It’s almost next year. Do you know where your skills are going to be in December 2012? My premise … you need to have a good idea of that. Whether you’re new to the field, an expert, or anywhere in between, you should be planning next year’s professional development activities now, if you haven’t done so already. The reason for this should be obvious. If you leave your professional development up to chance (and I know a lot of you have done just that), you’re leaving something of grave importance to chance. In a field where skill expectations are ever expanding, and a moving target to boot, your skill development is critical and the person next to you is probably planning theirs. My goal is to convince you in a few short minutes to make some plans to take care of a very important asset: your skills.

Sure, it’s like eating an elephant, but you know how to eat an elephant…

Professional Development, Part 1 & 2

If you’re new to the eLearning field, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and think that you’ll never get up to speed. But remember how to eat an elephant: One bite at a time! If you view the elephant (your skill set) as a huge goal that your entire career depends on, it seems unmanageable. If you think of it as stages and steps, it seems far more manageable. And it is. But you have to plan it, and you need to manage and maintain the plan.

Everyone in a skill-intensive field needs to plan for growing their skill set. Here’s a secret that may not be obvious. The more you know, the easier it’ll be to learn more because you have a greater foundation from which to understand new things. One of my friends and mentors, Dr. Saul Carliner, once explained (when I was complaining about the headaches of graduate work many years ago) that while experience is the best teacher, a good education provides the foundation to make the most sense of experience. In other words, he was telling me to stop complaining and make the most of growing my skill set.

In most cases, you’ll expand your skills both through experience and through professional development (getting a degree is one form of professional development but there are many others such as conferences, professional association meetings, Webinars, books and videos, mentoring, and others that I’ll discuss in more detail next month). Some people get varied experiences on the job but others don’t. Think about your job. Are you getting the opportunity to learn a lot on the job? Are you getting widely varied experiences where you have the opportunity to learn new and different skills on a regular basis? If not, your professional development time is going to be especially important to your growth. In any event, you’ll need experience and professional development to grow your skill set. Consider how you will get enough of both.

Think of it this way. When you have investments, you can use those investments to make more money. The larger the amount of your investments, the more money you can make with them. Skills are the same way. The larger your skill set, the more they can do for you.

Not just technical skills…

A lot of people in the eLearning field think they mainly need to gain technical skills. Don’t get me wrong, those are critical and they’re often the most challenging to get because they’re a moving target. But they’re not enough by a long shot. I encourage you to think of your skill set as falling into three different buckets: business skills, learning skills, and technical skills. (Figure 1)

Figure 1. Your skill set consists of three areas.

Business skills include such skills as project management, financial skills, and learning how your organization and industry work. It’s not enough these days to just understand how your job or department works. Learning skills involve such skills as understanding how people learn, how to design good assessments, and how to provide performance support in addition to or instead of courses (a lot of the time, people not only need courses, which are expensive and time consuming to build, but also need less expensive performance support tools such as job aids). Technical skills include such skills as how to use authoring tools, how to build good screenshots, and how to edit images.

Let’s put this important issue on the table. Whose responsibility is it to make sure you build and maintain a good skill set? Many people make the mistake of thinking it’s their employer’s responsibility, but guess what? It’s your brain and skill set and your employability that’s at stake. I assure you that your employer isn’t as concerned about that as you need to be. So even if you have to spend your own time and money to do this (and really, I don’t know any reason why you shouldn’t be willing to spend your own time and money to grow your own brain and skill set), you should do it.

Next month I’ll get specific about some options for professional development you might want to consider, especially if you don’t have a big budget.

Your thoughts?

What do you think? Do you have specific plans for how you’re going to grow your skills in 2012? Do you think it’s as important as I do? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section. And stay tuned for specific suggestions next month.