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The Incomplete Designer: An Interview with Cammy Bean

By Jeannette Campos / March 2012

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In the first of this four-part series of interviews with eLearning experts, Jeannette Campos sits down with Cammy Bean, VP of Learning Design for Kineo US. An eLearning veteran since the mid-'90s, Bean has worked on projects for a wide range of industries including financial services, retail and manufacturing. At Kineo she takes the lead on learning design, working closely with clients from concept to execution. A frequent conference speaker and active blogger, Bean served as the ASTD TK12 Planning Committee Chairperson and will be a featured speaker at this year's ASTD LearnNow conferences in San Francisco (April 23-24) and Boston (July 25-26). You can find her blog at

Jeannette Campos: Cammy, in May 2011, you wrote an entry on your Learning Visions blog called, "Eat the Whole Pie." What can you remind us about the quadrants of the eLearning pie?

Cammy Bean: Yes! This is really a way for us to think of ourselves as well-rounded professionals. It was Ellen Wagner who came up with this concept, and I've really run with it. Basically, there are four parts to the eLearning profession:

  • First, there is understanding learning and pedagogy, and I call this the science of learning.
  • Second, there is the creative side of eLearning, which I like to call the art of learning. It's a very broad piece of the pie, and it encompasses writing, graphic design, videography, game design, and even storytelling. This is the area that adds spark to eLearning projects and really makes them shine and helps to engage a learner. It helps make learning stick.
  • Third, there is the technology of learning; this is understanding everything from learning management systems to authoring tools, to all types of devices that can be used for learning these days.
  • Fourth, there is the business of learning, which also has many pieces, but at a basic level it is understanding the needs of the organization. It's also about realizing that performance, not learning objectives matter, to businesses. Project management would also fall into this quadrant of the eLearning pie. [Editor's Note: You'll be able to read more about the eLearning project management in our interview with Abigail Wheeler, which will be published on April 12th].

So, many of us can't do all of these. To be able to talk fluently in all four quadrants is perhaps impossible, or at least a stretch, for most eLearning instructional designers.

JC: So, in your experience, how should eLearning professionals approach the pie?

CB: Well no doubt, the pie can be overwhelming! But I think that most of us in this field have approached it from one piece of the pie—from our strengths. For example, I came in as a writer. So, I would say, work your strengths, but you also need to think about your gaps, and really be aware of them. To be a truly well-rounded eLearning professional, you need to have fluency in all of the parts of the pie. One way to do that is to build a team of internal experts or a professional learning network of people on whom you can call. So, diversify your team and draw upon the talents of many different types of eLearning professionals.

JC: What advice would you give to eLearning professionals who are just starting out, and to whom the "whole pie" might seem overwhelming?

CB: First, find your sweet spot. We all gravitated to the field for a particular reason, so start with your strengths, and follow your passion. As you build your confidence here, radiate out into all the other pieces of the pie. I don't know if any of the pieces are more important than the other, but I do know that a strong foundation in the science of learning is essential. As professionals in this field, we do need to be able to talk the talk. Ellen Wagner wrote another article about this, called, "In Search of the Secret Handshakes of ID." It's really important that we all develop a fluency in the basic principles of learning theory and instructional design so that we represent the profession, because ultimately, our product is always about learning. And we need to know how to recommend solutions, and drive our designs, towards the best possible learning products.

JC: So Cammy, once an eLearning ISD has mastered the secret handshakes and begins talking the talk, how do you recommend a beginning designer demonstrate the business of learning?

CB: Well, I want to preface this by saying that the business of learning is the piece where most of us are weakest. But the best place to start every conversation about designing eLearning is simple. At the start of a project, ask yourself, "What is the business problem I am trying to solve?"

As eLearning professionals, it's our job to elevate the conversation, and move past learning objectives and Bloom's taxonomy, and move into conversations about business performance, the bottom line, and how to get results. We should be approaching these conversations as performance consultants instead of trainers, and think of our jobs are bringing value, rather than filling an order.

So, this is a tough one, because it is really more about changing a mindset than about increasing your knowledge. The focus should allows be on contributing to the goals of the business and the health of the organization. One of the ways to do that is by being more systematic in our approaches. If designers can follow proven processes to bring real results (on time and within budget), they will gain credibility in the organization. This type of business discipline is essential to providing value. It might sound simple, but most business acumen boils down to delivering what you promise and driving towards results. This builds trust among you and your staff, as well as you and your business partners. [Editor's Note: You'll be able to read more about the relationship between eLearning and business partners in our interview with Kevin Thorn, which will be published on March 29th].

JC: Interesting, you mention building trust as an essential competency for an eLearning professional. How do you think trust translates into eLearning development?

CB: As a consultant, whether internal or external, it's primarily about relationships. Relationships are built on trust, and trust is built through being transparent and honest. So, in the work of eLearning, we can build that trust by keeping our business partners informed, following through on the processes we put in place, and being disciplined in our systems. The outcome of a trusting relationship is that it allows you to bring more value. When your business partners know that they can trust you, when they know you are going to follow through, you have more opportunity to push them toward better, more creative, solutions. They will trust you enough to let you try something new and different. And when you do, you can provide greater value to the business.

JC: Excellent, Cammy. In the next article in this series, we'll be talking with Kevin Thorn about how the imagination of instructional design. Do you have any initial thoughts on that?

CB: I have seen lots of imagination that lacks design. I have also seen a lot of design that doesn't drive towards performance improvement. So, Kevin can hopefully help us see how all of these pieces of the pie work together—the science, art, and business of learning—work together to create great technology based learning.

JC: Thanks again for your time, Cammy.

About the Author

Jeannette Campos is currently an Instructional Design Project Manager at the Central Intelligence Agency. Prior to joining the CIA, Campos owned and operated a service-disabled veteran-owned small business. She also served as a Project Manager and Senior Instructional Designer to multiple contracts awarded by the United States Department of Defense and Department of Labor. She is a graduate professor of Instructional Systems Design at UMBC and held an adjunct faculty appointment at The National Labor College. Campos teaches ISD for Project Managers to other organizations within the United States intelligence community.

ACM 1535-394X/12/03 $10.00

DOI: 10.1145/2157652.2168783


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