On January 9, 2012, we published a short article by Cammy Bean: “The Accidental Instructional Designer.” She based it on a blog post she had written a month or so before. Clearly written from her experience, it was sincere and dead-on perfect advice for beginners. We knew it was good.

What we didn’t expect was just how much readers were going to love it.

In the two-and-a-half years since publication, Cammy’s article has continued to get new readers and new “thumbs-up” from those readers. It is in the top 1.5 percent of all the articles we have published since 2002, both for readers and for appreciation. That little article still gets 500 to 600 readers a month.

So now, Cammy has turned that short little article into a 202-page book by expanding the key points and adding even more content and help. She says, “Much of this book is geared toward the new practitioner—the recent accident.” This is just my opinion, but she’s being modest. If you’ve been an instructional designer for quite a while, if you’re a “one-person shop,” if you manage a team of instructional designers, if you’re looking for some new ideas to re-charge your passion, The Accidental Instructional Designer is going to be a good read for you.

Part by part

The 202 pages break down into three parts. Each one provides key insights into the instructional-design profession.

Part one covers the “Big Picture.” It’s short—just two chapters. The first chapter explains the eLearning Pie. If you have a need to help others (for example, decision makers) understand what it takes to make eLearning that works, Cammy offers an effective way to explain the four BIG skill sets that are involved. You can sketch it on the back of an envelope, a napkin, or on your iPad. Cammy also uses another model, the T-shaped model, to help readers understand how to deal with those big skill sets. One of the important takeaways for Part 1 is “Know Your Sweet Spot, Know Your Weakness.” You will also read about the CBT Lady, a not-so-funny cautionary tale about how people see instructional designers and our work. Cammy gives you a set of key questions, the answers to which will keep you from becoming That Person.

Part two is a practical journey covering the essentials of the instructional-design trade, from working with subject matter experts (SMEs) to the common core knowledge (theory, best practices, and yes, name-dropping) involved in communicating with your fellow designers. This is the part of the book where I think even folks who have been in the instructional design trade for a few years, and who don’t think of themselves as beginners, can pick up a few pointers. In addition, if you are a manager of instructional designers, Part two is actually a good guide to topics you want to make sure your development plan for your staff covers. And finally, if you are new to this business, or if you are aware of your weaknesses (see Part one), and you are headed to a conference (say, one of the ones The eLearning Guild hosts), you could use the nine chapters in Part two to help you identify the concurrent sessions that would most benefit you by attending.

Part three, only one chapter, provides pointers to help the reader move forward to make a career of intentional instructional design. From networking online and at conferences, to reading and developing a habit of constant exploration of new things, this chapter is short, but a great compilation of resources follows it.

Don’t be the CBT Lady!

This book will serve as your guardian angel, as long as you take the great advice that Cammy Bean is offering and don’t let it just collect dust on the shelf. She has done a marvelous job of expanding that short article in 2012 into an outstanding guide to help you never stop being a happy accident. I predict readers will love it even more than they love the article that sparked it.

Bibliographic information

Bean, Cammy. The Accidental Instructional Designer: Learning Design for the Digital Age. Alexandria: ASTD Press, 2014.