Insights from the Field: The Instructional Designer as Project Manager


Elisabeth Stucklen

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The Online Learning Consortium (OLC) is reaching out to our global community of thought leaders, faculty, innovators, and practitioners to bring you insights from the field of online, blended, and digital learning. This week, Dr. Amanda Major, OLC Institute faculty for the Project Management for Instructional Designers course, joins us to answer our questions about the importance of project management skills for the instructional designer.

Project Management for Instructional Design
Woman using Gantt chart for project management

OLC: There are many opportunities to teach online. Why did you choose OLC and which Institute course(s) do you teach for OLC?

OLC is the leading professional association in digital learning. OLC’s dedication to quality and leadership in digital education aligns perfectly with my own professional focus. The guidance I have received from the people associated with this association has been invaluable and I consistently return the favor by volunteering and teaching for OLC. I have taught the New to Online: Essentials Part I and the Blended Learning Mastery Series. I plan to facilitate the new course on Project Management for Instructional Designers in September this year.

OLC: What are the 3 most important things prospective participants should know about the upcoming course you will teach?

The Project Management for Instructional Designers course focuses on developing your project management competencies, enabling you to successfully contribute to and lead projects.  It will provide you with a portfolio of strategies, practices, tools, and techniques you can incorporate into your course design process.  And although the topic is project management, you do not have to lead a project to find this course incredibly valuable.

OLC: Why do you believe project management is essential for instructional designers?

It is the nature of our work. With online learning comes innovation, innovation brings unique temporary endeavors requiring our support and guidance. Whether that project entails faculty development, instructional technology diffusion, or new courses, instructional designers are likely the ones to provide the leadership necessary to implement the project or provide essential project management competencies (and by the way, you can provide leadership without being the lead on a project!). Instructional design efforts, like scheduling course design and development efforts, identifying talented individuals to contribute to the effort, and checking to ensure courses have accessibility components and working links to ensure a course meets expectations are valid efforts to ensure the success of a project.

OLC: Are there any misconceptions people have about project management? If so, what are they and how can we avoid them?

Misperception 1: People, generally, confuse daily operations with project work. While some of the functions overlap, like hiring and managing quality as examples, project management involves a more robust set of competencies. Operations management focuses on ongoing production of services, managing processes, and efficiently meeting client’s needs. Project management focuses on ramping up, executing, and closing out any endeavor undertaken to deliver a unique product, service, or result for the underlying purposes of adding value and driving change. Not everything we do in our profession is project management.

Misperception 2: Some people believe that if they are not the supervisor, then they are not doing project management. Not true! You may be engaged in project management work, even if you are not the lead on the project. You might be involved in a component of the effort–like conducting faculty development, defining activities need to successfully complete the project, monitoring the work accomplished, or conducting quality course reviews. That is all project management work!

Misperception 3: Another misconception is the belief that project management is a command and control style of leadership. Negative, Sergeant! Project management methodologies vary from adaptive, agile approaches using self-organization, like Scrum, to more predictive methodologies, like waterfall, that entail more command and control type procedures, with plenty of upfront planning and a rigid process for controlling changes. Agile approaches, in fact, are more suitable to most workplaces disrupted by technology and demands from clients, typical in our field.

OLC: What draws you to project management work?

Understanding the style of leadership that works best for the type of project and team is so creative and fun! There is a wealth of strategies, practices, techniques, and tools to choose from for project management! Project management is not just about scheduling and planning, it is about building trust among team members, ensuring clients expectations are met, and communicating effectively.

OLC: Tell us about the most daunting project you ever managed. How did you overcome obstacles in the process? What pearls of wisdom do you have for other instructional designers because of that experience?

The most daunting project I ever managed had to be a large contract with an online program management (OPM) company. I served as the coordinator of a large, research university’s online learning unit. I acted as the liaison between the OPM and various academic, administrative, and student support units across campus. Luckily, my role in partnering with the OPM was quite successful for the University because of my knowledge for OLC’s Quality Scorecard. Nevertheless, I had very little prior knowledge of the University’s internal operations; therefore, requesting that their office’s operations adapt to meet the OPM’s suggestions was quite difficult. It required strong stakeholder management and relationship building. I learned so much from this coordination effort.

My advice to anyone coordinating a project with multiple stakeholders across an institution is to realize the importance of stakeholder management to the success of a project. I suggest using a register for stakeholder engagement and gauge the organization culture, political climate, and governance structure as quickly as possible to adapt communications to the environment. This can build support for your efforts and prevent any misperceptions.

OLC: What was the last book, journal or article you read that relates to the field?

“Applying Project Management Strategies in a Large Curriculum Conversion Project in Higher Education” by Joel Gardner, Patrick A. Bennett, Niccole Hyatt, and Kevin Stoker (2017). Franklin University instructional designers shared their experiences using project management processes, strategies, and technologies to convert 53 courses to a shorter, compressed term.

OLC: How can people connect with you?

Tweet me @Amanda__Major on Twitter, or link to me on LinkedIn.

About the facilitator
Amanda Major, EdD, CPLP, PMP enjoys her work with faculty members as an instructional designer, having served as a faculty member once, too, she can relate to their experiences teaching. Additionally, Dr. Major enjoys leading and contributing to project management instructional design efforts. She began serving as an instructional designer at University of Central Florida’s (UCF) Center for Distributed Learning in December 2016. Just prior to arriving at UCF, Amanda was an assistant director of online learning programs at a large, public, research-intensive University. Dr. Major completed the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) Institute for Emerging Leadership in Online Learning (IELOL) in 2015. She holds a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from the Project Management Institution (PMI) and a Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) certification from the Association for Talent Development (ATD). Additionally, she has earned certifications from (OLC) and Quality Matters focused specifically on online learning in higher education. Her academic credentials include an EdD in educational leadership, policy and law; an MA in industrial organizational psychology; and a BA in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in social psychological issues. Actively contributing to the field of digital learning in higher education, she has presented at national and international conferences and has authored publications about faculty and organizational development, as well as digital learning operations and projects.

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