The world of instructional design is kind of like a zombie wasteland. Requiring all who go there to venture into unfamiliar territory lending itself to both trial and error and frequent failure. A world filled with hoards of easily distracted yet still hungry learners clamoring to devour engaging food for thought. Zombie themed entertainment just might be my favorite genre. I love a good, “what would I do to survive here” conversation. From what I can gather, survival depends heavily upon the ability to surround yourself with the right people, choose a formidable place to set up camp, and most importantly arm yourself with enough skill diversity and depth to weather the storm. From what I have seen, the characters who fared the best were those who had both a well-honed specialty and a broad range of functional abilities. I think this holds true for the instructional design world as well. But, which skills?
In a world where waiting to know enough before beginning equates to too little too late, how do we go about surviving without completely burning out? One possible solution is to develop a T-shaped skill set.
I first read about T-shaped skills in a blog post by instructional designer, Christy Tucker. People with a T-shaped skill set have a broad understanding of many skills and a deep understanding of a few (or one!). I was drawn to the concept, because it articulates an idea that I have personally struggled to describe. With the rigors of life often requiring me to run in all directions at once, I have survived by doing this very thing–relying on a few deep skills paired with many broad ones. Not only does this practice keep me thoroughly entertained, it has left me with a distinctive perspective, and unique ability to collaborate. So, how does one go about becoming a T-shaped person? While I am far from an expert at skill development, I will offer a few of my own observations.
First, Get Comfortable in the T Zone
To grow broad skills, we must allow them to be enough. While an apocalyptic survivor doesn’t have time to become a master sewer, they do need to know enough to make their clothing serve its purpose. As my Dad says, “It might not look amazing, but it works”. In my days as a PE teacher, I quickly learned that novice students need their own set of instructions. Not every student is ready to perform a jump-serve in tennis. For some, raising the racquet to nudge the tennis ball into the correct spot opposite the net is a win! (True Story)
Second, Shorten the Learning Curve
One great way to shorten the learning curve is to use the right resources. Our friends in the zombie wasteland will fare much better if they spend the time to locate proper weapons and map strategies for avoiding zombie herds. The same holds true for instructional design. Whether it’s technology, education, or strategy, the choice to invest in sound resources can save time (and sometimes money) and improve production quality.
Third, Mind Your Physical and Mental Energy Reserve
I have never actually lived through a zombie apocalypse (although 2020 has been a crazy year). That said, life is hard. I have learned to ask myself, “Does this get the job done?” and “How much of myself am I willing to invest here?”. We each have a finite amount of time and energy to get through an ever growing list of demands. Evaluating and prioritizing can really help in walking the line between ID rockstar and ID burnout.
Somewhere between realizing that I did not have to be someone else’s version of great and finding that learning new things is a thrill all its own, I found the joy in embracing life as a T-shaped person. In a way, it has been a breath of fresh air.
Do you have strategies or experiences in developing T-shaped skills? I would love to hear about them…
Thanks for Reading