Vol 44, Issue 6

July/August 2005

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Transitioning from a Technical Writer to an Instructional Designer

Deborah Long, Technical Editor, BMC Software Business School

Do we have to continue on a straight and narrow career path from one technical writer position to the next technical writer position? Not according to Jackie Damrau, president of the STC Lone Star Community and guest speaker at STC Houston's April program meeting. In fact, we already have many of the necessary skills for transitioning to the realm of developing instructional design.

Jackie herself was a technical writer for 30 years before she went into the business of creating training materials. According to Damrau, the transferable skills consist of analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation (referred to as “ADDIE” by seasoned instructional designers). The main differences betweenn disciplines are the concepts of interactivity and adult education. Then, all we need to do is add some “fun” and use colorful graphics.

“Yeah, right,” you say? Of course, there is more to it, as Jackie demonstrated by involving us in some hands-on exercises, during which we divided into groups and were asked to come up with a project plan to develop training for a sample product. Well, that was the “fun” part of the evening! She went on to explain that there are different types of learners (auditory, visual, or both), and there are also various types of delivery methods for instructional design—ranging from instructor-led classes to computer-based training (CBT) and what is called “blended” (or combination) solutions.

Turns out we would need to learn some new concepts, techniques, and tools, but nothing we could not easily master. After all, the biggest commonality between technical writing and instructional design is “know the audience.” And we are certainly experts at that! Some of us have even written objectives that are measurable, observable, and explicit as we strive to prove our value. Personally, I have been editing training courseware for the past several months at BMC Software and have found it to be a breath of fresh air. Try it sometime . . .

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