Learning is Always Valuable

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Learn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can; there will always be a time you’ll be grateful you did.” – Sarah Caldwell

As a Modern Languages major and a self-confessed language fanatic, I have spent the better part of the last 10 years learning and teaching languages.

It all started when I was 11 years old: my very first year of middle school. One early September afternoon I was introduced to the French language for the first time. And you could say it was l’amour at first sight.

English and French were always my favorite classes at school. I treasured the small fragments of the day where I could revel in my love of words and escape the real world if only for a little while.

This passion stayed with me through to college where I continued my language studies. I then went on to teach English and a little bit of French.

Through teaching, I realized that I loved sharing knowledge, finding creative ways to transmit that knowledge, and although it’s a cliché, witnessing those ‘lightbulb moments’ when a student suddenly grasped the concept or topic they had been struggling with.

Unfortunately, teaching (in a classroom setting) was not for me – for many reasons (which I won’t go through right now).

While I was sad to leave the classroom, that sadness, as it turns out, would be short-lived. Now when I look back, I finally understand that my learning journey to this point had been preparing me for an entirely new adventure.

Transitioning to Instructional Design

Transitioning to instructional design from teaching, or any other field, is no mean feat. 

And imposter syndrome is real.

But there is plenty of information out there about this, and in particular, the many challenges teachers face when transitioning to ID. This piece by eLearning Industry details all of these challenges in an easy-to-digest way.

What I would have liked to have read this time last year is the more positive side of the coin – just how relevant and transferable prior knowledge and experiences can be.

That is why I’m going to share my personal learning journey to show how knowledge is always valuable, regardless of whether you first realize it.

Let’s dive into the arsenal of skills I amassed that greatly prepared me for the life of an instructional designer – better known as a learning architect here at Curious Lion.

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Yannick Pulver / Unsplash

Written Communication Skills

Without a shadow of a doubt, studying foreign languages in college greatly improved my written English skills. Now, I know that might sound a little crazy, so let me explain.

A large part of any language major is translating texts from the original language into your native language – in my case, English.

This means that language majors improve their native language skills as well as their foreign language skills (painstaking and true!).

Throughout college, I believed improving my written English skills was useful for a potential future career in translation.

Little did I know that the skills I was honing were also necessary for a career in instructional design – something that I hadn’t even heard of in college!

6 years after completing my degree, I found my way back to writing again. And this time I’m getting paid for it!

Research Skills

Whether you’re studying ancient Greek philosophy or Shakespeare’s complete works, a large part of any arts degree is research.

In my final year of college, I had to take a research methods class to prepare me for the challenge of writing a dissertation. At the time, I struggled to understand why the nuances of research methods or how to use Google to be more efficient were important things for me to know.

Very naively, I actually thought this knowledge was useless for me at that time in my life.

How wrong I was! Today, research is a fairly large part of my job description!

In the discovery process, it is paramount that extensive research is done on the subject matter. Research is a cornerstone skill for any learning professional, but especially for learning architects.

Once again, I did not realize what I was learning would stand me in good stead for the future. And if I had, maybe I would have placed more importance on research methodology back in my college days.

Instructional Design Knowledge

The next part of my journey started in the most unlikely of places, and at the most unlikely of times. I moved to Portugal in September 2020.

Yes, right in the middle of a global pandemic, I moved to a new country where the language and culture were completely foreign to me. The culture I could acclimatize to, but the language was a little trickier. That I would have to learn from scratch.

I have used my fair share of language-learning apps over the years. Duolingo, Practice Portuguese, Memrise, Learn Spanish in a week (ok, I might have made that last one up) – you name it, I’ve most likely tried it.

But let’s focus on the one I first used to learn Portuguese, and coincidentally, the one you’ve most likely heard of – Duolingo.

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image / TechRepublic

When I first downloaded Duolingo to learn Portuguese in 2020, I didn’t realize it would provide a solid learning experience. It did so in two ways:

  1. A great entry into the Portuguese language, but also
  2. A deep dive into what makes an engaging learning experience.

The world’s most loved language learning app with over 37 million monthly users is a phenomenal example of the power of micro-learning and gamification, all neatly bundled into one highly accessible app. A 2013 study even found that Duolingo might be more effective than a semester of language classes.

Aimed at beginners, information is broken down into bitesize, easy-to-remember chunks. From ‘food’ to ‘family’, Duolingo has created an impressive game-like learning experience that keeps you hooked, wanting to gain more XPs the following day to retain your streak.

The instructional design theory and techniques I learned by using Duolingo for a few months are ones that now I use in my everyday job.

What I thought was a simple way for me to learn some basic Portuguese, turned out to be an excellent primer for my future career. Pretty rad, right?!

When I reflect on this now, I realize that the instructional design methodology is insane. For a deep dive into Duoliingo’s most effective instructional design strategies, check out this piece by Transform eLearning.

So, why have I rambled on about language learning?

Anyone who stops learning is old. Whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning is young.” – Henry Ford

With each step along my personal learning journey, I was building the fundamental skills for a career in instructional design.

This shows that knowledge is always invaluable – even if there doesn’t seem to be a direct link at the time (my experience with DuoLingo) or even if we don’t use it for many years (my experience with writing). As my wise mother always says, “education is never wasted”.

That is why continuous learning is so important. And this is exactly what we do at Curious Lion – we’re in the business of promoting continuous learning. And my experience allows me to shout its importance from the rooftops.

My Advice

My top tip for those transitioning into instructional design is to reflect. Reflect on your personal learning journey so far, whatever that may look like.

And think outside the box.

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Diana Parkhouse / Unsplash

Think about that app you used last summer to learn how to make your family’s favorite Tiramisu. Think about that writing class you took in your sophomore year. And think about the design project you helped out with a few years ago.

No matter how long ago or recent it was, your transferable knowledge is still there and it can only grow. Just like me, I’m sure you will realize that you have far more transferable knowledge than you think.

Even if you can’t see the immediate value in what you learned or are currently learning, keep those nuggets of information in your back pocket because you never know when they will come in handy.

When I look back at my 11-year-old middle school self, my 22-year-old college self, or my 28-year-old teacher self, I would never have imagined just how valuable everything I was learning would be for future me.

Armed with this realization, the person I am today latches on to every piece of information I can get because I know for a fact that one day it’s going to come in handy.

I was once sad to leave the classroom but the thing is, I’ve always been a teacher at heart. My love of imparting knowledge, of learning, and now even research has led me to a vocation where I can’t help but be excited to see what I’m going to create next.



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