new to the field get a jump-start on their instructional design practice, and to--hopefully--inspire people to create elearning that doesn’t just bore people to tears.

How did you fall into the field?

It’s a pretty typical story, it turns out. My first “real” job out of college was for a company that provided resource and referral programs for employees of large Fortune 500 companies. We provided info and services on child care, elder care, education and school systems, adoption services and more. Eventually I worked my way into a role within the operations team, where we helped define user requirements for a new software program that would take our paper-based intake forms into a computer based system. I translated user requirements between the counselors and our IT team. From there--because I knew the system so well, because I could communicate pretty well, and because it turned out I had a knack for it--I started doing classroom training. One thing led to another, and within a year or two I was working for a multimedia production company that created computer based training programs. My business cards said “Junior Instructional Designer”, and that was the first time I’d ever even heard the term.

The Accidental Instructional Designer

Tell me a bit about the book.

The book is organized in three sections. In Part I I start with the big picture. What is instructional design? What is design? And why does design even matter?

Part II is the real heart of it all, where I get practical and focus on specific tips and strategies you can start applying right away to create learning programs that more effectively engage your fellow human being.

And finally, in Part III, I send people on their way with a clear call to action to turn their accidental ID careers into ones with passion and intent.

What do you hope people will gain from reading this?

I hope people see this book as a starting place to take their own practice to the next level. I hope it inspires them to go out and find out more, more, more -- about learning theories, about design principles, about writing, about technology, about creating results. I hope it helps people create better eLearning.

What is your favorite area of Instructional Design/Learning?

I love digging into new client projects and wrapping my head around their content. I like asking stupid questions, trying to figure out what it’s really all about so that I can turn around and communicate those ideas and principles back to others. I love the writing part of instructional design--turning boring content into a compelling story that gets people’s attention, connects with hearts and minds, and drives behavior change. I love finding ways to go beyond boring blah-blah to create something that stands out from typical slide based eLearning.

What is a common struggle for many Instructional Designers? What questions do you get asked time and time again?

The challenge that most instructional designers face is that eLearning in their organizations looks like text bullet after text bullet on screen after screen. That’s what people expect from eLearning and that’s what people expect their instructional designers to produce. And so new instructional designers start looking for ways to go beyond that--they see that this approach is deadly and bores people to tears, giving eLearning a bad, bad name. New instructional designers are often starved for ideas and inspiration--anything to help them take eLearning beyond text bullets on a screen.

What have been the biggest influences in your career?

In 2005ish, I discovered a bustling online community of elearning professionals and instructional designers who were blogging, sharing resources, starting to Tweet. I connected into that pipeline and there’s been no looking back! I started blogging myself, making a conscious decision to get an informal degree in Instruction Design. I invested in books, reading a lot of the now elearning classics like Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer’s eLearning and the Science of Instruction and Michael Allen’s Guide to eLearning.

How has working for Kineo influenced your take on learning design?

Seriously, the most pivotal part of my journey was discovering Kineo. I met Kineo a few years before I actually joined the team. As part of my blogging discovery mission, I came across the Kineo website and fell in love--so much sharing, so many great ideas, so much good learning design content. I kept coming back to the Kineo website as I grew my own skills and knowledge. Their vision was--and continues to be--to make eLearning more human, to get people’s attention, to factor design back into instructional design.

In the five years that I’ve now been with Kineo, I’ve had the opportunity to share this vision with our many clients as well as the greater eLearning community through webinars, blog posts, articles, conference presentations, and now this book. In fact, this book is really not mine--it’s all Kineo. Many of the ideas and content in this book are drawn from the Kineo website, where we’ve posted more than eight years’ worth of insights on effective learning design. Most of what I share here comes from conversations I’ve had, or thoughts and ideas first put forth by the Kineo team including Mark Harrison, Stephen Walsh, Matt Fox, Steve Lowenthal, Paul Welch, Catherine Jones, and Kirstie Greany.

If you could offer one piece of advice to a budding Instructional Designer, what would it be?

Get connected. There’s a big community of instructional designers out there, willing to share their ideas. Find people you want to follow on Twitter and start talking. Go to conferences. Read books (read my book while you’re at it!). Check out the Kineo website--lots of great resources to get you going.

OK -- so that was more than one piece of advice. It really all comes down to decision you need to make, which is this: commit to getting really good at what you do.

So, what’s up with the ducks?

Ducks and eLearning, weird combo, right? It turns out I have a long history with ducks. In fact, my family currently has three pet Muscovy ducks that wander around our yard and occasionally lay eggs in our kitchen cabinets.

When ASTD was mocking up covers and we were trying to find the right photo, this cover photo just worked. Thanks to Julie Dirksen for suggesting it in the first place.

I like the idea of the one odd but bright duck, swimming against the tide of black eLearning. Sometimes you might feel like you’re swimming against a black tide, but you can make a difference!

Get the book!

Order your copy (on pre-order now through mid-May) of The Accidental Instructional Designer: Learning Design for the Digital Age at either Amazon. We’ll have hard copies of the book in our hot little hands in early May at ASTD’s International Conference and Expo in DC. If you’re at the show, be sure to stop by and say hi!


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