What were the key moments and decision points in your learning design career journey? What were the barriers, and how did you overcome them? Were certain skills more important than others for leadership, and how did you develop these?

We explored these questions and more with panel guests Tam Nguyen (UNSW), Amanda Lizier (UTS) and Kelly Pattison (Circular Learning) at the recent UTS Learning Design Meetup in collaboration with the ASCILITE TELedvisors SIG. Highlights are shared here, and we encourage you to scroll down to watch the full recording of this popular and lively session.

Diverse directions: mixing academia, business, and entrepreneurship

From the moment they introduced themselves, our speakers illustrated not only the different ways ‘leadership’ can be part of learning design roles, but also the winding pathways that can take you there. Whilst one speaker began her career in academic roles then moved to the private sector (and back again!), another did the opposite, building experience in corporate L&D before coming to academia and research. Opportunities were lost and gained through COVID and other disruptions, but all three showed the ability to adapt with different circumstances, making space for professional growth in different directions.

Which leadership skills are most important for learning designers?

Having drawn on some current thinking and literature in this space in a previous blog on paving pathways to leadership, we asked the audience for their thoughts on 8 categories of competencies for learning design leadership from a 2018 survey of instructional design managers and leaders.

When asked to prioritise 3 skills from the list, participants showed a preference towards the ‘technical’ skills of learning design (top answer), followed by communication, people skills and project management. There was much less emphasis on organisational awareness and politics, as the results show below:

Q: Which leadership skills are most important for learning designers (choose 3)?

  • 68% – Teaching, learning, design, and technology expertise
  • 59% – Communication
  • 51% – Interpersonal people skills
  • 45% – Project Management
  • 33% – Inspiring, motivating, and empowering others
  • 29% – Visioning and strategic alignment
  • 12% – Organisational politics and relationships
  • 9% – Environmental and organisational awareness

Whilst there was some agreement from the panel on the need for deep expertise in teaching and learning, there was also surprise at this being the top answer in the context of leadership. For some, these foundational skills were less prized in senior roles, with a focus shifting to strategy, stakeholders and managing politics as careers progressed.

How can learning designers develop their leadership skills?

Later in the session we asked the audience to share their thoughts again – this time considering how learning designers can develop their leadership skills. The open text responses reflected common themes including the importance of mentorship, practical experience and continuous self-development.

Seek out a great mentor. Network with influential leaders, podcasts, these kinds of meet ups and exposure in the workplace.

Practice & hone their performance consulting skills and empathetic engagement with others. Listen and learn from those around you (mentors, supervisors, etc).

Manage a project and map the skills that you use as it progresses. Reflect. Repeat.

Communication, taking on responsibility and embracing different experiences at work were also mentioned.

Just start doing it! If you see that there is a gap or need, initiate a response and work out your pitch. See if you can get others onboard and ask them for their input and feedback.

Think about every design conversation as an opportunity to flex your leadership muscles. In all the ways our panel has been mentioning.

Saying yes to opportunities. Being brave and stepping outside your comfort zone.

Watch: Finding leadership pathways

You can watch edited sections from the Meetup in the video below [49m]:

If you would like to be part of future Learning Design Meetup events as a participant or presenter, come and join the community on Teams or contact Mais Fatayer to find out more.

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