I've been an Online Learning Consultant for just over a year now. It's taken me a while to get here, and I'm the first one to hold the role in my organisation. Come to think of it, I was the first one to hold the previous role (e-Learning Technician) I had before that on my way up from being a generic Administrator. I thought it would be good to stop and reflect, to get my bearings as I start to ask 'What's next?', but first of all perhaps I should ask 'How did I get here anyway?'.
How did I get here? Kind of by accident really, I just happened to be working in the right department where someone needed to master the technical tools to produce software demonstrations, and I showed a flair for it. After a few years of mastering first WebEx recorder, then Camtasia Studio, Adobe Captivate and Articulate, plus all the different software packages I was demonstrating, and converting briefing presentations to online materials, I finally got offered a development opportunity in doing a Masters degree, and attending the Learning Technologies Conference. Getting back to the world of academia seemed very strange, but after some initial struggles I got the hang of things. Going to the conference was another experience entirely, because here I found the meaning of the elusive 'community of practice'. I've learned the hard way that academic degrees are no sure way to success; you need to create your own identity and find relevant employment.
I've been very fortunate to have the opportunity to do all these things together, allowing me to get the most out of my course. The problem with traditional academic courses is that there's no access to real problems that you need to solve - the course just doesn't have enough doing for you to actually learn anything that will serve you well in the outside world. Fortunately the part-time course I was taking had enough flexibility to mould around work projects, and I also took to heart the idea of the story-centred curriculum, always seeking ways to push my limits whilst working through the course and make things relevant. The course material became subservient to the narrative of me actually understanding challenges, seeking out alternative approaches, creating solutions and implementing them. Not everything worked so well, but in taking on the challenges I internalised a great deal more than I would have done without context, or without broadening my world-view by by seeking out the feedback of others, particularly through social media.
I've gradually progressed from an under-performing, depressed and frustrated individual to having an irrepressible drive to perform and innovate, and being recognised for having some real leadership qualities. My leadership is not in the traditional management sense, instead it's drawn from personal responsibility for my work, speaking my mind regardless of hierarchy and choosing my own approach. I get a lot more satisfaction from work, and my personal life has improved, with my better self esteem keeping depression in check. My Masters degree is coming near to the end, it's been a long journey with lots of ups and downs, but very worthwhile for getting to grips with the complex, even chaotic, field that we call learning. I still remember speaking to Clive Shepherd at a conference, and saying that I felt I was never sure if I really understood it, or if I was just going mad. Clive simply simply smiled and said 'Welcome to learning.'
So where do I go from here? When asking myself this question, I remembered reading Harold Jarche's blog post 'So you (still) want to be an elearning consultant?' some time ago and revisited this for ideas, along with with the original blog post and article it was based on, for some ideas about where I need to turn my focus. The helpful Venn diagram pretty much sums up my development needs - although I have plenty of cognitive and technology skills, I need to seek out ways of being more directly involved in the business. Most of my remaining frustrations stem from the feeling that most of the important decisions (and assumptions) have been made before I get involved with projects. I'm now actively seeking ways to get more directly involved in new projects from the outset, although I can be limited in choice because I'm already committed - perhaps I'm doing something right then.