On Being an Outsider

Over a year ago I quit my job. I left higher education and my non-tenure faculty position. As an early career academic, I loved research, teaching and digital learning design, but the things I was doing in my actual position was leaving me feeling bored and burned out. I was not interested in fitting into a typical academic role or career, and I never really cared much for the elitist hierarchy at a university/college campus. Titles, degrees, and status seemed less interesting… and rather petty to me. As I said before, I’m more interested in the verbs and not the nouns for my professional path.

During the last few months of 2019, I was fortunate to partner with few great companies adjacent to higher ed as a faculty coach, research consultant, and learning design architect. Although it was interesting work, I soon realized I really missed being part of a team who were contributing to a shared vision and goals. In looking back, part of my job search was really to find the space and place for me to work outside academia, challenge what I know, and apply my experiences as I explore the unknown in a new field. This time spent researching professional roles require me to identify my strengths (literally, below is a screening for a healthcare L&D role) and figure out where I could use these superpowers for the next organization I worked at.

It was time to look outside the industry of postsecondary education (yes, it IS an industry as well) to see what was out there, and identify what new career opportunity I could match my purpose or my WHY:

To connect people and community, so that I can support life-long learning and career development.

Job hunts and employment applications take a while — regardless of who you are and when you are applying. I quit my job knowing I would need to dedicate some serious time (like a job) to this process instead of being distracted by what I was doing (e.g. online teaching, grading, writing, research, etc.) I kept an open mind and I was persistent as I explored a of employment opportunities from the top training organizations, and other companies I knew would present a number of job options for me now and in the future. In connecting to friends/peers, I made sure to find contacts within the companies to get feedback on my CV which brought my 18 pages down to 1. And, I also began to target roles that seemed more interesting beyond a title or rank, by reaching out to recruiters, head hunters, and hiring managers on LinkedIn to learn more about where my own talents best fit. Between November and December, I had a series of phone/Zoom interviews and on-site interview cycles for a variety of roles: marketing researcher, training manager, instructional designer, and organizational development consultant. These jobs were situated in personal law, finance, insurance, airlines, retail, hotels, and more. [Note: 2019 Laura did not move forward by choice or HR decision for jobs at American Airlines, Hilton, etc. In hindsight, that was probably a good thing.] All of this sounds quick, but the decision to leave and search was probably in incubation for 6-9 months prior to me accepting a new job. Additionally, this quick synopsis does not include the conversations, informational interviews, employment/org research, and reflection I put into before I went on the job market by choice.

Last December, I celebrated a milestone birthday by packing up to have a 18-day adventure to explore New Zealand. All of this was planned prior to this career crisis/job search, so I had the time and space to go off on one my last EPIC travels. Our departure to NZ had a layer in LAX where I received a call to offer me the job I wanted, and that I am currently in. For those of you who know me, I do like to take leaps (literally), but from the stellar interview experience, meeting the team I’d be working with, and getting to know the cool things I would get to be a part of — I was really excited for my new job! I’m a Sr. Instructional Designer on a global learning experience design (LXD) team, which means I am a program manager who supports learning/training design for technicians and associates in customer service at the “Smile” company. Our team trains associates on troubleshooting to support customers with their devices (e.g. Kindles, Fire tablets, Echo-family), digital products (e.g. Amazon Music, Appstore, Twitch, Games & Software Downloads), and, of course, Alexa.

This original blog post was going to describe more “about my job” — what I do and how I work with my LXD team — however, that isn’t really possible as it has been evolving over the past 9 months, and I suspect it will continue to change. I have focused on a few specific areas, but really, I support the focus and needs for how we are designing learning to improve customer service. Period. We’ve had to be agile to meet all that 2020 has tossed us and be flexible enough to adapt both on our team and within the larger organization. As they say, it is always Day 1. I believe it, as I am still learning and figuring out how to do what I do better — while jumping in to do all the things — those verbs — that I really enjoy:

  • Create training curriculum & think deeply about learning design
  • Offer and get peer review for projects
  • Ask questions to get to root problems and deep dive into issues
  • Identifying gaps or needs for our own standard of practice
  • Develop mechanisms improving our LXD
  • Support professional/career development to engage our larger team
  • Wrangle a program team for an internal conference
  • Supporting training delivery in various worldwide sites– in virtual instructor-led sessions
  • Produce a new LXD podcast to understand how learning design happens in the org
  • Localization (beyond translation) across a number of geographic regions for learners
  • Implement changes needed for accessibility and universal design for learning & training
  • Identify ways for inclusion & equity in remote teams and virtual collaboration
  • Consult with product teams, program managers, UX designers, content creators & more!
  • Tinker/Test new devices & digital products to enhance the customer service experience
  • Pilot new platforms & LX experiences with research and learning delivery experiments
  • Project management — seriously, I love a good sprint & checking off a “to do” list
  • Always be learning: SO MANY ways to add to my skill stack to “learn and be curious”

There is probably more — but that’s my quick list. You might hear me say on the regular that “I’m not really sure what I’m doing…” or “I don’t know…” — which is often true. I’ve learned that failure is probably a great teachable experience, and probably going to happen. It’s not the flaws, but what we have learned, especially if what you are working on is only 70% finished before you launch it. Everything I do is not always my favorite, but I am being challenged to think beyond what is required in my job. And, I’m grateful to be surrounded by some brilliant and thoughtful professionals who I am constantly learning from and with — seriously, everyone has a variety of education, professional, and work experience in LXD. So, I can always find someone who can compliment my own skills and knowledge when I need to complete a project or reach a goal.

That being said, this past year I have felt like an “outsider” from academia and higher education. I was not sure how or if I could contribute to (or influence?) my community of online learning, open, students support, and ed tech peers. This disconnect was more in my head, or at least it was until now. I was trying to sort out how my past professional identity and experiences connects to what I am doing now. Beyond the defined roles or rank in formal education (e.g. K-12 & Higher Ed), I was “othering” the contributions learning professionals who fall outside the formal education system. Learning design between higher ed and other industries does not have to be two rival gangs. The expertise and experiences are less binary and more complimentary than you might think.

“They grew up on the outside of society. They weren’t looking for a fight. They were looking to belong.” – The Outsiders

Really, there is so much we can learn when these LXD communities come together. Although my learning design is outside a postsecondary institution, there is so much more knowledge and applied skills we need to swap, share, and compare. I know that 2020 has brought all the weirds, and I’ve personally felt very remote from y’all, but I’m slowing coming out of my solitude/isolation incubation time. I hope to share more about what I am working on in my job and the other projects that I have been tending to this year, as it is relevant for my community in higher ed, ed tech, student affairs/advising, and online learning.

4 thoughts on “On Being an Outsider”

  1. This is such a great post Laura, thank you for sharing your experiences over the last year. I can totally relate to the outsider feelings. Like you I quit my job in academia, about a year and a half ago. I’ve been lucky in that I have been to still work within “the academy” however, over the last couple of months as everyone as hunkered down due to covid, and my work has dwindled, i do feel that I am losing touch. Anyway this post is really inspiring and maybe I need to extend my horizons more. On the up side my art work is going well!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was thinking of you and others I had conversations with before I took the leap outside. Much of what you shared still resonates with me. Let me know if/how I can support your continued work & interests… happy to chat always. p.s. Congratulations on your art! This is fabulous and I will promote it here as others must check out & buy some of your pieces: https://www.instagram.com/sheilmacneill/


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.