Seashells. I just returned from a week long sojourn at the beach with my family and we have two bags full of seashells. This was my first real beach vacation. Growing up in the Midwest, the only beaches I visited were the freshwater-lake kind. Until you’ve been to the ocean, you haven’t been to the beach.Aside from that realization, I also spent a fair amount of time walking the shores and looking for and at seashells. What is it about finding seashells on the beach that is so appealing to people? For every one, wholly intact shell you find, there are thousands, probably millions, that are broken shards of their former being. And yet, many of those shards are just as appealing as the whole shells.
I think the same can be said of learning and the end products we (instructional designers) produce to foster learning. Those rare, wholly intact shells are the near-perfect (insert word of your choice [courses, job aids, performance support mechanisms, etc.]) you create and are really proud of. The ones where the ID gods/goddesses are guiding your keystrokes and mouse clicks. The ones where you truly understand the state of flow. The ones where you remember (if you forgot) what it means to be an instructional designer. The ones you present to the client and you see their eyes dilate and joy spread across their face. The ones that six months later, the client calls to tell you they are seeing positive changes in workflow and it is attributable to your creation.
As great as that feeling is, it can’t last. I’m not saying the rest of what you produce will be junk. I’m just saying that the *ideal* that we strive for and sometimes realize, is a lofty goal. The majority of your work may be outstanding. But that aforementioned truly great feeling from a creation so wonderfully awesome? Well, it’s kind of indescribable, and rare. You will have those outstanding moments and you should relish every second. But, it’s what you do during the other times that is perhaps more important – which brings us back to the shards. I view the shards as teachable moments, learning objects, or even nuggets of learning. The shards of the seashells are IMO, just as beautiful, for they once were a part of that wholly intact shell. Just as we find millions of the seashell shards strewn on the beach, so too do we find millions of learning moments everyday in everything we do. It could be in your particular community that shares tips/examples/advice on how to make better elearning courses. It could be in a blog post about being a better ID by not pretending. It could be in the form of a thirteen-year-old goddaughter who shows you – the “tech expert” – how to perform a task on your laptop. It could be that tip you heard on Car Talk about getting better gas mileage. It could be a point somebody makes in a Twitter chat. And a million more little learning moments you and I experience everyday.
You see, the shards of the seashells, while not as awe-inspiring as finding a complete shell, are just as beautiful because they represent a glimpse of beauty. That wonderful creation of learning goodness that you revel in when you create it is a beautiful thing and should be treated as such. Just don’t forget about all of those tips, tricks, nuggets, advice, learning shards if you will, that went into creating that beautiful event. Without all of those tiny moments of learning, sharing, and collaborating, that glorious learning creation is but an empty…ahem…shell.