Do you have specific plans for how you’re going to grow your skills in 2012? Last month I strongly urged you to consider where your skills are going to be this time next year. Leaving your skills to chance means you aren’t placing enough emphasis on your livelihood.

Professional Development, Part 1 & 2

Too many people think it’s their company’s responsibility to develop their skills, but the cold hard truth is that that’s short sighted. Who cares about developing your skills more than you? The answer is no one. The truth is, your employer has lots of things to worry about, and your skill development probably isn’t something they’re thinking about on a regular basis. So, each and every year, you (yes, you) need to make and adhere to a professional development plan for yourself. Since you’re in a field where skill expectations are expanding, and a moving target to boot, the one person who cares the most about your skill development has to attend to it. That’s you. Even if you have to spend your own time and money to do it (and really, there’s no reason not to spend your own time and money to grow your own brain and skills), you should do it.

Whether you’re new to the field, an expert, or anywhere in between, the end of the year or the beginning of the next year is a perfect time to plan your professional development. Then check midyear to see if you’re on track.

I promised you last month I’d give you some good ideas for professional development, and while writing this month’s article I came up with so many good ideas it’s going to take me two articles to share them with you. Remember last month I told you not to limit your professional development to technical skills? Yeah, technical skills are critical in our field and they’re often challenging to keep up with. But you should plan professional development in three different buckets – business skills, learning skills, and technical skills. (See Figure 1.)

This month, I’m going to focus on Business Skills and Learning Skills, the skills that we probably consider the least often.


Figure 1. The three buckets of professional skills

Business Skills

Many people in our field don’t have adequate business skills. Not having these skills hurts credibility when you’re trying to get your point across to non-training types in your company, and it diminishes your design skills when designing courses on business topics.

If you want to understand how your company works, don’t wait to be invited to learn more. Here are some professional development activities you can take on this year to understand the business your company is in.

  1. Read industry trade journals. Identify the major forces shaping your industry and the expected future issues.
  2. Shadow key performers in your organization from different departments or divisions, observe what they do and their challenges – and ask questions.
  3. Join professional organizations in your industry. Serve on their task forces and committees.
  4. Serve on internal, non-training-oriented committees and task forces.
  5. Work on certifications that people consider valuable in your industry.

There are many additional ideas you can consider for improving your business skills. Does your company depend on certain business applications? Get better at using them. Become the go-to person in your department for using them for departmental decision-making.

If you are a consultant, freelancer, or small business person, local libraries and small business development centers (like the South Metro Denver Small Business Development Center in my neck of the woods has free and inexpensive business classes that you can take advantage of.

Learning Skills

Since learning works best if it’s social, I’m going to suggest something you may not have thought of. How about starting a learning-books book club in your organization, or among people who do the kind of work you do. It doesn’t even have to be in person. What books might you read and think about applying together?

I’m going to suggest some books because they’re books I personally think everyone would benefit from.

  • Rossett, A., & Schafer, L. (2006). Job Aids and Performance Support: Moving from Knowledge in the Classroom to Knowledge Everywhere. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.
  • Rossett, A., & Schafer, L. (2007). First Things Fast: A Handbook for Performance Analysis. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.
  • Shrock, S.A., & Coscarelli, W.A. (2007). Criterion-referenced Test Development: Technical and Legal Guidelines for Corporate Training. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Here’s an instructional design and technology reading list with tons of other books to consider: It doesn’t look like this has been updated recently so be sure to check for updated editions of these books. In addition, Cammy Bean started a list here: .

One of the ways to have a virtual book club or discussion space is to make use of a free wiki (like Wikispaces) or a discussion forum (like the eLearning Guild LinkedIn Group) for this purpose.


As learning folks, one of the most important things we know (or should know) is that we learn by DOING. So ALL of the professional development opportunities that we plan should have action components – a specific plan where we put the opportunity into action. Table 1 gives an example of how to make sure that your professional development activities have an action component.

Table 1. An action component for your development plan could look like this:

Professional Development Need

Specific Development Opportunity

How I will put it into ACTION

Gain skills in building multiple choice questions

Read Criterion-referenced Test Development: Technical and Legal Guidelines for Corporate Training

Develop a job aid for my unit for building MCQs.

Learn more about the health care industry

Ask three others in the company what industry trade journals they read and find out where they are available.

Read two of these journals each month. Ask questions of others in the company.

Learn more about the health care industry

Find out what non-training-oriented committees I can serve on.

Volunteer for one committee by March 15.


I have a host of other ideas to share, so I’ll be back next month to finish out this topic with some more familiar types of ideas and a few more that I bet you haven’t thought of. Meanwhile, in the comments area let me know what you think of the ideas I shared this month. Going to try any of them? And if you decide to start a virtual-learning-books book club, let me know where you’re holding it, because I really like this idea and think that this would help me read more learning books, too!