CAMMY BEAN – CRYSTAL BALLING WITH LEARNNOVATORS

In this exclusive interview with Learnnovators, Cammy Bean shares her insights on the challenges she had faced in the past being an accidental instructional designer herself. She explains her views on how Artificial Intelligence is all set to revolutionize the way we design and deliver our learning solutions today. Cammy’s advice to learning designers on dealing with the disruptions getting triggered by AI, is highly thought-provoking.

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CAMMY BEAN – CRYSTAL BALLING WITH LEARNNOVATORS

ABOUT CAMMY BEAN:

Cammy Bean accidentally became an instructional designer in 1996 and has since collaborated with hundreds of organizations to design and deliver training programs. She’s worked at small startups, mid-sized training companies, boutique elearning shops, and as a freelance instructional designer.

An English and German Studies major in college, she found an affinity for writing and making complex ideas and concepts clear to an audience. In 2009, she helped start up US operations for Kineo, a global provider of learning solutions. Originally the VP of Learning Design for Kineo, she is currently a Senior Solutions Consultant, leading the North American sales team, supporting clients through the initial discovery process, and managing custom client accounts to help organizations meet their strategic business objectives through better learning solutions. 

Cammy is the author of The Accidental Instructional Designer: Learning Design for the Digital Age – second edition (ATD Press, 2023).

ABOUT THIS INTERVIEW SERIES:

Crystal Balling with Learnnovators is a thought-provoking interview series that attempts to gaze into the future of e-learning. It comprises stimulating discussions with industry experts and product evangelists on emerging trends in the learning landscape.

Join us on this exciting journey as we engage with thought leaders and learning innovators to see what the future of our industry looks like.

THE INTERVIEW:

LEARNNOVATORS: We are great fans of you, Cammy. Being a passionate accidental instructional designer yourself, you have been on a mission to helping instructional designers who have entered this profession by chance transform into intentional ones with your book “The Accidental Instructional Designer“. You have mentored many aspiring instructional designers over the years, helping them to navigate the complexities of the design process and build successful careers in the field. It’s an honor to have you here today to discuss the past, present, and future of workplace learning in three questions.

1. LEARNNOVATORS (THE PAST): As we understand, you have been in the e-learning business ‘since long before we even called it that’. And, as you say, most of us are here completely by accident. Long back, probably, many of us undoubtedly got our start in this field many years ago as accidental instructional designers who had no choice but to work extremely hard to stay afloat. However, there indeed have been a few, major changes or developments in the field of instructional design (such as Rapid Instructional Design) over the past few decades that have impacted the role and life of instructional designers. Being once an accidental instructional designer yourself who had to learn on the job navigating the complexities of the design process without a road map, how do you look at this past? And, what are your experiences being an active part of this (past) journey?

CAMMY BEAN: First of all, thank you for having me as a guest – it’s such an honor to be able to share my insights and experiences with other instructional designers and L&D practitioners. We’re so fortunate to work in this field – there’s so much variety, so many things to learn and ways to grow, and so many different types of initiatives and content areas to sink into. If you, my dear reader, are one of those accidental instructional designers just getting started and trying to get your footing, I welcome you and encourage you on your journey! There’s SO MUCH possibility in this field and increasingly so many directions in which you can take your skills and interests.

Way back in the olden days when I got my start in the industry (otherwise known as the 1990s), the use of technology and digital solutions for training were emerging out of the training solutions of the 80s and early 90s: think VHS tapes and Beta Discs moving into high tech CD-ROMs. We were just starting to use computers in the workplace and people were still trying to figure out how to click a mouse and display a drop-down list on a software screen. I had grown up with classroom instruction and classroom training, no digitization involved. In person was just the way it was done. Years after I got started in the digital learning field, I learned about a program called PLATO, which is pretty much the ancestor of modern elearning started in the 60s, but PLATO wasn’t something most of us regular humans had any experience with yet.

I started as a Junior Instructional Designer at a Computer-Based Training Company in 1996. We were like the Instructional Designers of the Stone Age compared to the digital fluency we are all expected to have today. Back then, lots of stuff was happening on the digital learning front, but we were making it up as we went along. For one thing, we didn’t have rapid authoring tools. The course developers at my first learning company programmed everything from scratch, which we then had transferred onto CD ROMS. At some point, we started using Macromedia Director and that was a huge shift. LMSs didn’t exist yet, so our clients would send laptops around the country with courses loaded on them and then manually pull the data down so they could track completions.

Our instructional designers came up with really creative ideas that seemed mind-blowing at the time. We thought we invented the idea of the digital branching scenario – “hey, let’s make it like a choose your own adventure book” was uttered at my company circa 1997. It was groundbreaking stuff. We talked about and dreamed of having templates and tools that would allow us to streamline production. RoboDemo (which became Captivate) didn’t come out until 2002. And it wasn’t until 2004 when Articulate Studio first came out that I became aware of the presence of rapid and “easy to use” elearning development tools.

Practically, what it meant was that back in the day instructional designers were IDs and project managers. Developers needed to know how to program. And graphics required actual graphic artists using Photoshop and other high end tools. There wasn’t a lot of overlap with all of those roles because a fair amount of specialization was required.

Today’s Instructional Designers often end up wearing “all the hats” – instructional design, writing, graphic artist, developer, QA, project manager. The rise of rapid tools have democratized the industry, enabling anyone to build great elearning, but the downside has been that many organizations expect that one job role of “instructional designer” to do it all.

2. LEARNNOVATORS (THE PRESENT): To quote Dr Philippa Hardman, “In a world where AI has all the answers, I predict that there will be a new focus on what’s usually referred to as Higher-Order learning experiences. In practice, this means that instead of the learning experience being about the recall & restating of given facts, it becomes an exercise in critiquing information and creating new understanding… In the world of learning experience design, the impact of AI technology will be as much as what AI *can’t* do, as it is about what it can do.” It is exciting to see how AI is all set to revolutionize the way we design and deliver our learning solutions. More exciting is the possibility that helps us bring together the best of learning science and the power of AI to re-imagine the role of instructional designers, and ultimately, the quality of our learning solutions. As a practitioner with vast experience guiding many organizations through their instructional design process, how do you look at this (present) scenario? And, what are your experiences being an active part of this journey?

CAMMY BEAN: AI has been one of these looming innovations that was pretty abstract to me until recently. Donald Clark has been writing and talking about how AI will change everything for years, but it wasn’t until last November when ChatGPT erupted all over the Internet that most of the rest of the L&D field started paying any attention.

My best advice for those in this field: Pay attention, experiment, and be prepared for things to KEEP changing. AI is getting built into all the tools we already use and our workflows will continue to evolve. So don’t resist it – resistance is futile, after all. Keep an open mind and take time to play around with AI. Follow people like Josh Cavalier – he’s been doing a lot of experimenting and sharing ideas for how to incorporate AI into an instructional designer’s workflow – or Trish Uhl, who has been showing off fun experiments with AI video and voice tools. And then go do it yourself. Think about how AI text to voice tools might change your use of audio narrators. Be skeptical at the right moments too – is that uncanny AI video version of you going to fly with your audience or are people going to think it’s a little creepy? These tools aren’t done and finished – things are going to continue to evolve and improve and you may decide you want to wait a little longer.

That said, stakeholders are going to start asking you to cut time and budget off projects by using AI – don’t panic when you get asked how you’re going to do that; instead, invest some time now to think about how you can use it. And also be careful out there – reminder that it’s probably not OK to put your company’s proprietary content and info into an engine like ChatGPT.

I don’t have all of the answers on AI and I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface on this myself. But I definitely see the writing on the wall: Change is now.

3. LEARNNOVATORS (THE FUTURE): According to David Wiley from his post ‘AI, Instructional Design, and OER’ that is available here: “Every school that teaches instructional design needs to immediately update their curriculum to leverage the existence of these tools. Using LLMs and other AI effectively (e.g., creating custom images) will be a key part of preparing instructional designers for the next decade…” With Generative AI, we too see a possibility of the role of instructional designers evolving further… however, what matters the most here is the quality of input (prompt) that we are able to feed into these systems. As we observe, all the folks in our community who are able to bring out the required quality output using tools (such as #ChatGPT and #DALL·E) today excel at crafting the ‘right’ prompts. It looks like Prompt Engineering is going to be one of the most significant skills that can set great learning designers apart from their peers.  As far as we could foresee, in the future, where we co-design learning with AI, learning designers who use AI who will replace those who don’t, and great learning designers will be those who are also excellent PROMPT ENGINEERS. Also, we may soon be looking out for qualities that would help make instructional designers ‘distinct’ from AI. In this context, it is inspiring to know that you are presently working towards publishing the second edition of your book (The Accidental Instructional Designer). As a thought leader in the learning industry, how do you look at this future (from the perspective of instructional design)? And, what’s your vision for this future?

CAMMY BEAN: It wouldn’t be right to write a response to question about AI without making use of AI. I used this prompt in ChatGPT: “Tell me why instructional designers should care about AI tools” and got this answer:

Instructional designers should care about AI tools because they have the potential to transform the way we create and deliver learning experiences. AI can be used to personalize the learning experience, adapt the content to the learner’s needs, and provide real-time feedback and assessment. AI can also help to automate certain tasks, freeing up instructional designers to focus on higher-level tasks such as designing creative and engaging learning experiences. By incorporating AI tools into their work, instructional designers can create more effective, efficient, and engaging learning experiences that better meet the needs of learners.

Not too bad. However, I wanted it to sound a little more like me, so I “engineered” my prompt and asked ChatGPT to “Rewrite the previous response with a more sassy and informal tone.”

Listen up, instructional designers! You need to care about AI tools, and here’s why. AI has the power to completely transform the way we create and deliver learning experiences. It can personalize the learning experience, adapt the content to the learner’s needs, and provide instant feedback and assessment. Plus, AI can automate the boring stuff, freeing you up to focus on the fun stuff like creating creative and engaging learning experiences. So, hop on the AI bandwagon, and let’s create some kick-ass learning experiences together!

I think this AI stuff is going to be pretty of fun. Imagine the possibilities for writing scripts and scenarios and tweaking your prompt to change up the tone or the setting. Will human beings still be involved in the process? Absolutely – we’ll get to have fun engineering those prompts, validating the responses we get back from the AI tool (because early experiments are proving that not all the answers it spits back are correct), and editing and tweaking it some more for our use case and our audience.  

Things are absolutely going to change – it’s happening right before our eyes. As Donald Clark recently posted on LinkedIn, Basically AI is doing the mindless work so that you can concentrate on using your mind to work… that’s how people in the learning world, teachers and learners should view it.” So get on the bandwagon and start messing around so that you can really start using your MIND. The reality has been that even in the last few days more and more tools are announcing integrations with GPT4 and ChatGTP – Microsoft Office, Khan Academy, and others are pushing the envelope fast.

And thanks for the shout-out about the upcoming release of the second edition of The Accidental Instructional Designer: Learning Design for the Digital Age. The first edition came out in 2014 and has been popular with new and experienced practitioners alike. I’ve updated the new edition as technology has indeed changed in the last nine years. I’ve expanded some sections to help new practitioners get more grounding in the overall L&D field, see where instructional design happens in organizations, and get an introduction to some of the specific types of tools and technologies. I’ve also added a new chapter on assessment and evaluation.

I’m excited to see The Accidental Instructional Designer continue to be a relevant resource and really excited to support practitioners as they find their way and mature their practice. You might start off as a “junior instructional designer” and then one day find yourself account managing a wide portfolio of Learning Content Clients for Kineo and writing books. You never know where this field will take you; the possibilities are practically endless!

LEARNNOVATORS: Before we sign off, we thank you so much for your time today, Cammy. We’ve had an amazing time reading your insights with many valuable takeaways. We’ll take these learnings to foster our commitment to practice and promote continuous learning and innovation at work. Thank you!

CAMMY BEAN: Thank you! I’m happy to share my experience with the community and so excited to support people as they make their way into instructional design. Thanks for having me be a part of the conversation here at Learnnovators.

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