The Accidental Instructional Designer: A Review

In The Accidental Instructional Designer: Learning Design for the Digital Age, Cammy Bean outlines what it means to be an instructional designer and how to create educational content that transcends the PowerPoint slide decks or “clicky-clicky bling-bling” to create meaningful, engaging, and effective technology-based learnings. Based on her own experiences as an “accidental instructional designer,” Bean offers advice on the skills, techniques, resources, and ways of thinking that are necessary for any instructional designer. The Accidental Instructional Designer is geared towards those who are new in the instructional design field to serve as a “jumping off point” (Bean, 2014, p. xxi). But, the rich insights and resources Bean provides throughout The Accidental Instructional Designer, as well as her lighthearted and upbeat delivery make this book a quick, enjoyable, and informative read for any instructional designer, regardless of time in the field.

The premise and namesake for this book comes from Bean’s own journey into the field of instructional design, and one that myself and many others will find very relatable. We didn’t purposefully set out to become instructional designers, “we find our way here by accident” (Bean, 2014, p. xiv). But, just because we don’t come from a background that necessarily prepares us to create technology enhanced learnings; that doesn’t mean we can’t learn to do it well. In Part 1 of her book, Bean prepares us to do just that by laying the groundwork for what it means to be an instructional designer. Instructional design isn’t just a thing we do, but it also encompasses a mindset and broad range of skills in learning, creativity, technology, and business (Bean, 2014, p. 11). In addition, we are designers, as opposed to the cautionary tale of the CBT Lady (Bean, 2014, p. 19-23) who only creates long, boring, text-heavy trainings. In this role of designers, we are concerned with the look, feel, emotionality, functionality, and intuitiveness of our learning materials as well as their ability to solve problems and fill learning needs.

After establishing the essence of what instructional design is, Part II dives into the tools and techniques of the instructional design trade. In this section Bean shares with us some of her own suggestions based on experience for creating engaging e-learnings. This includes how to work with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), the instructional design process, different e-learning models and formats, utilizing marketing strategies to grab our learners’ attention, tips for writing better, interactivity, creating stories, visuals, using blended learning, and learning your theory.

While Part II contained many useful tidbits of information, advice, and resources, I particularly enjoyed Bean’s discussion of interactivity as opposed to “clicky-clicky bling-bling.” “Just because your e-learning sparkles and shimmers and gets the learner clicking on lots of fancy hotspots and has them dragging things all over the screen does not mean that you have engaged the learner” (Bean, 2014, p. 101). This is an important reminder, especially as we began relying more on technology that can do really cool clicky and blingy things, that interactivity does not mean more clicks for our learner, but instead means we’re getting them to think more by feeling, doing, reflecting, and connecting.

While Bean does encourage her readers to continue reading and learning in Part III, I am disappointed in her stance on theory, especially considering she wrote this book primarily for those new to the field. Bean does note that we should all research and keep up with theory because it will give you rapport, credibility, and help you design better e-learning. However, I would alter Bean’s (2014) suggestion to learn “just a little pinch” of theory (p. 174). While theory can be intimidating, we should continuously explore current theories that are out there, identify advantages and disadvantages of each, discuss and share with others in the instructional design community, and identify how you can apply these theories to make your own e-learnings better. This takes more than “just a little pinch,” but it can greatly improve ourselves and our e-learnings.

The Accidental Instructional Designer is a great introductory book for those new to the Instructional Design field, and a good refresher/reminder for those who have been at this for a few years. It is full of great resources, experiences, stories, tips, and techniques, and it is written generally enough to be relevant regardless of your industry. Bean describes this book as a “jumping off point” and it should be approached as just that. She provides a general overview of many hot topics in Instructional Design as well as many excellent resources for exploring these topics further.

Bean, C. (2014). The accidental instructional designer: Learning design for the digital age. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.

Alex is a dual-hatted (or should I say hooded) academic with Master’s degrees in both Anthropology and Educational Technology. Alex specializes in understanding the interactions between learners and technology, the socio-cultural learning environment, Web 2.0 learning strategies, and creating interactive, technology-enhanced learning experiences.

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