Mentoring in Instructional Design

So many instructional designers fall into this profession accidentally that there’s a book written about it.

I pretty much fell into instructional design myself. I was working as library staff at Arizona State, freshly graduated with a library degree and yearning for a professional librarian job, so I decided to pursue a second master’s degree to become more competitive. My mentor at the library suggested studying instructional design. I had never heard of this field until then!

Getting that second master’s paid off for my career. I landed a job as an Instructional Design Librarian at Cal State Fullerton, where I still work today, but I left the library after four years and I’m currently full-time faculty for the master’s in instructional design program.

Who would’ve guessed that I would go from never hearing of this field to teaching it! Go figure.

One of the things that I always craved when I was an Instructional Design Librarian was thoughtful feedback on my work (shoot, I still crave it now as an online teacher!). Everyone at the library was so nice – they said I was doing great, my elearning tutorials were just fabulous. But effective feedback highlights the things that could be improved and not just the things that are great. Feedback that is all positive does not lead to growth.

I know I’m not alone in this desire for feedback. Lots of people are the sole instructional designer at their place of work, and it’s really difficult to figure out how to even begin to get better at what you do. Meaningful feedback is critical to learning. Without meaningful feedback, it’s much harder to improve at something.

That’s why I have always been grateful for mentors that were willing to give feedback on my work, to listen to me discuss my career goals and offer advice, to point me in the right direction. I endeavor to do the same for others.

All of this is to say that there are some opportunities out there for instructional designers to get feedback on their work through mentoring.

ID2ID: Peer Mentoring Program for Higher Ed IDs

Penn State offers a peer mentoring program called ID2ID. The premise is that the program matches instructional designers across institutions of higher education to allow them to peer mentor each other. It’s free, and sign-ups are taken on a rolling basis.

Imagine if you’re the sole instructional designer at your campus, but suddenly you’re in contact with someone else at another campus that has the same challenges? It would be incredible to be able to work with someone else to trade ideas and solutions!

The organizers of ID2ID have four goals for the program:

  • Help designers solve problems.
  • Help them contribute to their growing and changing field.
  • Allow instructional designers to have a role in the bigger conversations about their profession.
  • Provide opportunities for designers to share teaching and learning techniques and information.

You can read more about the program from an article published around the time the program was founded.

Find a Mentor Near You

What does mentoring look like? You might imagine a senior employee working with a junior employee, but there are several different kinds of mentoring. Peer mentoring consists of two people with similar experience that offer support for each other and can serve as a sounding board for new ideas. Some people are lucky enough to find a mentor at their place of work. I’ve been lucky to have several mentors over the years.

Good mentoring helps build the mentee’s confidence and helps them conceive of a clear path forward in their work or in their careers. Elearning Industry offers a nice piece with practical tips for mentoring new instructional designers.

If you would like a mentor and you’re not in higher ed, explore some of the communities available to instructional designers. ATD, in particular, has local chapters that might be an excellent resource for finding other professionals to give feedback on your ideas. Conferences might be another opportunity to connect.

Mentoring is a wonderful opportunity to grow as a professional and as a person.