After completing two-thirds of California State University Fullerton’s Master’s of Instructional Design and Technology (MSIDT) program, I’ve been asked to share why I chose the program and what I’ve learned so far in support of a career in instructional design.
Online Education as Calling and Touchstone
I took my first online course in 1997 at Southern Utah University, Art 101. My final project was building a website that housed what I’d learned on 19th century Shaker design. Honestly, after that very early experience in online education, I was hooked. Not only did I take away from that course useful skills (it was my first website), but I also connected with people from all over the United States. I also felt that I’d spent my time far more efficiently than in a face-to-face classroom. The time I would have normally spent driving to and from a campus, parking, chatting, copying down notes from a lecture, etc. I instead spent on reading, writing, research, designing, and building. For an introvert like myself, it was bliss. It enabled a much deeper dive into a subject than I’d previously experienced in most of my other undergraduate courses.
I went on to complete the last 30 credits of my B.A. online at UMass Boston, a program with just an insane amount of workload, but it proved to be an excellent preparation for graduate school. I spent my spare time during the “gap years” between my B.A. and MSIDT taking a graduate course in statistics and completing over a dozen massive open online courses (MOOCs), which led to an invitation to mentor MOOCs on Human-Centered Design and User Experience: Research & Prototyping and the opportunity to beta test half a dozen pre-launch courses on Coursera for the teaching and learning department and course design teams. Recently, I’ve increased my involvement with learning more about open education through grassroots outreach and getting involved with open education and OER advocacy. I’ve found meaningful educational connections, professional community, and learning experiences on Openlearning.com, Canvas, NovoEd, Coursera, edX, OpenIDEO, Udemy, and Acumen.
Online education for me has become a way of life. I connect with my colleagues through Slack, forums, open online courses, webinars, conferences, listservs, Google groups, social media, video conference, and email. It’s a rich world of intellectual and personal engagement. And this has in turn led me to the realization that perhaps designing and advocating for open online education would be a good way to spend the next 20 or so years of my vocational life.
Why did I select the MSIDT program at CSUF?
I looked for an online program that provided a combination of theoretical focus and technological skill building, a program that could scaffold and guide the application of theory into practical learning products that I personally cared about. I chose an online program because learning online feels like home to me, but also because one of the most instructive activities an instructional designer can do is to take many courses online from a variety of educators and institutions and platforms. Over time well-designed and facilitated courses really stand out, and more so when one develops a rich understanding of cognitive learning science foundations, theoretical frameworks, and best practices to thoughtfully critique syllabi and course delivery. After a year in this program, I am better able to apply the language and tools of instructional design to my previous and current online learning experiences.
What I’ve appreciated about this program is the freedom and empowerment I’ve been given to explore research topics that I am interested in and to draw from my personal and professional background while doing so. My master’s research topic is a bit fringe in terms of typical instructional design subject matter, but MSIDT instructors and advisors have been supportive and imaginative in guiding the development of my fledgling research ideas into something substantial.
The MSIDT program provides opportunities to present work, and, if you live nearby, to get involved in campus activities. It is also very affordable for California residents. I looked seriously at ID master’s programs at Purdue and UMass Boston, but chose MSIDT at Fullerton because it was closer to home, affordable, provided a good balance between technology, theory, and application, and it was supported by a very active alumni community. I’ve not been disappointed with my choice. Selecting an online program also provided me with more time to extend my research interests and to improve my research and writing skills.
More than knowledge, one also hopes to emerge from a graduate program not only skillful but confident and hopeful. Sometimes this is gained through overcoming challenges. The summer semester was a tough one but the opportunity to consider in depth a variety of instructional strategies, then to develop a lesson plan, and build a group project within a short timeframe was invaluable. It was NOT an easy semester but I completed it with significantly more confidence in my ability to develop online curricula. In a sense, I think I found my instructional design “voice” as a result.
Graduation is on the horizon. I’ll be sad to say goodbye. But I’ll leave ready to expand my professional contributions in the fields of instructional design and online education.